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Rodriguez v. Ramsey

January 17, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel


Erma Rodriguez was a corrections officer employed by the Sheriff of Kane County from 1993 until her firing in 2003. She is "a female non-white Hispanic." She has filed an eleven-count complaint alleging a wide variety of legal theories of liability arising from a basic set of factual allegations.*fn1 She has sued many persons in her chain of command, up to and including the Sheriff, as well as the Merit Commission, the Chairman of the Kane County Board and her own union.


The hostile work environment and harassment was the subject of an internal written complaint which, it is alleged, was not investigated and the behavior described was not corrected. After filing on March 14, 2001, Rodriguez and the five other female employees who filed were subjected to scrutiny of their daily work and were disciplined. On April 24, the females went to the EEOC alleging discrimination and retaliation. On October 2, Rodriguez amended the EEOC charge alleging discrimination, sexual and verbal harassment and retaliation based on gender, race and national origin. On October 24, Rodriguez filed an internal complaint stating she had discovered a picture of a penis in the workplace. This too was not investigated. She was subject to harassment by the Corrections Commander Todd Exline on several occasions in October-November, 2001 and again in August 2002.

On September 16, 2002 the EEOC found reasonable cause to find discrimination against female employees at the detention center. But it did not file suit and finally, on March 10, 2003,, issued the right to sue letter.

Before the right to sue letter issued, Rodriguez observed a sexually offensive object at the workplace on January 15, 2003 and filed two internal written complaints about the object. Michael Anderson (a captain at the time) notified her shortly thereafter that she would be interviewed by an investigator regarding the charge of falsely accusing a male co-worker of displaying the object. On February 21, Rodriguez alleged that this was retaliation. The EEOC was much quicker to issue the right to sue letter this time--it did so on April 17. Meanwhile Anderson wrote a report concluding that Rodriguez had been dishonest in her accusation regarding the object and had used offensive language about her observations. He recommended she be fired. The Undersheriff, Can Schindlbeck, concurred. The Merit Commission held a lengthy hearing and terminated her.

Rodriguez sought administrative review of that decision in June of 2003. The defendants were the Merit Commission, Anderson and the Sheriff, Kenneth Ramsey. Rodriguez claimed the termination charges were too vague to satisfy due process, the termination was against the weight of the evidence and the Merit Commission erred in failing to consider her claim that the charges were brought in retaliation for her prior complaints. She also challenged the failure of the Commission to recuse its Vice Chairman.

On February 18, 2004 Rodriguez filed two more charges with the EEOC alleging her firing was retaliation for the prior EEOC complaints and claiming her union failed to represent her or file a grievance on her behalf with respect to her firing.

Under Illinois law, an employee such as Plaintiff cannot be fired without cause. A contested decision to fire leads the Sheriff to file charges which come before an independent board -- here the Sheriff's Merit Commission of Kane County, which decided to fire Plaintiff. The board's decision was subject to administrative review by the Circuit Court, which dismissed the complaint based on untimeliness. The Appellate Court reversed the decision, but ultimately that dismissal was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Illinois. Rodriguez v. Sheriff's Merit Comm'n, 843 N.E.2d 379 (Ill. 2006).

All of the defendants in the present case have filed motions to dismiss. There is much common ground in these motions, but I will deal with each of them in turn.

The Kane County Board and Michael W. McCoy, Chairman of the Kane County Board The motion to dismiss the County is granted. The County does not set policy for the Sheriff and took no actions in this case. The County must indemnify the Sheriff and his employees, but it is not an actor in these cases. It was careless of Plaintiff's attorney to name the County as a defendant. It was even more careless to seek punitive damages, which are not recoverable against a county. I will entertain a petition for reasonable fees and costs from Kane County.

The motion to dismiss the Chairman is similarly granted. No action by the Chairman is alleged, which makes sense because the Chairman has no authority to direct the operations of the Sheriff's department.

The Union

The Union was served with the complaint in 2006, well after the 90 days following the right to sue letter was issued with respect to the conduct which is the subject of Counts I-III. The civil rights Counts, IV-IX, and the state law claim, Count X, are all subject to two-year limitations. The conduct which is the subject of the complaint occurred about three years before service. Filing a claim (here in June of 2004) without effective service of ...

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