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Wilson v. Cook County

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 10, 2014

KRYSTAL WILSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
COOK COUNTY, Defendant-Appellee

Argued: January 9, 2014.

Page 776

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 08-C-587 -- Sharon Johnson Coleman, Judge.

For KRYSTAL WILSON, formerly KRYSTAL ALMAGUER, Plaintiff - Appellant: Dana L. Kurtz, Attorney, KURTZ LAW OFFICES, Hinsdale, IL.

For COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, Defendant - Appellee: James C. Pullos, Attorney, OFFICE OF THE COOK COUNTY STATE'S ATTORNEY, Chicago, IL.

Before MANION and SYKES, Circuit Judges, and GRIESBACH, District Judge.[*]


Page 777

GRIESBACH, District Judge.

Krystal Almaguer (now Wilson), an out-of-work massage therapist, interviewed for a position at Oak Forest Hospital, a part of the Cook County Bureau of Health Services. Unfortunately, the job existed only in the mind of Felice " Phil" Vanaria, a politically-appointed staffer at the hospital who had no authority to interview or hire applicants, much less create positions. Vanaria used the promise of the phony job to convince Almaguer to give him erotic massages and engage in sexual contact. After Almaguer discovered the ruse and called the police department, she brought this action against Cook County under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. She also alleged state law torts. The district court granted summary judgment to Cook County, and we affirm.


Between 1984 and 1998, Felice Vanaria was employed by the Cook County Adult Probation Department, a unit of the Circuit Court of Cook County under the supervision of the chief judge. During that period, Vanaria was involved in several incidents in which female probationers alleged he had sought sexual favors in exchange for looser conditions of probation. Following an investigation, Vanaria's employment was terminated. He spent the next four years working at a casino.

Page 778

In 2002 Cook County Commissioner Joseph Moreno hired Vanaria, who had a history as a political operative, to be an administrative assistant. Moreno testified that he did not conduct employment checks on his own but relied on county human resources staff to conduct criminal background checks. He further stated that the most important qualifications for employees were loyalty and the ability to do the job they were required to do, and Vanaria had proven himself to be a loyal and effective political operative and fundraiser. Vanaria worked for Commissioner Moreno for nearly two years, and during that time there were no complaints about misconduct.

In late 2004 Commissioner Moreno recommended Vanaria for a job at the county's Oak Forest Hospital, and Vanaria began working there in 2005. Like Vanaria's previous job with Moreno, the position was a Shakman exempt position, meaning that it was excluded from the decrees prohibiting the county from making hiring decisions based on politics. See United States v. Del Valle, 674 F.3d 696, 698-99 (7th Cir. 2012); Shakman v. Dunne, 829 F.2d 1387, 1389 (7th Cir. 1987). This meant that rather than applying for the job through a typical competitive application process at the hospital itself, Vanaria obtained the job through the patronage of Commissioner Moreno and County Board President Todd Stroger. Although Vanaria was subject to fingerprinting, the investigation giving rise to his 1998 termination from the Adult Probation Department did not come to light during the hiring process. In fact, taking the facts in the light most favorable to Almaguer, it appears that the hospital was not even involved in the hiring process but was instead simply told that Vanaria would be working there. The hospital's human resources director explained that the hospital did not conduct independent background investigations of political patronage hires.

Vanaria's position at the hospital involved coordinating continuing education programs for physicians and staff. In 2005, a representative for the Eli Lilly & Co. pharmaceutical company alleged that Vanaria had attempted to condition her participation in one of these programs on her giving him a massage. An investigation resulted in oral counseling for Vanaria and an order to stay away from the representative, but no discipline.

In January 2007, after a referral from a mutual acquaintance, Vanaria called Krystal Almaguer to inquire about massage services. The conversation eventually turned to employment (Almaguer was unemployed at the time), and Vanaria suggested that there might be some positions at the hospital for which she would be qualified. The same day, Almaguer went to the hospital to provide Vanaria with a ré sumé. Without conducting a traditional interview, Vanaria offered her a $52,000-a-year position as a physical therapist. When she alerted Vanaria to the fact that she was not qualified as a physical therapist (she lacked the requisite degree and license), he explained that he could make things happen because certain people owed him favors. He also stated that he could get in trouble for getting her the job.

Vanaria's ruse proved comprehensive and convincing. During his meeting with Almaguer, he provided her with legitimate application forms and insurance paperwork, and he had her fill out a consent form for fingerprinting. Thus, apart from the alacrity and informality of the process, the meeting had many of the hallmarks of a bona fide job interview. On February 1, 2007, at Vanaria's request, Almaguer returned to his office ...

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