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Collins v. Cook County

November 14, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blanche M. Manning United States District Judge

Judge Blanche M. Manning


Plaintiff Dr. Erica Collins was director of training at the juvenile detention facility run by defendant Cook County. At first, she felt as though her job allowed her to put to good use the advanced degrees she earned in education. But after three years in that position, the county transferred her to the Public Defender's Office, where she often found herself with no job responsibilities at all.

The county contends that it transferred Collins and other management-level employees because the juvenile facility was under fire for not timely implementing court-ordered reforms. But Collins alleges that the real reasons for her transfer were that (1) she had developed lupus, and (2) she testified on behalf of a co-worker who was suing Cook County for discrimination.

Collins sued Cook County and a former supervisor, J.W. Fairman, for a variety of violations of her civil rights. The defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Collins' claims. For the reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment is granted.


The following facts are taken from the parties' Rule 56.1 statements and are undisputed except where noted. Collins began working as director of training at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in December 2003. She was hired during the time that the late John Stroger was president of the Cook County Board. She was designated as a Shakman-exempt employee, which meant that she was not protected against patronage-based employment decisions and, instead, could be fired at-will. As director of training, Collins was responsible for over 500 employees and their training. She was also responsible for helping implement the terms of a Memorandum of Agreement, the culmination of a federal lawsuit brought against Cook County by the American Civil Liberties Union based upon alleged substandard conditions and abusive treatment of juveniles at the facility. See Doe v. Cook County, No. 99 CV 3945 (N.D. Ill.)

A few months after being hired, Collins developed lupus and, in April 2004, began receiving chemotherapy. On the occasions when she received chemotherapy, she would stay home from work on Thursday and Friday, and return to work the following Monday. The superintendent of the juvenile facility at the time permitted Collins to work this flexible schedule to accommodate her lupus.

However in July 2004, that superintendent left on account of her own health problems, and J.W. Fairman became acting superintendent of the juvenile facility. Fairman pressured Collins to reveal to one of his deputies the nature of the medical condition that had led the previous superintendent to allow her to work a flexible schedule. When Collins refused, Fairman revoked her flexible schedule. The revocation led Collins to file a charge of disability discrimination with the EEOC in 2004. Collins also reported the revocation of her flexible schedule to the chief of staff for Cook County Board president Stroger. The chief of staff, in turn, called Fairman, after which Fairman reinstated Collins' flexible schedule and provided her with a parking space. Fairman left as acting superintendent in June 2005 when Jerry Robinson became the new superintendent.

On June 12, 2006, Collins gave deposition testimony in a co-worker's lawsuit brought against the county and Fairman. The co-worker, Frances Melendez, alleged in that suit that the county and Fairman discriminated against her on the basis of her national origin and sex, and also retaliated against her.

A month after providing her deposition testimony, president Stroger became ill and the County Board elected Bobbie Steele to be acting president. At the time, the ACLU was publicly complaining about the juvenile facility's failure to comply with the terms of the Memorandum of Agreement entered in Doe v. Cook County. Apparently in response to the negative publicity, Steele reinstated Fairman as superintendent of the juvenile facility. Fairman, in turn, removed those he considered to be the top managers of the juvenile facility, which included three assistant superintendents, the chief financial officer, and Collins. Fairman believed that the removals were necessary because the top management staff was not committed to bringing the juvenile facility into compliance with the Memorandum of Agreement.

Fairman transferred Collins to the office of Public Defender Edwin Burnette. Burnette first attempted to place Collins in the position of Records Administrator, where her primary responsibility would be to clean up files stored in a hallway at the county's criminal courthouse, and then create a better filing system. Upon learning that the job's primary responsibility would be to create a better filing system, Collins cried hysterically. She never actually worked in that position-the defendants contend that she refused it, while Collins contends that the position never materialized because supervisors realized that it did not fit her skills and experience. For the next three months she reported to work at the Public Defender's office, but had nothing to do while Burnette identified a suitable position for her.

Eventually Collins accepted a position as director of the Public Defender's Parent Education Program. However, in that position she had no responsibilities except to read a book that her predecessor had prepared describing the position. In April 2007, Collins expressed unhappiness over her position's lack of responsibilities and obtained a transfer to the Public Defender's Policy Division, where she is currently responsible for rolling out a case management system known as Legal Edge. In her new position, she helps train key staff members as the Legal Edge system is implemented in each division of the Public Defender's office.

In the meantime, Collins sued Cook County and J.W. Fairman for employment discrimination. Specifically, she alleged one count against Cook County under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, contending that her transfer from the juvenile facility to the Public Defender's office was in retaliation for offering deposition testimony in her co-worker's discrimination case in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) (Count I). She also alleged two counts against Cook County under the Americans with Disabilities Act, contending that she was transferred on account of her disability, lupus, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 12111 (Count II), and in retaliation for filing a charge of disability discrimination in 2004, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 12203 (Count III). Finally, she alleged two counts under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In the first, she alleged retaliation under Title VII against Fairman in his individual capacity, based upon her transfer after providing deposition testimony in a co-worker's discrimination case (Count IV). In the final count under § 1983, she alleged that Cook County is responsible for Fairman's conduct alleged in Count IV (Count V).

Both Cook County and Fairman have moved for summary judgment on all five counts of Collins' complaint. They contend that they are entitled to summary judgment because Collins does not meet the definition of either "employee" or "disabled" under Title VII and the ADA, and because she cannot establish a claim of discrimination or retaliation under either the direct or indirect methods. Additionally, they argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on her claims under § 1983 because Collins cannot establish her underlying Title VII and ADA claims and because Fairman is entitled to immunity.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper when the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of any material fact." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The court construes all the facts and the reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in favor of the non-movant. See Warren v. Solo Cup Co., 516 F.3d 627, 629 (7th Cir. 2008). The nonmoving party, however, may not merely rest upon the allegations or details in her pleadings, but instead, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

B. Motion to Strike

Before addressing the arguments in favor of and against granting summary judgment, the court will first address the defendants' motion to strike a number of Collins' responses to their Local Rule 56.1 statements, her statements of additional facts, and supporting exhibits. The bases for the motion to strike include that Collins' statements and exhibits are (a) duplicative, (b) immaterial, (c) inadmissible, (d) unsupported by the part of the record cited, or (e) statements in affidavits that contradict earlier deposition testimony. The motion is granted in part and denied in part as detailed below.

In reaching its decision on the motion for summary judgment, the court has not found that any of the statements or responses that it relied on were impermissibly duplicative or immaterial. Therefore, the motion to strike on those bases is denied as unnecessary.

The motion to strike Collins' affidavit, prepared after her deposition, is denied. The defendants accurately note that a party cannot create a genuine issue of material fact with an affidavit that contradicts that party's earlier deposition testimony. See Ineichen v. Ameritech, 410 F.3d 956, 963 (7th Cir. 2005). However, the defendants argue only generally that Collins' affidavit statements contradict her earlier deposition testimony, without specifying exact statements they contend are contradictory. They have therefore presented no basis for concluding that the affidavit statements contradict deposition testimony.

The majority of the remaining motions to strike involve statements, responses, and exhibits that did not factor into the court's decision on the motion for summary judgment. Therefore, the motion to strike those statements, responses, and exhibits is also denied as unnecessary. However, on occasion the objections involved evidence that did factor into the court's analysis of the parties arguments in favor of or against summary judgment. In those instances, the court ...

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