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BALLENTINE v. ILLINOIS STATE POLICE

July 15, 2004.

JEWEL BALLENTINE, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS STATE POLICE, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES NORGLE, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Jewel Ballentine ("Ballentine"), proceeding pro se, filed suit against Defendant, her employer, the Illinois State Police ("ISP"), alleging, inter alia, racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Specifically, Ballentine alleges that she was denied promotions and placed on a disability leave of absence based on her race and in retaliation for having signed a letter in February 1999 regarding allegations of discrimination at her place of employment. Before the court is ISP's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

  A. Facts

  Ballentine, an African-American female, began her employment with the ISP in 1993. In 1996, the ISP opened the Forensic Science Center ("FSC") in Chicago, Illinois. The FSC performs analysis and storage of physical evidence for use in criminal investigations and prosecutions for state law enforcement agencies. Ballentine was transferred to the FSC shortly after its opening, and assumed the position of Office Coordinator within the Evidence Control Center of the FSC. As an Office Coordinator, Ballentine's job duties were primarily clerical. In 1999, Ballentine was granted an internal transfer to the Administrative Bureau of the FSC. Within the Administrative Bureau, Ballentine's job duties remained primarily clerical. Specifically, Ballentine greeted employees, law enforcement officers and visitors who came to the FSC's administrative area. At all times relevant to this case, Ballentine's direct supervisor was Scott Jensen, Deputy Laboratory Director of the FSC ("Deputy Director Jensen"). Deputy Director Jensen reported to James Kearney, Laboratory Director of the FSC ("Director Kearney").

  In February 1999, Ballentine and another employee, Rochelle Massengale, signed a letter addressed to ISP Director Sam Nolen, raising allegations of discrimination in the handling of personnel at the FSC. ISP did not ignore Ballentine's letter. ISP conducted an investigation and later assigned Master Sergeant Odell Thompson to the FSC to ensure that proper procedures were followed with respect to personnel issues.

  The gravamen of Ballentine's Complaint is that she was denied promotions and placed on a disability leave of absence based on her race and in retaliation for having signed the February 1999 letter regarding allegations of discrimination at the FSC. ISP responds that Ballentine was not qualified for the promotions she sought and was placed on a disability leave of absence because of instances of disorderly conduct, insubordination, and a documented history of emotional outbursts in the workplace that caused conflicts with her co-workers and supervisors and disrupted the workplace. Ballentine asserts that she was qualified for and should have received promotions for three separate positions: (1) Account Technician I, (2) Account Technician II, and (3) Office Administrator IV. However, the undisputed evidence in this case indicates that Ballentine had a documented history of emotional outbursts in the Forensic Science Center offices that caused conflicts with her co-workers and supervisors and disrupted the workplace, which resulted in the ISP finding that Ballentine was not qualified for promotion.

  In late 1999 and early 2000, Ballentine had a number of performance-related problems. The first problem, which occurred in late 1999 or early 2000, was a statement Ballentine made while standing with a group of people near the reception desk at the FSC. Specifically, at that time, Ballentine remarked about "going postal."*fn2 Certain employees who had heard the comment perceived it as a threat, and an investigation ensued. The statement was documented in a memo written by Master Sergeant Thompson and sent to Director Kearney. A second problem was a heated argument Ballentine had with another co-worker, Carolyn Merrill, which occurred on March 3, 2000. Immediately after the argument, Deputy Director Jensen summoned Ballentine into his office to discuss the matter. Director Kearney was also present for this meeting. During this meeting, Ballentine interjected other issues that she was dissatisfied with, including temporary pay and the location of her desk. According to Director Kearney and Deputy Director Jensen, Ballentine conducted herself in an inappropriate manner by becoming emotional, crying and raising her voice to her supervisors. As a result, Ballentine was ordered to complete a counseling program, the Career Enhancement Program ("CEP"). In addition, her conduct during that meeting resulted in an internal investigation, which culminated in charges of disorderly conduct and insubordination.

  From April 4 through April 9, 2000, Ballentine attended the CEP counseling program. Thereafter, Ballentine returned to work. Subsequently, Ballentine was informed that she would not be considered for promotion at that time due to her performance-related problems. On June 16, 2000, Director Kearney sent a letter to Ballentine stating that her performance in her current position would be evaluated for a 60 day period before being considered for a promotion. However, the situation did not improve, and ISP had greater concerns with Ballentine's performance.

  On August 16, 2000, Ballentine received a letter from ISP Deputy Director Teresa M. Kettlekamp, instructing her to take a fitness for duty examination. The letter stated that based on the aforementioned performance-related problems, Ballentine was to submit to an evaluation by Dr. Cherry Weber. Following the examination on August 18, 2000, Dr. Weber opined that Ballentine was not fit for duty. On September 5, 2000, Ballentine received another letter from ISP Deputy Director Teresa M. Kettlekamp, recommending that she take a disability leave of absence and seek psychiatric counseling. The letter also stated that after a medical professional had declared her fit to return to work, her employment status would be re-evaluated. On September 7, 2000, Ballentine received a letter from Director Kearney, informing her that she was being placed on administrative leave with pay pending her decision to apply for a disability leave of absence. The letter also advised Ballentine that if she did not apply for a disability leave of absence she would remain on administrative leave until further notice. Ballentine did not apply for a disability leave of absence, and she received her full salary until December 2000.

  Shortly thereafter, Ballentine independently made an appointment to meet with Dr. Thomas Yun. Dr. Yun opined that Ballentine was fit for duty, but had an inability to cope with work-related stress. In light of Dr. Yun's opinion, Ballentine sought to have the ISP re-evaluate her in order to return to work. In response, the ISP sent Ballentine a list of doctors with whom she could submit to a third examination to determine her fitness for duty. Ballentine selected Dr. Daniel O'Grady. She met with him on January 3, 2001. Ballentine participated in only portions of Dr. O'Grady's examination, and he ultimately agreed with Dr. Weber's opinion that Ballentine was not fit for duty.

  Ballentine's employment status and the opinions of Drs. Weber and O'Grady were reviewed by the ISP Medical Review Board, which recommended that she be placed on a non-service connected disability leave of absence. On February 21, 2001, ISP Director Sam Nolen sent a letter to Ballentine indicating that the Medical Review Board's decision was adopted. To date, Ballentine remains on non-service connected disability leave of absence without pay.

  B. Procedural Framework

  Shortly before being placed on a non-service connected disability leave of absence, on December 5, 2000, Ballentine filed a charge of discrimination against ISP with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. In that charge, Ballentine raised four issues: (1) failure to promote based on racial discrimination in April 2000, (2) retaliatory failure to promote in April 2000 based on writing the February 1999 letter regarding allegations of discrimination at the FSC, (3) placement on administrative leave based on perceived mental handicap, and (4) retaliatory placement on administrative leave based on writing the February 1999 letter regarding allegations of discrimination at the FSC. On August 19, 2002, shortly after receiving a Notice of Right to Sue letter, Ballentine filed a pro se lawsuit against the ISP in federal district court. Specifically, Ballentine alleged that the ISP discriminated against her based on the following: (1) her gender and race under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e ("Title VII"); (2) her ...


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