United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MICHAEL L. SHAKMAN, et al, Plaintiffs,
DEMOCRATIC ORGANIZATION OF COOK COUNTY, et al, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
I. Schenkier Magistrate Judge
Lanahan ("Ms. Lanahan" or "Complainant"),
an employee of the Cook County Health and Hospital System
("CCHHS"), moves for an order vacating an
arbitration award that denied her claims of political
discrimination and retaliation against Cook County (doc. #
4785: Mot. to Vacate). Pursuant to the Illinois Uniform
Arbitration Act, 710 ILCS 5/1 et. seq.
("Arbitration Act"), Ms. Lanahan moves to vacate
the arbitrator's decision on the ground that the
arbitrator exceeded his powers by basing his decision on
gross errors of law and fact (Mot. to Vacate Exh. 1; Mem. in
Support of Mot. to Vacate at 15). For the following reasons,
we deny Ms. Lanahan's motion.
arbitration at issue has its genesis in Ms, Lanahan's
claim that CCHHS violated a Supplemental Relief Order for
Cook County (doc. # 587, "SRO") entered in the case
of Shakman, et. al. v. Democratic Organization of Cook
County, et. al, 481 F.Supp. 1315, 1358 (N.D.I11. 1979),
vacated sub nom., Shakman v. Dunne, 829 F.2d 1387,
1398 (7th Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1065
(1988) ("Shakman Decree"). The Shakman Decree bars
CCHHS from "conditioning, basing or knowingly
prejudicing or affecting any term or aspect of governmental
employment, with respect to one who is at the time already a
government employee, upon or because of any political reason
or factor." Shakman, 481 F.Supp. at 1358.
2008, Ms. Lanahan held the position of Director of Financial
Control IV, working for the Cook County Department of Public
Health, a Grade 24 job that was non-exempt (that is, one in
which CCHHS was prohibited from using political
considerations in connection with Ms. Lanahan's terms and
conditions of employment) (PI. Mem. in Support of Mot. to
Vacate at 3). The only other CCHHS employee with the same pay
grade and title was Robert Vais, who worked for Stroger
Hospital (Id. at 4). From 2008 to 2013, Ms.
Lanahan's salary was approximately $101, 000.00. Mr.
Vais' salary was also $101, 000.00 in 2008, but he was
subsequently given two pay increases resulting in a salary of
$138, 300.00 (Id. at 5). Ms. Lanahan questioned the
pay disparity but never received an adequate explanation
the terms of the SRO, Ms. Lanahan filed a complaint about the
pay disparity with the Office of the Independent Inspector
General ("OIIG") (Mot. to Vacate Exh. 2). Ms.
Lanahan contended that CCHHS violated the Shakman Decree by
failing to give her the same pay increases it gave to another
employee who held the same job title and pay grade as Ms.
Lanahan, and that this differential was because of political
considerations (PI. Mem. in Support of Mot. to Vacate at 4).
Ms. Lanahan additionally alleges that CCHHS retaliated
against her for questioning the pay differential by adding
her position to a list of jobs under CCHHS' amended
severance policy, which indicated that employees with her job
title could be terminated at will (PI. Mem. in Support of
Motion at 7).
2015, the OIIG determined that Ms. Lanahan's complaint of
political discrimination and retaliation was untimely in part
and without merit in part (Mot. to Vacate Exh. 4).
Specifically, the OIIG found that Ms. Lanahan's
allegations regarding her pay disparity and the assignment of
additional duties were untimely because she brought her
complaint to the OIIG more than 120 days after she discovered
the issues and there was no basis to toll the statute of
limitations. With respect to her complaint of retaliation,
the OIIG explained that Ms. Lanahan had suffered no adverse
action, because her position was not changed from
"career" to "at-will, " The amended
severance policy that Ms. Lanahan said made her an at-will
employee only applied to employees hired after June 30, 2010.
As Ms. Lanahan was hired into the position in 2008, she
retained career employee protection (Id. at 5-6).
Lanahan next elected to pursue arbitration of her claims
instead of filing a lawsuit in federal court, as was her
right pursuant to the SRO. Ms. Lanahan filed a notice of
arbitration and on March 16, 2016 and June 1, 2016, Ms.
Lanahan, represented by counsel, participated in an
arbitration hearing, during which she had the opportunity to
present witnesses and evidence. At the close of the hearing,
Ms. Lanahan submitted a post-hearing brief, to which CCHHS
September 2016, the arbitrator issued his decision, finding
that Ms. Lanahan had failed to make a prima facie
case of unlawful political discrimination in violation of the
Shakman Decree (Mot. to Vacate Exh. 3). The arbitrator first
recognized that Ms. Lanahan's allegations implicated her
First Amendment right to protection "against being
removed from public employment for purely political reasons,
with certain exceptions for policymaking positions and
employees having a confidential relationship with a
superior" (Id. at 4), citing Zerante v.
DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584-85 (7th Cir.
2009). Specifically, he noted that Ms. Lanahan
testified that she did not consider herself politically
active and did not share her political affiliation with
others (Mot. to Vacate Exh. 3 at 7). Thus, the arbitrator
found that it was Ms. Lanahan's lack of political
affiliation or activity that was protected.
the arbitrator explained that cases of political
discrimination involve a shifting burden of proof under which
the plaintiff must first make a prima facie case,
which requires the presentation of evidence that a plaintiffs
political affiliation - or lack thereof- was a motivating
factor in the employment decision (Id. at
If the plaintiff succeeds in making a prima facie
case, the burden shifts to the defendant to present evidence
that the defendant would have taken the same employment
action even without the consideration of political factors
(Id.) (citing Mt. Healthy City Board of Education v.
Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287 (1977)).
arbitrator held that Ms. Lanahan failed to make a prima
facie case of political discrimination because she
offered only speculation, rather than evidence, to show that
politics were a motivating factor in the pay differential
between her and Mr. Vais (Mot. to Vacate Exh. 3 at 9). The
arbitrator explained that, assuming that Ms. Lanahan was
correct that she was treated unfairly with respect to her
salary, that she was subject to false promises about
adjustments to her pay, and that another employee with the
same job title and level was paid more than she was, this was
insufficient to establish the necessary prima facie
case (Id.). What was missing, explained the
arbitrator, was "the linkage" between Ms.
Lanahan's lack of political activity or affiliation and
the pay differential, such that it could be said that
political considerations were a motivating factor in the
decisions (Id. at 10). The mere fact that Ms,
Lanahan was paid less than another employee with the same job
title and pay grade was not enough to establish &
prima facie case that the difference was politically
footnote, the arbitrator dispensed with Ms. Lanahan's
claim of retaliation. He noted that CCHHS explained that,
while Ms. Lanahan's job title and pay grade appeared on
the amended Severance Policy, the change to at-will
employment only applied to individuals with that job title
and level who were hired after June 305 2010.
Because Ms. Lanahan assumed the Grade 24 Director of
Financial Control IV position in 2008, she was not subject to
the change in status and thus, her job "remains
protected" (Mot. to Vacate, Exh. 3 at 11).
the Arbitration Act (as incorporated in the SRO), there are
limited grounds upon which a federal court can vacate an
arbitrator's decision. ...