Wednesday, August 7, 2013

7th Circuit Holds a Party's Affidavit May Create a Material Factual Dispute for Summary Judgment Purposes

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, although upholding grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer, took a moment to issue a ruling overruling a string of precedent that suggested a plaintiff may not rely on “self-serving” evidence to create a material factual dispute for summary judgment purposes. 

(See, e.g., Broaddus v. Shields, 665 F.3d 846, 856 (7th Cir. 2011); Keri v. Bd. of Trustees of Purdue Univ., 458 F.3d 620, 628 (7th Cir. 2006); Scaife v. Cook Cnty., 446 F.3d 735, 741 (7th Cir. 2006); Smith v. Potter, 445 F.3d 1000, 1009 (7th Cir. 2006); Johnson v. Snyder, 444 F.3d 579, 584 (7th Cir. 2006); Witte v. Wis. Dep’t. of Corrections, 434 F.3d 1031, 1037 (7th Cir. 2006); Evans v. City of Chicago, 434 F.3d 916, 933 (7th Cir. 2006); Rogers v. City of Chicago, 320 F.3d 748, 751 (7th Cir. 2003); Hall v. Bodine Elec. Co., 276 F.3d 345, 354 (7th Cir. 2002); Albiero v. City of Kankakee, 246 F.3d 927, 933 (7th Cir. 2001); United States v. Raymond, 228 F.3d 804, 814 (7th Cir. 2000); McPhaul v. Bd. of Comm’rs of Madison Cnty., 226 F.3d 558, 564 (7th Cir. 2000); Cable v. Ivy Tech State College, 200 F.3d 467, 478 (7th Cir. 1999); Shank v. William R. Hague, Inc., 192 F.3d 675, 682 (7th Cir. 1999); Piscione v. Ernst & Young, L.L.P., 171 F.3d 527, 532 (7th Cir. 1999); Taylor v. Monsanto Co., 150 F.3d 806, 809 (7th Cir. 1998); Patterson v. Chicago Ass’n for Retarded Citizens, 150 F.3d 719, 724 (7th Cir. 1998); U.S. for and on Behalf of Small Bus. Admin. v. Torres, 142 F.3d 962, 968 (7th Cir. 1998); Haywood v. N. Am. Van Lines, Inc., 121 F.3d 1066, 1071 (7th Cir. 1997); Darnell v. Target Stores, 16 F.3d 174, 177(7th Cir. 1994); Unterreiner v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 8 F. 3d 1206, 1210 (7th Cir. 1993); Slowiak v. Land O’Lakes, Inc., 987 F.2d 1293, 1295 (7th Cir. 1993); McDonnell v. Cournia, 990 F.2d 963, 969 (7th Cir. 1993); Kornacki v. Norton Performance Plastics, 956 F.2d 129, 132 (7th Cir. 1992).)

The issue came about in Hill v. Tangherlini, No. 12-3447 (7th Cir. Aug. 2013) when the lower district court discredited Hill’s testimony about his interactions with coworkers because of its “self-serving” nature. Hill v. Johnson, No. 11 C 2144, 2012 WL 4483442, at *2 n.6 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 27, 2012).  The Court stated:

This was error. Deposition testimony, affidavits, responses to interrogatories, and other written statements by their nature are self-serving. Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 771 (7th Cir. 2003). As we have repeatedly emphasized over the past decade, the term “self- serving” must not be used to denigrate perfectly admissible evidence through which a party tries to present its side of the story at summary judgment. ...
Hill described the three encounters in his deposition based on his personal knowledge and set forth specific facts and the district court should have considered his statements as evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Kellar v. Summit Seating Inc., 664 F.3d 169, 175 (7th Cir. 2011); Whitlock v. Brown, 596 F.3d 406, 411–12 (7th Cir. 2010). 
Despite this holding, the 7th Circuit still upheld summary judgment because the plaintiff failed in other aspects of his case at the summary judgment phase--namely, he couldn't prove pretext.

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