United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
February 19, 2004.
REID M. PAXSON, Plaintiff,
COUNTY OF COOK, ILLINOIS, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN W. DARRAH, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Reid M. Paxson, filed suit against Defendant, County of
Cook, Illinois ("Cook County"). Plaintiff alleges violations of Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and an Intentional Infliction of
Emotional Distress claim. Presently before the Court is Cook County's
Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, Cook County's
Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.
Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine issue of material fact
exists and 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. 1994). "One of the principal purposes of
the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually
unsupported claims or defenses. . . ." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Thus, although the moving party on a motion for
summary judgment is responsible for demonstrating to the court why there
is no genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party must go beyond
the face of the pleadings, affidavits, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on
file to demonstrate, through specific evidence, that a genuine issue of
material fact exists and to show that a rational jury could return a
verdict in the non-moving party's favor. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-27;
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254-56 (1986); Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986);
Waldridge v. American Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 923 (7th Cir. 1994).
Disputed facts are material when they might affect the outcome of the
suit. First Ind. Bank v. Baker, 957 F.2d 506, 507-08 (7th Cir. 1992).
When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, a court must view all
inferences to be drawn from the facts in the light most favorable to the
opposing party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48; Popovits v. Circuit City
Stores, Inc., 185 F.3d 726, 731 (7th Cir. 1999). However, a metaphysical
doubt will not suffice. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. If the evidence is
merely colorable or is not significantly probative or is no more than a
scintilla, summary judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at
The undisputed facts, for the purposes of this motion, taken from the
parties' Local Rule 56.1(a) & (b) statements of material facts (referred
to herein as "Pl.'s 56.1" and "Def.'s 56.1") and exhibits, are as
Plaintiff, a Caucasian male, works for Cook County as a "Business
Manager II" at Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (the
"Center"). Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 2. Clara Collins is Superintendent and
Plaintiff's supervisor at the Center. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3; Pl's 56.1
¶ 2. As Superintendent of the Center, Collins is responsible for
managing the facility and making sure that the County's policies and
procedures are carried out. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 3. Collins has the
authority to request the transfer of an employee who has expressed
concerns regarding his or her physical safety at the Center. Pl.'s 56.1
In 2001, the racial makeup of the Center workforce was approximately
90% African-American and approximately 5-10% Caucasian. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 6.
Around that time, the racial makeup of Center residents was approximately
75% African-American, 20% Hispanic, and 5% Caucasian. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 7.
On May 9, 2001, a regularly scheduled labor-management meeting was
held, and a discussion of payroll issues took place. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 4.
Ray Bialek an African-American Field Representative for the Fraternal
Order of Police Collins, and Plaintiff attended this meeting. Def.'s
56.1 ¶¶ 5-6; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 16. On May 16, 2001, Bialek wrote a letter to
Collins complaining that the conduct of Plaintiff at the meeting was
unprofessional, abusive, threatening, and unstable and that Plaintiff
battered him. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 6; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 14-15.
On May 18, 2001, Plaintiff wrote a memorandum to Collins complaining
about what occurred at the meeting. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 7. On June 15,
2001, Plaintiff sent a second memorandum to Collins requesting that
Bialek's allegations be formally refuted in writing. Def.'s 56.1 ¶
8. Although Collins decided that Bialek's description of the events that
transpired at the meeting lacked merit, Collins did not take any steps to
refute those allegations, side with Plaintiff, or attempt to meet with
Plaintiff to discuss his requests. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 14, 16. On July 3,
2001, Plaintiff sent a memorandum to Collins complaining that she had
both failed to investigate the allegations made by Bialek after the
labor-management meeting and write a letter formally refuting the
allegations. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 12.
Although Collins was aware soon, after she started working at the
Center, from conversations with two other Center employees, of remarks
that Plaintiff was holding Ku Klux Klan meetings in his office, she
believed the allegations of Klan activities there was a joke. Pl.'s 56.1
¶¶ 22-23, 28. Collins, as Superintendent of the Center, has the authority
to initiate an inquiry into possible misconduct by county employees at
the Center. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 27. Collins did not discuss the allegations
with Plaintiff. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 24.
On or about June 26, 2001, after hearing unspecified remarks from
individuals suggesting that Ku Klux Klan ("KKK") meetings were being held
in Plaintiff's office, Collins asked Assistant Superintendent Willie Ross
if he knew anything about the rumors. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 10. Ross then
went to Plaintiff's office and asked Plaintiff if he was running the KKK
out of his office. Plaintiff asked Ross about where he heard this
information, and Ross revealed that Collins was the source. Def.'s 56.1
Upon hearing from Ross that Collins was discussing allegations of KKK
activities, Plaintiff immediately contacted Collins by phone to discuss
the issue. Plaintiff was very upset about the rumors. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶
31. On July 3, 2001, Plaintiff sent a memorandum to Collins complaining
that she had failed to investigate the allegations that there were KKK
meetings in Plaintiff's office and that she had failed to investigate the
allegation that he was allied with Ross and a third employee in a
"character assassination" of one of the floor managers. Def.'s 56.1 ¶
12. However, at no time did Collins take any additional steps to
investigate the allegations herself. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 26, 34.
