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Carol Everett v. Cookcounty

August 24, 2011

CAROL EVERETT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
COOKCOUNTY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 07 C 5440-Virginia M. Kendall, Judge.

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

ARGUED JUNE 6, 2011

Before KANNE, EVANS , and SYKES, Circuit Judges.*fn1

Dr. Carol Everett sued Cook County, alleging that the County's decision to lay her off (and retain another employee instead) was predicated on her Caucasian ethnicity, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and her apolitical status, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Shakman decree. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Cook County, finding that Everett failed to point to evidence that tended to show any discriminatory animus by the County. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Everett began working as a dentist at Cook County's Cermak Health Services in 1982. Cermak is a health care facility dedicated to providing medical and dental treatment to the thousands of detainees housed at the Cook County Jail. During her extended tenure at Cermak, Everett worked at dental clinics set up throughout the jail, where she supplied both emergent and preventative dental care to the inmate population.

By late 2006, Cook County was in the throes of a budget crisis. The County had a budget shortfall of 500 million dollars, and Cook County President Todd Stroger determined that 100 million dollars of that shortfall had to be cut from the County's health care budget. In December 2006, Stroger directed Dr. Robert Simon, the Interim Bureau Chief of Cook County's Bureau of Health, to submit recommendations for health care budget cuts. Stroger gave Simon until February 2007 to find ways to cure the health care budget's woes.

Faced with a time crunch, Simon quickly formed a team to assess all of Cook County's health care programs and recommend ways to trim those programs' budgets. One member of that team was Dr. Eileen Couture, a physician at Cermak. Couture was to review the budget at Cermak and draft a report recommending cuts, including staff reductions.

The dental budget at Cermak was one of Couture's many problems. She soon discovered that the dental care requirements for jails were minimal and that Cermak could still provide sufficient care with only one dentist. She told Simon of her discovery, and he agreed that Cermak could survive with a single dentist. That left Couture with the unenviable task of picking the one dentist to remain at Cermak following the layoff.

Couture had five dentists to choose from: Dr. Allen Knox, Dr. Jack Liu, Dr. Shandra Bundy-Smith, Dr. Ronald Townsend, and Everett. Knox was the dental administrator, while the other doctors were staff dentists. Because the entire dental program was going to be dismantled and reduced to one dentist and two assistants providing emergent care only, Couture determined that the remaining dentist had to have some indicia of management experience, as well as a history of flexibility, productivity, emergent clinical skill, and responsiveness to other physicians' needs.

Based on this criteria, Couture concluded that Townsend was the most qualified to take over the program at Cermak. Couture noted that Townsend appeared to have prior administrative experience, as he often served as the acting director of Cermak's dental unit when Knox was away on vacation. Couture also knew, by virtue of her work in Cermak's emergency room, that Townsend provided good patient care, while at the same time remaining cognizant of the problems associated with servicing an inmate population. Her experiences with Townsend were echoed by other colleagues, who told Couture that Townsend was a productive, responsive, skilled, and flexible dentist. Couture decided against Everett based on her lack of supervisory experience, as well as some informal complaints she heard from other physicians at Cermak regarding Everett's pace.

In February 2007, Couture submitted her report to Simon. She recommended, among other things, slashing the budget at Cermak and retaining Townsend as the only remaining dentist on staff. The program would then be restructured to provide jail inmates with emergent dental care only. Simon agreed with Couture's recommendations, and the layoff decisions were delivered to the other dentists in March 2007.

Disappointed by the news of not being selected, Everett filed an appeal of her layoff. On June 26, 2007, Everett was sent a letter in anticipation of her appeal, explaining the bases for the layoff decisions. The letter provided that a number of factors were looked at in picking the remaining dentist, including time management skills, the ability and desire to assume a management role, supervisory skills, and clinical expertise. Those factors, the letter explained, led Couture and Simon to conclude that Townsend should remain at the center following the reduction in staff. At the hearing, Couture testified that, given all of those factors, she believed that Townsend was the best choice for the position. She based this decision on her own observations in the emergency room setting, her consultation with other professionals, the fact that Townsend seemingly had some administrative experience, and the fact that he had a desire to assume leadership positions. The hearing officer ultimately denied Everett's appeal, finding no violation of County procedures.

Everett remained convinced that there was something suspicious about her termination. On May 21, 2008, she sued Cook County in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, claiming that the decision to lay her off was based on impermissible criteria. Everett argued that political considerations infected the layoff decision, in violation of the Shakman decree and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She also claimed that the choice to lay her off was predicated on both her Caucasian ethnicity and her female gender, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Everett also sought a state law petition for writ of certiorari, attacking the agency decision upholding her layoff. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Cook County on ...


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