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Tibbs v. State of Illinois Administrative Office of Illinois Courts

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

February 26, 2016

AUTUMN TIBBS, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF ILLINOIS ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE ILLINOIS COURTS, LESLIE GRAVES, and BARBARA MABIE, Defendants

Page 1016

          For Autumn Tibbs, Plaintiff: John A Baker, BAKER BAKER & KRAJEWSKI LLC, Springfield, IL.

         For Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, Judge Leslie Graves, Barbara Mabie, Defendants: Karen L McNaught, ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL, Springfield, IL.

          OPINION

         Richard Mills, United States District Judge.

Page 1017

         The Motion of the Defendants for Summary Judgment is allowed.

         This case is terminated.

         Here's why:

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Autumn Tibbs filed a Complaint asserting two separate federal causes of action. She alleges, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that Defendants retaliated against her for exercising her rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. She also contends that Defendants violated her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ).

         The Plaintiff alleges she was employed by Defendant State of Illinois Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (the " AOIC" ) as an administrative assistant to the chief judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit at the time her employment was terminated.

         Defendant Leslie Graves is a circuit judge in the Seventh Judicial Circuit of Illinois, serving as the presiding judge of Sangamon County at all times relevant to the claims in this case. Defendant Barbara Mabie was employed by the AOIC as the Seventh Judicial Circuit court administrator. However, the Plaintiff does acknowledge that the individual Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the claims that are asserted against them.

         The only remaining claims are asserted against the AOIC and are pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Defendants contend that Plaintiff has named the wrong Defendant and the AOIC is not her employer.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         (A)

         Plaintiff Autumn Tibbs became the Administrative Assistant to the Chief Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit in December of 2001 or January of 2002. In that capacity, the Plaintiff was an at-will employee and was physically located in Sangamon County, Illinois. As an administrative assistant to the chief judge, the Plaintiff was responsible for assigning court reporters into courtrooms, tracking attendance, completing payroll, assisting with the budget, paying bills and working on various other projects as assigned.

         Barbara Mabie became the Trial Court Administrator for the Seventh Judicial Circuit in mid-2005 and retired in December of 2012. The Seventh Judicial Circuit is comprised of the circuit courts in Greene, Jersey, Macoupin, Morgan, Sangamon and Scott Counties in Illinois.

         In Illinois, circuit judges are elected and associate judges are appointed to the bench. The chief judge is the judge who is in charge of the administrative duties of the circuit and, according to the Defendants, is the employer of non-judicial employees of the judicial branch--such as the Plaintiff. Citing the AOIC's answer to the complaint, the Plaintiff maintains she was an employee of the AOIC. The Defendants claim they inadvertently admitted in their answer that Plaintiff was an employee of the AOIC and this stands as a judicial admission for purposes of this motion. However, the AOIC is not the sole employer of the Plaintiff. The complaint did not allege that the Administrative Office was

Page 1018

the sole employer.[1]

         The Presiding Judge is the judge who is in charge of day-to-day administrative duties for that county. At all times materially relevant to the complaint, the Chief Judge in the Seventh Judicial Circuit was on a twoyear rotation.

         Circuit judges had assigned court reporters and associate judges used reporters from a pool of court reporters. In November of 2009, the circuit judges and their court reporters were as follows: Kim Neuhoff was assigned to Judge Leo Zappa; Laura Berry was assigned to Judge Patrick Kelley; Marybeth Evans was assigned to Judge John Belz; Andrea Pryor was assigned to Judge Pete Cavanagh; Tina Riebeling was assigned to Judge John Schmidt; Beth Samet was assigned to Judge Leslie Graves; and Tracey Mahan was assigned to Judge Patrick Londrigan. The pool court reporters in Sangamon County, Illinois, were Brenda Jones, Debbie Prather, Lynn Ruppert, Robbin Sterr and Nancy Kitchen.

         Judge Patrick Kelly was the Chief Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit from December of 2008 to December of 2010. Judge Richard Mitchell was the Chief Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit from approximately December 1, 2010 to November 21, 2012. Judge Leslie Graves was the Presiding Judge of Sangamon County from approximately December of 2010 to November 21, 2012. Judge Graves was the Chief Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit from approximately November 22, 2012 to December 1, 2014.

