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Goetz v. City of Springfield

March 26, 2010

LINDA GOETZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, GREG SEIPEL, JAY C. BARTLETT, TODD RENFROW, AND TIMOTHY DAVLIN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, U.S. District Judge

OPINION

Motion for Summary Judgment

The Defendants are granted summary judgment on all claims, except the Section 1983 due process claims against Mayor Timothy Davlin and Todd Renfrow.

I. BACKGROUND

A. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The City of Springfield, Illinois ("City") operates a municipal electric and water utility operated through the Office of Public Utilities ("Utility"). The Plaintiff, Linda Goetz, was hired by the City in April 1998. Prior to working for the City, the Plaintiff had 18 years of experience as an electric power marketer.

The Plaintiff began as an electric power marketer with the City, but a short time later was reclassified as a Project Manager. The Plaintiff was responsible for managing the Utility's key accounts. She interfaced with the Utility's largest clients and helped potential Utility customers get annexed into the City.

From 1998 until 2005, the Plaintiff worked in a private office in the Utility's headquarters at the Municipal Center East in downtown Springfield. Starting in January 2004, the Plaintiff worked on the Springfield Green initiative in addition to her key account responsibilities.*fn1 The Plaintiff felt she was getting mixed signals regarding whether key accounts or Springfield Green should take priority.

In February 2005, the Plaintiff's Springfield Green duties were taken over by another City employee. The Plaintiff was told she did a good job, but that the Utility needed her to focus all of her efforts on key accounts.

At the same time, the Plaintiff was assigned to work at the Utility's facility located at the corner of 10th and Miller Streets. The Plaintiff was supervised at the 10th and Miller Street facility by Michael Workman, although she had previously reported directly to Jay Bartlett, the Utility's Chief Engineer. Workman had 27 years of utility experience, and was responsible for coordinating between the engineering, construction, and operations units of the Utility. He had previously managed the Utility's Commercial Office. Like the Plaintiff, Workman was also a Project Manager.

The reason for moving the Plaintiff to the Utility's transmission and distribution facility at 10th and Miller Street was to allow her to gain more exposure to the operational side of the Utility. Utility leaders believed this exposure would make her more effective in dealing with key accounts.

There was a great deal of tension between Workman and the Plaintiff. While the Plaintiff had worked independently for years, Workman supervised her work at a very detailed level. Workman preferred to interact with subordinates by email and insisted on reviewing all outgoing correspondence. Workman believed that the Plaintiff had bypassed him in dealing with Utility managers, so he forbade the Plaintiff from contacting Utility headquarters without his permission.

Eventually, the dispute came to a head. In May 2005, the Plaintiff received a verbal warning for insubordination after she refused to reschedule a lunch meeting.

On January 20, 2006, City employees removed the Plaintiff's computer from her workstation, and she was required to surrender all City property, including keys and cell phone. The Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave and directed to work from home.

Todd Renfrow, General Manager of the Utility, had been informed by his immediate staff that the City's technology personnel had informed them that it appeared that the Plaintiff had attempted to access the user and email accounts of Renfrow and other managers in the Utility.*fn2 The alleged improper computer access was the reason for placing the Plaintiff on administrative leave, although the allegation was later found to be untrue.

Renfrow has stated that he was offended by what he believed the Plaintiff had done. Renfrow believed that the Plaintiff's actions were a "serious inappropriate action." However, neither Renfrow nor any other manager at the Utility ordered an investigation to determine conclusively that the Plaintiff had in fact attempted to access his user and email accounts. No employee or agent of the City ever asked the Plaintiff about her computer use, and it appears that the Plaintiff was never informed of the reason why she was placed on administrative leave.

It has since been determined that the Plaintiff was merely attempting to book appointments with Renfrow and the other managers through the Microsoft Outlook program.*fn3 At the time of his deposition in 2009, Renfrow still believed that the Plaintiff had been trying to gain access to his email and user accounts.

