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Steiner v. Everett

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 8, 2017



          Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Affirmative Defenses (Doc. 17) set forth by Defendants in their answer to the complaint (Doc. 12). This Court enjoys jurisdiction to hear the case as a matter of federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343.[1] The underlying dispute contains a litany of claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliatory termination by Plaintiff against her former boss, Sheriff Michael Everett, and employer, Wayne County Sheriff's Department and Wayne County (Doc. 1). There are 17 claims in total. Defendants answered the complaint, and in doing so, they also raised six ‘affirmative defenses' (Doc. 12). Plaintiff responded in a timely fashion (Doc. 20). The matter is now before the Court for a ruling.

         II. Facts

         All of Plaintiff's claims stem from two essential contentions-(1) that she was treated unfairly on the job based on her age and gender; and (2) that she never received appropriate accommodations for her documented disabilities. As a culmination of these problems, Plaintiff alleges that she was ultimately terminated in a retaliatory fashion. Plaintiff is a 62-year-old female who was (or is) employed by the Wayne County Sheriff's Department (Doc. 1 at 4). Her employment began on December 1, 1996, and continued by her account until March 1, 2016, when she alleges that she was constructively terminated (Id. at 4, 11-12). Defendants take issue with the end date of her employment by denying it, seemingly claiming that she is still employed but is not allowed to work because she has refused to participate in a ‘fit for duty' examination to assess her on-the-job capabilities (See Doc. 12 at 4, 35).[2] During the relevant time period for this case, Plaintiff was first in seniority of all of her colleagues (Doc. 1 at 4; Doc. 12 at 5).

         Plaintiff alleges that while on the job she was subject to an ongoing saga of harassment, intimidation, and unequal treatment (Doc. 1 at 4). For example, in June 2014 she claims to have been subject to verbal harassment when a co-worker accused her of ‘flipping her tits' at an inmate who had a medical issue (Doc. 1 at 4-5). Her attempts to address this treatment with higher-ups were met with further mockery by Defendant Everett (Id.). Plaintiff also tried to grieve the fact that male employees allegedly left the bulk of cleaning duties for the females, verbally commenting on how they preferred for females to do such work (Id. at 5). Derogatory language such as, “bitch, ” was directed at Plaintiff (Id.). After reporting these issues in a meeting with Defendant Everett, Plaintiff's working conditions deteriorated (Id.).

         In September 2014, department positions came ‘up for bid', a process which happened a number of times during the course of conduct Plaintiff is grieving in this lawsuit (Id.). Plaintiff bid on a dispatcher position, the type she held at the time, and that she believed she was entitled to based upon a collective bargaining agreement and seniority (Id. at 5-6). Rather than grant the position, Defendant Everett reassigned her to ‘jailer' and told her he did so to “stop her grievances” (Id. at 6). The dispatcher position was given to a younger, less experienced male employee (Id.).

         As time passed, harassment from male co-workers allegedly intensified (Id.). Plaintiff attempted to report the harassment to Defendant Everett, but he told her, “those making the most money should do the most work”-something she took as a reference to her age and seniority (Id.).

         In October 2014, male colleagues harassed Plaintiff about an August incident, calling her a “fucking lying bitch” that got “knocked off her high horse” (Id.). In November 2014, Plaintiff requested an accommodation to work some shifts as a dispatcher because of her medical conditions (Id.). Defendant Everett refused the request (Id.).

         On November 26, 2014, Correctional Officer Curry withdrew his service weapon, pointed it at Plaintiff, and pretended to discharge it, which caused Plaintiff to be fearful (Id.). The weapon draw was apparently the third such incident in a few weeks (Id.).

         Plaintiff spilled something in her work area in early December 2014, and as she went to clean the area a male colleague berated her (Id. at 6-7). As the verbal harassment escalated, inmates attempted to intervene on Plaintiff's behalf (Id. at 7). That same month Plaintiff was harassed for refusing to smuggle contraband from another correctional officer to an inmate (Id. at 7). In December of 2014, Plaintiff was also mocked about her hearing aids (Id.).

         At an unspecified time, Correctional Officer Pope allegedly drew his service weapon in Plaintiff's presence, causing her to fear for her safety (Id.). On January 6, 2015, Correctional Officer Curry apparently sought Plaintiff out to perform a vehicle check in a degrading manner (Id.).

         Plaintiff alleges that by January of 2015 her medical condition continued to deteriorate as a result of the harassment at work. On or about January 12, 2015, she sought, and Defendant Everett denied, an accommodation to work a portion of her weekly hours at the dispatch station-a sedentary role (Id.). She also sought assistance from co-workers on a variety of tasks, like kitchen duty, but no one helped her (Id. at 8).

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Everett made a disingenuine attempt to correct the uneven sharing of workplace tasks by redistributing the workload across shifts and banning electronic devices (Id. at 8). However, the policy shift apparently did not help because it was not routinely enforced; so many duties still fell on Plaintiff's shoulders (Id.). Around this time, ...

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