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Argyropoulos v. City of Alton

August 26, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 03 C 810- David R. Herndon, Chief Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tinder, Circuit Judge.


Before RIPPLE, ROVNER, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

Christina Argyropoulos's turbulent tenure as a jailor for the City of Alton Police Department (the APD) lasted just ten months, from July 2002 until she was dismissed in late April 2003. Approximately seven weeks before she was fired, Argyropoulos complained that she had been sexually harassed by a fellow jailor. The APD promptly took steps to prevent further unsupervised contact between the two jailors and began an investigation. Before that investigation ran its course, however, the APD learned that Argyropoulos had surreptitiously tape-recorded a closed-door workplace meeting with two of her superiors, triggering her arrest on a felony eavesdropping charge and her near-immediate dismissal. Contending that she was arrested and fired solely because she complained of sexual harassment, Argyropoulos filed suit against the City and several APD employees, alleging Title VII sexual harassment and retaliation. She later added a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the City's failure to provide a pretermination hearing denied her due process. The district court granted summary judgment for the Defendants on all counts and denied Argyropoulos's motion seeking to set aside the judgment. Argyropoulos timely appealed. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm.

I. Background

On our review of the district court's grant of summary judgment, we recount the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Argyropoulos. Timmons v. Gen. Motors Corp., 469 F.3d 1122, 1125 (7th Cir. 2006).

Argyropoulos began work as a jailor for the APD on July 1, 2002. She was hired by Alton's Civil Service Com-mission, and by virtue of her employment with the City, she was a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Argyropoulos was supervised by a rotation of sergeants, at least one of whom was on duty during her shift on any given day. Those sergeants reported to then-Lieutenant (later Captain) Terry Lane, who had general oversight responsibility for jail operations. Argyropoulos's responsibilities included booking prisoners and performing tasks incidental to the booking process, such as prisoner pat-downs and handling prisoner property.

Argyropoulos received her first formal performance evaluation, which painted a decidedly mixed portrait of her work performance, in late November 2002. The evaluation commended Argyropoulos for her punctuality and positive attitude, and she "met standards" in a number of categories, including: attendance, compliance with rules, safety practices, suspect contacts, work knowledge, work judgments, work quality, accepting responsibility, accepting change, appearance of work area, equipment operation/care, reports, and initiative. In addition, she "exceeded standards" in observance of work hours and accepting direction, and her performance was not deemed "unsatisfactory" in any category. However, the evaluation was not uniformly positive. Argyropoulos "needed some improvement" in a number of areas, including: grooming and dress, employee contacts, planning and organization, job skill level, volume/acceptable work, meeting deadlines, and effectiveness under stress. The evaluation noted Argyropoulos's deficiencies in organizing her duties and working at an acceptable pace during hectic periods-for example, during the simultaneous processing of multiple arrestees-and suggested that she should "strive for speed and organization when completing her work" and become "more attentive to detail."

In her first few months on the job, Argyropoulos worked the same shift as, and received training from, fellow jailor Steven Duty. In light of Argyropoulos's decision not to pursue her sexual harassment claim on appeal, we need not dwell on the historical details of their workplace relationship. For present purposes, it suffices to note that Argyropoulos and Duty had a contentious relationship-featuring complaints from Argyropoulos to her superiors concerning Duty's job performance and offensive remarks by Duty to Argyropoulos -from the*fn1 start. In December 2002, Cpt. Lane, who was cognizant of the two jailors' difficulties in getting along, decided to minimize their interactions by placing them on separate shifts. Unfortunately, this preventive measure did not bring their troubles to an end. Argyropoulos and Duty still sometimes crossed paths, perhaps unavoidably, at shift changes. One such encounter occurred in the early evening of March 9, 2003, when Duty arrived to relieve Argyropoulos and begin the night shift.

The March 9 encounter began unremarkably. Pursuant to routine shift change procedure, Argyropoulos began to provide Duty with information concerning prisoners then in custody. The trouble began when, at some point in the conversation, Duty interrupted Argyropoulos and asked something to the effect of, "What's that on your tit?"

As she looked down, Duty reached out and moved her jacket back, revealing a wet spot on the area of her shirt covering her right breast. Angry and embarrassed, Argyropoulos punched Duty in the arm and explained that she must have spilled something on herself. In response, Duty laughed and made a comment about Argyropoulos "not getting [her] freak on." After the shift change was complete, Argyropoulos left the jail without reporting this incident to anyone.

