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PARKER v. CITY OF ELGIN

August 30, 2005.

JOYCE A. PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ELGIN, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REBECCA PALLMEYER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Joyce Parker, an African-American woman, began working as City Manager for the City of Elgin in 1997. Her tenure as City Manager was a rocky one, marked by an ongoing dispute with the Mayor and a debilitating eye condition. In January 2002, the City Council asked for her resignation. Plaintiff now brings suit against the City of Elgin, alleging that her termination was the product of race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count I) and § 1983 (Count II). She also alleges that her termination occurred without due process of law, in violation of § 1983 (Count III) and represented a breach of her employment contract (Count IV). Defendant moves for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff's Hiring as City Manager

  Plaintiff began working as the City Manager for the City of Elgin, Illinois in October 1997. (Defendant's Local Rule 56.1(a) Statement, hereinafter "Def.'s 56.1(a)," ¶ 10.) Some months earlier, she had been contacted by a search firm retained by the City to fill the position. (Id. ¶ 5-6.) After Plaintiff expressed interest, the firm arranged for her to be interviewed by the City Council. (Id. ¶ 6.) The full seven-member City Council conducted two interviews with Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 7-8.) Ultimately, she was offered the position over one other finalist, a white male. (Id. 11.)

  After receiving the offer of employment, Plaintiff began negotiating the terms of her contract with City Council member Robert Gilliam. (Id. ¶ 12.) During these negotiations, Plaintiff requested and received certain benefits that had not been included in the employment contracts of prior city managers. (Id. ¶ 13.) Specifically, she requested that the City make pension fund contributions and provide reimbursement for relocation expenses. (Id. ¶ 14-15.) Ultimately, the contract provided that, in addition to its contributions to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, the City would contribute $7,500 annually to a qualified retirement plan of Plaintiff's choosing. (Id. ¶ 3.) In addition, the contract provided for reimbursement of all moving expenses, as well as a $1,000 monthly temporary housing allowance to be paid for up to six months. (Id. ¶ 6-7.) Plaintiff also requested that she be provided with a Chevy Blazer; some Council members believed that this was not appropriate under Plaintiff's employment contract, which provided for the City to lease her a "mid-sized" vehicle, but that request, too, was granted. (Id. 16; Affidavit of Robert Gilliam, Appendix to Def.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, hereinafter "Gilliam Affidavit," ¶ 14-15.)

  The contract between the City and Plaintiff provided that she would be paid an annual salary of $116,000.00. The contract did not include an explicit authorization for an automatic cost of living increase, instead providing that the City would conduct a salary review annually. (Employment Contract, Parker Dep., Ex. 1, ¶ 2.) In Plaintiff's view, this provision did effectively guarantee her an annual cost of living increase contingent on a satisfactory job performance review. (Parker Dep., at 234.) Regarding duration, the contract provided that the agreement would apply for an "indefinite term," and that Plaintiff could terminate the contract upon written notice to the Mayor and City Council "at least twenty-eight (28) days before, but not more than forty-five (45) days before the effective date of said notice of termination, unless otherwise agreed by City of Elgin." (Id. ¶ 1.) The contract made no reference to cause for termination, instead providing that the contract "may be terminated by the City acting through its corporate authorities." (Id.) Upon termination, Plaintiff was entitled to severance pay up of three quarters of her annual salary if terminated prior to January 1, 2000; thereafter, she would be entitled to severance pay of one half of her annual salary. (Id. ¶ 8.) Finally, the contract stated that "[e]xcept as modified by the terms and provisions contained therein, Joyce Parker shall be entitled to all other benefits and privileges afforded to Class A management level employees under applicable ordinances of the City of Elgin." (Id. ¶ 13.) The contract was signed by both Plaintiff and Kevin Kelly, then Mayor of Elgin. (Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Material Facts, ¶ 112; Employment Contract, at 3.)

  Plaintiff's Tenure as City Manager

  The City Manager post is the highest appointed position within the City government and reports to both the City Council and Mayor. (Def.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 22-23.) As City Manager, Plaintiff was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the City and for implementing the policy decisions made by the City Council. (Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Material Facts, hereinafter "Pl.'s 56.1(a)," ¶ 109.) In addition, the City Manager is responsible for preparing a municipal budget for consideration of the City Council. (See City of Elgin website, "Council/Manager Form of Government," at http://www.cityofelgin.org/index.asp?NID=62#q04.)

  In early 1999, then-Mayor Kelly conducted the first annual review of Plaintiff's job performance. (Parker Dep., at 69-70.) During this meeting, Plaintiff maintains that Mayor Kelly told her that, during his tenure, the two prior city managers, both white males, had been advised of their performance problems and had been given an opportunity to correct them. (Pl.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 116.) Following this meeting, the substance of which is not in the record, the City Council increased her salary by 3.5%, retroactive to January 1, 1999. (Def.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 24.) In January 2000, the City Council again raised Plaintiff's salary by 3.5%. (Id. ¶ 26.)

