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MILAZZO v. O'CONNELL

October 21, 1997

ANNMARIE MILAZZO, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD P. O'CONNELL, MARGARET KOSTOPULOS, and DAWN CATUARA, individually and as employees of the Office of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CASTILLO

 MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 Plaintiff Annmarie Milazzo filed suit against defendants Donald P. O'Connell, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois; Margaret Kostopulos, Administrative Director of the Office of the Chief Judge; and Dawn Catuara, Administrative Assistant to the Chief Judge, for damages arising from Milazzo's termination as Human Resources Administrator *fn1" for the Circuit Court of Cook County. Milazzo worked as the Human Resources Administrator initially under Chief Judge Harry Comerford and then under Chief Judge O'Connell. Milazzo contends that shortly after O'Connell took office, defendants terminated her for lack of political sponsorship in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as Illinois state laws prohibiting retaliatory discharge.

 Milazzo incorporated these allegations into a four count complaint. Count I alleged that

 Milazzo's abrupt termination violated the Office's Personnel Manual and the custom of informing an employee of complaints against her and providing her with the opportunity to be heard before termination. Count II claimed defendants terminated Milazzo due to her political affiliation in violation of the First Amendment. Count III charged that defendants further violated Milazzo's First Amendment rights by terminating Milazzo in retaliation for consulting with an attorney. Count IV reasserted the allegations in Count III, but was fashioned under state common law prohibitions against retaliatory discharge.

 In a prior opinion, the Court granted defendants' motion to dismiss all counts of plaintiff's complaint with the exception of the First Amendment claim detailed in Count II. Milazzo v. O'Connell, 925 F. Supp. 1331 (N.D. Ill. 1996). We found that Count II articulated a sufficient cause of action by alleging Milazzo occupied a purely ministerial, as opposed to confidential or policymaking, position protected from patronage firings under the First Amendment. Id. at 1343-44. The Seventh Circuit affirmed this court's judgment in an opinion released on January 13, 1997, stating that defendants failed to demonstrate that the nature of Milazzo's position justified her termination. Milazzo v. O'Connell, 108 F.3d 129, 132 (7th Cir. 1997).

 This matter is currently before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment on Count II of plaintiff's complaint. Defendants contend that the facts establish that political affiliation is an appropriate criterion for the confidential and policymaking position of Human Resources Administrator. Because we find that political affiliation is a proper consideration for the position of Human Resources Administrator, we need not address defendants' alternate argument that qualified immunity shields them from the damages sought in plaintiff's suit. *fn2" Accordingly, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

 Summary judgment is proper if the record reveals no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Flanders Elec. Motor Serv., Inc., 40 F.3d 146, 150 (7th Cir. 1995). A genuine issue for trial exists only when the "evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). The court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's favor. Cincinnati Ins., 40 F.3d at 150. However, if the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, or merely raises "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts", summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 261. In ruling on the motion, the court must be mindful of the jury's province, reserving credibility determinations and the weighing of the evidence for the trier of fact.

 FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 We start by presenting the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. *fn3" As this Court has set forth the facts giving rise to Milazzo's termination in our prior opinion, we will not repeat them here. Furthermore, while defendants do not concede to firing Milazzo for her political affiliations, defendants do not challenge plaintiff's ability to demonstrate this for purposes of their motion. *fn4" Accordingly, our discussion will be limited to those facts pertaining to the central inquiry in the case, the nature of the Human Resources Administrator position.

 In her amended complaint, plaintiff describes her duties as implementing the personnel policies as adopted by Judge O'Connell (Pl.'s Amnd. Cmplnt. P 10) and assisting the Executive Officer of the Office of the Chief Judge with budget and payroll account matters. Pl.'s Amnd. Cmplnt. P 18. Milazzo states that she had "frequent contact with Chief Judge O'Connell performing various assignments and providing him with various information," and that defendant Catuara "relied heavily upon plaintiff." Pl.'s Amnd.Cmplnt. P13-14. Milazzo was responsible for "handling the payroll for the Office of the Chief Judge, maintaining the personnel files of the employees of the Office of the Chief Judge, recording the personnel actions taken by the supervisors of the various units of the Office of the Chief Judge, processing the hiring of new employees in the Office of the Chief Judge and assisting in the preparation of the budget of the Office of the Chief Judge by participating in the preparation of the forms and other documents that must be prepared to support the budget decisions made by the Chief Judge." Pl.'s Facts P 7. Milazzo contends, however, that she exercised no discretion or independent authority in executing these tasks. Milazzo states she "supervised the testing of applicants for clerical and administrative positions, and conducted interviews for many of the applicants for clerical and secretarial positions." Pl.'s Aff. P 4. Milazzo admits compiling the Office's Personnel Manual, but denies any input into the formulation of such policy. In addition, Milazzo denies playing a role in the substantive personnel actions taken within unionized and nonunionized Circuit Court departments.

 Milazzo also offers the affidavit of Thomas F. Cunningham, former Executive Officer in the Office of Chief Judge Comerford. Cunningham states that Milazzo was responsible for maintaining personnel files, preparing correspondence, and preparing the Annual Budget Request based upon information supplied by others. Cunn. Aff. P 4. Cunningham testifies that Milazzo could neither hire nor fire employees, nor enter into contracts on behalf of the Office. Cunn. Aff. P 5. Similarly, Donna Sass, Milazzo's former administrative assistant, describes Milazzo's responsibilities as supervising the administrative functions of the Human Resources Department. Sass Aff. P 6. Finally, Milazzo presents the resignation letter of her immediate successor, Christina Hernandez. The letter indicates Ms. Hernandez resigned from the position of Human Resources Administrator to seek a position with more authority and discretion.

 In contrast to Milazzo's limited autonomy, Bruce Wisniewski, the current Human Resources Administrator, exercises broad discretionary authority in Milazzo's former position. Prior to his appointment as Human Resources Administrator, Wisniewski served as an Administrative Assistant in the Office of the Chief Judge and was responsible for labor relations and collective bargaining. As Human Resources Administrator, Wisniewski draws upon his prior experience and undertakes the responsibility for labor relations and collective bargaining for the Office of the Chief Judge. Wis. Aff. P 15. Wisniewski serves as one of five members of a management team responsible for assisting Judge O'Connell in running the operations of the Office of the Chief Judge. Wis. Aff. P 3. ...


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