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Anderson v. Office of Chief Judge of Circuit Court of Cook County

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

September 3, 2014

CHERYL ANDERSON, Plaintiff
v.
OFFICE OF THE CHIEF JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Cheryl Anderson, Plaintiff: Jay Joseph Verdugo, Anthony J. Peraica & Associates, Ltd., Chicago, IL; Jennifer Marie Hill, Anthony J. Peraica, Anthony J. Peraica & Associates, Chicago, IL.

For Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, Defendant: Colleen Bernadette Cavanaugh, Karen J. Dimond, Shandra Lynn Leary, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Cook County State's Attorney's Office, Chicago, IL; James Charles Pullos, Cook County State's Attorneys Office (50 W), Chicago, IL.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

John J. Tharp, Jr., United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Cheryl Anderson was a Juvenile Probation Officer employed by the Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois until she was fired for her fifth unauthorized absence when she left work on August 1, 2011, rather than meet with her supervisors as she had been instructed. Anderson claims she was fired not because of her absences but in retaliation for her complaints about discrimination she encountered while working in the Juvenile Probation Department. She has failed to adduce evidence of racial discrimination or retaliation that would be sufficient to support a reasonable jury verdict in her favor, however, so the Court grants the defendant's motion for summary judgment as to each of her claims.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

In November 1988, Cheryl Anderson became a Cook County Probation Officer. Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 1. Twenty years and two EEOC complaints later,[2] Anderson was transferred to the Cook County Juvenile Probation Department (" JPD" ) in July 2008. Id. ¶ ¶ 9-11. This transfer was a term of the settlement agreement in the most recent of Anderson's prior discrimination cases. Anderson worked as a juvenile probation officer in the Englewood

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East Unit of the JPD until her termination in August 2011. Id. ¶ ¶ 9-11, 53.

Anderson recites a litany of alleged discrimination and harassment to which she was subjected during her employment with the JPD. She claims that:

o she was assigned to a non-functional computer--but she also admits that all officers were required to share computers because there were not enough to go around;
o she was prevented from staying at work late to use working computers--but she also admits that she was not compliant with her regular work schedule and requested overtime that was not allowed under the applicable collective bargaining agreement;
o she was denied opportunities to attend training events when Caucasian employees were permitted to attend those same training events--but she also admits that training requests were vetted in a uniform manner and were subject to capacity and budget constraints and that permission to attend training requests were not honored where performance deficiencies or noncompliance with department standards were at issue; [3]
o she was denied transfer requests to the department's Mental Health Unit--but she admits that her requests were untimely, were not for positions for which she had the requisite skills, and/or were not for open positions.

Id. ¶ ¶ 18-19, 21-24, 42-43, 63.

Anderson also alleges several instances when her employer treated Caucasian employees more favorably than her. She alleges that a Caucasian supervisor, who Anderson once complained harassed her and discriminated against her, was promoted. Next, she alleges that there were unfair promotion and firing practices in place in the 1990s. Id. ¶ ¶ 9, 20, 26. Anderson also claims that a Caucasian female officer was not disciplined by Michael Rohan, the Director of the Juvenile Probation Department, " to protect her career." Id. ¶ 25. Anderson asserts that she received positive performance evaluations which certain unidentified employees then attempted to change,[4] a fact the defendant does not dispute. Def.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 77. And Anderson identifies one Caucasian male officer, Brian Majewski, as being permitted to attend all requested training events and another Caucasian male officer, " Steven," as having less seniority compared to Anderson but nevertheless being permitted to transfer to the Mental Health Unit. Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ ¶ 22-24.

In April 2011, Anderson filed with the EEOC a discrimination charge against the Juvenile Probation Department. She alleged that the JPD created a hostile work environment and retaliated and discriminated against her on the basis of her race and because she filed previous discrimination charges with the EEOC. First Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 20-21.

The defendant counters Anderson's claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation with evidence of a long history of work performance issues, unscheduled absences, and disciplinary action. Most significantly, during a routine annual audit

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of the Englewood East Unit in 2010, auditors revealed " substantial concerns" with two folders assigned to Anderson. Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 54. The JPD initiated a " full folder audit" of Anderson's caseload on December 4, 2010. Id. Meanwhile, Anderson's supervisor, Or. Jones, issued a number of memoranda to Anderson regarding her performance issues, including failure to maintain contact with juveniles on probation assigned to her, missing time sheets and case logs, discrepancies on time sheets and case logs, cases that were overdue for assessment, and non-compliance with various department protocols. Id. ¶ 55.

Between February and May 2011, Anderson was " in 24 pre-disciplinaries" (apparently disciplinary meetings) and was disciplined by Jones once a week for four months--facts that Anderson admits. Id. ¶ 29. During this period, from April 4 to April 8, Anderson received her first of two suspensions, a five-day suspension without pay. The suspension was for " egregious unprofessional behavior and conduct unbecoming an officer because she brought inappropriate and slanderous allegations against [her supervisor] Jones." Id. ¶ 45. This explanation refers to an internal complaint or complaints that Anderson filed against Jones in February 2011, complaining that Jones made " negative and inappropriate statements" about Anderson during a staff meeting (including " I needed to start doing my work" and " Why would I take your cases when you don't do your work?" ), " constantly belittle[d] and ma[de] illicit [sic] statements about co-workers and even to children [sic]," [5] refused to give her a timesheet, and refused to relinquish her pay stub. Dkt. 48-5 at 14-15. Id. ¶ 45. The deputy director of the department concluded that Anderson's allegations against Jones were unfounded and recommended corrective action against Anderson " for bringing inappropriate and slanderous charges against DCPO Jones. She has submitted several slanderous memorandums [sic] which contain false or inaccurate accusations and are intended to defame the character of her co-workers." Id. at 16. The JPD, and Human Resources Director Rose Golden, ultimately concluded that Anderson intentionally defamed the character of Jones and that this was " egregious unprofessional behavior and conduct unbecoming an officer." Id. at 18-19. As a result, the JPD suspended Anderson for five days without pay. Id. at 19.

As additional examples of the sort of wild allegations Anderson was making, the defendant points to two incidents in 2010. The first involved an October 2010 text message that read:

Good morning. My name is Cheryl Anderson, a Juvenile Probation officer. I was forced to transfer from Adult for challenging Management for the same type of Racist Practices to Juvenile 2 years ago. I am Protesting the same type of Discriminatory Practices!!! Juvenile Probation Director Mike Rohan only disciplines and fires Blacks! Judge Evans refuses to address him or discipline him irrespective of the number of complaints lodged against him!!! Mike Rohan is a bigot, racist, and a misogynist!!! Hitler like tactics are not acceptable!!! A few brave souls will March in front of the ...

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