  In April 2000, Council member Ed Schock, a white male, defeated incumbent Kevin Kelly in the City of Elgin mayoral election. (Pl.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 120.) From the beginning of Schock's tenure,*fn1 Plaintiff claims that the Mayor had little contact with her, instead choosing to deal directly with a number of her subordinates, all of whom were white males. (Parker Dep., at 81-84.) Shortly after the election, Plaintiff met with Schock to discuss, among other things, her job performance. (Id. ¶ 121.) During this discussion, Plaintiff inquired about her annual evaluation, which had been postponed until after the mayoral election. Schock responded by saying that she "might not be around very long." (Id.) Plaintiff understood him to mean that she should not be too concerned about the substance of her annual evaluation, because her employment might be terminated soon.*fn2 (Parker Dep., at 110.) Plaintiff later told Council members Marie Yearman and Robert Gilliam about the Mayor's comments, as well as his treatment of her. (Id. at 119.) Yearman told Plaintiff that she felt that Schock "had a problem with women." (Id.) Gilliam, on the other hand, stated that he did not believe Plaintiff would have any problems working with Schock, and that he didn't realize there had been any problems up to that time. (Id. at 118.) On November 9, 2000, Mayor Schock sent a memorandum to Plaintiff presenting a number of criticisms directed at Plaintiff's handling of various budget-related matters. (Def.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 28.) In this memorandum, Mayor Schock noted that: (1) the City's five-year plan*fn3 did not include amounts budgeted for municipal streetscape improvements; (2) he had not received a previously-requested cost estimate for the implementation of a compensation study; (3) the funding for economic development initiatives "seems a little light"; and (4) no funding had been budgeted for a number of special municipal events. (Id.) A copy of this memorandum was also forwarded by the Mayor to all City Council members, although the letter itself did not indicate that copies were provided to them. (Parker Dep. at 159-60.) Prior to sending the memorandum, Mayor Schock and Council member Steward Wasilowski contacted two of Plaintiff's subordinates, Jim Nowicki and Sean Stegall, regarding these issues. (Parker Dep., at 160-62.) Nowicki and Stegall both later contacted Plaintiff independently, alerting her that Schock and Wasilowski had contacted them regarding budget issues and had "implied that something had been done inappropriately," presumably by Plaintiff or her staff. (Id. at 162-65; Pl.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 130.)

  Between November 9 and November 14, 2000, Plaintiff again spoke with Council member Gilliam, and told him that the concerns raised in the Mayor's memorandum were not accurate. (Id. ¶ 132.) Gilliam urged Plaintiff to respond to the memorandum, which, in Gilliam's opinion, was intended as a criticism of her performance as city manager. (Parker Dep., at 167-68.) Plaintiff did prepare a responsive memorandum on November 14, 2000 sent to both the Mayor and City Council members, in which she expressed her disappointment that the Mayor "did not take a less formal approach in addressing [his] concern" regarding her performance, her dismay that the Mayor's November 9 memorandum was forwarded to the City Council without her knowledge, and her belief that the Mayor had "compromised" the staff by instructing his secretary to conceal from Plaintiff the fact that copies of the memorandum were being sent to others. (Def.'s 56.1 (a) ¶ 30.) Finally, Plaintiff explained that she was voicing these concerns in hopes of "establishing a good working relationship" with the new mayor. (Id.)

  On receiving a copy of Plaintiff's memorandum, Gilliam told her that some members of the City Council thought that the language in the memorandum was "very strong." (Parker Dep., at 179-80.) He also told her that she should speak with the Mayor, because he was disappointed and insulted by the memorandum. (Id. at 180-83.) More broadly, Gilliam suggested that she try to meet with the Mayor more frequently in order to develop a better working relationship. (Id. at 183.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff did meet with Mayor Schock.*fn4 (Id. at 186-87.) During the short meeting, Plaintiff apologized to the Mayor and explained that she had not meant to insult him. (Id.) Plaintiff and Mayor Shock agreed to meet more regularly in order to facilitate more open communication. (Id. at 188-90.)

  The End of Plaintiff's Tenure as City Manager

  On July 11, 2001, the Elgin City Council convened a meeting. (Def.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 35.) The City claims that the meeting was scheduled to review Plaintiff's job performance, (Affidavit of Robert Gilliam, Ex. 1 to Def.'s Appendix, hereinafter "Gilliam Affidavit," ¶ 26), but Plaintiff claims that the matter of her performance was not listed on the meeting agenda.*fn5 (Parker Dep., at 206-08.) In any event, the issue did arise. During the general public meeting, the Mayor requested that the Council go into an executive session, closed to the public. (Parker Dep., at 208.) Plaintiff ordinarily attended both the general and executive sessions of the City Council meeting, but on this occasion, Mayor Schock asked that she not attend the executive session. (Id. at 210.) Plaintiff left the meeting, though she remained in the building because she had previously read a newspaper article reporting that the Council would hold an executive session to discuss her job performance.*fn6 (Id.) After approximately an hour, Plaintiff was asked to rejoin the meeting, and each Council member had an opportunity to apprise Plaintiff of any concerns he or she had regarding her performance. (Parker Dep., at 215-17.) According to Plaintiff,*fn7 at least four members of the Council — Marie Yearman, Juan Figueroa, Ruth Munson, and Robert Gilliam — expressed no concerns regarding her performance. (Id. at 217-18.) Another, John Walters, stated that he was initially concerned that Plaintiff did not have sufficient experience in development, but that he believed she had "gotten up to speed" and that things were running smoothly. (Id. at 218.) Mayor Schock and Council member Stuart Wasilowski both expressed concerns regarding her performance; they cited missed meetings, interaction with staff, and failure to get involved in certain zoning projects. (Parker Dep., at 218-19.) Following these comments, the Council*fn8 informed Plaintiff that they planned to conduct an evaluation of Plaintiff's job performance and to establish goals and objectives for the upcoming year. (Parker Dep., at 220.) The Council also advised Plaintiff that she would receive a 3.5% salary increase, an increase Plaintiff claims was based upon her performance. (Id. at 225; Pl.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 145.)

  On July 25, 2001, Plaintiff sent a memorandum to the City Council in which she addressed a number of recent media reports regarding the Council's dissatisfaction with her performance as City Manager. (Def.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 50.) In the memo, Plaintiff began by thanking the Council for the recent "cost of living increase." She then turned her attention to the July 11 City Council meeting, in which she understood the Council to have raised two primary issues of concern regarding her performance: overall communication and staff interaction. In the memorandum, Plaintiff identified a number of steps that she ...


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