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Sarlo v. Wojcik

September 23, 2010


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


Anthony Sarlo filed a complaint against Al Wojcik, David Donovan, and Dan Carey alleging retaliation for protected First Amendment conduct under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, their motion [#59] is granted.


Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). To determine whether any genuine issue of fact exists, the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) & advisory committee's notes. The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986). In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on mere pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to designate specific material facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit. Insolia, 216 F.3d at 598--99. Although a bare contention that an issue of fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 492 (7th Cir. 2000), the court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986).


I. General Services

The City of Chicago's Department of General Services ("General Services") provides support to other city departments. Beginning in September 2005, Sarlo was a motor truck driver in General Services.*fn2 Since 1999, Wojcik has been General Services' Project Administrator.*fn3 Wojcik, assisted by Wayne Hnatko, the Assistant Director of Building Management, oversees and issues assignments to the five or six General Services drivers. From 2001 to September 2007, Donovan was an Assistant Commissioner of Trades and Engineering in General Services. In summer 2007, he acted as Deputy Commissioner for some period of time and was permanently elevated to this position in September 2007. Carey is the Director of Building Operations for General Services and reports to Donovan. He acted as Deputy Commissioner for the month of July 2007, when Donovan took over until his official appointment.

General Services drivers operate out of three locations: warehouses at North Avenue and Throop Street ("North & Throop") and 1865 Pershing Road ("39th St. Warehouse"), and a senior residence facility, North Park Village ("NPV"). The NPV driver reports directly to NPV, while the other drivers generally begin their day at North & Throop. The NPV assignment involves transporting senior residents to and from the facility and other designated locations. The NPV service is provided seven days a week, with drivers rotating through overtime weekend shifts. The warehouse assignments typically involve transporting furniture and other inventory to locations throughout the city. Drivers worked from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., although at times they were directed to work from 6:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sarlo began his time at General Services working out of North & Throop. In late 2005, he agreed to take the NPV assignment for a period of six months. He continued driving this route until August 2006, at which time he took a medical leave of absence.

II. Events from October 2006 to July 2007

Upon returning from his leave of absence to work in October 2006, Sarlo was told to report to North & Throop and to work there and at the 39th St. Warehouse. Another driver, Ray Helm, who had been transferred to General Services during Sarlo's absence pursuant to a settlement agreement between the City and Teamsters Union Local 726,*fn4 was assigned to NPV.Although Sarlo testified that he was not particularly concerned about being taken off the NPV route, he nonetheless took an interest in Helm's transfer. He claims to have been suspicious of Helm and the manner in which Helm received a transfer due to a friend's experience in attempting to get a transfer to General Services. In April 2006, John Komornick, who worked as a driver in the Department of Transportation, requested a transfer to General Services. In May 2006, he was informed that no openings were available. After hearing that an opening had been posted, he applied for the opening in June 2006. On August 25, 2006, he received a letter informing him that the position would not be filled from the list of bidders due to the city's settlement agreement with Teamsters Union Local 726.

After some discussion with Komornick, Sarlo concluded that Helm had been transferred to General Services as a result of political connections. On October 4, 2006, Sarlo confronted Wojcik at North & Throop, telling Wojcik he "knew how Ray Helm got in here and how Mike Picardi [then Commissioner of Streets and Sanitation] placed a call for him." Ex. 9 to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. 32:3--4, hereinafter "Sarlo Dep." He further told Sarlo that he planned to tell the Inspector General about Helm's transfer. Sarlo claims that Wojcik responded by telling him to watch it or he would not have a job, although Wojcik denies this.Donovan and Carey were not privy to this conversation.

Sarlo testified that after his interaction with Wojcik in October 2006, he was given a heavier workload than other drivers.*fn5 Although he would often be sent out on assignments after lunch, he would notice when he returned to North & Throop that many of the other drivers were already at the warehouse. Sarlo also complained of being sent out on assignments at least once without a laborer to help him with the loading and unloading of his truck. He did not, however, make any such complaints to Donovan or Carey.*fn6

In late 2006 and throughout 2007, Sarlo testified that he complained about these events to the federal monitor's office and the Inspector General's office. On March 29, 2007, Sarlo faxed a letter to Michi Pena, General Services' Commissioner, in which he claimed to "have been harassed/retaliated against by several City Employees after confronting them with an issue that [he] came across." Ex. 10 to Sarlo Dep. He complained about being taken off the NPV route when he returned back to work in October 2006. He also detailed how he questioned Wojcik about Helm's transfer, Wojcik's response that Sarlo should "mind [his] own business" and that "if [he] didn't leave it alone [he] would be the one sorry," and his conclusions that Helm was placed in General Services as a political favor. Id. Sarlo wrote that he complained to the Inspector General's office and his union to no avail. He concluded, "If there is anything you can do to help stop this harassment it would be greatly appreciated." Id. Sarlo testified that he told the other drivers about his complaint to Pena, knowing that it would spread through the department.

III. July 2007 Events and Subsequent ...

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