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Pierce v. Illinois Dep't of Human Services

March 4, 2009

GARY PIERCE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Byron G. Cudmore, U.S. Magistrate Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 29) filed by Defendants Chuck Nash, Randy Shearburn, Curt Kuhn, Jason Frye, Debbie Warden, and Joan Fornay (collectively the Individual Defendants). Plaintiff Gary Pierce is an African-American male and a former employee of Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD), which is operated by the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS). Plaintiff filed an eight-count Complaint (d/e 1), alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (Title VII) against the Individual Defendants, ISD, and DHS. The parties have consented to a determination of this case by the United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636. Order (d/e 17), dated July 17, 2007. In an Opinion (d/e 44), dated March 3, 2009, this Court granted summary judgment in favor of ISD and DHS on Pierce's Title VII claims, set forth in Counts VII and VIII of the Complaint. Counts I through VI remain, alleging § 1983 claims against the Individual Defendants in their individual capacities. The Individual Defendants assert that they are entitled to summary judgment on each of these claims. For the reasons set forth below, the Individual Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is allowed.

Pierce was employed by ISD from June 28, 1994 until October 4, 2006. Pierce was hired for the position of Residential Care Worker. At all relevant times, Defendant Nash was the Director of Student Life at ISD. From 1994 until 2000, Defendant Shearburn was a Residential Supervisor at ISD. He was promoted to the position of Time Keeper in 2000. In 2001, Shearburn was promoted to Personnel Manager of ISD. Defendant Kuhn became a Residential Supervisor at ISD in 2001 and was Pierce's supervisor from 2001 until September 2005. Defendant Frye was Acting Dean for IDS and was Pierce's supervisor from 2003 to 2005. Defendant Fornay was Superintendent of ISD from 1995 until June 2006. At all relevant times, Defendant Warden was Personnel Manager for the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired.

Pierce asserts that he was wrongfully denied positions at ISD, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS), and the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired. Pierce further asserts that he was wrongfully denied the opportunity to become certified in a position with Healthcare and Family Services. Pierce also claims that he was disciplined more severely than other employees on several specific occasions. The Individual Defendants assert that they are entitled to summary judgment on all of Pierce's claims. Given the number of Defendants and incidents involved, the Court, for clarity, will address additional facts in its analysis as they relate to Pierce's individual claims.

ANALYSIS

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to the interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that judgment as a matter of law is appropriate. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). When a properly supported motion for summary judgment has been made, the party opposing summary judgment may not merely rest on the pleadings but must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). "A party must present more than mere speculation or conjecture to defeat a summary judgment motion." Liu v. T & H Machine, Inc., 191 F.3d 790, 796 (7th Cir. 1999). The Court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, here the Plaintiff, and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

Pierce claims that the Individual Defendants discriminated against him because of his race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In order to succeed under § 1983, Pierce must demonstrate that a government official, acting under color of state law, deprived him of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Pierce's § 1983 claims are based on the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, which mandates that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U.S. Const. amend. XIV. This is essentially "a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike." Vision Church v. Village of Long Grove, 468 F.3d 975, 1000 (7th Cir. 2006).

Pierce identifies no direct or circumstantial evidence that points directly to a discriminatory reason for the alleged adverse employment actions; thus, he must proceed under the familiar indirect burden-shifting approach set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green. 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Pierce may establish a prima facie equal protection violation using the same standard of proof the Court previously applied to his Title VII claims against DHS and ISD. Salas v. Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections, 493 F.3d 913, 926 (7th Cir. 2007). "The only difference is that a Title VII claim is against an employer, while an equal protection claim is against individual employees." Id. (citing Hildebrandt v. Ill. Dep't of Natural Res., 347 F.3d 1014, 1036 (7th Cir. 2003)). Thus, Pierce must show that: (1) he is a member of a protected class, (2) his job performance met legitimate expectations, (3) he suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) another similarly situated individual who was not in the protected class was treated more favorably than he was. Burks v. Wisconsin Dept. of Transp., 464 F.3d 744, 750-51 (7th Cir. 2006). If Pierce establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the Defendants to proffer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged actions. If Defendants meet this burden, the burden shifts back to Pierce to demonstrate that the proffered reasons are pretextual. Id. at 751.

A. Failure to Promote, Transfer, or Hire

Pierce asserts that he was wrongfully denied a Public Service Administrator position at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, an Executive Assistant position at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, a Guard II position at ISD, an Office Assistant position at ISD, and a Human Resource Associate position at CMS. Pierce further asserts that he was wrongfully denied the opportunity to become certified in a position with Healthcare and Family Services. The Court addresses the positions chronologically.

1. Illinois School for the Visually Impaired Positions

On September 2, 2004, Pierce applied for a Public Service Administrator position with the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, a separate entity which like ISD is operated by DHS. Defendant Warden, as Personnel Director for the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, was involved with filling the position. Warden avers that the position required a PSA Option 6 grade, but that, at the time he applied, Pierce had only a PSA Option 1 grade. Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 30) (Defendants' Memorandum), Ex. H, ¶ 3. According to Warden, because Pierce did not have a grade for PSA Option 6, he was not deemed qualified for the position and was not awarded an interview. Id., ¶ 4. Pierce identifies no evidence to contradict Warden's affidavit, and he concedes that, at the time he initially applied for this position, his application was rejected because he did not have the proper grade for the position. Id., Ex. B, p. 88-90. Pierce asserts that he subsequently obtained the proper grade, but was not interviewed. Pierce testified in his deposition that he was told a white female was hired for the position. Id., p. 110-11. Given the record evidence, Pierce is unable to establish a prima facie case of discrimination relating to this position. Pierce fails to present evidence that he was qualified for the position at the time that he applied for it, and there is no evidence of the qualifications of the individual who was hired for the position. Thus, Pierce fails to identify evidence sufficient to establish the second and fourth prongs of his prima facie case. The Individual Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Pierce's claim arising out of the Public Service Administrator position.

The record evidence relating to the Executive Assistant position at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired is scant. Pierce's Complaint alleges that he applied for a second Public Service Administrator position at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired in December 2004. Complaint, ¶ 30. Pierce testified in his deposition that his wife, who was an employee of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, told him that, after someone was hired for the original Public Service Administrator position, the title or grade of the position was changed to Executive II. Defendants' Memorandum, Ex. B, p. 90. Pierce states that he then "went out and got a grade for the Exec I or II," but that he was not interviewed for the position. Id. It is unclear from the record evidence whether the Executive Assistant position was a separate position or just the retitled Public Service Administrator position. In either case, there is no evidence of the qualifications of the individual who was hired for the position. Thus, Pierce is unable to establish a prima facie case for claims based on the Executive Assistant position.

2. Guard II Position at ISD

Also in 2004, Pierce applied for a Guard II position at ISD. According to Pierce, Defendant Fornay supported him for the position. Defendants' Memorandum, Ex. B, p.121-22. Pierce was interviewed for the position by John Heyer and Anita Raffa, but a Caucasian male was hired for the position. Pierce asserts that he was more qualified for the position than the individual who was hired because he already worked at ISD, had the ability to communicate using sign language, and had previously worked as a certified armed guard in Louisiana. Pierce concedes, however, that none of these qualities were requirements for the Guard II position. Id., p. 120-23,129. Additionally, Pierce offers no admissible evidence regarding the qualifications of the individual who was hired. Therefore, Pierce's prima facie case again fails at the fourth prong. Pierce fails to identify evidence ...


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