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Sheppard v. Village of Glendale Heights

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

March 25, 2014



JOHN J. THARP, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Jammie Sheppard alleges that her employer, the Village of Glendale Heights, discriminated against her on the basis of her race (African American) and sex (female) and subjected her to retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Previously, while this case was before another judge, claims for racial and sexual harassment were dismissed, as was a Monell claim against the Village. Before the Court now is the Village's motion for summary judgment on the remaining counts, which the Court grants in its entirety.

I. Background[1]

In 2007, Sheppard applied to be a police officer with the Village of Glendale Heights. Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1. She proceeded to sit for a hiring examination, a psychological exam, and was interviewed with the Village's Board of Police and Fire Commissioners. Id. ¶¶ 2-4. In June 2008, Sheppard learned that she would be hired; she then enrolled in the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy at the College of DuPage. After graduating from the Academy on September 24, 2008, she reported for work and began field training. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. After completing field training in April or May 2009, Sheppard began working on her own. She was assigned to the midnight shift under the immediate supervision of Sergeants Baley and Skopek. Her duties included traffic enforcement, crime prevention, answering calls, and patrolling local businesses. Id. ¶¶ 11-13.

At some point during her employment with the Village, Sheppard claims, Sergeant Kenneth Graff made "certain harassing and discriminatory comments" to her, including saying that she sounded too "urban" when speaking on the radio and making a comment about her nipple. Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 7, 11. Sheppard does not identify when and where Graff made these comments, and the Village denies that he made them at all, but Sheppard says that she complained about Graff's comments orally to several people, including Sergeant Graff himself, her training officer Rhonda Kirsten, Commander Schar's administrative assistant Tanya Macko, and Sergeant Tony Mineo. Id.

Sheppard's performance working on her own was not flawless. As 2009 progressed, she made mistakes and violated department policies on multiple occasions. She was reprimanded for failing to fill out her time sheets. After Sheppard arrested someone for drunk driving on August 19, 2009, she failed to appear for the hearing on September 17, 2009; this violation of the department's rules led to the arrestee's petition to rescind the summary suspension being granted and a letter of reprimand for Sheppard. Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 16-19. On August 26, 2009, Sheppard broadcasted the wrong location for a traffic stop and directed backup units to an incorrect location. Id. ¶ 20. On August 30, Sheppard was assigned to a missing juvenile call and incorrectly recorded the last name of the missing child in the missing persons report as "Stevenson" instead of "Stevens, " which prevented the child's name from being entered into the LEADS system. Id. ¶¶ 21-24. Sheppard's supervisor logged the incident. Id. ¶ 66. On September 4, Sheppard was assigned to handle a complaint that involved a male subject approaching a female from behind, placing his hands over her mouth, and telling her to hang up her phone. Although the complaint involved a battery, Sheppard coded the call as "Other Public Complaint" and left it coded as a closed report that required no further follow-up. Sheppard received a verbal reprimand for the incident, id. ¶ 28, based on her failure to recognize the magnitude of the incident, to investigate it adequately, and to notify her supervisor, id. ¶¶ 25-27. Also on September 4, Sheppard was eight minutes late to roll call; she was found sleeping in her personal vehicle in the Village's parking lot. She explained to Sergeant Pinscsak that she had fallen asleep in her car after arriving to work early and failing to hear her alarm. Id. ¶¶ 28-30.

