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Gina M. Righter v. Frank M. Zuccarelli

August 16, 2011

GINA M. RIGHTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FRANK M. ZUCCARELLI, DONALD MANNING, MARTIN LAREAU, LEONARD CHIARO, AND SOUTH SUBURBAN COLLEGE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge James F. Holderman

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANTS' UNOPPOSED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

On July 13, 2011, in accordance with the schedule previously agreed upon by counsel (Dkt. No. 21), defendants South Suburban College, Martin Lareau, Donald Manning, Frank M. Zuccarelli, and Leonard Chiaro (collectively "Defendants") moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 34.) Plaintiff's counsel did not respond on August 4, 2011, as required by the agreed schedule, but noticed a motion for extension of time to be heard by the court, (Dkt. Nos. 38 and 39), seven days later, on August 11, 2011. Plaintiff's counsel, however, did not appear before the court on August 11, 2011, or any other time, to explain the tardiness of his response or present his request for more time. Plaintiff's counsel's motion to extend more time to respond was therefore denied. (Dkt. No. 41.)

Before the court is Defendants' unopposed Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 34), Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts (Dkt. No. 36), and Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 37), as well as exhibits presented by Defendants in support of their motion (Dkt. Nos. 36-2, 36-3, 36-4, 36-5, 36-7, 36-8, 36-9, 36-10, and 36-11.)

After reviewing the filings, accepting Defendants' Statement of Material Facts as true, and evaluating all of those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, who is the non-moving party, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 34), is granted.

Procedural Background

On December 6, 2009, Plaintiff Gina Righter ("Righter") filed her six-count complaint. (Dkt. No. 1.) On May 17, 2010, the court dismissed on Defendants' motion (Dkt. No. 6) Count I (ADA), Count II (Title VII), and Count IV (Retaliatory Discharge) of Righter's complaint. (Dkt. No. 16.) Discovery proceeded and was entirely completed on May 16, 2011. On July 13, 2011, Defendants' moved for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 34) on the three remaining counts of Righter's complaint: Count III (Equal Pay Act) against South Suburban College; Count V (Section 1983) against the individual defendants; and Count VI (Retaliation in Violation of Public Policy) against South Suburban College. Plaintiff Righter's counsel did not respond timely to that motion and did not appear on August 11, 2011, pursuant to his own notice (Dkt. No. 39), to seek an extension of time to respond.

The Undisputed Material Facts

Righter was employed at South Suburban College ("College") as a police officer from January 1989 until her promotion to sergeant in July 1990. She served as a police sergeant with the College from July 1990 until her termination by the College Board of Trustees at a public meeting in December 2008.

Defendant College is an Illinois public community college located in South Holland, Cook County, Illinois, operated and governed under the Illinois Public Community College Act, 110 ILCS 805/3-1 et. seq., and legally known as Illinois Community College District No. 510, County of Cook, State of Illinois. Defendant Frank Zuccarelli is the Chairman of the seven-member elected Board of Trustees of the College. Defendant Donald Manning is the Vice President of Administration of the College. Defendant Martin Lareau is the Director of Facilities and the College Police Department. Defendant Leonard Chiaro is the College Chief of Police.

College police officers are members of the Support Staff bargaining unit whereas college police sergeants are members of a management position classification known as "Technical, Professional, Exempt" ("TPE") and have no union status.

When Righter was promoted to sergeant in 1990, she was assigned to be the commanding officer of the police shift that started at 4:00 p.m. and concluded at midnight. Righter was the only female police sergeant at the College throughout her tenure and was the only police sergeant at the College from 2004 until her termination in December 2008. When day-shift male police sergeant Henry Debose separated from employment at the College in 2004, the day-shift sergeant position was eliminated. Thereafter, Righter asked on numerous occasions for a transfer to the day-shift, but declined to accept the lower pay she would receive in the rank of "police officer" to make that transfer.

On October 10, 1996, Righter sent a memo to College Police Chief Chiaro, College President Bruce Aldrich, and Mr. Hafer in Human Resources, asking that her pay coincide with that of the other police sergeants "who are receiving a considerably higher salary then me." (Dkt. No. 36-2, Ex. 1 at 50-51; Dkt. No. 36-4, Gr. Ex. 3 at Dep. Ex. 17.)

Righter was never denied a medical leave of absence by the College and took a series of leaves during her employment with the College, including at least two leaves under the Family Medical Leave Act and two under the College Health and Hardship Leave Policy. She also applied for and was awarded additional paid sick days from the College Sick Bank. (Dkt. No. 36-2, Ex. 1 at 27-40, 56-61.)

On September 26, 2007, Righter began her final series of medical leaves, which included use of the College Sick Bank, an FMLA Leave, and a one-year College Health and Hardship Leave. Righter never returned to her position as a police sergeant after September 25, 2007. (Dkt. No. 36-2, Ex. 1 at 107-108; Dkt. No. 36-4, Gr. Ex. 3 at Dep. Exs. 1-4, 7-10, 12.) Righter applied for disability with the State Universities Retirement System and began receiving benefits on November 26, 2007, and continues to receive these benefits. (Dkt. No. 36-2, Ex. 1 at 6; Dkt. No. 36-3, Ex. 2 at Interrog. No. 26.)

During Righter's one-year Health and Hardship Leave, Righter received a letter from Kimberly Pigatti, Director of Human Resources, dated October 15, 2008, informing Righter that if Righter did not advise the College by December 1, 2008 of her intention to return to work, Righter would be considered "excessively absent and have abandoned [her] position." (Dkt. No. 36-2, Ex. 1 at 42-43; Dkt. No. 36-4, Gr. Ex. 3 at Dep. Ex. 14.) That letter also informed Righter of her right to appear before the Board of Trustees at the December 11, 2008 meeting regarding the recommendation for termination, and Righter stated that she would appear. (Dkt. No. 36-4, Gr. Ex. 3 at Dep. Exs. 14-15.)

The College Health and Hardship Leave Policy for TPE employees, such as Righter, is the same as that contained within the Support Staff union contract which states, in part:

The employee on leave shall, at least thirty (30) days before the expiration of the leave, serve notice upon the College as to whether or not the employee shall timely return from the leave. Such notice shall be served upon the College as is provided elsewhere in this Agreement. Failure of the employee to return to work all [sic] the end ...


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