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Emerson v. Dart

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

May 17, 2017

PAULA EMERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS J. DART, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge.

         Paula Emerson ("Emerson") filed this lawsuit under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1]against Cook County, Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart and Cook County Department of Corrections Officers Lieutenant David Grochowski ("Grochowski") and Sergeant William Zurella ("Zurella") (collectively "County Defendants"), charging that she was subjected to retaliation for having filed numerous complaints about her treatment at work, in violation of Section 2000e-3 and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. County Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Emerson's claims. For the reasons stated in this opinion, their motion is granted and Emerson's action is dismissed.

         Factual Background

         Between 2008 and September 17, 2012 Emerson worked on the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift in Cook County Department of Corrections Division 9, a living unit that houses maximum security inmates (C. St. ¶ 2). [2]Thereafter Emerson was on paid medical leave from September 2012 until March 2014, and she has been on unpaid medical leave since then (E. Resp. St. ¶ 3).

         Grochowski has been employed by the Sheriffs Department since 1978 and assigned to Division 9 for an unspecified length of time, and Zurella has been assigned to Division 9 since 2011 (C. St. ¶¶ 4, 5). Inmates in Division 9 live in "tiers, " and there are a total of 24 tiers in the division, including the "Level System" that comprises two of the tiers and houses inmates with behavioral problems (id. ¶¶ 8, 9). At all times there must be a correctional officer assigned to each tier and 3 or 4 officers assigned to the Level System (id ¶ 10). Officers assigned to Division generally have some level of interaction or contact with the inmates (id. ¶ 7).

         Correctional officers rotate through 90-day assignments, with their rotations recorded and reported on the Daily Roster Sheet (C. St. ¶ 12). Those assigned to a tier sit in the interlock area, which is a room outside the tier, and their general duties include overseeing the shift and ensuring that inmates receive time outside of their cells (id. ¶ 13). Correctional officers who are assigned to sanitation move throughout Division 9 to clean and to remove garbage, and those assigned to "powerwash" clean inmates' cells, shower areas and common bathrooms (id. ¶ 14). Assignments such as powerwash and sanitation are considered nonessential, but tier assignments must be staffed at all times by at least one, and preferably two, officers (iji ¶¶ 35, 36). Occasionally officers who are on sanitation or powerwash are temporarily assigned to a tier if there is a staffing shortage (id. ¶¶ 16, 35, 36). At one point Emerson informed her union that being assigned to sanitation and powerwash helps her to manage her stress and anxiety (id. ¶ 33).

         Before filing this action Emerson filed two complaints and a series of internal incident report memos ("To/Froms") about her treatment in the workplace. First she filed a charge in 2009 with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("2009 charge") of race- and gender-based harassment and discrimination by Lieutenant Young and Officer Heilemann ("Heilemann"), neither of whom is named in this lawsuit. That charge was dismissed in 2011 (C. St. ¶¶ 19, 20). Emerson never discussed the 2009 charge with Grochowski or Zurella (|d. ¶ 22). Then in 2012 Emerson filed a complaint with the Sheriffs Office of Professional Review ("OPR") against Grochowski about her assignments and her periodic placement near Heilemann, but the complaint included no allegations of discrimination (E. Resp. St. ¶ 23). Furthermore, during the course of her employment Emerson submitted multiple incident To/From communications complaining about assignments and interactions with her supervisors (E. Mem. 7-8; E. Dep. Ex. B). None of the To/Froms produced by Emerson in this lawsuit mention discrimination, nor does Emerson claim that they do so (see E. Dep. Ex. B).[3]

         Emerson asserts in this case that Grochowski and Zurella retaliated against her for filing complaints against them and others at the Department. To support her retaliation claim Emerson refers to a number of matters:

1. At times Grochowski changed her assignment from powerwash or sanitation to a tier. As to one such occasion Emerson admitted that it was "not unusual" (E. Mem. 2; C. St. ¶ 38; E. Resp. St. ¶ 38).
3. Grochowski ignored Emerson during roll call (E. Mem. 2).
2. Grochowski gave non-African-American officers (Emerson is African-American) assignments for which Emerson had requested (and had been denied) training and assignment (E. Mem. 5; E. Resp. St. ¶ 37; E. Aff. ¶ 3).
4. Grochowski has assigned Emerson near Heilemann, who had been one of the subjects of her 2009 charge (id.).
5. Grochowski also said to an officer whom he saw talking to Emerson, "Watch who you are speaking to. You might read about it" (C. St. ¶ 44).
6. Grochowski commented that he could assign Emerson wherever he wanted (E. Mem. 3).
7. Zurella refused her request to back her up so that she could let inmates out of their cell, and he allegedly said, "We're sick of you, you and your To/Froms" and "You don't want to work under this supervisor, bid out " (E. Mem. 3-4).
8. When Emerson wrote in a To/From "this Shift Commander has stated to R/O his feelings as it relates to her at work either to myself or other supervisors and therefore, I am not safe[, ]" Grochowski responded that Emerson was suffering from paranoid delusions and requested that she be sent for a ...

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