Administrative leave with pay is a type of leave available for Cook
County employees under unique circumstances where an individual is placed
on leave for Cook County's interest.
Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 17. Administrative leave is granted on a case-by-case
basis and is based upon the recommendation of an administrator where the
affected employee is either a danger to the institution or there is some
other reason the person should be removed immediately before any other
process is initiated. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 17-18. These reasons could include
instances where the affected employees safety may be threatened. Pl.'s
56.1 ¶ 18. There is no specific limitation on the length of a period
of administrative leave with pay. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 21.
Collins, as Superintendent of the Center, has the authority to
recommend that an employee be granted administrative leave with pay;
however, Collins would not have final authority to grant administrative
leave. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 19. Collins also has the authority to recommend
administrative leave with pay when an employee has been physically harmed
on the premises, and she has the ability to influence the final
decision-maker in making a determination as to whether such leave should
be granted. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 20.
On July 9, 2001, Plaintiff did not report for work. Def.'s 56.1 ¶
13. On July 12, 2001, Plaintiff submitted a request to the Cook County
Department of Human Resources seeking an administrative leave with pay
because of job stress resulting from allegations of criminal behavior and
allegations by Collins of KKK activities. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 14, A letter
from Plaintiff's medical doctor, Dr. Brian Stratta, accompanied his
request and stated that Plaintiff is undergoing acute stress disorder.
Dr. Stratta further stated that Plaintiff is medically required to have a
leave of absence from work for thirty days. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 15.
On July 13, Collins wrote a letter to Dr. Stratta informing him that,
based on his letter, Plaintiff was eligible to apply for a medical leave
of absence. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 16. On August 7, 2001, Collins sent a
letter to Plaintiff advising him of his benefit time status, inviting
him to complete the medical leave documents, and informing him that,
absent an application for medical leave or vacation, Plaintiff would be
in zero pay status on August 9, 2001. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 17.
Plaintiff then sent more correspondence demanding that Collins place
him on administrative leave. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 25. Collins responded to
these memoranda and referred him back to the July 13, 2001 letter that
explained other options for medical leave. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 26. On
August 14, 2001, Plaintiff submitted another letter from Dr. Stratta
recommending an additional forty-five-day leave of absence while being
treated for acute stress disorder. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 29. On two later
occasions, Dr. Stratta wrote that Plaintiff's leave should be extended
and that he could only return to work if placed in a different location.
Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 34-35.
On November 7, Plaintiff was notified that his application for
disability benefits was approved. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 36. Thereafter, Dr.
Stratta once again wrote Collins to extend Plaintiff's leave and state
that he could only return to work if placed in a different location.
Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 37. On September 24, 2002, Dr. Stratta wrote that
Plaintiff should not return to work at the Center. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 38.
However, on March 3, 2003, Dr. Stratta wrote that Plaintiff could return
to work at the Center. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 39. In May 2003, Plaintiff
returned to work in the position of Business Manager II at the Bureau of
Public Safety. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 40.
On August 8, 2001, Collins received notice that graffiti had been found
over the Business Manager's office door. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 18. When
Collins went downstairs, she observed the letters "KKK," 3 inches in
height, marked in black marker on the door frame above Plaintiff's
office. The incident on August 8 was the only time Collins observed the
letters KKK written as graffiti
in the Center; and Plaintiff, who had not been at work since July
9, 2001, was not there that day. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 21.
After viewing the graffiti, Collins reported it to Patricia Shymanski,
Chief of Staff to Cook County Board President John Stroger. Def.'s 56.1
¶ 23. During the telephone call with Shymanski, Collins told her that
people at the Center were "buzzing" about the fact that the letters were
on Plaintiff's office and requested authority to remove them. Pl.'s 56.1
¶ 41. Collins recognized placing graffiti over Plaintiff's door was a
serious matter. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 53. Shymanski, who also recognized the
fact that the letters KKK would be offensive to people at the Center,
supported Collins in her judgment that the graffiti should be quietly
removed. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 24; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 42-43, 46.
However, Shymanski did not direct Collins or anyone else to investigate
the incident involving the placement of KKK on Plaintiff's door. Pl.'s
56.1 ¶ 44. The KKK letters were removed from Plaintiff's door before
Collins or Shymanski could talk to everyone in the facility. Def.'s Resp,
to Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 47. Collins did not take any photographs of the
graffiti, nor did she have anyone take fingerprints or take any other
steps to investigate the incident prior to having the letters removed.
Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 48. Collins did not interview anyone regarding the KKK
graffiti over Plaintiff's door, nor did she contact any law enforcement
authority to look into the graffiti. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 51.
On August 28, 2001, David Wells, from the Office of the Inspector
General of Cook County, commenced an investigation of those issues raised
by Plaintiff in his August 8 and 9 memoranda. Specifically, Wells
investigated the alleged threats against Plaintiff made by
members of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, the rumors of
Plaintiff's KKK involvement, and the graffiti discovered above
Plaintiff's office. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 30.
Following Plaintiff's departure on leave from his position at the
Center on July 9, 2001, his work was partly preformed by John Gibbs and
Kim Gilmore. Both are African-American individuals. Def.'s Resp, to Pl.'s
56.1 ¶ 12. If Plaintiff remained at the Center, he would have been
eligible to apply for a job in the newly created position of Chief
Financial Officer. The Chief Financial Officer position is currently held
by John Gibbs. Def.'s Resp, to Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 13.
Plaintiff brought a three-count Complaint against Defendant. Count I
alleges that Plaintiff was the victim of disparate treatment. Count II
alleges that Plaintiff's work environment was hostile. Count III alleges
a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress by Defendant.
Plaintiff can prove he was the victim of disparate treatment by using
either the direct method or the indirect method. Radue v. Kimberly-Clark
Corp., 219 F.3d 612, 616 (7th Cir. 2000) (Radue).
The direct method requires Plaintiff to present "enough evidence,
whether direct or circumstantial, of discriminatory motivation to create
a genuine issue for trial." Plaintiff must also establish that the
discriminatory motivation caused the adverse employment action. See
Radue, 219 F.3d at 616-617.
However, direct evidence is hard to produce because the employer will
rarely admit that his or her actions were based on a discriminatory
animus. Radue, 219 F.3d at 616. Here, Plaintiff concedes that he
does not have any statement by Collins or any other superior at the
Center indicating that he suffered an adverse employment action because
of a discriminatory animus.
Plaintiff may also rely on circumstantial evidence to satisfy the
direct method. Radue, 219 F.3d at 616. Plaintiff alleges that Collins
took part in spreading false rumors that Plaintiff was a member of the
KKK. Plaintiff bases this allegation largely on the affidavit of Ross.
The fourth paragraph of Ross's affidavit states that he has "personal
knowledge that Ms. Collins also discussed the rumors of [Plaintiff's]
alleged Ku Klux Klan membership/activity with other employees of the
[Center]. . . ." The statement, which Defendant claims to be hearsay,
appears to be admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 801 and tends to
show that Collins helped to spread the rumor that Plaintiff was involved
with the KKK. Defendant argues that this statement only shows that
Collins attempted to informally investigate the rumors. However,
Defendant has failed to present any affidavits, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, or admissions demonstrating that Collins took formal
actions to investigate and prevent the spread of rumors stating that
Plaintiff was involved with the KKK. Therefore, a genuine issue of
material fact exists as to whether Collins informally investigated the
KKK accusations and rumors or helped to spread these rumors.
Plaintiff must next demonstrate that he suffered an adverse employment
action. In order to establish an adverse employment action, a plaintiff
must establish a materially adverse change in the terms, conditions, or
privileges of employment. A number of employment actions, other than
reducing pay or terminating an employee's job, can qualify as an adverse
employment action. Rather, whether an employment action is adverse
depends on the facts of each particular
case; and these actions can be blatant or subtle. See Haugerud v. Amery
Sch. Dist., 259 F.3d 678, 691 (7th Cir. 2001).
Here, Plaintiff was denied a request for paid administrative leave he
attempted to take as a result of the harassing conduct at the Center. The
failure to grant Plaintiff administrative leave had a direct financial
impact on Plaintiff because he was forced to take paid leave which he was
entitled to hold and use for other purposes or receive compensation for
upon separation from employment. In addition, while Plaintiff was on
leave, he lost the opportunity to apply for the newly created position of
Chief Financial Officer. Collins herself testified that Plaintiff would
have been eligible for this position. Accordingly, a genuine issue of
material fact exists as to whether Plaintiff suffered an adverse
Defendant also claims that Plaintiff has failed to show that any
discriminatory animus was related towards any employment decision.
Defendant contends that Collins did not have the authority to grant
administrative leave. However, as Defendant concedes, Collins, as
Superintendent of the Center, could have recommended Plaintiff for
administrative leave. Moreover, it is undisputed that administrative
leave is based upon the recommendation of the relevant administrator. A
genuine issue of material fact thus exists as to whether any
discriminatory animus was related towards the decision to not grant
Plaintiff administrative leave.