When Argyropoulos returned to work a few days later, however, she reported the "wet shirt" incident to Sgt. Carla Pruitt, setting in motion a chain of events that eventually gave rise to the present lawsuit. News of the incident quickly reached Chris Sullivan, Chief of the APD. The following day, Argyropoulos was summoned to a meeting with Cpt. Lane and several other APD officials. Lane directed Argyropoulos to provide written documentation of the March 9 incident, as well as any other alleged incidents of harassment involving Duty. Argyropoulos prepared a written memorandum the same day-March 13, 2003-documenting both the March 9 incident and another incident from November 2002 in which Duty had called Argyropoulos a "fucking moron" and suggested that she would be better able to concentrate if she would "find somebody to get [her] freak on with."

Chief Sullivan promptly took steps to address the harassment complaint. First, in order to prevent further unsupervised contact between the two jailors, an escort was assigned to Duty each time that he relieved Argyropoulos at a shift change. Second, Sullivan began an investigation by questioning Duty's supervisors and other APD employees, including Sergeants Botterbush, Pruitt, Hayes, Brakeville, and Adams. Sullivan also interviewed Duty, who denied Argyropoulos's allegations and informed Sullivan that he disliked Argyropoulos because her slowness and mistakes burdened him with additional work. Finally, Sullivan notified David Miles- the City's Director of Personnel and Executive Director of the City's Civil Service Commission-of the harassment complaint. Miles, in turn, notified the Mayor, indicating his agreement with Sullivan that an investigation was warranted and his intention to allow Sullivan to conduct the investigation.

Meanwhile, Argyropoulos's troubles with Duty continued, albeit outside the workplace. For example, on March 21, she reported that, as she was walking down a public street, a male in a blue pickup truck-whom she believed to be Duty-had driven past and shouted a lewd comment in her direction. Apparently frustrated with such incidents and what she perceived to be a lack of progress in the APD's investigation, Argyropoulos met with an attorney on March 28, 2003, to discuss the possibility of filing a lawsuit.

Shortly thereafter, Argyropoulos's job performance became the subject of considerable criticism. On April 5, Lt. Adams reprimanded Argyropoulos for mistakenly delivering other prisoners' property to a juvenile prisoner when releasing him from custody. Adams noted that each item was clearly marked with the correct prisoner- owner's name, and advised Argyropoulos to double-check property during the release of prisoners. On April 11, Lt. Hayes sent a memo to Cpt. Lane documenting a list of prisoners that Argyropoulos had failed to finish processing during her shift. And on April 19, Adams sent a memorandum to Lane generally excoriating Argyropoulos's job performance. He noted her deficiencies in fulfilling basic responsibilities, indicating that she failed to properly perform prisoner searches and often failed to complete booking of prisoners who arrived during her shift. Adams indicated that "[w]ithout constant supervision, Jailer Argyropoulos fails to accomplish minimal job tasks," and "[she] cannot handle more than one task at a time." He concluded pessimistically, expressing doubt that more time and/or training would lead to improvement.

Nine days later, on April 28, Argyropoulos was summoned to a meeting with Cpt. Lane and Lt. Adams. Argyropoulos assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that the meeting was called to address the progress of the sexual harassment investigation. Instead, when Argyropoulos arrived at the "extremely small room" that served as the meeting location, Lane and Adams wished to discuss recent complaints concerning her job performance.*fn2 At the outset, Argyropoulos was unsettled by Lane's apparent agitated state; his face had taken on a "blood red" complexion. The meeting quickly took on a confrontational tone, as Lane repeatedly asked Argyropoulos, raising his voice with each repetition, whether she knew the purpose of the meeting. After initially answering that she did not, Argyropoulos yielded to Lane's persistent incredulity-e.g., "You have no idea why you're here?"- by speculating that Lane had called the meeting to discuss the progress of the sexual harassment investigation. Lane reacted angrily to this answer, slamming his hands on the table that separated him from Argyropoulos and directing her to sit down and "shut the goddamn door." Unbeknownst to Lane and Adams, Argyropoulos had concealed a tape recorder in her clothing. At this point in the meeting, because she felt physically threatened*fn3 and "terrified," Argyropoulos secretly activated the recorder.

The remaining details of the April 28 meeting are not essential for purposes of Argyropoulos's claims on appeal; nevertheless, we briefly summarize the highlights here. Lane asked Argyropoulos about other employees' negative reports concerning her job performance. Argyropoulos took issue with Lane's account of some incidents, and Lane expressed disbelief that she would "defy" his authority. When Lane referred to other mistakes by Argyropoulos, she requested specific details concerning those incidents. Lane again reacted angrily, threatening to fire Argyropoulos. The tone of the meeting then softened somewhat, as Lane asked whether Argyropoulos could identify any way in which he could assist her to improve her job performance. She noted her earlier difficulties receiving training from Duty and her more recent difficulty receiving training from another co-worker who had been on vacation. Finally, Lane asked Argyropoulos to sign a form stating that: (1) Lane and Adams had discussed Argyropoulos's past and present discipline issues and performance inadequacies with her; and (2) she had been given the ...

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