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Hosick v. Chicago State University Bd. of Trustees

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 14, 2013

Stephen S. HOSICK, Plaintiff,
v.
CHICAGO STATE UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES, Leon Finney, Jr., Sandra Westbrooks (in her individual and official capacity), and Erma Brook Williams (in her individual and official capacity), Defendants.

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George Umunna Oparanozie, Options Law Group, Hubert O. Thompson, Brothers & Thompson, P.C., Raymond Barbosa, Barbosa Law Group, PC, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff.

Peter G. Land, Ellen M. Babbitt, Scott L. Warner, Franczek Radelet P.C., Chicago, IL, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN Z. LEE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Stephen Seth Hosick, a former employee of Chicago State University (" CSU" ), has sued the CSU Board of Trustees (" Board" ), former Board chairman Dr. Leon Finney, CSU Provost Sandra Westbrooks in her individual and official capacity, and Erma Brooks Williams, the liaison between the Board and the CSU administration, in her individual and official capacity. Hosick alleges he was terminated based on racial and gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the Illinois Civil Rights Act (" ICRA" ), and the Illinois State Official and Employees Ethics Act (" Ethics Act" ).[1] Defendants contend that Hosick was fired as part of a broad effort to enforce the Board's personnel directives, protect CSU's budget, and ensure the incoming CSU president flexibility to select his own staff. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants Defendants' motion.

Facts

The following facts are undisputed. In 2008, Chicago State University, a public university in Illinois, was in financial trouble. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 13.) The Illinois Auditor General had made over forty adverse material audit findings relating to the university's financial mismanagement. ( Id. ) Because of the Auditor General's findings, the CSU Board, the body charged with operating, managing, controlling, and maintaining CSU under Illinois law, decided not to renew the contract of CSU's president, Dr. Elnora Daniel. ( Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) On June 30, 2008, Daniel's contract

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expired, and she left the university. ( Id. ) Rather than hire a permanent president on short notice, the Board decided to conduct a search to replace Daniel, with the goal of hiring a new, permanent president to start a year later, on July 1, 2009. ( Id. ¶ 15.)

In the interim, the Board retained an executive search firm to find a one-year Interim President. The Interim President would have more limited authority than a permanent president, particularly with respect to the appointment of senior executive level personnel, whom the Interim President would be able to appoint only after consulting the Board. ( Id. ¶ 16.) During the search for a permanent president, the Interim President was expected to serve as a consultant and to maintain the status quo with respect to senior level personnel at CSU. ( Id. ¶ 17.) Such restrictions on personnel appointment authority were intended to permit the person selected for the permanent president position to retain flexibility to appoint his or her own staff and implement his or her vision for CSU without the constraints, inefficiencies, and potential intrapersonal backlash that could develop from having to remove employees appointed by the Interim President. ( Id. ) The Board also limited the Interim President's hiring authority to minimize the number of personnel decisions that would impact CSU's budget beyond the Interim President's one-year term. ( Id. ¶ 18.)

On July 15, 2008, Dr. Frank Pogue began serving as the Interim CSU President. ( Id. ¶ 21.) Despite the restrictions on his appointment authority, on October 16, 2008, Pogue hired Dr. Howard Johnson, an African-American male, to become CSU's Interim Vice President for Student Affairs, a senior executive position. ( Id. ¶¶ 27, 78.) Pogue did this without consulting the Board. ( Id. ¶ 27.) By late 2008, Pogue had also initiated a search for a new Vice President for Finance and Administration. ( Id. ¶ 29.) At a December 2008 Board meeting, Pogue informed the Board of his search and proposed to hire a candidate. ( Id. ) The Board denied his request and instructed him not to hire anyone for that position so that the future president could select someone of his or her own choosing. ( Id. ) On March 2, 2009, again without consulting the Board, Pogue hired Plaintiff Stephen Seth Hosick, a white male, to serve as CSU's Director of Human Resources. ( Id. ¶ 6.)

Board Chairman Finney grew concerned that Pogue was not merely maintaining the status quo but was attempting to hire additional personnel for executive positions and senior management roles that would impede the future permanent president's ability to lead the university. ( Id. ¶ 31). On March 4, 2009, Finney was directed to testify before the Illinois General Assembly's Legislative Audit Commission, the body responsible for appropriating public funds for CSU's budget. ( Id. ¶ 37.) At the hearing, Finney received substantial criticism from the legislative committee members about the Board's lax protection of CSU's assets in the waning months of Daniel's leadership. ( Id. ¶ 32.) In light of growing concerns regarding Pogue's hiring efforts and in response to the General Assembly's comments, the Board determined that it needed to take a greater role in overseeing the management and operations of CSU during the presidential transition and in communicating with Pogue. ( Id. ¶ 33.)

On March 11, 2009, a week after Finney testified before the Commission, the Board met and approved a resolution directing all contracts in excess of $25,000 be approved by the Board prior to execution (prior to this resolution, the Board's Regulations and Bylaws required that the Board approve contracts only in excess of $250,000). ( Id. ¶¶ 34, 36.) Also on that day, Finney

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sent a letter to Pogue requiring Board consultation and approval for any new personnel appointments. ( Id. ¶¶ 34, 36-37.) The letter to Pogue referenced the March 4, 2009 hearing before the General Assembly and the substantial criticism Finney received at the hearing regarding the Board's perceived failure to carefully operate, manage, and control the university. ( Id. ¶ 37.) Pogue did not convey the letter's contents to his senior staff, and the CSU administration continued to hire people without seeking Board review. ( Id. ¶¶ 41, 43.)

