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Carter v. Sheriff of Cook County

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

February 15, 2017

DARRYL CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERIFF OF COOK COUNTY, THOMAS J. DART, and THE COUNTY OF COOK, ILLINOIS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Elaine E. Bucklo, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Darryl Carter (“Carter”) has sued Cook County Sheriff, Thomas J. Dart, (“the Sheriff”)[1] and Cook County, Illinois (“the County”), alleging discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.

         Carter also asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Sheriff violated his civil rights by failing to address his complaints of discrimination and harassment. The Sheriff has moved for summary judgment as to all of Carter's claims. For the reasons below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I.

         Carter was hired as a Cook County Sheriff's Officer in June 1988. In November 2007, he circulated a memorandum to the Cook County Board President, the Cook County Board of Commissioners, and the Sheriff, claiming that he had consistently been passed over for promotion because of his race (African-American). The following month, Carter was promoted to the position of correctional sergeant.

         Since that time, Carter has applied for further promotion on several occasions but with no success. He applied for the position of correctional lieutenant in 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015. In each case, Carter was informed that his application had been denied because he failed to achieve a passing score on the lieutenant's examination, and also because his applications were untimely. In August 2010 and March 2012, Carter applied for promotion to the higher-ranking position of correctional chief. In both cases, Carter was informed that he was ineligible for the position because he did not hold the position of lieutenant, which the job announcement listed as a minimum requirement.[2]

         During this time, Carter also began complaining of harassment. In July and August 2010, he circulated memos to his superiors and other officials claiming that he had been disciplined for minor infractions routinely overlooked in the case of non-African-American employees. He also complained that he had been disciplined for failing to carry out tasks that he was never trained to perform. The record does not indicate how, if at all, the Sheriff responded to Carter's complaints at this time.

         On or about April 3, 2012, while assigned as a sergeant in Division 1 of the Cook County Jail, Carter went to the office of his superior, Superintendent Mario Reyes (“Reyes”), to collect his payroll stub. The words “Dick sucker bitch” were written on the envelope.[3] On or about the same day, Carter discovered a flier featuring a picture of an unidentified naked black man posted in the lobby of Division 1. The flier included the following text: “EVERY THINGS GOES”; “THE FIRST PERSONS GETS A HEAD JOB BY THE ONE AND ONLY MR. D-CARTER...”; and “FREE FOOD.” See Compl. Ex. D. Carter's street address was also included on the flier (“VERA SON DARYL CARTER IS HAVING A PARTY @ OUR HOME 12717 S. ELIZABETH CALUMET PARK.”), as was as his previous phone number (“CALL ME 1708-926-9116”). Id. It turned out that between 180-200 copies of the flier had been posted in various places throughout Division 1, including areas to which the jail's detainees had access. There is evidence to suggest that the pictures had been on display for the entire previous week, during which Carter had been on vacation.

         At the time, Carter told Superintendent Reyes that he believed two of his subordinates, both African-American females, were responsible for the incident. Carter told Reyes that he suspected the employees had posted the fliers to get back at him for disciplinary citations he had issued to them. The next day, Reyes held a roll call and reminded personnel of the Sheriff's Office's policy against harassment. Reyes also began locking up employee paystubs, which until that time had been left in an unattended area. In addition, Reyes suggested to Carter that he discipline his subordinates verbally before writing them up, so as to avoid the appearance that Carter was singling out anyone for punishment. Lastly, Reyes advised Carter to fill out a “complaint register” to initiate an investigation by the Sheriff's Office of Professional Review (OPR). Carter did not submit the complaint register until December 2013. However, on June 11, 2012, a complaint register regarding the incident was separately filed by Daniel Moreci (“Moreci”), an assistant executive director in the Sheriff's Office.

         During April and May 2012, Carter was offered three opportunities to transfer out of Division 1. He turned each of these down.[4] Carter declined a transfer to Division 10 of the jail, stating that the mother of his child worked there and that the two did not get along. He declined a transfer to Division 11, stating “that's just another part of the jail, it won't change anything, ” Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 27. Carter also refused an offer for an administrative transfer.[5]

