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Ammons v. Cook County

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

August 20, 2014

BILLIE JEAN AMMONS, Plaintiff,
v.
COOK COUNTY OF ILLINOIS, a body politic, and THOMAS DART, Sheriff of Cook County, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MANISH S. SHAH, District Judge.

Billie Jean Ammons worked as a Sheriff's Deputy in the Cook County Sheriff's Department. In 2003, Ammons was injured when part of her spine separated from her hipbones. Because her injury required her to take time off of work, she applied for and received certification to do so under the Family Medical Leave Act. In 2007 and again in 2009, Ammons took a written exam to qualify for promotion to the position of sergeant. Ammons passed the 2007 exam, but was not promoted. Ammons also passed the 2009 exam, but was initially deemed "not qualified" for promotion because of her low attendance at work. In 2010, following implementation of new department procedures, Ammons was deemed eligible for promotion, but she did not receive one. Ammons alleges that the decisions not to promote her violated the FMLA, and brings a claim against Thomas Dart, Sheriff of Cook County, under that Act. Cook County, Illinois, is named as a defendant pursuant to indemnification provisions in Illinois state law. Defendants move for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and argue that there is no genuine dispute of material fact that precludes judgment in their favor. For the reasons discussed below, I grant defendants' motion.

I. Legal Standard

Summary judgment may be granted where "there is no genuine issue of material fact and... the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Hussey v. Milwaukee Cnty., 740 F.3d 1139, 1142 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Jackson v. Indian Prairie Sch. Dist. 204, 653 F.3d 647, 654 (7th Cir. 2011)). A genuine issue of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, LLC, 656 F.3d 540, 547 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, I must view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Ames v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 629 F.3d 665, 668 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Caskey v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., 535 F.3d 585, 589 (7th Cir. 2008)).

II. Facts

A. Billie Jean Ammons's Employment and Injury

In 1998, Billie Jean Ammons was hired as a Sheriff's Deputy in the Court Services section of the Cook County Sheriff's Department. [91] ¶ 1.[1] In 2003, while still employed as a Sheriff's Deputy, Ammons injured her sacroiliac joint (the joint that connects part of Ammons's spine to her hipbones). See id. ¶ 5.[2] The injury required Ammons to take time off of work periodically in order to rest. Id. In 2004, Ammons applied for and received certification of her sacroiliac disability under the Family Medical Leave Act, id. ¶ 6, which permitted Ammons to take off from work up to 12 weeks per year of medical leave relating to that injury, [87] ¶ 10. Ammons renewed her FMLA certification each year, as required by the Act, [91] ¶ 6, and used that certification to take intermittent FMLA leave, [87] ¶ 10. None of Ammons's requests to take FMLA leave was denied by the Sheriff's Department. Id. ¶ 11.

B. Promotion Procedures in the Sheriff's Department

Deputies in the Sheriff's Department who sought a promotion to sergeant were obligated to take a promotion exam, administered by the Sheriff's Merit Board. Id. ¶ 14. Candidates who passed the exam would then be placed on a corresponding "promotion list, " which would remain active for the ensuing two years. Id. Any promotions awarded within a given two-year period would be offered only to candidates whose names appeared on the relevant promotion list. Id. [3]

1. Pre-2010 Procedures

Prior to 2010, promotion candidates could be deemed "not qualified" for promotion because of low attendance at work. [87] ¶ 17. However, when assessing employees' attendance records-and thus their qualifications for promotion-use of FMLA leave was considered a "mitigating circumstance." Id. ¶ 24; see also Second Connelly Affidavit, [74-2] at 4.

2. The "SEAM" Procedures

In the spring of 2010, the Sheriff' implemented new employment and promotion procedures, set forth in the Sheriff's Employment Action Manual (SEAM). [87] ¶ 17. SEAM procedures established that candidates whose names appeared on a preliminary promotion list would be assessed in-and receive a composite promotion score based on-five areas, including: (1) attendance (worth 20% of the candidate's overall score); (2) responses to "operational" interview questions (12.5%); (3) "personal attributes" exhibited during interview (32.5%); (4) the candidate's written exam score (17.5%); and (5) a writing sample (17.5%). Id. ¶¶ 19-20. The candidates would then be ranked according to their composite scores, with the highest-scoring candidate receiving the highest rank on the promotion list. See id. ¶ 21.

To compute the attendance score, the SEAM further provided that two percentages must first be determined: (1) the percentage of "unused medical time"[4] over the course of the candidate's career; and (2) the percentage of the candidate's unused medical time over the past 18 months. Id. ¶ 25. While a candidate's percentage unused career medical leave would be worth 12.5% of their composite promotion score, the candidate's percentage unused leave over the past 18 months would be worth only 7.5% of their overall score (totaling 20% for attendance, generally). Id. ¶ 20. Medical leave taken pursuant to the FMLA would be considered time taken under "mitigating circumstances, " and thus would be added back to the candidate's unused-leave balance. Id. ¶¶ 25-29. In other words, leave hours taken as FMLA leave would be treated as though the candidate had worked those hours. See id. ¶ 35.