         In 2009, the Associate Judges in Sangamon County, Illinois included Judges Steve Nardulli and Robert Hall. Prior to November 9, 2009, the pool reporters complained that the reporters for the circuit judges got special treatment and the reporters for the circuit judges thought that the pool reporters complained all the time.

         The court reporters in Sangamon County were divided into three groups: Lynn Ruppert and Debbie Prather were pool reporters in one group; Nancy Kitchen and Tina Riebeling were pool reporters in a group that advocated a more neutral position, and Kim Neuhoff, Laura Berry, Marybeth Evans, Andrea Pryor, Beth Samet and Tracy Mahan were reporters for the circuit judges in a group that was in opposition to the Ruppert/Prather group.

         Before a meeting on November 9, 2009, the pool reporters were complaining that the workload was unfair. They claimed to have more work than the reporters for the circuit court judges, and that the reporters for the circuit court judges got special treatment.

         Trial Court Administrator Barb Mabie had meetings with the various chief judges, during their terms as Chief Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, and asked about having all court reporters in Sangamon County be in a pool and work for all of the judges, rather than certain court reporters being assigned to circuit judges. Neither Chief Judge Robert Eggers nor Chief Judge Patrick Kelley were receptive to the idea.

         In 2009, Chief Judge Kelley had a meeting with all of the court reporters about their complaints of work assignments and his response was that they needed to quit complaining, get to work and accept any assignment. After the meeting, the work atmosphere did not improve.

Page 1019

          On March 1, 2011, after Associate Judge John Childress had a difficult time obtaining a court reporter for a trial, the Plaintiff sent an email to the court reporters and asked them to keep her idea of assigning court reporters quiet. The Plaintiff proposed placing all of the court reporters into categories based upon the amount of work they were performing so that each court reporter could assist judges other than the judge to whom she was regularly assigned. The Plaintiff did not discuss the topic of the email with Chief Judge Richard Mitchell, Presiding Judge Leslie Graves or Trial Court Administrator Barb Mabie before the Plaintiff sent the communication to the court reporters.

         The Plaintiff admits that her idea to categorize the court reporters could be viewed as a pool or rotation of court reporters, although that was not what she intended. Judge Zappa saw the Plaintiff's March 1, 2011 email and thought that Plaintiff intended to pool all of the court reporters. In response to the Plaintiff's March 1, 2011 email, Judge Zappa sent an email expressing his displeasure with the Plaintiff's idea of a full rotation for court reporter assignments.

         Barbara Mabie learned about the Plaintiff's idea to pool the court reporters because she was included on the list of recipients of the March 1, 2011 email sent by Judge Zappa and was shocked that Plaintiff had tried to secretly implement a pool when the Circuit Court judges had previously rejected the idea on multiple occasions. Mabie discussed her surprise with the Plaintiff about her attempt to pool the court reporters. The Plaintiff apologized to Mabie for her conduct and explained that she was not trying to implement a full rotation. Mabie accepted the apology of the Plaintiff.

         The Plaintiff claimed that she felt humiliated at Judge Zappa's response and therefore met with Barb Mabie and Presiding Judge Graves in the early morning of March 4, 2011, before others reported to work. The Plaintiff was upset at the reaction of Judge Zappa and knew she had made a mistake in attempting to reorganize the court reporters.

         At the March 4, 2011 meeting, the Plaintiff expected to be disciplined for the attempt to reorganize the court reporters. At that meeting with Judge Graves and Barbara Mabie, the Plaintiff explained her intent to reorganize the court reporters, after which Judge Graves appeared to be disappointed with her, though not angry and still supportive of the Plaintiff.

         (B)

         After the March 4, 2011 meeting, the Plaintiff could not pull herself together so Barbara Mabie suggested that Plaintiff contact her counselor to make an appointment that day. Based on that suggestion, the Plaintiff left work and did not return until after taking leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ). On March 9, 2011, the Plaintiff requested and was granted leave pursuant to the FMLA. Although the Plaintiff initially requested a leave of absence pursuant to the FMLA until April 14, 2011, she requested and was permitted an extension of FMLA leave until May 1, 2011, when she was permitted to return to work on a part-time basis from May 1, 2011, to September 2, 2011.

         When Autumn Tibbs returned to work in September of 2011 after her first FMLA leave of absence, which included part-time employment for four months, Trial Court Administrator Barb Mabie tried to put the incident with Tibbs and the court reporters behind her and felt the relationship with Tibbs was professional ...


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