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Larry Hall v. Village of Flossmoor Police Department

December 4, 2012

LARRY HALL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VILLAGE OF FLOSSMOOR POLICE DEPARTMENT, AND THE VILLAGE OF FLOSSMOOR, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge John Z. Lee

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Larry Hall, a former police officer in the Village of Flossmoor Police Department ("Department"), has sued the Village of Flossmoor ("Village") alleging that the Village denied him promotional and training opportunities and ultimately terminated him based on his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and

42 U.S.C. § 1981.*fn1 The Village has moved for summary judgment arguing that Hall was terminated not because of his race but because he repeatedly had sex in his squad car while on duty and later lied about it. The Village also argues that Hall failed to establish a prima facie case that he was denied training and promotional opportunities due to his race. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants the Village's motion.

Facts

I. Facts Related to Plaintiff's Termination

On September 27, 2004, Plaintiff Larry Hall, an African-American male, was hired as a patrol officer by the Village of Flossmoor Police Department. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶¶ 1, 17.)

In addition to his regular duties as a patrol officer, Hall worked as a liaison officer for Homewood-Flossmoor High School, providing security for the high school. (Id. ¶ 18.)

In 2007, while working as the high school liaison, Hall met and developed a social relationship with a student, Brittany Thomas. (Id. ¶ 30.) By June 2007, shortly after Thomas graduated from high school, Hall's social relationship with Thomas had developed into a sexual relationship. (Id.) From June 2007 to June 2009, Hall and Thomas engaged in an on-and-off sexual relationship. (Id.)

On July 21, 2009, Malcolm Thomas, the father of Brittany Thomas, went to the Flossmoor Police Department and spoke to Sergeant James Hundley about his belief that Hall was having an inappropriate relationship with his daughter. (Id. ¶ 31.) Malcom Thomas signed a Citizen Complaint form and requested that an investigation be conducted. (Id.) After receiving Thomas' complaint, Police Chief William Miller ordered Sergeant Hundley and Deputy Chief Michael Pulec to investigate Hall's conduct. (Id. ¶ 32.) As part of the investigation, Sergeant Hundley and Deputy Chief Pulec interviewed several witnesses identified by Malcolm Thomas, including several of Brittany's close friends. (Id.) Four witnesses informed Deputy Chief Pulec and Sergeant Hundley that Brittany had had sex with Hall in a Department-owned SUV while Hall was on duty. (Id.) When Deputy Chief Pulec interviewed Brittany, she confirmed that she had engaged in sex with Hall in a Department-owned SUV while Hall was on duty. (Id. ¶ 33.) Brittany informed Pulec that she would get into the SUV and lie down in the back seat while Hall drove to a secluded area of the Flossmoor Country Club where the two would have sex. (Id.)

Also as part of their investigation, Deputy Chief Pulec and Sergeant Hundley reviewed Hall's ECOM Instant Message Logs. (Id. ¶ 34.) The messages showed that Hall had used profanity in numerous communications with other members of the Department, he referred to Sergeant Clint Wagner as "clintoris," he referred to another officer as being under the Chief's desk and hearing "gargling" noises, and he referred to Flossmoor residents as "Flossmorons." (Id.) Hall also referred to an eighteen-year-old individual in his messages, whom Deputy Chief Pulec confirmed was Brittany Thomas. (Id.)

Based on the information Deputy Chief Pulec and Sergeant Hundley gathered, they interrogated Hall. (Id. ¶ 35.) During the interrogation, Hall admitted that he sent the ECOM messages about his superior officers and referred to Flossmoor residents as "Flossmorons." (Id.

¶ 36.) He also confirmed that the eighteen-year-old individual he referenced in the messages was Brittany Thomas. (Id.) But Hall repeatedly denied having sex with Thomas while on duty in his Department-issued vehicle. (Id. ¶ 35.) In total, he denied the allegations about having sex with Thomas while on duty at least fourteen times during the investigation. (Id.) Ultimately, however, Hall admitted to having sex with Thomas while he was on duty. (Id.)

