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Erkan v. Illinois Dep't of Corrections

October 27, 2006

ANNETTE RAMOS ERKAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS, GEORGE A.P. MURPHY, ILLINOIS STATE POLICE, BRIDGET BERTRAND, DALE SAYSET, AND JAMES POORTINGA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER*fn1

Annette Ramos Erkan began working as a corrections officer at the Joliet Correctional Center in 1998. She has sued her employer, the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"), for gender and national origin discrimination, hostile work environment, constructive discharge and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Erkan has also sued the Illinois State Police and four current and former employees for retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion.

Facts

Because defendants have moved for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and draws reasonable inferences in her favor. See DeValk Lincoln Mercury, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 811 F.2d 326, 329 (7th Cir. 1987).

On November 9, 1998, Erkan, who is a Mexican-American woman, began working as a corrections officer at the Joliet Correctional Facility. She went on medical leave on February 25, 2002 due to injuries she sustained in a car accident. Erkan alleges that she suffered discrimination and a hostile work environment based on her national origin and gender while actively employed at Joliet. She acknowledges that no IDOC employee ever referred to her national origin or gender in a derogatory manner in her presence. She claims, however, that she encountered discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation based on incidents that occurred over a period of several years.

Erkan claims that in April 1999 one of her superiors, Captain Gregory Rucker, asked her out for drinks. Erkan testified that she declined Rucker's invitation, and Rucker never mentioned anything about going out again. Rucker denies that he ever asked Erkan out or did anything improper.

Erkan claims that in December 1999, a fellow guard, Officer Taylor, asked her to falsely accuse another guard, Captain Harris, of certain conduct to bolster a potential complaint Taylor allegedly planned to file against IDOC for refusing her medical treatment. Taylor is African-American; Harris is Caucasian. Erkan believes that because she refused to help Taylor, certain of Erkan's co-workers retaliated against her. Erkan does not identify any evidence that any conversation between her and Taylor involved the race, national origin or gender of Erkan, Taylor, or Harris. She does claim, however, that another corrections officer, Officer Carson, told her "You want to know what's going on? Everyone knows how you refused to back another officer. You should have backed her up. We should always back each other up that's the way things are done around here." Erkan does not contend that Carson referenced her national origin or gender during this conversation.

Though Erkan never heard disparaging comments about her national origin or gender at the prison, Officer Joe Ramos (Erkan's brother) testified that he heard such remarks at a union meeting that took place at a bar apparently owned by Rucker. Ramos testified that several African-American officers questioned him about why Erkan would not back up Taylor in her claim against Harris. Ramos testified that these officers called Erkan an "Uncle Tom" at the union meeting. Ramos further testified that, while working at the prison, other officers made disparaging remarks about his Mexican origin. He claims that he was called "wetback," "spic," and "Uncle Tom" among other things. Ramos did not identify which co-workers made these statements or when they were made.

Erkan claims that she suffered several adverse employment actions because she is a Mexican-American woman. The IDOC would occasionally assign officers to "temporary sergeant" assignments when needed. In October and November 2001, a captain assigned officers with less seniority than Erkan to serve as temporary sergeants at the prison hospital. Erkan claims that she had equal or better qualifications than those officers assigned the temporary sergeant position. Her supervisor, however, testified that Erkan was not qualified to fill the role of temporary sergeant because she had issues "relating to others, having good communication skills, being able to motivate staff [and] enforce rules [and] policy." Def. Ex. J at 41. In accordance with her union contract, Erkan received sergeant's pay for each instance that someone with greater seniority assumed the role of temporary sergeant.

Erkan also claims that she suffered disciplinary action as a result of discrimination and retaliation. A corrections officer is required to turn in "zone reports" about the condition of the unit to which she is assigned within thirty minutes of coming on duty. Erkan received five or six disciplinary referrals from Rucker for not turning in zone reports during 2001. Erkan testified that she "felt" the disciplinary reports were prompted by discrimination and retaliation because "she did not know of this happening to other officers but she was the only Mexican woman." Def. Ex. C at 86. The referrals did not result in any disciplinary action against Erkan. She also was subjected to several performance audits which, she claims, were a result of discrimination. These audits did not result in any disciplinary action.

Erkan also claims that she was reprimanded for "unauthorized absences" on April 1, 2001, May 21, 2001, and May 29, 2001 and attributes these reprimands to unlawful discrimination. Erkan's April 1, 2001 attendance record (known as a "call-off slip") was later found, Erkan was paid for the day, and the reprimand was expunged. The May 21 and May 29 call-off slips could not be located, so a supervisor prepared new ones. However, because the new call-off slips were late, Erkan had to use her "benefit time" (presumably, time off included in her compensation package) for the two absences. Erkan believes that the reprimands were given in retaliation for her December 1999 refusal to support Taylor's claim that she had been denied medical attention and her April 1999 refusal to go for cocktails with Rucker.

Erkan was reprimanded for reading unauthorized material on duty in October 2001, a charge that she denied. Erkan testified that she believes she received the reprimand because she was the only female of Mexican origin working at the prison.

IDOC required Erkan and other corrections officers to attend annual training classes known as "cycle training." Cycle training included instruction and certification in areas such as weapons, CPR, first aid, counting procedures, vehicles, keys, and harassment and discrimination policies. Erkan contends that she received a disciplinary notice for failing to attend cycle training, though she did not lose any pay or other benefits. Erkan stated that she asked to be excused from cycle training to attend to her son, who was ill, but that IDOC refused her request. She does not know of any other employee who was scheduled for cycle training who failed to attend.

Erkan claims that she was assigned to "writs detail" after having asked to be excused. Officers on writs detail transport prisoners to locations outside the prison for matters such as court appearances or medical appointments. Erkan asked to be excused because her son had a medical condition, and she did not want to be away from home. IDOC ...


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