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Fields v. Illinois Dep't of Corrections

September 12, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert, U.S. District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by defendant Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") as to the claims in this case raised by plaintiff Linda Fields*fn1 ("Fields") (Doc. 32).*fn2 Fields has responded to the motion (Doc. 58) and IDOC has replied to that response (Doc. 74). In this case, Fields alleges that IDOC, her former employer, is liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., for sex discrimination, for sexual harassment and for retaliation because she complained of that harassment.*fn3 IDOC contends that Fields cannot establish a case of discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation and, if she can establish a sexual harassment case, it is entitled to assert an affirmative defense.

I. Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where "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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396. This standard is applied with special scrutiny in cases, such as employment discrimination cases, that often turn on issues of intent and credibility. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000). Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden of proof, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Michas, 209 F.3d at 692.

Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if "a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; accord Michas, 209 F.3d at 692.

II. Facts

Taken in the light most favorable to Fields, the evidence establishes the following facts.*fn4

A. IDOC's Sexual Harassment Policy

Fields, a woman, worked for IDOC from September 2000 until December 2004. At all relevant times, IDOC had a written sexual harassment policy, Administrative Directive ("AD") 03.01.310. As of December 1, 2002, that policy provided that sexual harassment included "verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" that "has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment." A.D. 03.01.310 § II.E. The policy specifically noted that sexual harassment included

Verbal conduct such as sexual innuendoes, suggestive comments, insults, humor, or jokes about sex, anatomy, or gender-specific traits, sexual propositions, threats, repeated requests for dates, or statements about other employees, even outside their presence, of a sexual nature, Id. at § II.F.1.d., and

Physical conduct such as unwelcome hugging, touching, or kissing, pinching, brushing the body, coerced sexual acts, or actual assaults, Id. at § II.F.1.g. The policy forbid engaging in or condoning sexual harassment, and obligated supervisors to "address[] an observed or reported incident of sexual harassment as a serious form of employee misconduct." Id. at § II.G. It also required employees who witnessed or were aware of sexual harassment to report it in an incident report. Id. at § II.G.3. The policy also forbid retaliation against an employee who alleged sexual harassment in good faith. Id. at § II.K.

The internal sexual harassment reporting policy in AD 03.01.310 required an employee who believed she was being harassed to notify her supervisor and document the incident with an incident report, to notify the next person in the chain-of-command if the supervisor was the harasser and document the incident with an incident report, or to notify IDOC's Office of Affirmative Action. Id. at § II.H.2. The IDOC employee receiving the report was then required to notify the warden of the facility, who was then required to notify the Office of Affirmative Action and to review and respond to the allegations within five working days, which may have included referring the matter for a formal investigation. Id. at § II.H.4. & 6. If it was determined that sexual harassment occurred, the warden was required to take "prompt, appropriate corrective action, including discipline, lockout, or other similar measures." Id. at § II.H.8.c. Although the policy urged employees to use the internal complaint process to obtain a resolution to sexual harassment complaints, it also allowed an employee to proceed directly to the Illinois Department of Human Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").

Id. at § II.F.7.

Before beginning to work at an IDOC facility, Fields received a copy of and read IDOC's sexual harassment policy.

B. Fields's Employment

Fields was first assigned to work as a correctional officer at Shawnee Correctional Center ("Shawnee") where she often worked with Lieutenants Paul Turner ("Turner") and Kerry Parker ("Parker"), both of whom displayed objectionable conduct toward Fields.

In 2001, Turner asked Fields when they were going to go somewhere together to have sex. Fields told him to stop and reminded him that he was married. Turner laughed at her response. This was Fields's first contact with Turner that she felt was inappropriate. She did not report the conduct at the time. Turner continued at other times to make other offensive comments to Fields, and she would either tell him to stop or ignore him.

In 2001, Parker joined in. He said to Fields, "Oh, girl, you are looking good" while staring at her "as if he were trying to undress" her with his eyes. Fields ignored the comment, did not view it as sexual harassment at the time and did not report it. On other occasions, Parker would tell her in a sexy voice she was "hot" while she was feeding inmates in their cells. Fields did not remember these incidents at the time of her deposition. In addition, Parker visited Fields at her work post often.

In late 2001 or early 2002, Turner commented to Fields that he believed women should not be allowed to work at Shawnee anywhere the inmates are housed. During that same time period, he also approached her once while she was stretching with her arms above her head and said, "Do that again so I can get a better look," referring to his view of her breasts. Fields did not say anything to Turner or report the comment at the time.

In early 2002, Turner approached Fields in the officers' dining room and asked her if her "titties" were getting bigger. Fields ignored the comment.

In early 2002, Fields began dating food supervisor Garrison Mott ("Mott"). Around that time, Turner was responsible for inspecting the tower where Fields was working alone. On four or more occasions, as he walked up the stairs to the room where she was, he would yell up to her, "Are you naked yet? Do you have your clothes off?" He would then say he should stop or Mott would get mad. Sometimes Fields ignored Turner, and sometimes she told him to stop. Fields did not report Turner's comments to anyone at the time.

In 2002, one of Fields's co-workers believed her troubles were a result of her dating Mott and not paying attention to other IDOC male employees instead.

After she began to date Mott, Fields got into some trouble because of her phone use on the midnight shift. Officers on the midnight shift used the phone frequently. Turner observed that every time he visited Fields at work, she was on the phone; he believed she was talking to Mott. Her phone use, however, did not interfere with her job performance. Turner told Fields once that she had been using the prison telephone too much, but he did not speak to others on Fields's shift who had used the phone the same amount of time. Turner, Parker and Captain Qualls ("Qualls") discussed assigning Fields to the kitchen because they thought if she and Mott worked together, there would be no need for them to talk on the phone. Fields and others believe the assignment was an effort to catch Mott and Fields improperly conducting their relationship during work hours. Qualls made the final decision to reassign Fields to the kitchen. Shawnee employees, including Turner, viewed kitchen assignments generally as punishment. This punishment was especially harsh during the summer months because the kitchen was not air-conditioned.

While working in the kitchen in the summer of 2002 with co-plaintiff Yevette Hamilton, Hamilton told Fields she had overheard lieutenants in September 2000 betting on who would be the first to have sex with Fields when she first started working at Shawnee. Indeed, lieutenants and correctional officers, including Parker on at least one occasion, would review the pictures of incoming female guards, comment on their attractiveness, and bet with each other about how long it would take them to sleep with the new female employees. Fields and co-plaintiff Pamela Gunn ("Gunn") were subjects of one of these betting pools. When Fields was eventually taken off the kitchen assignment, on July 18, 2002, she told Qualls she believed the she was being subjected to sexual harassment by being reassigned from the kitchen. Qualls did not report Fields's complaint at the time.

On September 8, 2002, Turner approached Fields in the morning, saw her sticking something made of black plastic in her coat pocket and accused her of having a telephone hidden in her coat. She told Turner he was crazy and, thinking he was referring to one of the institutions land-line phones instead of a cell phone, asked how she could have possibly fit a phone in her coat. She offered to hand her coat to Turner and let him search it, but he refused. Later, Fields realized Turner must have been looking for a cell phone, which is ...

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