When the investigation was completed, Deputy Chief Pulec recommended to Chief Miller that Hall be charged with violating multiple Department rules and policies. (Id. ¶ 38.) Individual officers' conduct is governed by, among other things, the Department's Rules and Regulations, General Orders, and Procedures. (Id. ¶ 8.) The Rules and Regulations prohibit unbecoming conduct (Rule B); neglect of duty (Rule G); untruthfulness (Rule J); and insubordination (Rule L). (Id.) General Order 96-20 requires officers to "at all times, maintain an alert and businesslike manner . . . and not leave his/her beat except for some police purpose." (Id. ¶ 13.) Additionally, Procedure 5.310 prohibits the improper use of Mobile Data Terminals. (Id. ¶ 8.) Deputy Chief Pulec recommended that Hall be charged with violating Rules B, G, J, and L, and Procedure 5.310. (Id. ¶ 38.)

After receiving Deputy Chief Pulec's recommendations, Chief Miller discussed Hall's employment with the Village Manager, Bridget Wachtel. (Id. ¶ 39.*fn2 ) Miller and Wachtel determined that Hall should be terminated, and on November 20, 2009, Chief Miller issued Hall a termination letter. (Id., Ex. 24, Termination of Employment Letter, 1.) The letter recounted the allegations, described the investigation in detail, and noted Hall's violations of Department policy, including violations of Rules B (unbecoming conduct), G (neglect of duty), J (standards of conduct), and L (insubordination), General Order 96-20 (patrol officer's duties and responsibilities), and Procedure 5.310 (mobile data terminals). (Id., Ex. 24, Termination of Employment Letter, 1-4.) Other than receiving one verbal warning for sleeping on duty, Hall had not received any other discipline until he was terminated. (Id. ¶ 19.)

In August 2011, Hall sued the Village alleging that he was terminated based on his race. (Compl. ¶¶ 14-25.) Hall contends that his termination was based on race because other Caucasian and non-African-American officers violated Department policy and procedure but were not terminated. (Id.) The following violations of Department policy by other officers are undisputed: while on duty, Officer Brian Brosnan and Sergeant Heward,*fn3 both Caucasian officers, traveled to Sergeant Heward's residence in Manteno, IL, outside of the Village of Flossmoor, to move Sergeant Heward's personal generator. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 48.) At the time, they were the only officers on patrol in Flossmoor. (Id.) While they were in Manteno, they received a call regarding a potential domestic violence situation in Flossmoor, and they had to use their lights and sirens to respond to the call. (Id.) As a result of their conduct, Sergeant Howard received a ten-day suspension, and Officer Brosnan received a written warning. (Id.) Additionally, Officer Mark Swanson, a Hispanic officer, violated Department policy during an automobile pursuit. (Id. ¶ 47.) The pursuit resulted in a car accident, and Officer Swanson received a three-day suspension. (Id.)

II. Facts Related to Plaintiff's Denial of Promotional and Training Opportunities

In addition to wrongful termination, Hall contends that he was denied promotional and training opportunities because of his race, including being denied a Field Training Officer ("FTO") position and being denied supplemental Drug Abuse Resistance Education ("D.A.R.E") training. (Compl. ¶¶ 26-37.) In September 2008, an FTO position was available in the Department. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 25.*fn4 ) An FTO is an officer that is assigned to a new officer to serve as a trainer and mentor for the new officer. (Id. ¶ 24.*fn5 ) FTOs receive one hour of additional pay for each day they actively train another officer. (Id.) Deputy Chief Pulec and

Sergeant Hundley recommended to Chief Miller that Officer Michael Carden, a Caucasian officer, be appointed to the position. (Id. ΒΆ 25.) Officer Carden held a bachelor's degree, and Deputy Chief Pulec and Sergeant Hundley believed that Officer Carden was patient, exhibited initiative, was committed and ...


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