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Susan L. Williams v. the Illinois Department of Revenue

July 20, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sue E. Myerscough, U.S. District Judge:

E-FILED Wednesday, 20 July, 2011 04:02:46 PM

Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD


Plaintiff, Susan L. Williams, an employee of the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department), brings this action against the Department and Pat Welch, one of its managerial employees, alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.)and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges discrimination based on differential treatment and on a hostile work environment. This matter is now before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Motion) (d/e 19). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is GRANTED.


On February 1, 2007, Plaintiff began working as a Liquor Control Agent (Agent I) for the Illinois Liquor Control Commission's (Commission) Liquor Control Enforcement Unit (Enforcement Unit). The Commission operates under the Department. The Commission regulates manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of alcohol products. The Enforcement Unit oversees licensees' compliance with the liquor laws and regulations. Agent I's inspect any business who holds a license to sell or distribute alcohol in Illinois to make sure they are in compliance with the Illinois Liquor Control Act. Agent I's also perform special investigations when a complaint is made about a licensee.

Agent I's complete daily inspection reports. An inspection report describes what the agent did during the day, including the time agent left home, the addresses of the licensees visited, and the miles between stops. Inspection reports are turned into the agent's supervisor. During Defendant Welch's tenure with the Department, the practice was that the inspection reports were then sent on to Welch for his review.

As stated, Agent I's also conduct special investigations after a complaint is lodged against a licensee. After conducting a special investigation, the Agent I completes an investigation report which includes the allegations raised and the agent's findings. Special investigation reports are turned in to the agent's supervisor. During Welch's tenure with the Department, the special investigation reports were reviewed for completeness by the agent's supervisor but were not forwarded to Welch for his review.

Welch was the Assistant Director of the Department from June 25, 2005, until March 15, 2009. As part of his duties, Welch headed the Enforcement Unit of the Commission which had 21 liquor control agents and 4 supervisors. The supervisors in the Enforcement Unit supervised individual agents.

Eric Wisette was one of the four supervisors who worked under Welch. Wisette supervised a group of liquor control agents who were assigned to territory in northern Illinois. Wisette was Plaintiff's supervisor between February 2007 and September 2008.

As Plaintiff's supervisor, one of Wisette's duties was to create Plaintiff's daily assigned schedule. However, in practice, the agents supervised by Wisette would submit their daily itineraries to him for his approval. According to Plaintiff, she followed this practice and informed Wisette of any deviations from her schedule.

Wisette's duties also included reviewing the reports submitted by each agent which detailed, among other things, the time spent on each job. Wisette never noticed any inconsistency in how Plaintiff accounted for her time and her reports generally seemed to be accurate. However, Welch was critical of many of the reports submitted by Plaintiff to Wisette, particularly Plaintiff's daily activity reports and her time usage.

On several occasions in the summer of 2007, Welch instructed Wisette to assess discipline against Plaintiff based on charges of insubordination.*fn1 In August 2007, Welch instructed Wisette not to send Plaintiff on any further investigations and told Plaintiff not to do anymore investigations until further notice. Welch never gave Wisette similar directions as to any male agents.

Plaintiff signed a Memorandum confirming Wisette had given her an oral reprimand on December 14, 2007.*fn2 Welch had instructed Wisette to issue the reprimand for excessive travel. No other agent working under Wisette had ever been issued such a reprimand.

On January 10, 2008, Plaintiff's December 2007 reprimand was superseded by an oral reprimand given to Plaintiff by Wisette at Welch's direction.*fn3 A memorandum from Wisette to Welch confirms that Plaintiff was given the reprimand for excessive travel*fn4 and insubordination*fn5 . Plaintiff refused to sign the memorandum.

In January 2008, several liquor control agents who had the most wineries within their territory (mostly agents from Southern Illinois), attended a training class where they were trained on conducting winery inspections. Chicago does not have any wineries. Plaintiff was not asked to attend the training. Plaintiff never asked whether she could attend the winery inspection training class.

Welch reevaluated Plaintiff's performance from the time period between August 1, 2007, and February 1, 2008. In doing so, Welch changed the evaluation from "meets expectations" to "needs improvement." The revised evaluation stated that Plaintiff needed improvement in her productivity, initiative, use of time, planning, and follow-up. The evaluation was critical of the way Plaintiff planned her days, deviated from her schedule, used her time, and controlled her workloads.

Plaintiff objected to the revised evaluation for several reasons. First, Plaintiff felt Wisette was in a better position to assess and evaluate the way she performed her duties. Second, Plaintiff felt that the change in rating from "meets expectations" to "needs improvement" in certain performance categories did not fairly assess her performance. Finally, Plaintiff acknowledged that she "[o]ccasionally, but not frequently" has had to "deviate from [her] schedule," but she contended the criticisms of her scheduling were unfair because she had scheduled certain facilities for inspection when she was unclear on their hours of business. She had occasionally scheduled visits with establishments that were not open at the times she had scheduled them for inspection, which then required her to modify her schedule.