While the Plaintiff was on leave, no investigation was carried out to determine if she had in fact engaged in wrongdoing.

Although, the Plaintiff's position had already been included in the budget for the upcoming year, Renfrow decided to eliminate her position. Renfrow could not lay off the Plaintiff on his own authority. As the appointing authority, Mayor Davlin could either ratify or reject Renfrow's decision. Renfrow discussed the matter with Davlin.

The following excerpt from Renfrow's deposition addresses discussions between Mayor Davlin and Renfow about the situation.

Q: And did you recommend to the Mayor that [the Plaintiff's] position be laid off?

[Renfrow:] I informed him that I had laid her off.

Q: Okay. So then the decision to lay her off was not one that the mayor had any input on?

[Renfrow:] No. He could have overruled me.

Q: Okay. Did you and he talk about the decision?

[Renfrow:] I told him why I came to the decision.

Q: And what did you tell him?

[Renfrow:] I told him exactly what I've said here, the fact that I had contemplated for a long time that we did not have a need for that [position] and the fact that I felt that was in the best direction for the utility.

Q: Did you tell him about her misuse of your computer?

[Renfrow:] I'm sure I might have at some time.

Q: So he was aware of that at the time of the decision?

[Renfrow:] Well, I'm sure he was, but I'm not going to hold him to it.

Q: Well, I'm not -

[Renfrow:] Well, but you're asking me did I probably talk to him about it? The answer is yes. But, if I didn't, I'm not going to put him on the spot.

Q: Well, you're not putting anyone on the spot. I'm just asking for your recollections.

[Renfrow:] My recollection is, yes, I probably discussed it with him.

Q: And was that at the same time you told him you were laying [the Plaintiff] off?

[Renfrow:] I don't recall that, when those two discussions, in what span, counselor.

Q: Were they separate conversations?

[Renfrow:] No. I said I didn't know that. I said the fact of when she accessed my computer and that it was probably around the same time.

Q: Let me ask this question. Did you tell the mayor that you had placed [the Plaintiff] in an administrative leave status?

[Renfrow:] I'm sure I did.

Q: And was that at the time she was placed in the administrative leave status?

[Renfrow:] I believe so.

Renfrow Dep. [d/e 45-5], at 81-83.

Ultimately, Mayor Davlin signed the layoff order and the letter informing the Plaintiff of the decision. The Plaintiff was informed on March 3, 2006 that she would be laid off, effective April 9, 2006.

Renfrow claims that he had harbored thoughts of eliminating the Plaintiff's position since within months of when he arrived at the Utility in early 2003. However, there is no indication that he ever spoke of this with anyone, and there is no documentation reflecting his claimed thoughts. Also, he has acknowledged that since the alleged inception of the idea until the Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave, the thought did not develop, and he never acted upon it.

The following excerpts from Renfrow's deposition are illustrative:

Q: What was in your mind at the time you placed her on administrative leave?

[Mr. Refrow:] Well, first of all, I was offended that she tried to access my computer...

...

Q: Okay. So at least by January - or by February, let's use that, 2006 you had been pondering for at least two years to eliminate her position?

[Mr. Renfrow:] Correct.

Q: And you finalized your decision to eliminate her position after you discovered she accessed your computer?

[Mr. Renfrow:] Yes.

...

[Q:] I don't want to confuse you. This is way too important. So let's go through it slowly, okay? Back during your first year as general manager you questioned the need for [the Plaintiff's] position. Am I correct?

[Mr. Renfrow:] Correct.

Q: And that continued through the end of 2005?

[Mr. Renfrow:] Right.

Q: Am I correct?

[Mr. Renfrow:] Correct.

Q: And the basis for your questioning the need for her position at the end of 2005 was the product of the same information you had when you initially came to that question or that thought. Am I correct?

[Mr. Renfrow:] Right.

Q: Nothing new had happened?

[Mr. Renfrow:] No.

Q: And on January 20, 2006, when [the Plaintiff] was placed on administrative leave, you still ...


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