In April 2009, the Board selected Dr. Wayne Watson to be the new permanent CSU president. ( Id. ¶ 40.) Watson did not start his tenure as CSU's president, however, until October 1, 2009. ( Id. ¶ 85.)

On May 4, 2009, Finney met with CSU Provost Sandra Westbrooks and Erma Brooks Williams, the liaison between the Board and the CSU administration, to discuss why the March 11, 2009 hiring directive to Pogue had not been followed. ( Id. ¶¶ 41, 43.) Upon learning that Pogue had not conveyed the directive to his senior staff, Finney requested that Hosick provide him with (1) information regarding all individuals who had been hired, transferred, or promoted after the March directive, and (2) regular notifications going forward for any proposed hires, transfers, or promotions. ( Id. ¶ 43.) Finney's goals in requesting this information were to make administrative hires " totally transparent" during the waning months of Pogue's term as Interim President and understand the extent of appointments made without Board approval after the March 11, 2009 directive. ( Id. ¶ 43.) At the time of Finney's request, he knew that, based on the extent of the appointments that had occurred under Pogue's watch, he would likely dismiss several senior level administrators in order to accomplish the Board's goal of giving Watson the maximum flexibility to organize his own staff and administer CSU. ( Id. ¶¶ 40, 44.) The next day, May 5, 2009, Hosick prepared and delivered to Finney a list of all administrative and faculty appointments that had been made after the March 11 directive. ( Id. ¶ 46.) Hosick prepared similar reports for Finney throughout May and early June 2009. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 8.)

At this point, Plaintiff's and Defendants' accounts of events diverge. Defendants' contend that by May 21, 2009, Finney had decided that the Board should reverse many of Pogue's appointment decisions by terminating certain employees from administrative posts before Watson assumed his duties as CSU president. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 50.) Specifically, Defendants contend, Finney determined that at least five employees, all in positions that were part of the President's Executive Council, the inner circle of advisors, should be terminated from their administrative posts, including:

(1) Stephen Hosick, Director of Human Resources (who is a white male);
(2) Howard Johnson, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs (who is a black male);
(3) Patricia Arnold, Executive Director of University Relations (who is a black female);
(4) Katey Assem, Interim Vice President for Institutional Advancement (who is a black male); and
(5) Beverly John, Associate to the President for Special Programs (who is a black female).

( Id. ¶¶ 50, 77-78, 80; [2] Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 4.)

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Plaintiff contends that Defendants' contention that Finney decided to terminate Hosick by late May 2009 is supported by only Finney's own declaration, and that the only undisputed fact regarding the timing of Hosick's termination is that Westbrooks, in her capacity as the Senior Administrative Officer of CSU, terminated Hosick on July 13, 2009. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 13.)

Putting aside the disputed fact of when Finney decided to terminate Hosick, the undisputed facts are as follows. On June 16, 2009, Finney learned that Hosick was continuing to conduct searches for various managerial positions, including the Chief of University Police position. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 61.) Finney directed Board liaison Williams to inform Hosick to stop all personnel searches, including the search for a Chief of Police. ( Id. ¶ 62.) As a result of this directive, the incumbent Interim Chief of Police, James Maddux, whom Finney knew to be a white male, remained in the Chief of Police position for an extra year. ( Id. ) Finney also directed Williams to gather information regarding people who had been hired, promoted, or transferred after the March 11 directive without consultation with the Board, so that he could supplement and confirm the lists provided by Hosick and determine whether to terminate such appointments. ( Id. ¶ 63.)

The next day, June 17, 2009, Williams emailed Hosick informing him, " Any administrative hires and other hires that are done with the expectation of permanent employment will be reviewed and possibly rescinded by the Board." ( Id. ¶ 64.) In response, on June 18, 2009, Hosick sent an email to Finney, Westbrooks, Williams, the rest of the Board and the Board's legal counsel in which he stated that he was sending information regarding Finney and the Board's involvement in the day-to-day administration of CSU to the Office of the Executive Inspector General (" OEIG" ) and the Illinois Auditor General (" IAG" ). ( Id. ¶ 96.) Hosick added that he would be asking these offices to conduct an independent investigation into Finney and the Board's conduct. ( Id. ¶ 96.) That same day, Hosick sent a letter of complaint to the OEIG and IAG. ( Id. ¶ 97.)

Sometime after Hosick filed the complaints, Finney met with Westbrooks in late June 2009 after Westbrooks had reviewed the information Finney had requested regarding the appointment of personnel after the March 11 directive. ( Id. ¶ 67.) At the meeting, Westbrooks recommended, and Finney decided, to terminate the administrative position of Shellisa Rodriguez, assistant to the Director of Human Resources, because she had been hired after and in contravention of the March 11 hiring directive, and Finney believed it would be important for Watson to fill her position with someone of his choosing. ( Id. ¶¶ 67-68.) Finney and Westbrooks also discussed the employment status and procedural rights due upon termination of Hosick, Howard Johnson, the Interim Vice President ...


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