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Hypolite v. Kankakee County Housing Authority

February 1, 2007

JANICE HYPOLITE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KANKAKEE COUNTY HOUSING AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief Judge

OPINION

On December 12, 2005, Plaintiff Janice Hypolite, filed a Complaint (#1) against Defendant Kankakee County Housing Authority (KCHA) alleging she suffered adverse employment action as a result of her gender, race, and in retaliation for engaging in protected activity. This matter is now before the court on a motion for summary judgment filed by KCHA. For the reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

FACTS

Hypolite was hired in June 2003 as the Director of Finance for KCHA. KCHA is governed by a Board of Commissioners which during Hypolite's employment was comprised of seven members: Douglas Jones, Lillie Jones, Louis Orta, William Sawyer, Ron Sieling, Nathan Richmond, and Frances Jackson. In February 2004, Frances Jackson was replaced by Kenny Tatum. Hypolite was hired by Denise Richardson, then Executive Director of KCHA. When Richardson was terminated in August 2003, Hypolite reported directly to the Board. As Director of Finance, Hypolite was responsible for accounts receivable, accounts payable, billing, banking transactions, financial statements, and supervising the finance department. Hypolite's initial salary was $47,000 plus a benefits package worth an additional 43% of her salary. In September 2003, Hypolite received a raise to $48,000 per year. On November 1, 2003, Hypolite received an additional raise to $58,000 per year because she accepted the position of Acting Executive Director of KCHA. As Acting Executive Director, Hypolite was responsible for the entire housing authority. Hypolite also continued to act as Director of Finance. Hypolite stepped down from the position of Acting Executive Director in February 2004 and her salary was returned to $48,000 per year. Hypolite asserts she stepped down because of the excessive workload and unfavorable treatment based upon her race, African-American. Randy McGill was then hired as the Acting Executive Director on February 25, 2004. McGill received a rate of pay of $1,200.00 per week and received no benefits.

While Hypoloite was working at KCHA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rated the agency as "troubled." As a result, HUD required KCHA to comply with a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) which set forth items the Housing Authority had to accomplish so HUD did not take over the agency. Many of the requirements of the MOA were Hypolite's responsibility. Hypolite felt overwhelmed by her workload and did not complete everything necessary to comply with the MOA. In addition, the Board requested Hypolite provide Denise Richardson, the former Executive Director of KCHA, with a letter regarding her COBRA rights. Hypolite testified she never sent out the COBRA letter because she could not get around to doing it due to being short staffed.

According to Hypolite, Sawyer harassed her by sending her memos and "constantly asking [her] to do things." Hypolite believes she may have received seven memos from Sawyer over a six month period. On September 1, 2003, Sawyer sent a memo to Hypolite inquiring about a report due to HUD on August 31, 2003, which Sawyer stated was critical to the survival of KCHA. Hypolite did not know how to complete the form. Hypolite testified that Joy Coleman of HUD told her not to complete the form, but Hypolite did not pass this information to Sawyer or anyone else on the Board. On February 4, 2004, Sawyer sent Hypolite a memo confirming the Board's direction to Hypolite that she research and identify various information in response to a report issued by the Office of the Inspector General. Sawyer indicated that the information needed to be provided within 30 days, but Hypolite did not provide this requested information within that time. Hypolite indicates this was due to staff shortage and an excessive workload.

Elaine Ostrowski was assigned to KCHA by HUD because of KCHA's "troubled" status. Ostrowski was designated a Board Advisor. On February 13, 2004, Ostrowski sent a memo to Hypolite regarding the February 4 request from Sawyer to see how she was doing on the project as the halfway point approached. Hypolite responded to the memo by stating she had not been able to look at the files due to her workload but would concentrate on that project if Ostrowski wanted her to do that instead of her other tasks. Also on February 13, 2004, Ostrowski sent a memo to Hypolite asking her to review the requirements of the MOA for January and February and provide draft responses by February 19, 2004. Hypolite did not provide the information until February 24, 2004. On February 17, 2004, Hypolite received a letter from HUD stating that the HUD Recovery Prevention Corporation would be arriving at KCHA on February 25, 2004, and requesting certain information. Hypolite did not have the documentation available to the HUD team when they arrived. Hypolite testified that she assigned this task to someone else to complete.

