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Coleman v. Cook County

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

May 6, 2014

RICKEY COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COOK COUNTY, a unit of local Government; and EARL DUNLAP, the Transitional Administrator for the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES F. HOLDERMAN, District Judge.

On July 20, 2011, Plaintiff Rickey Coleman ("Mr. Coleman") filed a two-count Third Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 62, "Am. Compl."), alleging that Defendants Cook County and Earl Dunlap ("Mr. Dunlap") (collectively, "Defendants") failed to offer Mr. Coleman preferential rehire options after he was terminated as an Administrative Assistant IV/Floor Manager at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center ("JTDC"). Mr. Coleman contended this failure occurred because of his political affiliation, and according to Mr. Coleman was in violation of Mr. Coleman's First Amendment rights, as protected by the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012) and the " Shakman Decree." See Shakman v. Democratic Org. of Cook County, No. 69 C 2145 (N.D. Ill.).[1]

The proceedings in this case were stayed on August 15, 2011, pending an interlocutory appeal to the Seventh Circuit regarding the question of Mr. Dunlap's qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 85.) After a year's consideration, the Seventh Circuit issued its ruling on the appeal, affirming this court's decision denying qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 93.) After the stay was lifted, this court on February 14, 2013 granted Cook County's motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 99) Mr. Coleman's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. (Dkt. No. 132.) The Court also limited Mr. Coleman's Shakman claim against Cook County to the events occurring in June 2007. ( Id. )

Discovery then proceeded and was completed in November 2013. After several failed attempts to settle the case, Defendants filed motions for summary judgment on Mr. Coleman's remaining Shakman claims (Count I), (Dkt. Nos. 162, 166), which the parties have fully briefed. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants these motions, and enters judgment in favor of Defendants.

BACKGROUND

Mr. Coleman's Employment and Termination at the JTDC

Mr. Coleman was hired by Cook County in 1988 as a Juvenile Detention Counselor at the JTDC. (Dkt. No. 178, Pl's Rule 56.1(d)(3)(A) Resp. Dunlap's Undisp. Facts, "Pl's Resp. Dunlap Facts", at ¶2.) By 2007, Mr. Coleman had been promoted to the position of Administrative Assistant IV/Floor Manager at JTDC. ( Id. ) Mr. Coleman was terminated from JTDC at the close of business on March 16, 2007. ( Id. ¶ 3.)

The termination letter was sent from Kim David Gilmore, Chief of the Bureau of Human Resources for Cook County ("Mr. Gilmore"), and the letter stated Mr. Coleman's position was eliminated due to cuts in the JTDC budget that year. ( Id .; see also Pl's Resp. Cook Cnty. Facts ¶ 8.) Subsequently, Mr. Coleman filed a Shakman claim on May 21, 2007, alleging that he was laid off as a result of political discrimination. (Dkt. No. 202, Pl's Reply to Defs' Resp. to Pl's Add. Undis. Facts, "Pl's Add. Undisp. Facts", at ¶ 5.)[2]

Mr. Coleman was on disability leave when he received this termination letter in March 2007. (Pl's Resp. Cook Cnty. Facts ¶ 21.) Mr. Colemen went on disability leave and received disability compensation from approximately December 2006 through October 2007. ( Id. ¶ 20.) Mr. Coleman took leave after entering the JTDC's Employee Assistance Program in December 2006 because of stress caused by his employment. ( Id. ¶ 19.)[3]

Mr. Coleman's Former Supervisor Willie Ross

Prior to his leave and termination, Mr. Coleman asserts that his immediate supervisor, Willie Ross, warned Mr. Coleman that he would lose his job if he did not support John Stroger, who was at the time Cook County Board President from 1994 to 2006 ("Stroger"). (Pl's Resp. Dunlap Facts ¶ 4; see also Pl's Resp. Cook Cnty. Facts ¶ 75.) Willie Ross, however, was not Mr. Coleman's immediate supervisor in March 2007, and Willie Ross' employment at the JTDC had terminated almost two years earlier on April 22, 2005. (Pl's Resp. Dunlap Facts ¶ 5.)

Mr. Coleman admits that once Willie Ross left the JTDC, no one ever again suggested to Mr. Coleman that his employment at the JTDC depended on political support for Stroger, or any other political candidate or organization. ( Id. ¶ 6.) Additionally, Mr. Coleman has admitted that Willie Ross was the only person at the JTDC, who ever suggested Mr. Coleman risked losing his job, for failure to do political work or make political contributions. ( Id. ¶ 7.) Mr. Coleman also admits that he never communicated his political affiliations or political beliefs to anyone at any time, never told anyone whether he supported Stroger, and was never part of any political organization. (Pl's Resp. Cook Cnty. Facts ¶¶ 11, 72-73.)