Plaintiff has demonstrated that a genuine issue of material fact exists
as to whether he was the victim of disparate treatment. Accordingly,
Defendant's motion for granted summary judgment as to Count I of
Plaintiff's Complaint is denied.
Hostile Work Environment
Plaintiff presents multiple reasons for why his work environment was
allegedly hostile. First, Plaintiff contends that Collins helped to
further rumors that Plaintiff was a member of the KKK and that she failed
to address this issue. Second, Plaintiff argues that Collins allowed
other individuals to spread the accusation that Plaintiff battered an
African-American, Bialek, without taking steps to address these problems.
"To prevail on a hostile work environment racial harassment claim, the
plaintiff must show that his work environment was both subjectively and
objectively hostile." To be an objectively hostile work environment, a
reasonable person must find the environment hostile or abusive. McPhaul
v. Madison County Bd. of Comm'rs, 226 F.3d 558, 556-57 (7th Cir. 2000)
(McPhaul). The hostile work environment must be so severe or pervasive to
alter the conditions of the victim's working environment. Robinson v.
Sappington, 351 F.3d 317, 329 (7th Cir. 2003). Courts should consider the
totality of the circumstances surrounding the work environment, including
"the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it was
physically threatening or humiliating; or a mere offensive utterance; and
whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance."
McPhaul, 226 F.3d at 557.
Multiple instances of verbal harassment directed at a plaintiff would
be actionable. See Cerros v. Steel Techs., Inc., 288 F.3d 1040, 1047 (7th
Cir. 2002). However, a single offensive statement or statements made in
"random office banter" are not actionable. Salvadori v. Franklin Sch.
Dist., 293 F.3d 989, 997 (7th Cir. 2002); Logan v. Kautex Textron N. Am.,
259 F.3d 635, 641 (7th Cir. 2001).
Here, Plaintiff claims that Collins furthered rumors of Plaintiff's
involvement with the KKK by speaking with other employees and by taking
no affirmative steps to address the rumors. Plaintiff further states that
Collins ignored the rumors and failed to take affirmative steps to
address the issue and allowed other individuals to propagate the
accusation that Plaintiff battered Bialek without taking any steps to
address these accusations. In response, Defendant states that Collins
determined the rumors of the Plaintiff's alleged involvement with the KKK
and Plaintiff's alleged battery of Bialek were not credible.
Based on these contentions, a genuine issue of material fact exists as
to whether these actions forced Plaintiff to work in an objectively
hostile work environment. Defendant has failed to present any affidavits,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions demonstrating that
Collins took affirmative steps to stop the spread of these rumors at the
Center. Thus, whether Collins informally investigated the accusations and
rumors or helped to spread these rumors is a genuine issue of material
fact not appropriate to resolve on summary judgment.
Defendant also claims that Plaintiff, based on his prior employment
history, could not be subjectively fearful of any discriminatory
ridicule. However, it is uncontested that Plaintiff took medical leave
from his employment at the Center. Whether Plaintiff took this leave
because of his subjective fears of the employment environment is a
genuine issue of material fact not appropriate to resolve on summary
judgment. Accordingly, Defendant's motion for summary judgment on
Plaintiff's hostile work environment claim is denied.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
To succeed on a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress,
Plaintiff must establish that: "(i) the defendant's conduct was extreme
and outrageous; (2) the defendant either
intended that his conduct would cause severe emotional distress or knew
that [a] high probability existed that his conduct would cause severe
emotional distress; and (3) the defendant's conduct actually caused severe
emotional distress to the plaintiff." Sanglap v. LaSalle Bank, FSB, 00 C
1663, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 335, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Jan 11. 2002)
Conduct is extreme and outrageous if, upon reciting the facts to an
average member of the community, resentment would be aroused against the
actor and the average member of the community would scream "Outrageous!"
Sanglap, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 335, at *3. Extreme and outrageous conduct
must go beyond all possible bounds of decency. Mere insults, threats,
annoyances, or other petty trivialities do not rise to the level of
extreme and outrageous conduct. Sanglap, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS, at * 3.
In this case, a genuine issue of material fact exists over whether the
complained of conduct was extreme and outrageous. Plaintiff argues that
Collins knew that rumors existed stating Plaintiff was in the KKK and
that Collins furthered these rumors by discussing them with other
employees at the Center. Defendant claims that Collins only discussed the
rumors with Ross in a confidential inquiry.
As stated above, whether Collins informally investigated the
accusations and rumors or helped to spread these rumors is a genuine
issue of material fact not proper to resolve on summary judgment. It is
also a genuine issue of material fact as to whether promulgating these
rumors raised to the level of extreme and outrageous conduct. Therefore,
Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's intentional
infliction of emotional distress claim is denied.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is
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