ST. LOUIS – The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois on Sept. 19 awarded summary judgment to officials of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in a lawsuit filed by an employee who alleged race discrimination in her termination as a building facilities manager.
The job of the plaintiff Janice LaRiviere involved design and construction of new facilities on the SIUE campus and improvements to existing buildings, as well as satellite facilities, court records state.
LaRiviere began her employment in 2006, however, she had no prior training in maintenance or electrical operations.
In 2011, LaRiviere became aware that her supervisor Robert Washburn, director of facilities, was planning to retire and she indicated her interest in filling the position. However, university officials indicated their intention to advertise the job opening publicly and require an engineering degree-a qualification the plaintiff did not have.
LaRiviere asked to be appointed to the position and that the engineering degree requirement be waived. University officials refused.
Paul Fuligni was hired for the position of facilities director possessing a master’s degree in civil engineering. He also was a U.S. Navy veteran of 30 years.
On Oct. 22, 2012, LaRiviere filed a lawsuit against SIUE claiming race discrimination and violation of the Civil Rights Act in District Court. The suit was dismissed in 2014. A second suit in the St. Clair County Circuit Court was also dismissed.
Fuligni created a new associate director position in the facilities department and hired Donna Meyer, LaRiviere's new immediate supervisor.
LaRiviere did not agree with Fuligni’s management style and for three years refused to sign a document defining her job responsibilities. In 2016 she signed, claiming her signing had been made under “duress.”
Further disagreements continued, with LaRiviere refusing to verbally discipline a worker under her as directed, and disagreeing that SIUE electricians were qualified to take over duties on the campus from power company Ameren Illinois. LaRiviere said she was concerned about the safety of her electricians and did not want them performing tasks they were not qualified for.
University officials alleged LaRiviere at times had a contentious relationship with her co-workers and disagreements occurred over her use of sick and vacation leave.
In 2016, Fuligni and campus officials moved to terminate LaRiviere’s appointment. She was not placed on a “performance improvement plan” prior to termination and was never told her performance was unsatisfactory. In fact, she claimed she received satisfactory scores on her last performance review.
On May 5, 2016, LaRiviere was notified in writing that her position would be ended in one year. The Court document also noted that although her job responsibilities had been changed during the one-year notice period, LaRiviere continued to receive the same title, pay and benefits as before.
LaRiviere was moved to a new office on the campus where she reported problems with heating and air conditioning, no microwave, a dishwasher unsafe for use and a refrigerator with unsafe materials inside it. There were also humidity and plumbing problems and LaRiviere developed an eye infection after moving in, the Court ruling states.
She further alleged that she was not allowed to attend department meetings and was provided no clerical support.
The Court document noted that for the past five years the SIUE Facilities Department had two African American administrative staff employees.
During the lawsuit LaRiviere amended her complaint four times.
She contended that a jury could reasonably conclude she was terminated on the basis of race because she was the only African American in the department at the relevant time.
District Judge David Herndon, however, found there was no direct evidence of race discrimination or that LaRiviere’s supervisors had engaged in racially derogatory comments.
He also concluded there was no evidence that other (non-African American) employees were treated more favorably.
“The failure to identify a similarly situated employee is fatal to her (LaRiviere’s) race claim,” Herndon wrote.
Claims by the plaintiff of being retaliated against by management were devoid of any factual support, and the behavior of the defendants was not extreme or outrageous, Herndon determined.
Charges of emotional distress and breach of contract were rejected as well.