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PORTER v. STATE OF ILLINOIS

December 16, 1997

Thomas D. Porter, Plaintiff,
v.
State of Illinois, Department of Children and Family Services, Jess McDonald, John Goad, Mary Ellen Eads, Kathy Glenney, and Marcia Williams, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LINDBERG

 Plaintiff Thomas Porter alleges that he was fired from his job at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services because of his age, race, and complexion. He asserts claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as made actionable by 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants moved for summary judgment, and that motion will be granted for the reasons stated below.

 I. Factual Background

 Plaintiff Thomas Porter is a light-skinned African-American male who was sixty-five years old when he was hired as a child protection investigator by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) on May 17, 1993. For most or all of his employment at DCFS, plaintiff was supervised by an African-American woman named Marcia Williams. In the summer of 1994, Williams approached her own supervisor, Kathy Glenney, about various problems she was having with plaintiff's work performance. Glenney convened a predisciplinary hearing to review the charges on August 4, 1994. The hearing was attended by Glenney, Williams, plaintiff, and a union steward named Ed Schwartz.

 Williams presented the charges against plaintiff at the hearing. She explained that on June 15, 1994, plaintiff was assigned to visit a home where a twelve-year old was found with numerous bodily marks and other children were thought to be at risk. Plaintiff made one unsuccessful attempt to contact the home but did not initiate any further visits. On June 21, 1994, Williams reminded plaintiff that he needed to establish contact with the home as soon as possible. When plaintiff did not comply, Williams specifically directed him to visit the home by July 19, 1994. Once again, plaintiff ignored her instruction. Williams also explained that plaintiff failed to include complete reports in the case file. Based on this evidence, plaintiff was charged with failing to make ongoing attempts to see child victims in violation of DCFS Procedure 300.100(a)(2) and with failing to complete required notifications in response to allegations of child abuse or neglect in child care facilities in violation of DCFS Procedure 300.160(b).

 After reviewing the charges, conferring with Williams, and seeking guidance from her supervisor Mary Ellen Eads, Glenney prepared a predisciplinary report which recommended that plaintiff receive a one-day suspension. Because Glenney lacked final authority to impose that discipline, she forwarded her report and recommendation to the Labor Relations Department, which decided that plaintiff would be suspended for a single day on September 23, 1994. Plaintiff was also warned that any future infractions might result in his termination.

 On October 24, 1994, plaintiff met with Assistant State's Attorney Renee Thibault to prepare his testimony for a temporary child custody hearing. Four days later, Thibault wrote a letter to Marcia Williams recording the events of that meeting. She explained that plaintiff refused to answer her questions about the case and would not indicate whether he had read the case file. When Thibault urged plaintiff to cooperate, he became hostile and said that he knew she had called his supervisor. Thibault indicated that they had never met before, but that she planned to call his supervisor regarding his poor attitude and lack of preparation in that meeting. Porter then told Thibault that "she had better watch out when [she] went to [her] car." (Porter Dep. Exh. 10.) This interchange was witnessed by two other people in the room. Thibault promptly informed the presiding judge of what had transpired, and he recused himself from the case. Plaintiff contends that Thibault fabricated the entire incident because she is a racist.

 In November 1994, Williams prepared a written evaluation of plaintiff's work for the period covering July 1993 through October 1994. Based on a quantitative analysis of the 187 cases that were assigned to plaintiff during that period, Williams concluded that he had failed to meet any of his target completion rates. Although plaintiff was expected to achieve a twenty-four hour compliance rate of 100 percent, his actual compliance rate was only 93 percent. His thirty-day completion rate of 60 percent was considerably short of his 75 percent goal. And while plaintiff had an overall case completion goal of 85 percent, he managed to finish only 81 percent of his cases. Finally, plaintiff's overdue case rate of 19 percent was far above the allowed rate of 2 percent. Williams indicated that plaintiff did not achieve any of his annual performance objectives and that he needed improvement in each of the nine categories of his general performance appraisal.

 Williams also wrote on the evaluation that plaintiff needed "constant guidance with completing his case assignments. His cases had to be returned several times due to poor documentation of the facts of the investigations, incomplete departmental forms and not completing forms according to departmental procedures. Mr. Porter has been counseled on his inability to make critical decisions in case investigations and to meet departmental time frames. Thomas was given instructional manuals for completing departmental forms. Whenever he was told to refer to those instructions, he was unable to locate them; therefore, supervisor would give him additional manuals. Mr. Porter's cases were prioritized and [he was] given written instructions on completing cases. Even with this direct coaching, Mr. Porter would not complete cases as instructed, resulting in cases being returned for same tasks [sic]. Due to the constant return of cases, Thomas developed a huge amount of pending cases (in excess of 4 5 at one time). This resulted in a decrease in assignments; eventually, the cases were reassigned to other investigators to be completed." (Porter Dep. Exh. 7.) Finally, Williams recommended that plaintiff retake the child protection investigator training program in Springfield. Plaintiff attests that he retook the training course in November or December of 1994.

