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ELSTAD v. SOS CHILDERN'S VILLAGES ILLINOIS

September 16, 2005.

SALLY ELSTAD, LEANN RYAN and ROSEMARY SYLVESTER, Plaintiffs,
v.
SOS CHILDREN'S VILLAGES ILLINOIS, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD GUZMAN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Sally Elstad, LeAnn Ryan and Rosemary Sylvester have sued Defendant SOS Children's Villages Illinois ("SOS") for its alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and state law.*fn1 The case is before the Court on SOS' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56. For the reasons provided in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.

Facts*fn2

  SOS is a not-for-profit child welfare agency with facilities in Lockport and Chicago, Illinois. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶ 3.) SOS operates homes for foster parents and children. (Id. ¶ 4.) The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS") is SOS' primary source of funding. (Id. ¶ 3.)

  During plaintiffs' tenure with SOS, Job West ("West") was SOS' Chief Executive Offer ("CEO"). (Id. ¶ 8.) Brian Barclay ("Barclay") was the Lockport Village Director and he reported to West. (Id. ¶ 9.) Joseph Skender ("Skender") was president of the SOS board of directors. (Id. ¶ 10.)

  Throughout plaintiffs' employment, the agency had a progressive discipline policy in place. (Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶¶ 175, 177-78.) The policy provided four levels of discipline: verbal warning, written warning, probation/suspension, termination. (App. Pls.' LR 56.1(b) Stmt., Vol. II, Tab U, PX 65 at 28.) The policy said, however, that "[a]ny of the . . . steps in the discipline process may be omitted." (Id.) It also said that insubordination, which it defined as "refusal to carry out the duties of one's assigned position; refusal to follow agency policies or procedures; refusal to comply with the directives of the immediate supervisor," could result in immediate termination. (Id. at 29-30.)

  From June 30, 2002 until her termination on May 21, 2003, plaintiff Elstad worked at SOS as Development Director of the Lockport facility and reported to West. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶¶ 5, 12.) In that position, Elstad was responsible for raising some of the money SOS needed to meet its annual budget. (Id. ¶ 17.)

  Skender contends that he was dissatisfied with Elstad's fund-raising as early as December 2002. (Id. ¶ 33.) He says he expressed his concerns to Elstad, an assertion she denies. (Id. ¶ 39; Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) Stmt ¶ 39.) Regardless of Skender's feelings, it is undisputed that West gave Elstad a rating of 4.4, out of a possible five points, for her fund-raising efforts in his January 2003 evaluation of her. (Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶ 162; App. Pls.' LR 56.1(b) Stmt., Vol. II, Tab U, PX 1.) In addition, he said: "A superb job so far — with a high degree of frustration involved in creating a Development Department that meets its goals and expectations. There is much to do — I am confident she can do it." (Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶ 166; App. Pls.' LR 56.1(b) Stmt., Vol. II, Tab U, PX 1.)

  Sometime in March 2003, Elstad received a list of performance objectives for March 2003-March 2004 for her department. (Materials Supp. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Vol. II, Tab Q, DX 12.) One of the objectives was to meet or exceed the department's 2003 fund-raising budget of $318,640.00. (Id.) SOS says she had raised only $11,000.00 by the end of April 2003, (Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶ 42), an assertion that Elstad disputes. (See Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) Stmt. ¶ 42.)

  On April 22, 2003, West issued Elstad a supervisory memo, an informal step preceding formal disciplinary action, in which he counseled her to improve her professional interactions with her peers. (Id. ¶ 47; Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶ 180.) West says the memo was prompted by complaints from Barclay, Dina Tsourdinis, Director of Finance, and Dawn Mueller, Human Resources Manager, that Elstad treated them like subordinates rather than peers. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶ 47.) The memo advised Elstad that her failure to improve immediately would lead to formal disciplinary action. (Id.)