C. The 2008-2009 Promotion Cycle

Ammons took and passed the 2007 promotion exam. See [91] ¶ 4. She received a promotion interview, and was interviewed by Kelly Jackson, Chief of Court Services. Id. ¶ 10. During the interview, Jackson consulted Ammons's attendance record, but no other document. Id. ¶ 11. The 2007 promotion list remained valid until the list for the 2009 promotion exam was certified by the Sheriff's Merit Board. Id. ¶ 16. Ammons was not promoted from the 2007 list. See id. ¶ 13.

D. The 2010-2011 Promotion Cycle

Ammons took and passed the 2009 promotion exam. See id. ¶ 23; [91] ¶ 4. All candidates who passed the 2009 written exam-including Ammons-were placed on a preliminary promotion list, which was certified by the Merit Board on October 27, 2009. [87] ¶ 15. Initially, Ammons was deemed "not qualified" for promotion from the 2009 list because of low attendance. Id. ¶ 17. But when the SEAM went into effect the next spring, id., Ammons was deemed eligible for promotion, id. ¶ 23. Candidates whose names appeared on the 2009 promotion list were interviewed and ranked according to SEAM procedures before promotions were awarded based on that list. See id. ¶¶ 15, 23. Rankings were finalized on August 9, 2010. Id. ¶ 41.

1. Ammons's Attendance Score

Wendy Bernard, a payroll supervisor in the Personnel Department of the Sheriff's Office, id. ¶ 6, analyzed the attendance records of each candidate who passed the 2009 promotion examination-including Ammons-and summarized the results of her analysis in a spreadsheet, see id. ¶¶ 30-32. According to Bernard's analysis, as of May 3, 2010, Ammons had used all but 1.59 hours of the medical leave she had accrued over the course of her career. Id. ¶ 33. Of the leave hours used, Ammons had taken 332 as FMLA leave, so Bernard treated them as accrued-but-unused medical time ( i.e., as though Ammons had worked those hours). See id. Bernard therefore added 332 hours to the 1.59 hours of unused time, obtaining a total of 333.59 hours of total unused career medical leave. See id. According to Bernard's calculations, 333.59 hours represented approximately 28% of the total number of leave hours Ammons had accrued throughout her career. Id. [5]

Bernard also analyzed Ammons's medical leave taken within the 18 months prior to May 13, 2010. See id. ¶¶ 32, 34. According to that analysis, Ammons had used (within those 18 months) 39 hours of non-FMLA medical leave, and had accrued-but not used-105.3 hours of medical leave during that time. Id. ¶ 34. Those 105.3 unused hours represented approximately 72% of the total number of medical-leave hours Ammons had accrued in that time period. Id. [6]

Bernard included both the "28%" (unused career medical leave) and "72%" (unused 18-month medical leave) figures for Ammons in a summary spreadsheet. See id. ¶ 32-34. Bernard provided the spreadsheet to Kevin Connelly, First Assistant Chief Deputy of Court Services. See id. ¶¶ 31-34. The spreadsheet indicated that Ammons had used 332 hours of "FMLA/A" leave. Exhibit 1 to the Bernard Deposition, [74-7] at 1. Connelly later testified during his deposition that, when he prepared the final rank-ordered promotion list, he did not know whether Ammons had been certified to take FMLA leave. See [87] ¶ 44; Connelly Deposition, [74-4] at 44-57.

2. Ammons's Promotion Interview

In addition to her attendance score, part of Ammons's composite promotion score in 2010 would be based on her performance during an interview. See [87] ¶¶ 19-21. Although Ammons had passed the 2009 exam (and was deemed eligible for promotion under the SEAM), see id. ¶ 23, she did not initially receive an interview, [91] ¶ 14.[7] Because she had not yet received a promotion interview as of May 10, 2010, Ammons filed on that date an internal "grievance" complaint. [87] ¶ 54. A hearing on Ammons's grievance complaint was scheduled for June 8, 2010; her promotion interview was scheduled for later that same day, at the same location. See id. ¶¶ 56, 58; [91] ¶ 14.[8] On June 8, 2010, after Ammons's grievance hearing had concluded and while she waited for her promotion interview to begin, Kelly Jackson, Chief of Court Services, stated loudly-and within earshot of the personnel who would be conducting Ammons's promotion interview-that Jackson needed to give Ammons a copy her grievance report. [91] ¶ 14.[9] Ammons's ...


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