On March 1, 2004, McGill provided Hypolite with a list of information requested by Kenny Tatum, a new board member, and asked that she respond to the request by March 5, 2004. Hypolite requested and received an extension from McGill until March 12, 2004, to supply the information. Hypolite did not provide this information. Also on March 1, 2004, McGill sent Hypolite a memo asking her to provide information on outstanding bills which had previously been requested by the Board. Hypolite assigned this task to Kevin Miller*fn1 , the accounts payable clerk, with a response which she transmitted to McGill. Hypolite indicated to McGill that she did not believe the information was accurate because certain bills were missing from the list.

There was also an incident in which the health insurance premium was not paid for union employees. As a result, the health insurance coverage for these employees was canceled. Hypolite alleges that this was the fault of Miller. Hypolite testified that Sawyer nonetheless held her responsible. Sawyer called Hypolite twice per week regarding the issue, which Hypolite found to be insensitive because she had a number of other things to do. McGill also asked Hypolite about the insurance matter when he became Acting Executive Director. On February 20, 2004, Sawyer sent a memo to Hypolite requesting information on the insurance cancellation be provided to him by the close of business on February 23, 2004. Hypolite testified she did not recall whether she provided the information by that date, but did respond. On February 25, 2004, Sawyer sent another memo to Hypolite identifying deficiencies in her job performance including her failure to respond to the request for information on the insurance issue. The memo further indicated that Hypolite could face disciplinary action for "failure to properly oversee timely payment of KCHA obligations." Hypolite considered this an act of harassment and an adverse employment action.

Hypolite further believes that Sawyer harassed her by conducting a meeting in her office in September 2003 because she believed she should have been a part of the meeting. Hypolite asserts that Sawyer yelled at her for going back into her office without knocking. Hypolite further asserts that Sawyer once called her a "dumb nigger." According to Hypolite, Sawyer made this remark in her office in February 2004 while she was properly identifying documents to be destroyed because he did not believe she should be doing it. No one else besides Sawyer and Hypolite was present when this alleged incident occurred. Jackson submitted an affidavit indicating Sawyer had called Frank Mason, a former executive director of KCHA from September 2000 to August 2001, a "nigger."

Hypolite further alleges she was harassed by Ron Seiling. According to Hypolite, Seiling spoke to her about handling the administrative building's gardening needs. After arguing about the issue, Hypolite stated they would have to agree to disagree. According to Hypolite, Seiling became angry. Seiling stated that when he gets angry, he gets loud. Hypolite interpreted this as a threat. Seiling further told Hypolite that she was bright enough to have made it at the housing authority. Hypolite interpreted this statement as relating to her race. Hypolite also believed Seiling harassed her by interviewing a candidate for an accounts receivable position whom Hypolite had already interviewed. Hypolite further believed Seiling was harassing her by asking her to do various things related to the Housing Authority.

Hypolite asserts that Caucasian employees were generally treated differently than African- American employees. One of the Caucasian employees Hypolite points to is Jim Pitts, the Maintenance Supervisor for KCHA. Hypolite further claims that a Caucasian property manager, Leon Madrowski, was treated differently than an African-American property manager, Jacqueline Waters, by Ostrowski. However, Hypolite has no specific knowledge on this different treatment and does not believe either employee performed well. Ostrowski also allowed McGill to chair meetings which Hypolite had not chaired when he became Acting Executive Director. Hypolite believes when McGill took over he discriminated against her by writing memos to her, not dealing with Miller, and following up on memos sent to her by Sawyer.

On February 27, 2004, Hypolite filed her first charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging unequal wages due to her race, racial harassment, and receiving a warning from Sawyer based on her race. According to Hypolite, McGill told her in March 2004 that she should not have filed her charge. Hypolite asserts that she was asked to do work as a punishment for having filed the charge. On March 25, 2004, Hypolite was terminated and was provided with a letter identifying the reasons for her discharge. The reasons listed included her failure to complete several tasks, her failure to ensure that KCHA's bills were paid on time, and her lack of urgency in resolving the insurance coverage problem. The letter also cited Hypolite's failure to respond to requests for information about outstanding bills, failure to provide a response to the Office of the Inspector ...


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