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Fagbemi v. City of Chicago

March 19, 2010

ADEBOLA FAGBEMI, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO AND JOHN SPATZ, JR., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Adebola Fagbemi ("Fagbemi") filed suit against Defendants the City of Chicago ("the City") and John Spatz, Jr. ("Spatz") (collectively "Defendants") alleging that Defendants engaged in discrimination and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983"). Specifically, Count I of Fagbemi's Amended Complaint claims that Defendants selected Jeffrey Sebek ("Sebek"), a less qualified individual, for the positions of Acting Engineer of Water Purification ("Acting EWP") in 2006 and Assistant Engineer of Water Purification ("Assistant EWP") in 2008 based on Sebek's family's political connections and campaign contributions in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and § 1983. Count II alleges that Spatz retaliated against Fagbemi because he made complaints about Defendants' selection of Sebek for these positions in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and § 1983. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and Local Rule 56.1, Defendants move for summary judgment on both Counts of Fagbemi's Amended Complaint. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS*fn1

I. Employees within the City's Department of Water Management

The City's Department of Water Management is divided into Five Bureaus, including the Bureau of Water Supply. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 4.) The Bureau of Water Supply is further divided into three divisions, one of which is the Water Treatment Division. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 4.)

A. John Spatz

Spatz currently serves as Commissioner of the Department of Water Management. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 6.) Before becoming Commissioner, Spatz served as First Deputy Commissioner between July 16, 2006 and November 7, 2006, and as Deputy Commissioner between May 1, 2002 and July 15, 2006. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 6.) By the end of Spatz's term as Deputy Commissioner, he oversaw the Bureau of Water Supply and worked approximately 8 to 9 hours a day. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 6.) Prior to these positions, Spatz was an Engineer of Water Purification ("EWP"). (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 5.) He worked approximately 8 to 9 hours a day to complete his duties as EWP. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 5.)

B. Dennis Leonardo

When the City promoted Spatz to the position of Deputy Commissioner in May 2002, Dennis Leonardo ("Leonardo") became EWP. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 4.) As EWP, Leonardo's duties included overseeing operations at the Jardine and South Water Treatment Plants, monitoring the water treatment processes on a daily basis, monitoring the funding at both plants, and frequently communicating with the Chief Operating Engineers at both plants to ensure that work was performed on a timely basis. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 4.) These duties generally required him to work 8 hours a day, and sometimes longer. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 4.)

In June 2006, the City promoted Leonardo to the position of Acting Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Water Management, where he served until he assumed his current title of Deputy Commissioner on April 16, 2007. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 15, 31-32.) As Acting Deputy Commissioner, Leonardo was in charge of the Bureau of Water Supply. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 7.) His duties included ensuring that water treatment processes were proceeding, overseeing water pumping and water quality issues, reviewing and approving reports, attending meetings, working on capital projects, monitoring work activities, reviewing disciplinary matters, approving the purchase of supplies, and dealing with budget issues. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 7.)

C. Adebola Fagbemi

Fagbemi has worked as a Chief Filtration Engineer within the City's Water Treatment Division since July 16, 2002. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 3.) As Chief Filtration Engineer, Fagbemi is in charge of one of Chicago's two water treatment plants, where he supervises approximately 150 employees. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 3.)

D. Jeffrey Sebek

The City first employed Sebek within the Department of Public Works. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8.) In 1992, Sebek began working in the Department of Water Management as an Assistant Project Director. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8.) On December 1, 1998, he became a Project Administrator in the Department of Water Management. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 11.) In this position, Sebek assisted then-Deputy Commissioner Claude Wilson. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8.) When Spatz took over the role of Deputy Commissioner on May 1, 2002, Sebek began assisting him. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8.)

At some point in 2002, Fagbemi asked Spatz to assign a Filtration Engineer IV to fill in as Acting Filtration Engineer V. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 9.) Spatz assigned Sebek to that role even though Sebek had never worked as a water chemist for a water treatment plant, ever worked in the Control Center of one of the City's water treatment plants, and did not obtain a Class A Water Operator's License until October 2006. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 2, 9.) After the union filed a grievance alleging that Sebek was performing in a union position in violation of its contract, Spatz changed Sebek's title to Acting Assistant Chief Filtration Engineer, which was not a union position. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 9.)

According to an Illinois State Board of Elections disclosure, Sebek's brother, Richard J. Sebek ("Richard Sebek"), gave $250 to the Democratic Party of the 14th Ward in August 1999, $250 to the Democratic Party of the 11th Ward in December 1999, $500 to the Democratic Party of the 14th Ward in September 2000, and $250 to the Democratic Party of the 11th Ward in October 2000. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 10.) At one time, Richard Sebek worked for the City of Chicago Department of General Services. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 26.) Richard and Jeffrey Sebek's father also worked for the City's Department of Public Works as General Superintendent between 1950 and 1984. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 27.) Ginger Rugai, the alderman of the 19th Ward, was present at Sebek's father's funeral. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 27.)

