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Crouse v. Crossroads Workforce Investment Board

January 7, 2009

KEVIN CROUSE, GINGER CROUSE, AND STEVE WEBER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CROSSROADS WORKFORCE INVESTMENT BOARD AND THERESE MCMAHON, INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Before the Court is defendant Crossroads Workforce Investment Board's (Crossroads) motion for summary judgment on Count I of plaintiffs' complaint (Doc. 52), to which plaintiffs have filed a response (Doc. 55), and defendant a reply (Doc. 60).

BACKGROUND

Crossroads provides workforce development programs to employers and employees in fourteen Illinois counties. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is a state agency which distributes federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funds to organizations throughout Illinois, including to Crossroads. Between July 1, 2003, and November 16, 2005,*fn1 Crossroads employed plaintiffs Ginger Crouse, Kevin Crouse, and Steve Weber at its corporate office in Marion County, Illinois. Defendant asserts that in mid-2005 plaintiffs' management of Crossroads was so substandard that the State agency overseeing Crossroads was forced to retain an independent CPA/management consulting firm to conduct an audit. As a result of the audit, in excess of $750,000 in losses and errors were identified, and plaintiffs were subsequently terminated.

Plaintiffs filed this action alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the defendant retaliated against plaintiffs for filing unlawful discrimination claims against Crossroads and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The only remaining count is plaintiffs' claims against defendant Crossroads in Count I, which alleges retaliation in violation of Title VII for engaging in a protected activity.*fn2

Summary judgment is appropriate where items contained in the record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celetox Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1996); Popovits v. Circuit City Stores, Inc., 185 F.3d 726, 731 (7th Cir. 1999). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a dispute as to material facts. Celotex at 323. Once the movant has produced evidence sufficient for summary judgment, the non-moving party bears the burden to demonstrate that there remains a genuine issue of material fact. Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir. 1996). Only disputes with regard to an outcome determinative fact represent a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment. Clifton v. Schafer, 969 F.2d 278, 281 (7th Cir. 1992).

Crossroads seeks summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiffs have not set forth a prima facie claim of retaliation, but that even if they could establish such a claim, they were discharged for legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons.

1. Evidence of Mismanagement

Crossroads asserts that before August of 2005, complaints about the management of Crossroads were common. Crossroads' staff complained to the DCEO about the plaintiffs' management team, including mismanagement, failure to show up for work, failure to return telephone calls, lack of oversight, lack of services and lack of direction to the staff. (Exh. G to Doc. 52). Crossroad's Board Chair, Bob Dugan, and three of the community college presidents contacted former defendant McMahon expressing additional concerns about the management of Crossroads (Exh. F, pp. 21, 25).*fn3 Other complaints were that there was no planning in the Critical Skills Shortage Initiative grant, and that the products were inferior (Id. at p. 23). In December of 2005, three of the community college presidents (from Lake Land CC, Kaskaskia CC and Eastern Illinois CC) requested a meeting to express their concerns about the management and operation of Crossroads (Exh. G, pp 11, 22-23).

DECO conducted an audit of payroll, procurement, and time and attendance records (Exh. G, pp. 10, 22, 95-96) which revealed multiple violations and concerns, including protocol violation of the requirements of WIA (Exh. I). A further management audit was thereafter conducted by an outside firm in August of 2005.(Exh. I). An incident report was filed with the United States Department of Labor (Exh. G, p. 61).

2. Plaintiffs' Discrimination Complaints

Prior to this procedure, on December 8, 2004, Ginger Crouse filed with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity complaints of sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation by Crossroads board member, Jerry Michels. She also complained of similar retaliation by board member, Marva Green, who took no action in regard to Crouse's complaint of sexual harassment that she and other women working at Crossroads suffered from inappropriate treatment by Michels.

The complaint was investigated by Erin Davis, a lawyer and equal opportunity officer employed by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. During Davis's investigation, Kevin Crouse and Steve Weber were interviewed as witnesses. Both supported Ginger Crouse's complaint. Davis found that Ginger Crouse had been subject to gender discrimination and unlawfully retaliated against, and recommended that Michels and Green either voluntarily resign or be removed from their Crossroads board positions.

On June 22, 2005, the Crossroads board met, and Green and Michels were forced to resign from their board positions. This terminated the claims. The plaintiffs acknowledge that Crossroads complied with all recommended corrective action which was part of ...


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