         A second incident occurred on August 24, 2013, when Carter reported to work and found pictures of his face posted in open view in Division 1's security office and sergeant's office. The following comments had been written on the pictures: “Kool Mo Dee”; “(Skooly B)”; “Ugly”; and “R.I.P.” Carter filled out a report in connection with the incident, but the record is unclear as to what actions, if any, were taken at the time. However, in November 2013, Carter sent memos to a number of individuals, including OPR Director Johnathan Myslinski, complaining that he had been subjected to racial discrimination and a hostile work environment. In the memos, Carter stated that his superiors, Superintendent Salomon Martinez (“Martinez”) and Commander Vincent Cozzolino (“Cozzolino”), had been disregarding a large number of the disciplinary citations that he and other African-American sergeants were issuing to their subordinates, instead of reporting the incidents further up the chain of command. According to Carter, the citations issued to white and Hispanic employees were being dismissed at a higher rate than those issued to African-Americans. Carter stated that his superiors' actions had resulted in a hostile work environment for African-American sergeants because their subordinates felt that they were able to defy them with impunity. In November 2013, Carter also filled out a complaint register based on these allegations, initiating a second investigation by the OPR.

         On July 29, 2014, after having successfully bid for a transfer to Division 6, Carter found several pictures of the faces of various unidentified black males taped to the wall in open view in the sergeant's office. One of the pictures included handwritten comments stating: “Sgt. Carter”; “Are they serious? The broad whipped my ass!”; and “Don't you mean your boyfriend!” A second picture featured the same individual with stitches drawn on his face and the caption “Domestic Battery.” Other comments on the picture stated: “Sgt. Carter” and “True Playa fa Real Baby. Don't hate.” Three other pictures of black males were posted elsewhere throughout Division 6. One picture featured the handwritten comment, “Were my onge belt!!”; another with “I'm all fried out!!!”; and the third featured the caption, “Domestic Battery, ” with the handwritten comment, “Ya heard me!!!” Carter discovered another picture of one of the same males in the men's restroom, with the comments “Judge Mathis says:”; “Sgt. Carter”; and “True Playa fa Real Baby. Don't hate.” Carter reported the incident to his superior, Lieutenant Joe Hurd (“Hurd”), who determined later the same day that the pictures had been posted by an employee named Cordell Lyons (“Lyons”). Hurd spoke with Lyons and concluded that the incident had not been malicious. Hurd also held a roll call and advised employees that “joking, playing, signifying or making references pertaining to sexual preferences, race, and gender are unprofessional, against department policy and could lead to discipline or termination.” Pl.s' Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 43. Additionally, Hurd spoke with Carter, suggesting that Carter might be encouraging such incidents by frequently engaging in playful banter with his subordinates.

         The OPR conducted an investigation into the April 2012 incident and concluded in April 2014 that there was insufficient evidence to implicate the employees whom Carter believed had been responsible. The OPR also investigated Carter's November 2013 complaint register and concluded in December 2015 that there was insufficient evidence to support his claims regarding racial disparities in the handling of disciplinary citations.[6]

         In the meantime, Carter continued to write memos to various officials regarding his situation, and on September 26, 2014, he filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that he had been subjected to “different terms and conditions of employment than non-Black employees, including, but not limited to, promotions and discipline.” Compl. Ex. A. He also stated that he had been subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment and that he had suffered retaliation as a result of his complaints. On November 19, 2014, the Department of Justice issued Carter a right-to-sue letter.

         On February 13, 2015, Carter filed the instant suit. Count I of his complaint asserts claims under Title VII, alleging that the Sheriff failed to promote him, failed to train him, and subjected him to a hostile work environment on account of his race. Count II asserts a claim for retaliation under Title VII. Count III asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), alleging that the Sheriff's failure to establish adequate procedures for addressing employee complaints resulted in the violation of his civil rights.

         II.

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the “pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). I must construe all facts in favor of the nonmoving party, and may grant summary judgment only “if, on the record as a whole, a rational trier of fact could not find for the non-moving party.” Turner v. J.V.D.B. & Associates, 330 F.3d 991, 995 (7th Cir. 2003).

         A. Count I

         1. Failure to Promote

         In Count I of his complaint, Carter claims that the Sheriff failed to promote him on account of his race. As noted above, Carter applied for promotions on multiple occasions between 2009 and 2015. With respect to several of these applications, Carter's claim is time-barred. “According to statute, a plaintiff ... must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or equivalent state agency within 300 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice.” Sharp v. United Airlines, Inc., 236 F.3d 368, 372 (7th Cir. 2001) (quotation marks omitted). “The 300-day limit ... begins to run when the defendant has taken the action that injures the plaintiff and when the plaintiff knows she has been injured.” Id. ...


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