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Harris v. State

January 12, 2010

PAMELA HARRIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ROGER E. WALKER, JR., IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEBBIE DENNING, IN HER OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND MARY SIGLER, IN HER OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan H. Lefkow

OPINION AND ORDER

Pamela Harris has filed a ten-count complaint against the State of Illinois, Department of Corrections ("IDOC"), and Roger E. Walker, Jr., Debbie Denning, and Mary Sigler in their official and individual capacities (collectively, "defendants"). Harris alleges racial discrimination and retaliation, equal protection and due process violations, chilling of her First Amendment rights, and retaliation under various federal and Illinois statutes and Illinois common law. Before the court is defendants' motion to transfer venue to the Central District of Illinois. For the following reasons, defendants' motion [#12] is denied.

BACKGROUND

Harris, an African-American, worked for IDOC for sixteen and a half years until her termination on December 15, 2008. Initially a correctional officer, in 2004, she was promoted to Supervisor of the Jessie Ma Houston Adult Transition Center ("Jessie Ma Houston"), an IDOC facility located in this district, in Dixmoor, Illinois. In April 2006, she was transferred to the Dwight Correctional Center ("the DCC"), an IDOC facility located in the Central District of Illinois. In June 2006, Harris was appointed Assistant Warden of Operations at the DCC. At all relevant times, Sigler was the Warden at the DCC, Denning was Deputy Director of IDOC's Women and Family Division, and Walker was the IDOC Director. Sigler and Denning are caucasian, while Walker is African-American. Sigler is now retired and resides in Wisconsin, Denning continues to work for IDOC in Decatur in the Central District, and Walker is retired and lives in Decatur.

Harris alleges that she was discriminated against after she reported an incident involving a correctional officer ("CO") kicking an inmate at the DCC and a coverup of the incident by Lt. Winters and CO Lynn Hodge to Sigler and Denning in December 2006. Harris contends that Sigler was displeased with the report, as Winters and Hodge were Sigler's friends. Harris alleges that her report prompted Sigler to investigate a report of an incident involving Harris and a different inmate at the DCC. Harris contends Sigler's actions made her working conditions difficult, leading her to complain of racially discriminatory actions at the DCC to Denning around February 20, 2007. Several days later, Harris alleges that Denning notified her that IDOC's Investigations and Intelligence Unit would not be investigating Harris's complaints. Harris then asked to speak to Rick Bard, IDOC's Chief of Operations and Denning's supervisor, about her complaints. On February 28, 2007, Sergio Molina, Walker's executive assistant, told Harris that she should report to Jessie Ma Houston on March 1, 2007, where she would be Assistant Supervisor of Operations. Harris alleges that no documentation states the reasons for the transfer but that Walker provided legislators with false reasons for the action.

Although working at Jessie Ma Houston, Harris contends that she continued to be supervised by Sigler and Denning. She alleges that all her paperwork and personnel approval actions were "funneled through the [DCC] so it would appear as though her position had not changed and so Defendants Sigler and Denning could continue to exert control over [her]." Compl. ¶ 36. On April 13, 2007, Harris alleges she received an oral reprimand from Denning for violating IDOC standards of conduct, stemming from the investigation Sigler initiated against her. On May 3, 2007, Harris met with Sigler and Joni Stahlman, the Re-entry Manager for IDOC's Women and Family Services Division, at the DCC for a performance evaluation, where she received a rating of "acceptable" for her work from June 1, 2006 to June 1, 2007, allegedly lower than any other rating she had received while employed by IDOC. Harris also alleges that her state vehicle was reassigned in May 2007 to Toyia Sims, IDOC's Policy Advisor to the Director, that the governor's office did not act on complaints she made, and that she refused to campaign for a candidate running against State Representative Barbara Flynn Currie in late 2007 when asked by Sims.

In August 2007, Harris cross-filed a discrimination charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Harris alleges that after IDOC received the IDHR charge, Walker appointed Duane Tucker the Assistant Warden of Operations at the DCC, the position Harris allegedly continued to occupy. She further contends that she was placed on administrative leave on December 1, 2008 after indicating she would continue to pursue her discrimination charge. On December 15, 2008, she received a letter signed by Walker stating that her employment with IDOC was terminated, allegedly with no explanation. Harris then filed a second charge of discrimination with the IDHR, alleging her termination was in retaliation for filing her initial IDHR discrimination charge. The EEOC provided her with a right to sue notice on April 21, 2009.

LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to transfer venue is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), which provides that "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." As a practical matter, "[t]he moving party must show that (1) venue is proper in this district; (2) venue is proper in the transferee district; (3) the transferee district is more convenient for both the parties and witnesses; and (4) transfer would serve the interest of justice." Gueorguiev v. Max Rave, LLC, 526 F. Supp. 2d 853, 856 (N.D. Ill. 2007) (citing Bryant v. ITT Corp., 48 F. Supp. 2d 829, 832 (N.D. Ill. 1999)). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that transfer is "clearly more convenient." Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., 883 F.2d 1286, 1293 (7th Cir. 1989) (quoting Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219--20 (7th Cir. 1986)). Since the weighing of factors for and against transfer necessarily involves a large degree of subtlety and latitude, the decision to transfer is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. Coffey, 796 F.2d at 219; see also Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622, 84 S.Ct. 805, 11 L.Ed. 2d 945 (1964) (noting that the remedial purpose of § 1404(a) requires "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness"); N. Shore Gas Co. v. Salomon Inc., 152 F.3d 642, 648 n.3 (7th Cir. 1998). Each factor should be given the appropriate weight under the circumstances of the case. Gueorguiev, 526 F. Supp. 2d at 856.

DISCUSSION

The parties do not argue that venue is improper in this district or the Central District of Illinois. Instead, the parties dispute whether transfer is warranted for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and whether transfer serves the interest of justice.

I. Convenience of the Parties and Witnesses

Factors the court considers and weighs in evaluating the convenience of the parties and witnesses include (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum, (2) the situs of material events, (3) the relative ease of access to sources of proof, (3) the convenience of the witnesses, and (4) the convenience of the parties in litigating in the respective forums. See, e.g., Brandon ...


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