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Pickford v. Board of Trustees of Southeastern Illinois College

May 1, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on defendant Board of Trustees of Southeastern Illinois College's ("Board") motion for summary judgment (Doc. 23), to which plaintiff John W. Pickford ("Pickford") has responded (Doc. 27). For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT the Board's motion and QUASH Pickford's writ of certiorari.*fn1

I. Procedural History

Pickford filed this action in state court on December 12, 2005, seeking review of the Board's decision affirming his suspension with pay during an investigation of a student's claim of sexual harassment. Pickford's stated basis for relief was the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act (the Act). See 5 ILCS § 100/1 et seq., 735 ILCS § 5/3-101. After it removed this case, the Board moved for dismissal, claiming its decision is not subject to review under the Act. See 735 ILCS § 5/3-102. The Court denied the Board's motion on its finding that Pickford could seek review through common law certiorari. See Thomas v. Chicago Park Dist., 227 F.3d 921, 926 (7th Cir. 2000); Smith v. Dep't of Public Aid, 367 N.E.2d 1286, 1293 (Ill. 1977).

II. Background

On September 2, 2005, Pickford was working as a Campus Security Officer for Southeastern Illinois College ("College"). That day, Jordana Pulliam (Pulliam), a student at the College, complained to Tim Daugherty, Dean of Student Affairs, that Pickford made a sexually suggestive comment about her and watched her as she worked out in the College Fitness Center. Specifically, Pulliam told Daugherty she thought she heard Pickford say, "I have nothing better to do than to just sit and watch . . . this lady . . . workout," and that he watched her for about 30 minutes (Bd. Mtg. Tr. at 11) (hereinafter Tr. __). After speaking with Pulliam, Daugherty relayed her complaint to Pickford's supervisor, Brad McCormick, the Dean of Business Affairs. Daugherty and McCormick then spoke with Pulliam again. In this second meeting, Pulliam repeated her allegations and told the Deans she spoke to Kyle Herring, the Fitness Center aide, who told her he did not hear Pickford make the comment. At this time, Pulliam filed a formal, written complaint.

After speaking with Pulliam, McCormick and Daugherty spoke to the College's Director of Human Resources, Bonnie O'Neill. O'Neill, McCormick, and Daugherty discussed Pulliam's complaint and reviewed the Board's sexual harassment (Board Policy 6002) and suspension policies Document 35 Filed 05/01/2007 Page 3 of 12 (Board Policy 4011) to determine the appropriate course of action. Daugherty and McCormick concluded that Pulliam's complaint implicated the Board's sexual harassment policy. Given Pickford's alleged actions and Pulliam's condition -- McCormick and Daugherty felt it obvious she had been crying and was scared -- McCormick decided to suspend Pickford with pay while he and Daugherty conducted an investigation. After coming to this decision, McCormick and Daugherty met with Pickford in his office and informed him that the College was suspending him with pay while they investigated Pulliam's complaint.

Daugherty and McCormick claim Pickford admitted during this meeting that he was in the fitness center for approximately 30 minutes and that he made the statement of which Pulliam complained, but in reference to a different woman. During the hearing on his appeal, Pickford disputed this account. In any event, McCormick memorialized this meeting and reaffirmed the suspension in a written letter to Pickford. The letter explained that the suspension was to last until September 12 and informed Pickford of his right to appeal his suspension to the Board.

During their investigation, McCormick and Daugherty met with Herring and Herring's boss. Herring told them he did not hear Pickford make the remark about watching Pulliam. He did confirm, however, that Pickford remained in the Fitness Center for about 30 minutes. Without a confirmation of Pulliam's account from Herring or any other evidence, McCormick concluded that he could not substantiate Pulliam's allegations. Accordingly, he called Pickford on Tuesday, September 6, 2005, and told him to report to work the following afternoon. Pickford returned to his normal duties the next day. McCormick placed nothing in Pickford's file concerning the incident; he also stated he is unaware of any mention of the incident or the suspension in his record. Because -- in McCormick's view -- the investigation disclosed that Pickford lingered in the Fitness Center for 30 minutes without a work-related purpose, McCormick issued Pickford a written reprimand.

Pickford appealed his suspension to the Board, which the Board heard at its regularly scheduled meeting on October 18, 2005. At this hearing, both the administration and Pickford were represented by counsel. The parties made opening statements, presented witnesses, cross-examined witnesses, and made closing arguments. The College called Daugherty and McCormick and Pickford's counsel called the College's president and Pickford. Pulliam did not testify.

The Board denied Pickford's appeal in a letter dated October 21, 2005. It concluded, "Based on our review of the facts, documents and evidence . . . we have determined that the College administrator was legally required to investigate the sexual harassment charge filed against you." (Doc. 2 at 5). The Board affirmed "the administrator's finding that there [was] insufficient evidence to prove that [Pickford] engaged in sexual harassment . . . [and] determined that the administration acted appropriately and within its authority when it suspended" Pickford with pay while it conducted the investigation. (Id.).

Pickford faults a number of aspects of the investigation and the disposition of his appeal. In his complaint, he alleges the "sexual harassment complaint was unsubstantiated, defamatory, and did not meet the legal definition of sexual harassment." (Compl. at 2). Because a student was involved in the incident, he maintains the administration should have followed the procedure for sexual harassment contained in the student handbook, which requires a student to discuss her problems with the harassing party before filing a grievance. (Compl. at 3). He also contends Board Policy 6002 violates Articles IV, V, and VI of the United States Constitution and the Illinois Human Rights Act. Pickford claims the College should have made Pulliam available at the hearing and produced her written complaint. Given the information presented at the hearing, Pickford maintains that the Board should have dismissed the complaint, reversed the suspension, and expunged all mention of the incident from his record. Finally, Pickford contends the college reprimanded him, improperly transferred to a position with fewer hours and an unfavorable work schedule, and fired him because of this incident.

In its motion for summary judgment, the Board argues that its decision to affirm Pickford's suspension with pay pending the outcome of the student's complaint and its subsequent finding that Pulliam's complaint could not be substantiated, are supported by the evidence. It contends that there is no genuine issue of ...

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