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Lanton v. City of Chicago

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

February 13, 2018

DENISE LANTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMY J. ST. EVE, United States Strict Court Judge.

         Plaintiff Denise Lanton brings this lawsuit against her employer, Defendant City of Chicago, alleging race and sex discrimination claims in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Title VII), and an age discrimination claim in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 612, et seq. (“ADEA”) based on the City denying Lanton a promotion in May 2014. Lanton also brings a due process claim based on the Illinois Constitution pursuant to the Court's supplemental jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment brought pursuant to Rule 56(a). For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendant's motion in its entirety.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         I. Introduction

         Lanton was born on May 8, 1956 and is an African-American woman. (R. 64, Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 3.) She began working for the City in 1988 as a paralegal in the City's Law Department. (Id. ¶ 4.) In 1994, Lanton became an Assistant to the Commissioner in the City's Department of Streets and Sanitation (“Streets and Sanitation”). (Id. ¶ 5.) In 1999, Lanton's job title in Streets and Sanitation was changed to Administrative Services Officer II, which is Lanton's current job title with the City. (Id. ¶ 6.) The Administrative Service Officer II position is a “career service” position with certain procedural protections, as opposed to an appointed position that is at-will. (Id. ¶ 7; R. 64-5, Ex. C, Williams Dep., at 8-9.)

         Streets and Sanitation is the City's department that is responsible for garbage pick-up, snow removal, graffiti removal, rodent control, traffic services, and the maintenance of trees within the City. (Id. ¶ 8.) During the relevant time period, Streets and Sanitation was led by Commissioner Charles Williams (“Williams”). (Id. ¶ 9.) Also, James Crocker (“Crocker”) is the Deputy Commissioner of Streets and Sanitation's Administration Bureau and is responsible for managing the administrative functions within the department. (Id. ¶ 10.) Soo Choi (“Choi”) is the Commissioner of the Department of Human Resources (“DHR”). (Id. ¶ 11.) DHR is responsible, in part, for the hiring oversight within the City. (Id.) Also during the relevant time period, Christina Batorski (“Batorski”) was DHR's Deputy Commissioner of the Employment Services Division. (Id. ¶ 12.) Her duties included managing a team of employees responsible for handling the hiring sequences of the City's operating departments. (Id.)

         II. Shakman Decree

         In 1969, the City was named as one of the defendants in a federal lawsuit entitled Michael Shakman, et al. v. Democratic Organization of Cook Cnty., et al., 69 C 2145, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. (Id. ¶ 16.) In 1972, the City and its Mayor entered into a Consent Decree - commonly referred to as the “Shakman Decree” - that prohibited the City from “conditioning, basing or knowingly prejudicing or affecting any term or aspect of government employment with respect to one who is a government employee, upon or because of any political reason or factor.” (Id.) In 1983, pursuant to a Consent Judgment, these prohibitions were extended to the City's hiring practices. (Id.) On August 2, 2005, the district court assigned a monitor to the Shakman lawsuit, commonly referred to as the “Shakman Monitor” to ensure the City's future compliance with the Shakman Decrees. (Id. ¶ 17.) The district court directed the Shakman Monitor to study the City's existing employment practices, policies, and procedures for non-political hiring, promotion, transfer, discipline, and discharge and then propose a mechanism for ensuring that the City's future employment actions are in compliance with the court's orders. (Id.) The district court then appointed Noelle Brennan (“Brennan”) as the Shakman Monitor. (Id.) The City developed its Hiring Plan, discussed in detail below, pursuant to the Shakman Decree.[2] (R. 64-8, Choi Dep. Ex. 2, Hiring Plan, at 4.)

         III. Shakman Monitor's Investigation

         Relevant to this lawsuit, the Shaman Monitor investigated six Streets and Sanitation employees, including Lanton. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 21.) As part of the Shakman Monitor's investigation, on November 6, 2012, individuals within the Monitor's office interviewed Lanton. (Id. ¶ 19.) At that time, Lanton was represented by an attorney, placed under oath, and acknowledged that she understood her rights. (Id.) Also, a court reporter generated a verbatim transcript of the interview. (Id.) At the conclusion of the Shakman Monitor's investigation, the Monitor's office prepared a “Report of Monitor's Investigation” for each individual who was investigated. (Id. ¶ 20.) The reports contained disciplinary recommendations that were directed to the heads of the departments where each employee worked. (Id.) The department heads then had the discretion to accept or reject the Shakman Monitor's recommendations. (Id.) At the conclusion of the investigations, the monitor provided Commissioner Williams with copies of each “Report of Monitor's Investigation” for the six Streets and Sanitation employees. (Id.) As to Lanton, the Shakman Monitor concluded:

In light of the evidence, the Monitor's office has serious doubts about the veracity of Lanton's testimony. We request that a copy of this memo be placed in Lanton's personnel file for appropriate consideration in the event Lanton is implicated in future hiring violations. We further request that the City consider excluding Lanton from the hiring process in its entirety, including, but not limited to, screening, interviewing, and/or participating as a subject matter expert in hiring matters. Finally, we request that the City and Inspector General's Office review this memo, Lanton's interview transcript, and [Streets and Sanitation employee William] Mahon's interview transcript to determine whether further investigation is warranted.

(Id. ¶ 22.) (emphasis added).

         After reviewing this recommendation, Commissioner Williams decided that Lanton should be excluded from any involvement in the hiring process. (Id. ¶ 23; Williams Dep., at 43.) On the other hand, Commissioner Williams did not conduct an independent investigation into Lanton's misconduct. (R. 69, Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 1.) As to the other five Streets and Sanitation employees, Commissioner Williams terminated one individual and excluded the others from the hiring process. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 24.) Also, Commissioner Williams issued the following discipline: (1) William Mahon received a 45-day suspension; (2) Steven Morales received a 14-day suspension; (3) Danny Munoz, Jr. received a written reprimand; and (4) Chris Sauve received a 10-day suspension. (Id. ¶ 25.) On August 8, 2013, Commissioner Williams prepared a memorandum identifying the five individuals who were to be excluded from involvement in the hiring process, namely, Lanton, Mahon, Morales, Munoz, and Sauve. (Id. ¶ 26.) In August 2013, Lanton was then notified that she could no longer take part in the hiring process as part of her job duties, and Commissioner Williams' August 8, 2013 memorandum was placed in her personnel file. (Id. ¶ 27.)

         IV. City of Chicago Hiring Process

         Pursuant to the Shakman Decree, the City maintains a detailed Hiring Plan to ensure a fair hiring process that is designed to minimize the risk of patronage hiring. (Id. ¶ 28.) More specifically, the Hiring Plan states that the City of Chicago is committed to hiring practices that:

• Base employee selection on a Candidate's knowledge, skills and ability to perform effectively on the job;
• Provide equal employment opportunity to all qualified Applicants;
• Prohibit the entry of Political Reasons or Factors or other Improper considerations into any stage of the selection and ...

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