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Alford v. Kendall County Dep't of Health

November 24, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge


Richard Alford has sued the Kendall County Department of Health (the Department), asserting claims for gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), unlawful retaliation under Title VII, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The Department has moved for summary judgment on all of Alford's claims. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion.


Because the Department has moved for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to Alford and draws reasonable inferences in his favor. See, e.g., Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008).

Alford is a male who was employed as a clinical psychologist at the Department from April 1999 until October 2006. From 1999 until the end of 2002, Alford was directly supervised by Cheryl Johnson, a female, who was the Department's executive director. From that point until August 2005, Terri Lee Dalton, a female, directly supervised Alford. Starting on August 22, 2005, Alford was directly supervised by Jason Andrade, a male, until his termination. During that period, Shelly Franklin, a female, also had some supervisory responsibilities over Alford. Franklin and Andrade were in turn supervised by Amaal Tokars, a female, who reported directly to Johnson. Alford does not contend that either Dalton or Andrade discriminated against him based on his gender. Instead, as detailed below, most of his allegations are directed at Johnson.*fn1

1. Alford's Job Performance and Termination

The Department claims that it terminated Alford based on disciplinary and performance problems occurring between December 2005 and September 2006. Those problems allegedly affected Alford's job performance.

A March 2006 performance evaluation did not explicitly list any of the incidents prior to that date that the Department now states were the basis for Alford's termination. A jury reasonably could infer that failure to mention those incidents meant that they were insignificant. Accordingly, for purposes of the Department's motion, the Court only considers the Department's stated reasons for Alford's termination postdating March 2006.

During the summer of 2006, Franklin and another female supervisor, Rae Ann VanGundy, conducted an audit of the Department's mental health files. Department policy required that the files contain treatment plans signed by both the patient and the treating clinician. Alford's files were missing some treatment plans, and others were unsigned. Alford does not deny these findings; rather, he contends that he had a better record of client signatures on treatment plans than other Department employees, including female clinicians. He has not, however, identified which employees he claims had a worse record than him. Alford also cannot recall whose files he reviewed to support his contention.

On July 27, 2006, the Department claims that Alford left work approximately ten to fifteen minutes before his shift ended and discussed leaving early with other employees. Alford claims that he was only joking with other employees about leaving early and that he clocked out but did not leave the Department's facility until after his scheduled shift ended. That evening, a supervisor (not Alford's supervisor), Michelle Hawley, was in charge of the Department's facility. Hawley reported to Tokars that Alford tried "to bully and intimidate her" about leaving early. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 33. Alford denies bullying or intimidating Hawley. These issues were subsequently discussed at a meeting attended by Alford, Johnson, Tokars, and Andrade on August 10, 2006. At that meeting, Alford continued to deny that he had done anything improper. Johnson placed Alford on probation for six months following the meeting.

Also in July and August 2006, a dispute arose between Alford and others at the Department concerning fitness for duty evaluations performed by Department employees for local law enforcement agencies. The Department intended to add new components to the standard evaluation and change who would be performing certain portions of it. Alford disagreed with these changes on a professional basis, calling them inappropriate. Alford also felt that the local law enforcement agencies with which he had worked for a number of years, both before and during his employment with the Department, would be dissatisfied with the changes.

After being informed that the Department would use the new fitness for duty evaluation, Alford contacted the Chief of the Yorkville Police Department directly and scheduled an appointment to conduct a fitness for duty evaluation outside the Department using the old methodology. Alford scheduled the evaluation without the Department's knowledge or permission. The parties disagree, however, whether this was done in violation of Department policies and procedures. Andrade called Alford on the morning of the evaluation to discuss the incident. Alford stated that the police department was his private client, he was conducting the evaluation on his own time, and that Tokars "was attempting to usurp Alford and take away the Yorkville Police Department from him." Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 49. This issue was also discussed at the August 10, 2006 meeting that included Alford, Johnson, Tokars, and Andrade.

On September 20, 2006, Alford did not show up for work at his regular time. The parties dispute whether Alford had properly scheduled time off for that morning.

Based on this series of events (plus earlier ones the Court has not considered as noted above), Andrade recommended that Johnson and Tokars terminate Alford's employment, though Alford contends that the decision was solely Johnson's. Johnson agreed with the recommendation and made the ultimate decision to terminate Alford. On October 2, 2006, Alford was informed of his termination.

2. Allegations of Discriminatory Conduct

Alford maintains that he was terminated because of his gender, not his job performance or disciplinary issues. To support that claim, he points to several specific incidents as well as general allegations about the environment at the Department.

Alford first relies extensively on Dalton's deposition testimony for evidence of gender discrimination. Dalton, however, identified only one specific comment of this nature -- in January 2005, Johnson allegedly yelled at Alford that "just because you're a man . . . you're not going to get away with this." Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 5. Though Alford made other complaints to Dalton regarding Johnson, Dalton stated that those complaints were not "in the context of sexual harassment, no. Just that [Alford] didn't feel he was treated respectfully by [Johnson]." Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 4. Dalton heard Johnson refer to men as "macho" on one occasion. Dalton also stated that Johnson "seemed to have a difficult time" with "the male staff." Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts Dalton Dep. at 41-42. Alford has not submitted any evidence regarding his complaints to Dalton other than Dalton's deposition testimony. According to Dalton, however, Johnson yelled at both male and female employees. Dalton left the Department in August 2005, approximately fourteen months before Alford was terminated.

Alford also relies on the testimony of another Department employee, William White. White worked as a full-time employee handling resources and referrals at the Department starting in July 2005. White claims that he was instructed by VanGundy to document problems with Alford. White also claims that Department employees frequently left work early and that "it was 'common knowledge' that female employees were treated differently, more leniently, than male employees," describing this as "the spirit of the place." Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ¶¶ 18, 20. White could not, however, identify any specific instance when this occurred, and no foundation is provided for his purported knowledge. White also claims that he was disciplined for making a sexual remark on one occasion but a female employee was not. Finally, shortly after Alford was terminated, White applied for a promotion that he did not receive. The successful applicant was female. White claims that Tokars told him that Franklin had been looking for a female to fill that position. The Department claims that White did not receive the position because he was not bilingual, unlike the successful applicant.

Alford presented several additional instances of allegedly discriminatory conduct. In 2004, Alford contends Johnson said she would not allow a black man to go to a white woman's house on her watch. With respect to the incident in July 2006 when Alford allegedly left work early, there is some evidence that Hawley may also have left early the same evening, even though only Alford was disciplined for doing so. Finally, Alford was replaced by a female psychologist, though ...

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