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Collins v. Illinois

decided: September 17, 1987.


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Springfield Division. No. 83 C 3167, Richard Mills, Judge.

Wood, Jr., and Ripple, Circuit Judges, and Eschbach, Senior Circuit Judge.

Author: Wood

Wood, Jr., Circuit Judge

Plaintiff Margaret Collins was employed by the Illinois State Library, a state-owned library, Springfield, Illinois. Plaintiff is black. As a result of frequent and negative evaluations of plaintiff's performance during plaintiff's employment at the library, plaintiff filed grievances through her labor union, and later through state and federal agencies, alleging race discrimination on the part of her supervisor, defendant Bridget Lamont. Shortly after the grievances were filed, plaintiff was transferred by Lamont to another department in the library. Plaintiff eventually filed suit in federal district court alleging race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and section 1981.*fn1 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1981 & 2000e (1982). The bifurcated case was tried to a jury on the issue of liability only. The jury found that although Lamont had not discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of race in the first instance, she had illegally retaliated against plaintiff for plaintiff's filing race discrimination grievances and claims against her. Both sides filed motions for judgment notwithstanding the jury's verdict or in the alternative for a new trial. The district court denied plaintiff's motion, but granted defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the jury's verdict. Plaintiff then challenged defendants' motion as having been untimely filed. The district court ruled in a second order that defendants' motion had been timely filed. Plaintiff appeals both the first order that denied her motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, while it granted defendants' motion, and the second order that held defendants' motion was timely filed.


Plaintiff career as a library employee began in 1970 when she was earning an associate's degree at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois. Toward the end of her degree program, plaintiff began working as a library assistant in the West Branch of Lincoln Library in Springfield. She continued working at this job as she completed her associate's degree and began work on a bachelor's degree at Sangamon State University, also located in Springfield. Plaintiff finished her bachelor's degree and immediately began a new job as an intern at the Illinois State Library. At the completion of this internship in Springfield plaintiff enrolled at Rosary College, located in the suburbs of Chicago, as a candidate for a master's degree in library science. While plaintiff was earning her master's degree she began working at the Chicago Historical Society. She later worked for the Chicago Public Library at the Cabrini Green Branch. Following her graduation from Rosary College in January 1975 plaintiff transferred to the Kelly Branch of the Chicago Public Library. About one and one-half years later, in May 1976, plaintiff was hired by the Illinois State Library in Springfield, where plaintiff had worked as an intern just after she earned her bachelor's degree. Plaintiff began her work at the library as a cataloguer. Her job performance as a cataloguer was rated by her supervisor as "exceeds expectations" in all nine ratings categories.

After a year of working as a cataloguer, plaintiff wanted to transfer to the Library Development Group. The development group coordinates both an information network and the disbursal of federal grant money to over 2000 local libraries in Illinois. Plaintiff wanted to work as a library consultant in the development group. As a library consultant, plaintiff would be expected to consult with local libraries within a particular geographic region in Illinois about the information network and the disbursal of federal grant money.

The director of the development group opposed plaintiff's transfer because he stated that he believed plaintiff did no have the appropriate background or work experience to work as a library consultant. Despite the director's protestations, however, plaintiff was transferred into the library development group. Plaintiff was the only black library consultant in the group.

The director of the development group did not immediately assign plaintiff the full duties of a library consultant and plaintiff complained to the Illinois Secretary of State. Plaintiff was subsequently provided with more responsibility and assigned to specific projects. The director of the development group rated plaintiff's performance as "meets expectations" in all nine categories, even though he had initially opposed her transfer to the development group.

