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Williams v. Illinois Dep't of Corrections

August 25, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge David H. Coar


Plaintiff Rhonda Williams ("Plaintiff") is suing the Illinois Department of Corrections and individual defendants Dwayne Clark, Thomas Hilliard, and Mark Delia (collectively, "Defendants") for sex discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S. C. § 1983. Before this court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The movant bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the non-movant must set forth specific facts (a "scintilla of evidence" is insufficient) demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. See also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Schuster v. Lucent Technologies, Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003).


Plaintiff was a Juvenile Parole Agent with Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") from April 2002 until October 2003.

Defendant Thomas Hilliard ("Hilliard") was Plaintiff's supervisor. He served as acting Juvenile Parole Supervisor from August 29, 2001 until January 1, 2003, and has served as Juvenile Parole Supervisor since then. As supervisor, Hilliard overseas a team of twenty juvenile parole agents and senior juvenile parole agents. While Hilliard does not have the power to hire or fire agents, the facts are in dispute as to his ability to mete out discipline. The procedure for suspected discipline cases, however, involves an entity called the Employee Review Board ("ERB").

Defendant Delia ("Delia"), at all relevant times, was Chief of Apprehension and also supervised Hilliard. The facts are in dispute as to Delia's disciplinary powers and the extent of his responsibility for parole unit supervisors like Hillard, but the parties agree that Delia did not have the authority to hire, fire, or discipline parole unit supervisors or juvenile parole agents like Plaintiff who belonged to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union ("union").

Defendant Clark ("Clark") was the Chiefto whom Delia reported.

Plaintiff's Incident Reports On January 7, 2003, Plaintiff sent Janet Richmond ("Richmond"), Administrator of the IDOC's Office of Affirmative Action, an incident report ("January Incident Report"). Plaintiff alleged in the report that, on January 3, 2003, when Plaintiff asked for a schedule change, Hilliard walked away responding "I AM NOT GIVING YOU ANY THING [sic], ALL YOU FEMALES ARE WORTHLESS."A human resources representative nearby heard the statement and questioned Hilliard, who replied "I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT YOU, I AM TALKING ABOUT THE AGENTS." (For his part, Hilliard denies these statements and disputes the reasons why he refused to change Plaintiff's schedule.) Plaintiff also wrote in the incident report that Hilliard had in the past, and in her presence, made offensive comments degrading women who worked directly under him. Further, she recounted that in a December 16, 2002 staff meeting presided over by Hilliard and attended by Plaintiff, Hilliard stated to a departing female agent "YOU WERE A GOOD AGENT FOR A FEMALE." (This remark, Plaintiff believes, silently and negatively references Plaintiff.) Finally, Plaintiff wrote that Hilliard told a female agent and other listeners that he assigned the agent to a particular region because a woman could not "handle" being assigned elsewhere. Plaintiff has submitted affidavits which bear out these last two allegations and also reveal that the agent Hilliard assigned on the basis of her gender did not complain for fear of retaliation.

Plaintiff forwarded a copy of her report to Hilliard, who then forwarded it to Delia-all on January 7, 2003. Shortly after receiving the report, Delia sent Plaintiff an email questioning why the report-and the opportunity to address the problem-had bypassed him given that he was Hilliard's supervisor. Hilliard, after seeing the incident report, sent an email to Delia accusing Plaintiff of several acts, including repeatedly asking to be reassigned, referring to people on the "West Side" [of Chicago] as "Niggas" and "crazy," and not wanting to work in the "ghetto." Hilliard also accused Plaintiff of abusing sick time and asking to do personal business on IDOC time. At the close of the email, Hilliard surmised that Plaintiff was accustomed to getting her way "because she was a FEMALE." Plaintiff contends that, before January 2003, Hilliard never raised any performance issues with Plaintiff or complained to Delia about her. Plaintiff also observes that it is well known that Hilliard and Delia are personal friends.

On October 22, 2003, Plaintiff filed a second incident report ("October Incident Report"). That report detailed two incidents of harassment by Hilliard. First, Plaintiff described the circumstances leading up to Hilliard's accusing her, on October 21, 2003, of falsifying a time slip for October 17, 2003. Second, Plaintiff described an evaluation she received on September 16, 2003. Hilliard had given Plaintiff a negative rating for at least three areas he never previously discussed with Plaintiff. In addition, Plaintiff complained, Hilliard had written derogatory comments of a personal nature in the evaluation. A union representative subsequently spoke with Hilliard about these "personal attacks" and Hilliard agreed to make changes to the evaluation. When Plaintiff received the evaluation a month later, however, Hilliard had signed it without making any changes. Plaintiff concludes the October Incident Report by describing her mental state as a result of the alleged harassment; citing relevant portions of IDOC policy on sexual harassment; stating that the harassment created a hostile work environment for her; and noting that colleagues have continued to inform her about Hilliard's negative and degrading comments.

The Office of Affirmative Action's Investigation

Richmond investigated Plaintiff's January Incident Report by interviewing Plaintiff, Hilliard, three persons Plaintiff identified in the report, and four persons Plaintiff identified during her interview with Richmond. Richmond sent the results of the investigation to Delia on February 4, 2003 and to Plaintiff three days later. In short, Richmond concluded that it did not appear that Hilliard had discriminated against women or retaliated against Plaintiff, but it did appear that he had made inappropriate statements that degraded women. She recommended corrective action be taken. Richmond also questioned Hilliard's decision to force Plaintiff to use (documented) "personal time" to retrieve her driver's license on a day she inadvertently left it at home, when Plaintiff had used her lunch hour to receive the ID.

On February 4, 2003 (the day the Richmond published her results), Plaintiff met with Delia in his office. During their conversation, Delia informed Plaintiff that her case files were going to be audited, but not by Hilliard. In the end, however, Hilliard did audit Plaintiff's case files. Plaintiff believes that Delia and his supervisor, Chief Clark, had always intended Hilliard to audit her files.

As a result of Plaintiff's January Incident Report, Hilliard was referred to the ERB. According to the Hearing Officer's report, Hilliard claimed in the hearing that subordinate staff had fabricated 98% of the allegations and the remaining 2% [of his alleged comments] was joke; that Plaintiff had complained because he did not change her schedule; and that four of the parole agents (including Plaintiff) had collaborated to bring the complaint because they dislike him and disagree with his disciplinary decisions. Hilliard received an oral reprimand at that hearing.

Richmond investigated Plaintiff's October Incident Report by interviewing Plaintiff, Hilliard, and a person identified by Plaintiff in the report. In the results published on December 22, 2003, Richmond noted that the October time slip incident had been resolved through the union. But she recommended that Hilliard's negative comments in Plaintiff's evaluation be removed and that the areas where Hilliard marked ...

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