Mr. Coleman's June 2007 Application

In June 2007, Human Resources for Cook County posted Job Opportunity Notices for "Recreational Supervisor (JC 1622)" and "Supervisor of Juvenile Detention Counselors (JC 1598)" at the JTDC. ( Id. ¶¶ 23, 25.) One of the minimum qualifications for these positions was that the applicant "must provide a sealed official copy of transcripts" upon filing an application. ( Id. ¶¶ 24, 26.) This minimum qualification appeared in bold lettering. ( Id. )

Mr. Coleman was told about these postings by a friend Vanessa McCain, who worked in the JTDC's HR department ("Ms. McCain"). ( Id. ¶ 27; see also Dkt. No. 195, Def's Resp. to Pl's Rule 56.1(b)(3) Additional Facts, "Def's Resp. Pl's Facts", at ¶ 14.) Mr. Coleman went to the Cook County Human Resources Department to apply for both positions on June 21, 2007, which was the last day of the application period. (Pl's Resp. Cook Cnty. Facts ¶ 28.) Mr. Coleman went to the County Building on Clark Street and tendered his applications. ( Id. ¶ 29.) Mr. Coleman admits that the transcripts he submitted on June 21, 2007 were not in a sealed envelope that had been sealed by his college. ( Id. ¶ 42.)

Mr. Coleman's applications were initially refused by Ms. Eleanor Henry, a Human Resources employee ("Ms. Henry"). ( Id. ¶ 29.) The reason given to Mr. Coleman for the refusal was that he did not submit a sealed official copy of his transcript. ( Id. ¶ 44.) No one ever told Mr. Coleman that his applications were not being accepted because of a political reason or factor. ( Id. ¶ 48.)

Mr. Coleman told Ms. Henry that the JTDC had a copy of his transcripts due to his prior employment there. ( Id. ¶ 30; see also Pl's Add. Undisp. Facts ¶ 16.) Mr. Coleman also believes that Ms. McCain verified this information with Ms. Henry. ( Id. ) That said, Ms. McCain did not work in the Bureau of Human Resources of Cook County, was not present when Mr. Coleman applied for the two positions, and does not know what materials Mr. Coleman submitted as a part of his application. (Pl's Resp. Cook Cnty. Facts ¶¶ 31, 37.)

After Ms. Henry's initial refusal, Mr. Coleman spoke with her supervisor Doris Gershon, the Deputy Chief of Labor Relations in the Bureau of Human Resources ("Ms. Gershon"). ( Id. ) Mr. Coleman asked Ms. McCain to contact Ms. Gershon to verify that his official transcripts were on file with the JTDC. (Pl's Add. Undisp. Facts ¶16.) Ms. Gershon was willing to accept his Mr. Coleman's application, until she called her chief Mr. Gilmore. ( Id. ¶ 13; see also Pl's Resp. Cook Cnty. Facts ¶¶ 39-40.) Mr. Gilmore told Ms. Gershon to refuse to accept Mr. Coleman's application as non-compliant. ( Id. )

In Mr. Coleman's presence, Ms. Gershon explained to Mr. Gilmore that Mr. Coleman's transcripts were on file at the JTDC, presumably relaying Ms. McCain's message, but Mr. Gilmore still refused to accept Mr. Coleman's application. (Pl's Add. Undisp. Facts ¶ 19.) Mr. Coleman believes that this refusal was due to Mr. Gilmore being a Stroger political appointee. ( Id. ¶ 24.)[4]

Mr. Coleman did not speak to Mr. Gilmore personally the date his applications were rejected. (Pl's Resp. Cook Cnty. Facts ¶ 65.) Mr. Gilmore has never been a friend of Mr. Coleman, nor did Mr. Coleman know Mr. Gilmore personally. ( Id. ¶¶ 53-54.) Mr. Coleman never discussed his political affiliations with Mr. Gilmore. ( Id. ¶ 55.) During his tenure as Chief of Human Resources, Mr. Gilmore received Shakman training and was aware of the Shakman decree. ( Id. ¶ 57.) Mr. Gilmore understood that conditioning, basing or knowingly prejudicing or affecting any term of governmental employment upon the basis of political reasons or factors violated the Shakman decree. ( Id. ¶ 58.)

Shortly after the refusal of Mr. Coleman's application, Cook County HR allegedly reposted the position, changing the sealed transcript language. (Pl's Add. Undisp. Facts ¶ 22.) The only document supporting these facts, brought to the court's attention, is a July 20, 2007 Cook County job posting for "Business Manager". (Dkt. No. 184, Affidavit of Rickey Coleman, at 3.) That job posting states an applicant "[m]ust provide an official copy of a college/university/transcript, sealed in original official envelope within 14 days from date of Application Receipt." ( Id. )

Under the Cook County Personnel Rules, in order for an applicant to qualify for any position, s/he must meet all the requirements specified by law, in the Cook County Personnel Rules and in the Notice of Job Opportunity. (Pl's Resp. Cook Cnty. Facts ¶ 32.) The Bureau of Human Resources may reject or disqualify an applicant if s/he lacks any of the requirements as set forth in Notice of Job Opportunity. ( Id. ¶ 33.) Applicants are responsible for furnishing all information or materials requested in accordance with the ...


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