In their Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants state Welch did not accept the supervisor's evaluations for Agent Gedzun (male), Agent Cosentino (male), and Agent Bisluk (female) and also reevaluated those agents' evaluations from "meets expectations" to "needs improvement." Plaintiff disputes this statement other than as it applies to Agent Bisluk. In Welch's deposition, he was asked to identify by name each agent, other than Plaintiff, where he had not accepted the supervisor's evaluations. Welch named Agents Gedzun, Cosentino, and Bisluk and stated that he believed there were one or two others. Plaintiff has not produced any evidence that contradicts this statement.

In January 2008, Welch brought allegations concerning Plaintiff to the attention of John Chambers, the head of Internal Affairs for the Department. Welch believed Plaintiff had unapproved secondary employment and was involved in political activity. Welch thought Plaintiff's job with the Elburn Police Department had not been approved and that she was working for the police department when she was supposed to be working for the Department. Welch also felt Williams was involved in political activity by working with an organization on de-annexation in Camden Hills. As part of the investigation, Plaintiff's State-issued computer was examined. Plaintiff signed an affidavit admitting she violated the Department's policy for personal use of her State computer.

In September 2008, the Labor Relations Division of the Department, in a "Revised Statement of Charges," charged Plaintiff with the following: (1) using her State-issued computer to generate non-work related email communication and other documents that were sent from and received on her State-issued computer; (2) engaging in political activity during work hours using her State-issued computer; and (3) holding secondary employment as a polygraph examiner without approval.

Plaintiff prepared a written response to the charges. Plaintiff acknowledged using her State computer to a limited extent for personal purposes. Specifically, she acknowledged receiving and sending emails that were not work-related on her State computer. This included emails related to the de-annexation of her subdivision and polygraph examinations. However, Plaintiff stated the second and third charges were "wholly without merit." According to Plaintiff, she never engaged in outside employment as a polygraph examiner while employed with the Department. Plaintiff contended that, to the extent her conduct violated Department policies, her discipline should be proportionate to her conduct and, therefore, limited to a written or oral reprimand.

Plaintiff received a 25-day disciplinary suspension. The suspension was later reduced to 12 days, and she received back wages for 13 days.


On May 8, 2009, Plaintiff sued the Department and Welch under §§ 1983 and 2000(e) claiming she was discriminated against based on her gender. Plaintiff alleged that at all times relevant to the Complaint, Plaintiff worked for the Commission, a division of the Department, as a Liquor Control Special Agent I, and Welch had supervisory authority over her. Plaintiff further alleged she fully satisfied all reasonable performance and conduct expectations that the Department had for her as an employee.

According to the Complaint, beginning in the summer of 2007 and continuing through the fall of 2008, Plaintiff was subjected to the following treatment: (1) in the summer of 2007 she was removed from and not allowed to participate in investigations that are normally performed by Liquor Control Special Agents; (2) in August and December 2007 she was issued an oral reprimand with no basis; (3) she was the subject of a baseless investigation undertaken by the Department's Office of Inspector General; (4) in January 2008, the Department issued her an oral reprimand and a 1-day suspension without a proper basis; (5) in January 2008, she was not allowed to attend a winery inspection class which was available to other Liquor Control Special Agents; (6) in April 2008, the Department attempted to rescind an earlier positive performance evaluation done for Plaintiff by her direct supervisor and replace it with a highly critical evaluation which did not correctly reflect her performance; (7) in April 2008, restrictions were placed on her ability to engage in outside employment even though the outside employment would not impede or interfere with her ability to perform her job for the Department; and (8) in September 2008, she was issued a 25-day disciplinary suspension without proper cause. Plaintiff alleged the above-described conduct was initiated, directed, or encouraged by Welch. Moreover, Plaintiff alleged that the treatment she received was different and less favorable than the treatment received by males who worked for the Department as Liquor Control Special Agents. Specifically, during times relevant to this proceeding, the Commission employed two other female Liquor Control Special Agents and each of them has been treated differently and less favorably than their male counterparts.

Plaintiff's Complaint contained four counts. Count I alleged the Department engaged in a course of conduct which created an offensive and hostile work environment for Plaintiff which has adversely altered and effected the terms of her employment. Moreover, Count I alleged this conduct occurred because of Plaintiff's sex. Therefore, the Department has discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of her sex in violation of § 2000(e)-2(a).

Count II alleged the Department has discriminated against Plaintiff because of her sex in violation of ยง 2000(e)-2 because the Department treated Plaintiff differently and less favorably than it treated males who ...

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