The director of the development group resigned two years after plaintiff had begun working in the development group and defendant Bridget Lamont took his place. Although Lamont evaluated the other library consultants in the development group on an annual basis, she evaluated plaintiff's performance more frequently. Lamont completed evaluations on plaintiff after three months, six months, twelve months, and eighteen months. Plaintiff also was evaluated later for a three-month interval by the director of the library. Lamont's first evaluation of plaintiff rated plaintiff as "meets expectations" in only four categories and "needs improvement" in five categories. Her subsequent three evaluations of plaintiff indicated that plaintiff was in need of improvement in at least half of the nine rating categories. Plaintiff was disgruntled with these evaluations and filed grievances through her labor union. One of these grievances alleged that Lamont had evaluated plaintiff for a period of time during which Lamont had been on leave for six months.

In response to these grievances Lamont had a law firm, on her behalf, send plaintiff's labor union a letter. The letter, a copy of which was sent to plaintiff, threatened that a lawsuit would be filed against plaintiff if her labor union grievances against Lamont were unsuccessful. Plaintiff responded to the letter by filing an additional labor union grievance and by filing race discrimination complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("ILDHR"). The state's affirmative action office was notified of both sets of claims. Subsequently, on June 1, 1982, a state affirmative action officer sent to her supervisor, William Rolando, a memorandum which was carbon copied to Lamont and Kay Gesterfield, the director of the library. The memo indicated that an internal investigation had commenced and that the principals involved in such complaints within one month of the receipt of the complaint.

Sometime between June 1st, the date the memo was issued, and July 1st, Lamont contacted Rolando, the director of the affirmative action office. Lamont suggested to Rolando that plaintiff be transferred against her wishes from the development group to the Library Reference Unit. Although plaintiff's transfer was lateral and did not result in any reduction of salary or monetary benefits, plaintiff's job responsibilities and accouterments of employment were altered. At the development group plaintiff had specific projects to which she was assigned and for which she had primary responsibility. She had her own office, telephone, and business cards. She was listed in professional publications as a library consultant. At the reference unit, however, plaintiff was not assigned to specific projects. Her supervisors were unsure of what plaintiff's responsibilities should be -- plaintiff's position in the reference unit had just been created at the time plaintiff was transferred out of the development group. Plaintiff no longer had her won office. Her desk was placed outside her supervisor's office in a location where a receptionist's desk typically would be located. Plaintiff had no telephone. She was not allowed to receive printed business cards and she was no longer listed as a library consultant in professional publications.

After working for nearly a year in the reference unit plaintiff filed suit in federal district court against Lamont, the library, and the state of Illinois. She alleged that the poor and frequent evaluations from Lamont were discriminatorily based on race. She claimed these poor evaluations ultimately were used as a basis for denying her raises and promotions. Plaintiff also alleged that after she complained about the purported discriminatory evaluations, Lamont retaliated against plaintiff by having plaintiff transferred out of the development group to a newly created job of lesser status and responsibility in the reference unit. At the conclusion of the trial the jury found that although there had been no race discrimination Lamont had retaliated against plaintiff as a consequence of plaintiff's complaints.*fn2


Both sides moved for judgment notwithstanding the jury's verdict. The district court granted defendants' motion, but denied plaintiff's motion. Plaintiff appeals both of those rulings.

Our standard for reviewing the district court's grant or denial of a motion for judgment notwithstanding the jury's verdict is de novo. Graefenhain v. Pabst Brewing Co., 827 F.2d 13, slip op. at 2 (7th Cir. 1987); Kunzelman v. Thompson, 799 F.2d 1172, 1179 (7th Cir. 1986). "In reviewing a district court's decision whether to grant a judgment n.o.v., we examine whether there is substantial evidence to support the jury verdict. We determine whether the evidence presented, combined with all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from it, is sufficient to support the verdict when viewed in the light most favorable to the party winning the verdict." Christie v. Foremost Insurance Co., 785 F.2d 584, 585-86 (7th Cir. 1986). We do not judge the credibility of the witnesses. Freeman v. Franzen, 695 F.2d 485, 489 (7th Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 463 U.S. 1214, 77 L. Ed. 2d 1400, 103 S. Ct. 3553 (1983). Nor do we weigh the evidence as a factfinder. Rather, we " ...

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