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AVERHART v. SHEAHAN

YVONNE AVERHART, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL F. SHEAHAN, The Sheriff of Cook County and COUNTY OF COOK, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARLANDER KEYS, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Defendants, Michael F. Sheahan and County of Cook ("Cook County"), move this Court for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff sued Defendants, claiming that her employer retaliated against her for exercising her rights under the First Amendment, and in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C § 2000e et seq. (West 2003), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (West 2003). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

BACKGROUND FACTS

  On December 17, 1986, the Cook County Department of Corrections (the "DOC") hired Yvonne Averhart as a correctional officer, following her participation in a class action lawsuit that successfully challenged the DOC's hiring policies. Ms. Averhart's first thirteen years of service were relatively unremarkable.*fn1 On July 23, 1999, however, Plaintiff was written up for misconduct and suspended for five days. Plaintiff successfully grieved this write up, and the discipline was subsequently expunged. Approximately one month later, on August 27, 1999, the United States Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Valerie Smith v. Sheahan, 189 F.3d 529 (7th Cir. 1998). The Seventh Circuit decision, which enabled Ms. Smith to proceed with her sexual discrimination suit against the Cook County Sheriff and his Department, expressly mentioned Ms. Averhart and the affidavit she had given in support of Ms. Smith's claim. Plaintiff contends that, following the issuance of the Seventh Circuit's decision, Defendants began disciplining her for minor and concocted infractions, and subjecting her to abuse and harassment, in retaliation for assisting Ms. Smith.

  On September 9, 1999, Plaintiff was cited for having DOC property in her locker.*fn2 Plaintiff asserts that this was, at best, a minor offense, but was written up as a major infraction. Plaintiff grieved the September 9th write up, and wrote letters to various officials within the DOC chain of command, including Sheriff Sheahan. Plaintiff was then written up for minor acts of disrespect. Plaintiff grieved the write up, claiming that the write up was unfair and was the result of a hostile environment created by Superintendent Imhof. Plaintiff's grievance was denied on December 21, 1999.

  On January 18, 2000, Plaintiff requested an administrative move, noting that she had been written-up five times since Supt. lmhof arrived in her Division.*fn3 On January 27, 2000, Plaintiff was transferred to Division V, and was written up for a "major act of insubordination" the next day, when she ignored an order to remove her car from a handicapped-parking space.*fn4 Plaintiff notes that, under the DOC's General Orders, a "Minor traffic offense on duty" is not considered serious misconduct.*fn5 In the interim, Defendants had begun investigating allegations of impropriety against Plaintiff, including allegations that Plaintiff was maintaining improper relationships with inmates and was involved in smuggling contraband into the prison.*fn6 During the course of the investigation, inmate William Lang informed investigators that he had a personal relationship with Plaintiff, in violation of DOC rules. In the summer of 2000, Internal Affairs Investigator Kuksta monitored planned phone calls placed by Mr. Lang to Plaintiff on two occasions. Mr. Lang and Plaintiff discussed an apparent personal relationship and planned to meet.*fn7 Notably, the meeting never took place. Plaintiff denied ever having made or received telephone calls from inmate Lang. However, Plaintiff did admit to sending and receiving correspondence from other inmates, whom she considered "lifelong friends."

  On September 5, 2000, Plaintiff filed Charge NO. 210A04317 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that she was unfairly written up, recommended for suspension, and subjected to different terms of employment in retaliation for having participated in the 1985 class action discrimination action, and in retaliation for giving deposition testimony on behalf of a coworker. Plaintiff claims that she was written up for minor infractions, such as using the commissary bathroom instead of the ladies locker room when the locker room lacked toiletries, and that Defendants failed to give her the appropriate paperwork to properly challenge these infractions.*fn8 Sometime thereafter, Plaintiff was arrested for theft by the Chicago Police. On January 18, 2001, Defendants notified Plaintiff that her inappropriate relationships with inmates and her theft arrest violated the DOC's general orders.

  On May 3, 2001, the DOC's Employee Discipline Administrator notified Plaintiff that the allegations against her had been sustained and recommended that Plaintiff be terminated. Plaintiff sought and received a "Loudermill" hearing regarding the allegations on May 18, 2001. Defendants filed a Complaint with the Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board ("Board"), seeking Averhart's termination, on May 29, 2001. The Complaint alleged that Plaintiff made false official reports; engaged in conduct unbecoming an employee of the DOC; failed to comply with DOC rules, procedures, directives, etc.; knowingly associated with persons having known criminal records; and violated General Orders of the Sheriff's Office.

  The Sheriff's Merit Board conducted a hearing on the Complaint on June 21, 2002, and concluded the proceedings on April 17, 2003. Plaintiff argued that the charges against her were overblown or fabricated. Plaintiff claimed that the charges were brought in retaliation for her having submitted an affidavit in the Smith v. Sheahan case and because she had reported other incidents she believed to be improper. The Merit Board issued its final determination on June 11, 2003, finding that the Sheriff had produced sufficient evidence to sustain all charges against Plaintiff. The Merit Board found that Plaintiff's termination was retroactive to May 29, 2001. Plaintiff filed suit in the Illinois State courts, seeking review of this administrative decision.

  In the interim, Plaintiff had filed another charge with the EEOC. On January 23, 2002, Plaintiff filed charge Number 210A201475, alleging that Defendants suspended her from her employment on May 29, 2001, in retaliation for having previously filed Charge No. 210A04317.

  PROCEDURAL HISTORY

  Plaintiff first filed suit against Defendants on January 18, 2001, alleging that Defendants suspended her without pay from her job in retaliation for speaking out against sexual harassment and filing an EEOC Charge against Defendant, in violation of Title VII. The case was initially assigned to Judge George W. Lindberg. On February 21, 2002, the parties consented to proceed before a Magistrate Judge, and on February 25, 2002, the case was assigned to this Court.

  Plaintiff filed her second lawsuit on June 4, 2002, alleging that Defendants retaliated against her, in violation of Title VII, and deprived her of her First Amendment Rights, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The case was initially assigned to Judge Ronald A. Guzman. On March 7, 2003, Judge Guzman denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. The parties then consented ...


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