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Kevin Groesch, Greg Shaffer, and Scott Allin v. City of Springfield

March 28, 2011


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 04 cv 3162-Jeanne E. Scott, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hamilton, Circuit Judge.


Before BAUER, WOOD, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

The district court in this race discrimination case properly granted summary judgment for the defendant employer based on law applicable at the time. In this appeal, however, we rely on the retroactive effect of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 to reverse summary judgment in part and allow appellants to pursue their claims of race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Antonetti v. Abbott Laboratories, 563 F.3d 587, 591 (7th Cir. 2009). "We view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Id., quoting Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008).

A. The Plaintiff Officers

All three plaintiff-appellants-Kevin Groesch, Greg Shaffer, and Scott Allin-are white officers who were in good standing with the City of Springfield police department when they voluntarily resigned. At the times of their resignations, officers seeking reemployment were required to go through the hiring process for new police officers. Following successful completion of the process, officers were placed on an eligibility roster to await vacancies in the police department, and hired based on their rank on the roster. Rehired officers were required to re-enter the force as entry-level officers in terms of pay, benefits, and seniority.

All of the appellants were subject to these regulations. Kevin Groesch was a police officer with the department for seven and a half years before resigning in 1988. When he later inquired about returning to the department, he was told he would have to go through the hiring process for new officers because his sixty day leave of absence had expired. After reapplying to the police department and awaiting reemployment from 1989 through 1996, Groesch was rehired by the department as an entry-level patrol officer in 1996. When Greg Shaffer resigned from the police department in 1987, he had worked there for seven years. He went through the rehiring process and returned to the department in 1993 as an entry-level officer, with no credit for his earlier years of service. Scott Allin resigned in 1986 after six years of service with the department. After six months away, he attempted to rejoin but was told he needed to reapply. Allin was eventually selected from the eligibility roster in 1989 and returned to work with no credit for his earlier years of service.

B. The "Schluter Ordinance" and State Court Litigation

The three appellants base their race discrimination claim on the different treatment of Officer Donald Schluter, an African-American officer who voluntarily resigned in November 1999 after five years with the department. When Schluter sought to return after a brief absence, he was not required to start over. The chief of police spoke with a city alderman, and on March 28, 2000, the Springfield City Council enacted the "Schluter Ordinance," which specifically granted Officer Schluter a retroactive leave of absence to allow him to return with credit for his years of service as an officer. The "whereas" clauses in the Schluter Ordinance listed a variety of reasons for the ordinance, including an interest in diversity in police ranks. After the ordinance was enacted, Officer Schluter returned to his position as a police officer without going through the formal hiring process, and he was hired at the same rate of pay he was earning when he resigned.*fn1

After the Schluter Ordinance was enacted, the local police union brought a lawsuit in state court against the City and Officer Schluter claiming it was unconstitutional, unreasonable, discriminatory, and an abuse of discretion. The state trial court found in favor of the union, and for a time the ordinance was invalidated. On appeal, however, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed and reinstated the ordinance, concluding that the union lacked standing.

The appellants then wrote to the chief of police requesting that the City give them equal treatment and credit them with their earlier years of service to the department, but their request was ignored. On April 3, 2003, the appellants filed a new state court lawsuit claiming disparate treatment under the equal protection clause in Article 1, Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution. The state court action was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds in a ...

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