The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY U.S. District Judge
Tuesday, 31 July, 2012 04:20:14 PM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD
This case is before the court for ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment (#25) filed by the Defendants, Keith Anglin, Cory Foster, Gladyse Taylor and Jim Reinhart. This court has carefully reviewed the arguments of the parties and the documents filed by the parties. Following this careful and thorough review, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (#25) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
I. Plaintiff's Employment Background
Plaintiff, Vicci Kinney, was hired by Lake Land College ("LLC") to work as an instructor at the Danville Correctional Center ("DCC") on April 1, 2003. Prior to her employment with LLC, Plaintiff worked as an adjunct faculty member at the Danville Area Community College where she taught classes in electronics and vocational math. Plaintiff, after starting in her role working as a full-time instructor at DCC, taught classes in a variety of specialties, including construction, electricity and plumbing.
Plaintiff taught her classes in a large classroom which had an
attached office. Plaintiff was able to see part of her classroom from
her office, however, due to large structures that were being used by
the students as part of her classes, her view of the computers was
obstructed. The classroom had one operable computer during the time in
question, which was permitted to be used by her students for a limited
purpose-to use a computer program to construct a home.*fn2
Plaintiff had no responsibility for maintaining the computers
in her classroom.
II. Birdhouse & Solitaire "Controversies"
On April 3, 2009, Plaintiff received a letter from her supervisor at LLC-Mary Nichols ("Nichols")-indicating that Assistant Warden Victor Calloway ("Calloway") had requested that Plaintiff's class build birdhouses that would eventually be given away as gifts to DCC visitors. Plaintiff immediately had concerns about using her class funds for this project and advised Nichols that there would not be sufficient time to build the birdhouses by the end of April, as requested by Calloway. On April 6, 2009, Nichols relayed the message to Calloway that the birdhouses could not be completed by the end of April. Calloway then requested that the birdhouses be complete by the time of future tours (sometime after the end of April). Later that day, Nichols advised Plaintiff that the requested birdhouses should be completed by June 1, 2009. Plaintiff continued to believe that this request was an inappropriate use of funds allocated to her classroom and contacted the Department of Corrections ("DOC") hotline on April 7, 2009. A representative on the DOC hotline informed Plaintiff that she could contact the Illinois Office of the Executive Inspector General ("OEIG") about her concerns. On April 8, 2009, at 7:15 a.m., Plaintiff contacted the OEIG and sent the following message along with supporting documents:
I enclosed a copy of the commodities money. This money is for the class (i.e. books, supplies)-not for gifts to give away to guests who visit the institution. Please advise-I do not want to put myself in a position to lose my position. Thanks.
Later in the afternoon on April 8, 2009, Calloway and Warden Keith Anglin ("Anglin") visited Plaintiff's classroom. At the time Calloway and Anglin entered the classroom, Plaintiff was working in her office working on attendance sheets-one of her job responsibilities. Plaintiff noticed that Calloway and Anglin had entered her classroom and walked over to the computer, which is where they were standing. Calloway was standing over the shoulder of an inmate who was playing solitaire on the computer-an activity that is not allowed for inmates in classrooms. Although it is disputed exactly what was said between Plaintiff, Calloway and Anglin, the group eventually went into Plaintiff's office. Anglin directed Plaintiff to prepare a ticket against the inmate and to complete an incident report, which Plaintiff agreed to do. The parties dispute what occurred next. Plaintiff testified in her deposition that Calloway asked her about the birdhouses and Plaintiff then informed Calloway and Anglin that she felt it was unethical for her classroom funds to be used for the birdhouses and informed them that she had complained about it and that it was being investigated. Calloway and Anglin deny that any such discussion occurred at this time.
Later that afternoon, the computers were removed from Plaintiff's classroom by Kathy Paltridge ("Paltridge"). Paltridge completed an incident report and reported that Plaintiff had accused Calloway and Anglin of helping the inmate play solitaire in her classroom. Plaintiff completed an incident report which included an assertion that Calloway made statements to the inmate that the inmate had missed a solitaire move. After Virgil Tutwiler ("Tutwiler") received the incident report completed by the Plaintiff, he instructed Plaintiff to revise her report, omitting the language referring to Calloway's "advice" to the inmate. Tutweiler also completed an incident report and reported that Plaintiff had accused Calloway and Anglin of helping the inmate play solitaire in her classroom.
Additionally, at 3:33 p.m. on this same afternoon, Calloway sent an email to Nichols advising LLC that the request to build birdhouses should be disregarded because Calloway did not want the birdhouses built if it violated LLC policy. Importantly, the email also included the following statement: "I had a conversation with [Plaintiff] today and she informed me that it's against policy or illegal to build or construct" birdhouses.
