United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
W. GETTLEMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Byron Johnson filed the instant lawsuit against defendant
Candice Jones in her official capacity as former Director of
the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice,  claiming that he
was discriminated against due to his age and race in
violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of
1967, 29 U.S.C. § 626(c) and Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 as amended by, inter alia the
Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et
Defendant has moved for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P.
56. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion is
an African-American, began working for the Illinois
Department of Corrections in 1996. He continued with the
Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (“IDOJJ”
or “defendant”) after it separated from the
Illinois Department of Corrections in 2006. From 2012 until
his termination on July 31, 2015, plaintiff held the position
of Assistant Superintendent of Operations at Illinois Youth
Center-St. Charles (“IYC-St. Charles”). IYC-St.
Charles accommodates approximately 300 juvenile offenders. As
Assistant Superintendent of Operations, plaintiff's
duties involved supervising facility operations. Plaintiff
also sometimes served as the Duty Administrative Officer
(“DAO”), the individual in charge of the facility
at any given time. The DAO role rotated among the IYC-St.
Charles leadership team, including plaintiff.
alleges that defendant discriminated against him both in the
conditions of his employment,  and in terminating him on July
31, 2015. Plaintiff's charge of discrimination with the
Illinois Department of Human Rights and United States Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) raised
only the issue of discrimination in discharge. The EEOC sent
plaintiff a Notice of Right to Sue dated February 3, 2016,
which he received on February 12, 2016.
time of plaintiff's termination, Candice Jones, an
African-American, was the Director of IDOJJ. IYC-St. Charles
was managed by a team consisting of Superintendent Jeff
Bargar, Assistant Superintendent of Programs Stephanie
Lawson, and plaintiff. Both plaintiff and Lawson reported
directly to Superintendent Bargar. Superintendent Bargar
reported to the executive team, consisting of Director Jones,
Deputy Director of Programs Heidi Mueller, and Deputy
Director of Operations Jesse Montgomery, an African-American.
At all relevant times, a Federal Consent Decree and Remedial
Plan were in place to address conditions of confinement,
including mental health, education, and safety.
received overall positive performance reviews in August 2012,
August 2013, and September 2014. However, three incidents
occurred within approximately one year of plaintiff's
termination that defendant identifies as the basis for its
decision to terminate plaintiff.
first incident defendant cites as a reason for
plaintiff's termination occurred during a monthly video
conference call Director Jones held with executive and
administrative staff. The purpose of the calls was to review
critical issues, including progress on the consent decree and
remedial plan. Plaintiff participated in these calls. During
one call, approximately one year prior to plaintiff's
termination, Director Jones posed a question to plaintiff
regarding mental health screening. Plaintiff was not able to
correctly answer the question, which was subsequently
answered accurately by Clinical Services Supervisor Christine
Rothwell. Plaintiff alleges that Director Jones' question
was outside the scope of his job duties because it related to
a program function rather than facility operation. Defendant,
however, expected plaintiff, in his role as Assistant
Superintendent of Operations, to know significant
operational, program, and reform related changes. Jones never
spoke to plaintiff to express dissatisfaction in his
inability answer her question. To the court's knowledge,
plaintiff was not formally disciplined for this incident.
second incident defendant cites as a reason for
plaintiff's termination occurred following a situation on
June 8, 2015, in which two youths escaped from IYC-St.
Charles housing. One made it off the premises. All members of
the IYC-St. Charles leadership team, including plaintiff,
were summoned to the facility. On the afternoon of June 9,
2015, a meeting of leadership staff occurred to establish a
command schedule to ensure continuous coverage during this
crisis situation. Plaintiff volunteered to work a shift from
5:00 p.m. until 12:00 a.m. At midnight, Stephanie Lawson
would return to relieve plaintiff of his duties. However, at
8:42 p.m. plaintiff, the highest ranking officer on duty at
the time, left the facility without securing authorization
from Superintendent Bargar or any other member of the
executive team. Plaintiff alleges that he attempted to
contact Superintendent Bargar, but that he could not reach
him. Before leaving, plaintiff turned over control of the
facility to Reception Unit Administrative Supervisor Chris
Voights, a former superintendent. Plaintiff claimed to be
tired as he had gotten less than three hours of sleep over
the past 38 hour period and had forgotten to take his
diabetes medication. Nevertheless, plaintiff left during a
shift he agreed to cover at a critical time for IYC-St.
Charles. Defendant disciplined plaintiff for his conduct
during this incident with a verbal warning.
final incident defendant cites as a basis for plaintiff's
termination occurred on June 26, 2015, when Juvenile Justice
Supervisor Stephen Walker used chemical agents on a youth.
The youth had become violent and upset. Walker and other
security staff contacted plaintiff before he arrived at the
facility to inform him of the escalating situation. Plaintiff
claims he was told the youth was banging his head, pounding
on windows, and kicking doors. Plaintiff took an active role
in managing the situation by directing Walker move the youth
to timeout and later to a more secure room. Upon
plaintiff's arrival at the facility, plaintiff attempted
to deescalate the situation by conversing with the youth in
the youth's holding cell and informing the youth that he
would be moved. The youth became increasingly irate and
Walker administered chemical restraints. Stephanie Lawson was
the DAO in charge of the facility at that time, but the
parties dispute whether DAO Lawson was present at the time at
the time chemicals were used. The parties also dispute which
IYC-St. Charles employee authorized use of chemical agents.
Illinois Administrative Code permits use of chemical agents
on youth only with the authorization of the shift supervisor
or someone with higher authority. The consent decree requires
defendant have policies regarding circumstances when facility
staff are permitted to use pepper spray and mandates an
oversight and discipline system with prompt investigation of
allegations of excessive force. Following the incident,
Deputy Director of Operations, Jesse Montgomery, reviewed the
use of force. In an email exchange between plaintiff and
Montgomery a few days after the incident, plaintiff indicated
that his “only thoughts at that time were to get this
youth out of this room before he hurts himself.”
Montgomery referred the incident for external investigation,
but that investigation was never completed. To the
court's knowledge, no employee was formally disciplined
in this incident.
terminated plaintiff, an at will employee, on July 31, 2015.
The termination letter did not cite a basis for termination
and did not offer any opportunity for appeal or grievance.
Defendant does not recall when the decision to terminate
plaintiff occurred. Within weeks of plaintiff's
termination, Stephanie Lawson was transferred to another
IDOJJ facility and Jeff Bargar was demoted.
his termination, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination
with the Illinois Department of Human Rights
(“IDHR”) and Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (“EEOC”). The IDHR and EEOC charge
described plaintiff's issue solely as discharge due to