  Plaintiff Ryan worked at SOS' Lockport office as West's executive assistant from February 11, 2002 until her termination on May 21, 2003. (Id. ¶¶ 51-52.) One of Ryan's responsibilities was to support the SOS board of directors. (Id. ¶¶ 52-53.) On March 18, 2003, West rated Ryan as "meets expectation" for "preparing Board meeting packets in a timely fashion" and "provid[ing] general set-up of Board meetings." (Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) ¶¶ 169, 171.) West rated Ryan as "above expectation" for "prepar[ing] Board meeting agendas as directed by the Board President." (Id.) Following the evaluation, West gave Ryan a 7.5 percent pay raise, the highest percentage raise given to any SOS employee that year. (Id. ¶ 172.)

  In early 2003, Skender directed Ryan to facilitate two board members' interviews of staff in connection with employee satisfaction surveys. (Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) Stmt. ¶ 54.) On April 14, 2003, Tsourdinis claims she saw Ryan have a heated argument with Mueller about the focus group meetings to be held in connection with the surveys. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶¶ 58-59.) Ryan denies that she behaved inappropriately. (Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) Stmt. ¶ 59.)

  Plaintiff Sylvester worked at SOS as a Clinical Therapist from May 21, 2001 to May 21, 2003. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶¶ 64-65.) She reported to Barclay. (Id. ¶ 64.) Sylvester was generally responsible for providing assessments, interventions and psycho-social-educational services for SOS children and families. (Id. ¶ 65.)

  In August 2002, two female clients told Sylvester that three male clients had threatened to rape them. (Id. ¶ 67.) Sylvester prepared a memorandum about those allegations and a variety of others concerning various male SOS clients and sent it to the Lockport Police Department. (Id.) The Lockport police conducted interviews of the male clients, but no charges were brought against them. (Id. ¶¶ 75, 83.)

  Ultimately, Sylvester's memo came to the attention of DCFS, which contacted West about it. (Id. ¶¶ 74, 76.) Though West's name appears in the carbon copy section of Sylvester's memo, he claims he did not know that Sylvester had contacted the police until DCFS called him. (Id. ¶ 76.)

  On August 15, 2002, West sent a letter to DCFS saying that the allegations in Sylvester's memo had ben investigated and all of them had been addressed or had been found to be insufficiently supported, assertions that Sylvester disputes. (Materials Supp. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Vol. II, Tab Q, DX 17; Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) Stmt. ¶ 79.)

  In March 2003, Barclay gave Sylvester a positive performance evaluation. (Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) ¶¶ 173-74.)

  Sometime before May 5, 2003, Barclay met with SOS board member Davie Williams to discuss his growing dissatisfaction with the agency and West's behavior. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶ 85.) Williams suggested that staff members with concerns write letters to the board. (Id. ¶ 87.)

  On May 2, 2003, Ryan, Elstad, Sylvester, Barclay, Leslie Capra and Nicole Love prepared a letter to the SOS board expressing their complaints against West. (Id. ¶ 88.) All six of their names appeared on the May 5 letter, and all of them contributed to it. (Id. ¶ 90.) The letter contains a laundry list of complaints about West. (See Materials Supp. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Vol. III, Tab R, PX 25.) Among other things, it says that: (1) there is "[a] hostile, intimidating work environment" at SOS, (id.); (2) West refers to female staff members as "bitches" (id.); (3) West responded to a report that Capra had been groped by a male client by saying: "I knew there would be problems with hiring a young, cute blonde. She should toughen up." (id.); (4) West was "disrespectful" of Elstad in a meeting with their colleagues (id.); (5) West falsely denied to DCFS, the board and others that he knew about or approved Sylvester's August 2002 decision to contact the police about certain SOS' male clients (id.); and (6) West did not conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations in Sylvester's August 2002 memo (id.).

  On May 5, 2003, Skender received the five-page, single-spaced letter that the six staff members had prepared. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶ 89.) Skender faxed copies of the letter to the members of the board's executive committee and, the next day, the committee had a conference call to discuss it. (Id. ¶¶ 96, 98.) During the call, the committee decided to have SOS consultant Gordon Johnson conduct an investigation into the allegations in the letter. (Id. ¶ 98.) Skender asked ...


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