III. Co-worker Allegation
On April 9, 2009, Sergeant Bonita Barber ("Barber") met with Anglin. Barber informed Anglin that Sergeant Star Burson ("Burson") reported to her that: (1) Plaintiff approached Burson on March 23, 2009 at 10:45 a.m., and suggested that Burson make false allegations of sexual harassment by Calloway;*fn3 and (2) Plaintiff offered to corroborate Burson's false claims of sexual harassment.*fn4 Anglin instructed Barber to complete a incident report regarding this matter, which she did. After having this issue brought to his attention, Anglin met with Burson to discuss her allegations regarding Plaintiff. Burson provided the same story to Anglin that she had previously told Barber. Anglin instructed Burson to complete a incident report regarding this matter, which she did. Anglin never discussed the allegations made by Burson with Plaintiff, who adamantly denies Burson's allegations and explains that she has never had any conversation with Burson.*fn5
IV. Plaintiff's Stop Order & Employment Impact
After considering the allegations made by Burson-an individual who Anglin fully admits is not credible-Anglin made the decision to enter a stop order*fn6 against Plaintiff and contacted his superiors to receive permission to enter the stop order. On April 13, 2009, after receiving permission to enter the stop order, Plaintiff was informed that she was being locked out of DCC. At this time, Plaintiff was unaware that there had been any allegations made against her for violating DCC regulations.*fn7 On April 16, 2009, Plaintiff received a letter from the DOC advising her that she had been permanently restricted from accessing any DOC facility in the State of Illinois. This letter also explained that Plaintiff had a right to request a review of the stop order only "after a period of six months."*fn8
On May 11, 2009, the LLC Board of Trustees voted to terminate Plaintiff's employment on the recommendation of James Hull ("Hull"). Hull, in making his recommendation to the LLC Board of Trustees, recommended Plaintiff's termination solely because the stop order, entered by the DOC, prevented Plaintiff from performing the job LLC had hired her to perform. Hull did not consider whether the reasons given for the stop order were meritorious. Because Plaintiff was tenured with LLC, she could be terminated only "for cause." Therefore, on August 26, 2009, Plaintiff received a hearing before arbitrator Steven Befort ("Befort"). On November 23, 2009, Befort issued his decision that LLC had just cause to dismiss Plaintiff explaining, in part, that "[t]he termination documents clearly establish that [LLC] discharged [Plaintiff] solely because of the Stop Order issued by the DOC, rather than because of an independent assessment of the behavior that resulted in the Stop Order." Befort noted that "[w]hile it is undisputed that the DOC did not conduct an investigation to determine the accuracy of [Plaintiff's] alleged discussion with the female sergeant, this is not an omission that should be held against [LLC]."
On December 30, 2009, Plaintiff sent a letter to Jim Reinhart ("Reinhart") formally requesting that the DOC review the stop order that had been entered against her on April 16, 2009. Plaintiff, as part of this request, explained that she had not had the opportunity to defend herself against the allegations made against her and requested that the stop order be rescinded because she was seeking employment with a federal correctional facility but the stop order would prevent her from passing the required background check. Plaintiff sent a second letter on January 25, 2010, once again requesting that the stop order be rescinded.
On January 6, 2010, Reinhart sent an email to Anglin and Cory Foster ("Foster") requesting background information about Plaintiff's stop order. On January 7, 2010, Anglin responded that the stop order was issued "because of [Plaintiff's] conduct inside the facility trying to influence other staff to lie on myself and [Calloway]." Reinhart responded to Anglin's email inquiring as to whether an investigation had been conducted. Anglin responded that there had not been an investigation but that there were incident reports from the staff involved in the incident. It is unclear exactly what further investigation occurred with respect to Plaintiff's request to review the stop order. Reinhart, in his deposition, testified that Foster made the decision to deny the request and could not recall if he offered an opinion on the request. Foster, in his deposition, testified that he was not involved in the decision of whether or not the stop order should be lifted. Nevertheless, on February 8, 2010, Plaintiff received a letter advising her that they had reviewed her request and were unable to rescind the stop order. No explanation as to why Plaintiff's request was denied was provided in the letter, and the three sentence letter concluded with: "I trust this is responsive to your request."*fn9
In the time since Plaintiff was terminated from LLC, she has applied for two teaching related positions at Danville Area Community College for construction trades and as a Coordinator for Danville Community College. Plaintiff has not applied for any other teaching positions and has not applied to work as an educator in the department of corrections in any other state.
V. Reasons Provided for Plaintiff's Stop Order
Defendants concede that Anglin has been inconsistent in his explanations for why a stop order was entered against Plaintiff. Although Anglin has always stated that at least part of the justification for the stop order was the allegation made by Burson,*fn10 the remainder of the explanation has not been consistent (however, they also have not necessarily been contradictory). For instance, at the disciplinary hearing held on August 26, 2009, Anglin acknowledged that a stop order would not have been entered against Plaintiff solely for contraband found in her classroom.*fn11 In his email to Reinhart on January 7, 2010, Anglin explained that the stop order was issued solely because of Plaintiff's alleged comments to Burson, and made no mention of any other contributing factor for the stop order. Finally, in Anglin's interrogatory answer, he explained that:
The stop order was entered against [Plaintiff] because she encouraged at least one prison employee, [Burson], to corroborate and originate false accusations of sexual harassment against [Calloway]. This action violated Department policy, Department Administrative Directives. [Plaintiff] also allowed inmates to ...