II. Sebek's Position Between July 2005 and January 2008

In July 2005, the Department of Water Management requested that the Department of Personnel audit Sebek's job duties and re-classify him as Assistant Engineer of Water Purification ("Assistant EWP"). (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 13.) Both Spatz and then-Acting Commissioner Brian Murphy signed this request form. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 13; D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 23.) The Department of Personnel put all job audits, including Sebek's, on hold, however, until sometime in 2006 or 2007. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 14.)

On July 11, 2006, Spatz informed Fagbemi that "Jeff Sebek is going to be helping out Dennis Leonardo," and when Fagbemi asked if that meant that Sebek was the Engineer of Water Purification, Spatz responded "yes." (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 16.)*fn2 Spatz told Fagbemi that although he had performed well, "they" did not like him, so Sebek would be the EWP instead of him.*fn3 (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 32.) Fagbemi believed that politics was involved in this decision because Spatz said "they" did not like him. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 32; P 56.1 Add. Facts Ex. F, p. 201.) Less than two weeks after this conversation, Fagbemi called Leonardo and told him that he understood Sebek to be the new EWP. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 17.) Leonardo replied "I don't know that," and when Fagbemi said he would like to be considered, Leonardo interrupted and said "there are other qualified candidates." (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 17.)*fn4

Shortly after July 2006, instructional emails and communications to Fagbemi from Leonardo dropped significantly, and were rerouted through Sebek. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 20; D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 20.) Leonardo told both Fagbemi and the City's other Chief Filtration Engineer Anthony Sowa ("Sowa"), that they had to follow Sebek's instructions even if they disagreed with them, and when Sowa questioned Sebek about a directive, Sebek expressed significant frustration. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 22.) Throughout this time, and even after Leonardo became Deputy Commissioner in April 2007, Sebek still had to obtain Leonardo's approval for all procurement requests other than requests for chemicals. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 22; D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 21.) Fagbemi identified several documents reflecting that the chain of command in the Bureau of Water Supply went from Chief Filtration Engineer to Assistant EWP to EWP, and knows of one Chief Filtration Engineer before him who reported to an Assistant EWP. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 24; P 56.1 Add. Facts, Ex. F, pp. 29-34; 467-75.) Sowa confirmed that in his career at the Water Department, the typical progression was from Chief Filtration Engineer to Assistant EWP to EWP. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 24; P 56.1 Add. Facts, Ex. H, pp. 86-88.)*fn5

Also after July 2006, the Bureau of Water Supply prepared weekly reports highlighting events of that week gathered by Leonardo and representatives from the three divisions within the Bureau of Water Supply. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 11.) These reports identified Sebek as "Acting EWP" or "AEWP." (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 12.) They were prepared for the weeks of August 1, 2006 through August 7, 2006; September 5, 2006 through September 11, 2006; November 7, 2006 through November 13, 2006; December 12, 2006 through December 18, 2006; and December 26, 2006 through January 1, 2007. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 11.)

During this time, Sebek also sent many emails and memoranda to Sowa and Fagbemi identifying himself as Acting EWP, and others considered him to be Acting EWP. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 15, 18.) For instance, a memorandum from Staff Assistant Judith Chorak dated August 8, 2006 identified Sebek as "Acting Engineer of Water Purification," as did a memorandum to Fagbemi and Sowa dated March 13, 2007. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 23, 29; D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 13.)

In a document signed by Leonardo and Spatz in March 2007, the Department of Water Management renewed its request that the Department of Human Resources (formerly the Department of Personnel) audit Sebek's job duties and reclassify his job title from Project Administrator to Assistant EWP based on the duties he was performing at the time. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 30.) In April 2007, when Sowa asked Leonardo if he would be able to act up as EWP, Leonardo laughed and said "good luck." (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 28.)*fn6 On May 9, 2007, Sowa sent Leonardo a memorandum asking to "act up" in the position of EWP. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 33.) On the morning of May 10, 2007, Sebek identified himself as Acting EWP in an email sent to Sowa and Fagbemi. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 34; D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 13.) Later that evening, Leonardo emailed Sowa to inform him that no one had been acting up in the position of EWP since Leonardo held that position, and that no one would be acting up in that position in the future. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 35; D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 17.) Aside from this May 10, 2007 email from Leonardo, neither Spatz nor Leonardo ever informed Fagbemi that the identification of Sebek as Acting EWP in his emails was incorrect. (D 56.1 Resp. ¶ 16.) After Leonardo sent this email, Sebek resumed use of the Project Administrator title and communications between Fagbemi and Sebek decreased. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 39.) The position of Engineer of Water Purification has remained vacant, and no candidates have been interviewed for it, since Leonardo's promotion on April 16, 2007. (P 56.1 Resp. ¶ 40.)

A federal district court appointed a Federal Monitor in Shakman, et al. v. Democratic Organization of Cook County, et al., 69 C 2145, to ensure compliance with the court's orders related to the City's hiring and promotional practices. (P 56.1 Resp. ΒΆ 24.) At some point after Leonardo told him that he would not be able to act up as EWP, Sowa filed a complaint with the Shakman Monitor stating that he was denied the position of Acting EWP based on Sebek's political clout, ...


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