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Poe v. University of Chicago Police Department

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

May 15, 2013

DEBRA A. POE, Plaintiff,



The Plaintiff, an African-American female, was employed by the University of Chicago (the "University") Police Department (the "Department") as a police officer from 1987 to August 12, 2009 when she was fired. She claims that her termination was in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it was in retaliation for her having filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") and a lawsuit against the University in 2004. Because the Plaintiff has failed to create a genuine issue of material fact that her termination was a result of retaliation under either by direct evidence or by the indirect burden shifting method of proof established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-4 (1973) the Court grants Summary Judgement to the University.


The following facts are taken from the parties' Local Rule 56 statements. In 2004 Plaintiff held the rank of Sergeant. In that year she filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in which she alleged that she had been harassed by a fellow Police Sergeant. She received a Notice of Right to Sue and subsequently filed a lawsuit against the University. The lawsuit was settled in 2006. At the time of her charge, the Department was led by Chief Rudolph E. Nimocks ("Nimocks") and Deputy Chief Lee D. Caldwell ("Caldwell").

About this same time, in 2003 or 2004, Plaintiff was assigned to be the Department's Training Sergeant, a position she held until her discharge in 2009. In the year 2009 Plaintiff was assigned a class of seven recruits to train. In February of that year the University hired Marlon C. Lynch ("Lynch"). He was given the title of Associate Vice President for Safety and Security. He was assigned the job of creating a new Department of Safety and Security which was to include the University Police Department. Shortly after Lynch was hired both Nimocks and Caldwell left the Department and Lynch assumed the title of Chief of Police.

In early June 2009, two female recruits, Latonya Morgan ("Morgan") and Shalaine Enahora ("Enahora"), met with Lynch complaining that Plaintiff was harassing them by singling them out for poor treatment because they were women, and generally treating them in an unfair and overly harsh manner. Three days later Lynch received an e-mail from Police Sergeant Gwen Jackson ("Jackson"), confirming their harassment complaints, which she described as "very blatant, " and was causing Morgan and Enahora to have second thoughts about working for the University Police Department. Jackson further stated that this was not the first time that female recruits had made complaints about Plaintiff.

As a result of these complaints Lynch decided to institute an internal investigation, called a CR. Prior to its commencement, Lynch received an e-mail from Morgan stating that the two recruits no longer wished to pursue the matter as they wished "to leave well enough alone." After receiving the e-mail Lynch met with Morgan and Enahora. The parties dispute what occurred at this meeting. The University contends that Morgan and Enahora changed their minds and wished to make a formal complaint against Plaintiff. The Plaintiff contends that Lynch asked them to agree to the investigation which they did. In any event Lynch decided to go ahead with the CR and appointed Deputy Chief David Browne ("Browne") to conduct the investigation, which was to focus on three allegations drawn from Morgan's and Enahora's complaints: (1) that Plaintiff had made inappropriate and discriminatory remarks to Morgan and Enahora; (2) that Plaintiff had engaged in a pattern of harassment against them; and (3) that Plaintiff acted in an unprofessional manner during recruit training.

Browne's investigation was carried out over a period of eighteen days, during which he interviewed Plaintiff, Sergeant Jackson, Moran, Enahora and the other five recruits who were enrolled in Plaintiff's training class. He was assisted in the investigation by a University Human Resources representative, Tremaine Maebry ("Maebry"). The recruits disclosed that Plaintiff had during the training sessions stated that Nimock was "senile, " "old and useless, " "no longer capable of holding his job" and that "it was time for him to go." They also said that Plaintiff had called Caldwell "an egomaniac that exaggerated his experiences in the military and held himself up as some sort of CIA operative" who "made up a lot of stuff." They also said that Plaintiff had described two female officers as "useless" and that each had "got her position by lying oh her back" and had "slept their way into cake positions." Also during the training session Plaintiff had threatened to have a physical fight with a former recruit who failed to complete the police academy phase of training, saying she would "slam-dunk" her. Sgt. Jackson stated that when asked why she was so hard on recruits, Plaintiff responded "I don't give a fuck about those bitches." It should be noted here that while Plaintiff denies making the comments attributed to her, she does not deny that the investigation concluded that she had made them. The recruits also described the quality of the training given by Plaintiff as "deficient" and "too long, and of poor quality" and "disorganized."

Browne concluded from his investigation that the first and third allegations that she had made inappropriate and discriminatory remarks and had acted in an unprofessional manner during the training, were sustained, but that the second, that she had engaged in a pattern of harassment against Morgan and Enahora, had not been sustained because the evidence disclosed that she treated every recruit poorly, and had not singled out Morgan and Enahora for special abuse. Browne recommended that Plaintiff be suspended and demoted to the rank of police officer. Lynch, however, decided to terminate Plaintiff's employment and she was so informed in writing on August 12, 2009. While the termination letter was signed by Browne it was actually the decision of Lynch. The stated reasons for the termination were that Plaintiff had "repeatedly made disparaging comments and statements about [her] colleagues' abilities and competencies and [her] superiors' decision-making authority... [causing] friction and general malaise in the entire [recruit] training class." Further "[plaintiff's] actions have tarnished the image of this department, the authority of [her] superiors and [her] reputation as officer of this university."

Based on the foregoing, the University claims that Plaintiff cannot prove her allegation that she was terminated in retaliation for her 2004 EEOC charge and subsequent lawsuit against the University. The University contends that she cannot prove either by direct or indirect methods of proof.


The direct method requires Plaintiff to prove three things: (1) that she engaged in a protected activity; (2) that she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) and that there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. Gates v. Caterpillar, Inc., 513 F.3d 680, 686 (7th Cir. 2008). The University agrees that she has established the first two elements but denies that she has offered any admissible proof as to the causal connection. It contends that there is absolutely no evidence that Lynch, the decision maker, was aware of the 2004 EEOC charge and subsequent lawsuit which was the protected activity. Since Lynch was unaware of the charge and lawsuit, it could not have been the reason for terminating Plaintiff.

The only "evidence" that Plaintiff has brought forth in an attempt to prove a causal connection is contained in Paragraph 14 of her Additional Statement of Facts. Paragraph 14 states in its entirety:

14. In July 2009 Sergeant Poe learned that she had been removed from my [ sic ] role as training Sergeant because of the announcement from Chief Lynch. The next day, officer Bowers [the head of the union representing the campus police] approached Sergeant Poe and discussed his meetings with Chief Lynch. When she asked him about my [ sic ] removal from the training Sergeant position he told me [ sic] that the new chief did not like people who filed lawsuits and kept their jobs. He said that based on my [ sic ] prior history of filing ...

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