Two days later, on September 6, Sergeant Skopek observed Sheppard's patrol vehicle parked in a parking lot in Glendale Heights. The vehicle was running with its headlights on. Skopek left the parking lot and returned thirty-eight minutes later to see her vehicle in the same location, still running with its headlights on. Skopek pulled up alongside her vehicle and observed Sheppard sleeping in the vehicle. Sheppard admitted that she was sleeping on duty and received a one-day suspension. Id. ¶¶ 31-36. On September 11, while discussing the sleeping incident with Sergeant Baley, Sheppard told Baley that she had not been sleeping and that Skopek was "telling a story." Id. ¶ 39. On September 17, as noted above, Sheppard missed a court hearing. On October 15, Commander Dennis Schar advised Sheppard in writing that a formal investigation into her statement to Baley had been instituted under the Uniform Peace Officer's Disciplinary Act, 50 Ill. Comp. Stat. 725/1 et seq. The object of the investigation was to determine whether Sheppard had been less than truthful or insubordinate. Commander Schar completed the investigation and concluded that sufficient evidence existed to both prove that Sheppard had told Baley that Skopek was not being truthful and that in doing so, she had made an untruthful statement regarding Skopek, her supervisor. Id. ¶¶ 41-44. Chief Marron, after reviewing Schar's investigation, concluded that Sheppard's conduct warranted a three-day suspension. Id. ¶ 45. On November 11, Marron advised Sheppard in a pre-disciplinary conference that she would receive a three-day suspension to be served November 15, 16, and 17. Marron also informed Sheppard that he would be meeting with the Glendale Heights Board of Police Commissioners regarding her overall performance and probationary status; he stated that he would recommend that she be terminated unsatisfactorily and be separated from the department. Marron placed Sheppard on administrative leave until the commission ruled on his recommendation. Id. ¶¶ 46-49. Sheppard's final evaluation score was a 2.6 out of 4, which falls in the "needs improvement" range. Id. ¶ 65. On November 18, Marron met with the Board of Police Commissioners and recommended that Sheppard's probation be terminated unsatisfactorily. The Board accepted Marron's recommendation and Sheppard was terminated on December 9, 2009. Id. ¶¶ 52-53.

On November 12, the day after Sheppard learned that Marron intended to recommend her termination, she lodged a written complaint alleging that she suffered a hostile work environment.[2] Marron and the Village received the complaint on November 13. Id. ¶¶ 54-56. Sheppard does not complain that she was discriminated against by every person she encountered in her job at every step of the way.[3] But, she claims that at some point in time, Sergeant Sherry Baley told her that she was being held to a higher standard at work because she was a black woman and people were "not used to that" at the Village's police department. Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3. In her deposition testimony and her answers to interrogatories, Sheppard also cites several fellow employees outside the protected class whom she says were not punished like she was for infractions similar to those she committed during her probationary period: Officer Padyasek (not punished after sleeping on the job), Officer Cahill (not disciplined after arriving five minutes late to roll call), two unnamed male employees (not written up for failing to fill out their weekly timecard), and Officers Wojcik and Parsons (whose probationary periods were extended in light of unspecified "mistakes" they had made, in contrast to Sheppard's termination). See id. ¶¶ 4-7.

On December 17, 2009, Sheppard filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), asserting that the Village was discriminating against her on the basis of her sex and race, and retaliating against her for engaging in protected activity under Title VII. On November 15, 2010, Sheppard received the EEOC's dismissal of her charge and a notice of her rights. She then filed her original complaint against the Village in this case on February 14, 2011, and filed the First Amended Complaint on July 1, 2011, alleging sex discrimination (Count I), sexual harassment (Count II), race discrimination (Count III), racial harassment (Count IV), and retaliation (Count V) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a Monell claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count VI). Am. Compl., Dkt. 19. On December 5, 2011, Judge Holderman dismissed Counts II and IV with prejudice and Count VI without prejudice. The Village has since moved for summary judgment in its favor on the remaining counts.

II. Discussion

Summary judgment is proper where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The purpose of summary judgment is to determine if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." See Fleishman v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 698 F.3d 598, 604 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "A court must grant a motion for summary judgment against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Everett v. Cook Cnty., 655 F.3d 723, 726 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Bio v. Fed. Express Corp., 424 F.3d 593, 596 (7th Cir. 2005)).

In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court "must construe all facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Majors v. Gen. Elec. Co., 714 F.3d 527, 532 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Goetzke v. Ferro Corp., 280 F.3d 766, 774 (7th Cir. 2002)). Even so, the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Morgan v. SVT, LLC, 724 F.3d 990, 997 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmovant's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmovant]." Stephens v. Erickson, 569 F.3d 779, 786 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252). For each of the claims remaining in this case, Sheppard fails to identify sufficient evidence and thus fails to avoid summary judgment in the Village's favor.

A. Race and Sex Discrimination Claims (Counts I and III)

Sheppard claims that she was discriminated against on the basis of her race and sex when she was held to a higher standard than other police officers during her probationary period and terminated from her position with the police department. Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer "to discriminate against any individual with respect to [her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). A plaintiff may use either the direct method or indirect method of proof under the McDonnell Douglas framework to avoid summary judgment on a race or sex discrimination claim. See Coleman v. Donahoe, 667 F.3d 835, 845 (7th Cir. 2012); see also Atanus v. Perry, 520 F.3d 662, 671-72 (7th Cir. 2008) ...

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