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Consolino v. Towne

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

September 26, 2016




         Plaintiff Carmen Consolino, an employee of the Cook County Sheriff's Office, filed suit against Thomas Dart, Brian Towne, and Robert Egan in their individual capacities. The only remaining count in Consolino's complaint asserts a First Amendment retaliation claim against all Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment [70]. For the reasons provided below, the Court grants the motion.

         Factual Background

         Defendant Thomas Dart is the Cook County Sheriff. See Defs.' LR 56.1 ¶ 4, ECF No. 71. Defendant Brian Towne was his Chief of Staff at the time the events in this case took place. See Id. Defendant Robert Egan is the Compliance Officer at the Cook County Sheriff's Office and oversees and monitors employment actions within the Sheriff's Office. See Id. ¶ 5.

         Plaintiff Carmen Consolino was employed by the Sheriff's office and worked at the Cook County Department of Corrections. See Id. ¶ 1. In 1998, Consolino started working at the Boot Camp, an alternative sentencing program that offers military discipline structure, education, and counseling for nonviolent offender inmates. See Id. ¶ 2.

         Consolino's wife, Jennifer Trzos, who also worked at the Boot Camp, filed a Shakman complaint, which was presented to an arbitrator.[1] See Defs.' LR 56.1 ¶ 59; Pl.'s Resp. LR 56.1 ¶ 59(1), ECF No. 84 (disputing Defendants' paragraph 59 on other grounds). At the hearing, Consolino was a witness called by his wife's attorney. See Shakman Hr'g Day 2 at 7:13-24, Pl.'s Ex. 29, ECF No. 87.

         At around the same time of the Shakman hearing, Consolino was told by a friend of his at the FBI of a potential opening for a position on an FBI Task Force. See Defs.' LR 56.1 ¶¶ 20-21. Occasionally, employees from the Cook County Sheriff's Office are assigned to FBI Task Forces. In those instances, the County continues to pay the employee's salary and, in return, the Sheriff's Office benefits by having the employee acquire new skills. See Id. ¶¶ 9, 15. There is no written procedure for assigning an employee of the Sheriff's Office to an FBI Task Force. See Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 29, ECF No. 86; Defs.' Resp. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 29, ECF No. 105. Instead, the FBI typically would send a written communication to the Sheriff's Office requesting a candidate or a list of candidates to serve on a Task Force. The FBI would then conduct a background check to determine whether it will accept the employee. See Defs.' LR 56.1 ¶ 6.[2]

         In Consolino's case, his friend at the FBI, Special Agent Davis Christy, spoke with a supervisor at the FBI about the possibility Consolino joining the Task Force. See Defs.' LR 56.1 ¶ 28. The supervisor told Ricardo Pagan, the head of the FBI's Human Intelligence Branch in Chicago, that Consolino was approved by Cook County and Sheriff Dart to join the Task Force. See Id. ¶ 29. Based on that mistaken belief, the FBI sent a letter to the Sheriff's Office specifically requesting Consolino. See Id. ¶ 34.

         When the Sheriff's Office took no action after the letter was sent, Consolino took advantage of a visit by Dart to the Boot Camp to ask him about the status of the request. See Id. ¶ 36. Dart told him to talk to his supervisor. See id.

         A few weeks after his conversation with Dart, Consolino tried a different approach. He contacted Egan in the hopes of getting more information about how to proceed. See Id. ¶ 39. Egan spoke with Joseph Ways-a Sheriff's Office employee who used to work at the FBI-who contacted Pagan at the FBI to inquire about the request. During the conversation between Ways and Pagan, the truth about Consolino's lack of approval from the Sheriff's Office came to light. See Id. ¶ 42. At this point, the story becomes unclear. Ways came away from the conversation with the understanding that, because Consolino did not have the Sheriff's approval, the FBI rescinded the offer. See Id. ¶ 45. Pagan's recollection was not so unequivocal. Pagan says he told Ways that Consolino had not followed protocol and that, if Consolino was resubmitted as a candidate, the FBI would consider him. See Pl.'s Resp. LR 56.1 ¶ 45. Regardless of what exactly was said during that conversation, Ways went back to Egan and told him that the FBI had rescinded their offer because Consolino had failed to follow protocol. See Defs.' LR 56.1 ¶ 47. Egan passed the message along to Consolino. See Id. ¶ 48.

         Consolino then sent an email to Dart and Towne explaining that, since his conversation with Egan, he had checked with the FBI and the request had not been rescinded. Consolino requested clarification. See Email to Dart & Towne, Pl.'s Ex. 20.

         After a few more months without a response, Consolino filed a complaint with the Office of Professional Review (OPR), the organization that investigates complaints against employees of the Sheriff's Office. See Defs.' LR 56.1 ¶ 52. The complaint alleged that the Sheriff's Office had failed to act on his assignment to the FBI because Consolino had testified at the Shakman hearing. See Complaint Register, Pl.'s Ex. 5 at Sheriff 309. Because the complaint was against Ways, who worked for OPR, and named Egan, who worked for the Compliance Office, as a witness, Consolino did not want either entity to perform the investigation. See Consolino Dep. at 55:8-19, Pl.'s Ex. 32; Complaint Register, Pl.'s Ex. 5 at Sheriff 309. The investigation was ultimately conducted by Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Maureen Hannon. See Defs.' LR 56.1 ¶ 57. Hannon concluded that the complaint was not well-founded and that there was no apparent link between Consolino's testimony at the Shakman hearing and his not being assigned to the FBI Task Force. See Id. ¶ 58.

         Subsequent to that determination, Consolino was transferred from the Boot Camp to Division XI. See Id. ¶ 78.

         Legal ...

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