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Warren v. Baird

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

April 28, 2017

CARRIE M. WARREN Plaintiff,
v.
KENDALL COUNTY SHERIFF DWIGHT BAIRD, in his official capacity and as successor in office to Richard Randall,, Defendants.

          THOMAS DURKIN JUDGE.

          Kendall County Sheriff Dwight Baird, Kendall County, Richard Randall, Scott Koster, and Sabrina Jennings, One of their attorneys.

          DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW

          MARY ROWLAND MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Defendants Kendall County Sheriff Dwight Baird, in his official capacity as successor in office to Richard Randall (hereinafter “the Sheriff's Office”); Kendall County, Illinois; Richard Randall; Scott Koster; and Sabrina Jennings move for judgment as a matter of law in their favor and against the plaintiff under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50. In support of this motion, defendants state as follows:

         Introduction

         Plaintiff Carrie Warren has presented the following claims at trial: (1) Title VII gender discrimination claim against the Sheriff's Office; (2) Title VII retaliation claim against the Sheriff's Office; (3) section 1983 equal protection claims of sex discrimination against the Sheriff's Office, Randall, Koster, and Jennings; and (4) section 1983 equal protection claims of retaliation against the Sheriff's Office, Randall, Koster, and Jennings. As a matter of law, based on the evidence presented thus far at trial, no reasonable jury could find for Warren on any of her claims.

         Argument

         At any time before a case is submitted to the jury, a party may move for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Fed. Civ. P. 50(a)(2). Rule 50 authorizes the entry of judgment as a matter of law if a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1); Hall v. Forest River, Inc., 536 F.3d 615, 619 (7th Cir. 2008). “In other words, the question is simply whether the evidence as a whole, when combined with all reasonable inferences permissibly drawn from that evidence, is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of the plaintiff.” Id.

         I. No reasonable jury could find that defendants fired Warren in retaliation for her complaints of discrimination or harassment.

         To succeed on her retaliation claim, Warren was required to present evidence that, when taken as whole, could permit a reasonable jury to find that one or more of the defendants terminated her because of her complaints of gender-based harassment or discrimination. See Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 765 (7th Cir. 2016); Hobgood v. Ill. Gaming Bd., 731 F.3d 635, 643 (7th Cir. 2013). Ultimately, the evidence on the whole must show that Warren would not have been terminated if she had not complained of gender-based harassment or discrimination but everything else had been the same. See University of Texas Sw. Med. Ctr. V. Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2528 (2013) (holding that the standard for proving causation in Title VII retaliation claims is “but-for causation.”)

         A. Warren lacked a good faith belief that her work environment was hostile.

         To state a claim for retaliation, a plaintiff must show that she reasonably believed in good faith that the practice she opposed violated Title VII. Fine v. Ryan Int'l Airlines, 305 F.3d 746, 752 (7th Cir. 2002). The good faith standard has both a subjective and an objective component. Plaintiff must show that she had a subjective good faith belief that the employer was engaged in unlawful employment practices, and that her belief was objectively unreasonable in light of the facts and record presented. Little v. United Technologies, 103 F.3d 956, 960 (11th Cir. 1997). Thus, when a plaintiff brings a retaliation claim for reporting sexual harassment or hostile work environment, she must show that the conduct was objectively hostile and that she subjectively perceived the conduct as hostile or abusive. Conduct that is not severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment is beyond Title VII's purview, as is conduct that the victim does not perceive as abusive. Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993).

         Here, Warren testified that the following internal complaints resulted in her March 2014 termination:

• 2010 complaint to sergeants about Deputy Whitkaneck calling her a bitch once.
• 2011 complaints to sergeants and Commander Jennings about Deputy Buis bullying, demeaning, and stalking her, and disseminating information about her husband.
• 2011 complaint to sergeant about Deputy Montes refusing to do his share of tasks.
• 2012 complaint to sergeant about Deputy Cantwell after dispute about nose-ring and fetching an inmate to the jail.
• 2012 conversation with deputy commander and sergeant about her opinions about the co-ed locker room.
• 2012 complaint of Deputy Baird's one-time sexist comment about women working in the jail.
• January-February 2013 complaint to sergeant and Commander Jennings about male deputies not respecting female deputies, circulating naked pictures consensually among each other to see who had the biggest penis, and other conduct of a sexual nature in the jail, which resulted in her discipline for sexual harassment.

(Trial transcript, Vol 4-A, pp. 657-661; 575-654).

         The evidence as a whole shows that Warren participated in the circulation of the naked pictures of the male deputies, and was not at all offended by them. After all, she admits she had had consensual sexual relations with and measured the penis of the very deputy whose naked pictures and videos she was shown at work. No reasonable jury would believe she was offended by seeing the naked pictures or even a vibrator at work by a female co-worker. As to her allegations that male deputies were masturbating in various parts of the jail, she admits she never saw it, and has presented no witness who has. The one-time sexist comment by Baird and one-time sexist slur by Whitkaneck are isolated, stray remarks, not pervasive. The problems with Buis, Montes, and Cantwell were simply inter-personal disputes and boorish behavior, and there is insufficient evidence for a jury to conclude they were sex harassment or gender discriminatory. “[T]he occasional vulgar banter, tinged with sexual innuendo, of coarse or boorish workers” would be neither pervasive nor offensive enough to be actionable. Baskerville v. Culligan Int'l Co., 50 F.3d 428, 430-31 (7th Cir. 1995).

         B. There is no evidence of a causal connection between Warren's complaints and her termination.

         “A superior cannot retaliate against an employee for a protected activity about which he has no knowledge.” Stephens v. Erickson, 569 F.3d 779, 798 (7th Cir. 2009). Here, there is no evidence that Sheriff Randall, one of the decision-makers, knew anything about Warren's complaints or discussions with her supervisors before her termination. Warren testified that during her ...


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