 The first page of the evaluation form states that the written performance review is part of an objective appraisal system designed "to let employees know how they are doing, to motivate them to improve their performance and to justify administrative personnel decisions." (Porter Dep. Exh. 7.) The form describes a system of quarterly progress reviews and annual reassessments of employee performance objectives. Although the evaluation system imagines a high level of employee involvement, plaintiff was not evaluated on a quarterly basis and never received a copy of his November 1994 evaluation.

 Williams prompted Glenney to convene a second predisciplinary hearing on November 4, 1994. The attendees included Williams, Glenney, plaintiff, and union steward Mark Galloway. Based on the letter by Assistant State's Attorney Thibault, plaintiff was charged with making a threatening statement to her on October 24th. Plaintiff was also charged with failing to make ongoing attempts to visit child victims in sixteen separate cases assigned to him between May and September of 1994. In each of these cases, plaintiff made a good faith attempt to initiate a site visit but did not make any follow-up efforts to establish or maintain contact.

 Plaintiff was also charged with poor quality work in four cases. In a case identified as BR, plaintiff failed to make himself aware of a judicial order in the case, disregarded several direct instructions to obtain the order, neglected to submit the case for follow-up in a timely manner, and omitted important information from the early response packet. In case RW, plaintiff failed to raise the issue of mental injury when he spoke with a case reporter, ignored the case for more than a month, failed to document court proceedings, neglected to prepare for a hearing, missed a court date, and failed to submit the case for follow-up. These omissions resulted in the vacation of a temporary custody order and the return of a minor to an at-risk home. In another case identified as BR, plaintiff made no effort to pursue follow-up contacts with a family after his initial visit and failed to address the allegations of abuse during the home interview. As a result, this case was ultimately assigned to another investigator. In case CW, plaintiff failed to document any contact with children who were thought to be at risk, failed to provide necessary information about the case to an investigator, failed to cooperate with the Assistant State's Attorney at a custody hearing, and prematurely submitted the case for completion.

 Finally, plaintiff was charged with failing to meet a specific deadline for reducing his caseload. In an effort to help plaintiff manage his work, his supervisors reassigned several of his cases, reduced his case intake, and directed him to complete fifteen cases by October 17, 1994. Glenney even told plaintiff that she would evaluate his efforts based on the number of cases that he was able to complete rather than the quality of his work. By October 17, plaintiff had completed only two cases and both were returned to him for corrections.

 Glenney reviewed the evidence against plaintiff, consulted with Marcia Williams and Mary Ellen Eads, solicited guidance from the Labor Relations Department, and recommended that plaintiff be discharged. Notably, the record does not reflect that plaintiff took advantage of an opportunity to provide a written rebuttal to the charges against him. Glenney forwarded her recommendation to the Labor Relations Administrator, who then suggested to the Director of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services that plaintiff should be discharged. The Director made the final decision to fire plaintiff. Accordingly, plaintiff was suspended pending discharge on December 17, 1994 and was terminated for cause on January 16, 1995. Plaintiff pursued the regular union grievance procedures for challenging his termination.

 Plaintiff "denies that he ignored his cases and that he failed to follow the procedures established by defendant DCFS for the completion of his work." (Resp. to S.J. at 6). He claims that Williams invented the charges against him and rejected work that was actually "well thought of and well investigated and timed." (Porter Dep. at 83.) Plaintiff also boasts that he completed "hundreds" of cases successfully during his tenure at DCFS. (Porter 10/31/97 Aff. P 4.) Notably, however, plaintiff offers nothing more than his own affidavit and deposition testimony to support these claims, and he does not address any of the specific charges levied against him.

 Plaintiff asserts that Glenney and Williams made statements which confirm that his termination was motivated by racial bias. Plaintiff alleges that Glenney told him in October of 1994 that she had "nothing to do with what is being done to you." (Porter 10/31/97 Aff. P 5). Glenney denies that this conversation ever took place. Plaintiff also attests that: "During one of my first meetings with Marcia [Williams] soon after she became my supervisor, she told me that she did not like light-skinned African American men and that she was going to get rid of me before my probationary period was over." (Porter 10/31/97 Aff. P 2.) Although Williams denies that this conversation occurred, she acknowledges that she prefers dark-skinned men as mates or social partners. She admits that she discussed this with her friends but does not recall whether she shared that information with plaintiff.

 Plaintiff contends that his work assignments were not returned to him by his first supervisor at DCFS or by any of the supervisors who substituted for Williams. Plaintiff does not provide any specific evidence to support this claim, however, and Williams testified that cases were returned to plaintiff regardless of whether she or a substitute was acting as his supervisor. Notably, there is a factual question as to whether plaintiff even had a supervisor before Williams. Williams became a supervisor in May 1993, the same month plaintiff was hired as an investigator, and she testified that she was plaintiff's supervisor throughout his employment ...


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