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Thomas v. Dart

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

July 24, 2018

VICTOR THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS J. DART, Sheriff of Cook County; COUNTY OF COOK, a unit of local government, as indemnitor; MICHAEL HOLMES; and NNEKA JONES TAPIA, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Ronald A. Guzmán United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, Victor Thomas, a former[1] employee of the Cook County Department of Corrections (“CCDOC”), brought this action after he was demoted. Thomas alleges race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         MATERIAL FACTS

         Plaintiff is an African-American male. (ECF No. 43, Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Stmt. Facts ¶ 1.) Defendants are Thomas J. Dart, the Sheriff of Cook County; Nneka Jones Tapia (“Jones”), [2] who was the Executive Director of the CCDOC at the relevant time; Michael Holmes, who was a First Assistant Executive Director of Operations at the CCDOC at the relevant time; and Cook County, which is named as indemnitor. (Id. ¶ 4.)

         In 1990, plaintiff began his employment with the CCDOC as a correctional officer. (ECF No. 40-2, Dep. of Victor Thomas 16.) Over the years, he was promoted to Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Chief, Commander, and Superintendent. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Stmt. Facts ¶ 9.) As of 2014, plaintiff was Superintendent of Division VI. (Id. ¶ 10.) He reported directly to Mario Reyes, who was Assistant Executive Director, and from there the chain of command went upward as follows: Holmes; Tarry Williams, who was Chief of Operations; Jones; and Bradley Curry, who was Bureau Chief. (Id. ¶ 13.) As Executive Director, Jones was responsible for personnel decisions at the CCDOC and had the ability to recommend that an individual under her chain of command be promoted or demoted, but Curry had the ultimate authority to approve such recommendations.[3] (Id. ¶ 14.)

         In December 2015, Jones decided, in consultation with Williams and CCDOC Chief of Staff Matthew Burke, that one assistant executive director and seven CCDOC superintendents, including plaintiff, should receive Performance Improvement Plans (“PIPs”). (Id. ¶ 16.) The purpose of the PIP was to identify areas of improvement for each individual who received one. (Id. ¶ 17.) In deciding who should receive a PIP, Jones, Williams, and Burke considered the individual's work performance and whether they were satisfied with that performance. (Id. ¶ 18.) Holmes was not involved in the PIP process and did not influence Jones, Williams, or Burke in their decision to give plaintiff a PIP. (Id. ¶ 19.) On December 22, 2015, Jones sent Curry an email notifying him of her decision to issue PIPs to certain individuals. (Id. ¶ 20.)

         The PIPs were issued shortly thereafter. Plaintiffs PIP identified specific examples of current performance deficiencies that were under review, including that Division VI had to “be free from excessive property and contraband”; division staff were not following proper security protocol; staff complaints had to be addressed; “system checks” were not being conducted as required by general order; sanitation in the division was not within acceptable standards; and internal movement and control of inmates had to be properly performed. (Id. ¶ 24; Thomas Dep., Ex. 11, at 1.) Plaintiffs improvement plan tasks included “[ensuring proper compliance checks and shakedowns are being completed”; cuffing offenders properly; making rounds in the division to address staff and inmate complaints and issues; supervising inmate cleaning crews to ensure cleanliness and sanitation; reading incident reports from the division to “address any discrepancies and apply corrective action”; monitoring the staff assigned to the barbershop; and meeting periodically with supervisors to ensure that the CCDOC's mission and goals were being carried out. (Thomas Dep., Ex. 11, at 1-2.)

         After issuing the PIPs, Jones, Williams, and Burke met with the recipients to discuss their work performance. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Stmt. Facts ¶ 21.) On January 11, 2016, Jones and Williams met with plaintiff to discuss his PIP; Burke participated by telephone. (Id. ¶ 26.) Holmes did not participate in the meeting and did not know it was taking place. (Id. ¶ 27.) According to Jones, during the meeting, plaintiff was defensive; disagreed with the items identified in the PIP; claimed that he ran Division VI well; and could not comprehend a need for improvement. (Id. ¶ 28.) At his deposition, plaintiff stated that the performance deficiencies identified in the PIP were not “true” or “based on the facts, ” and he described himself at the meeting as having been “respectfully inquisitive” about the listed deficiencies. (Thomas Dep. 180.) Plaintiff stated as follows: “[A]s we went down [the list], . . . I was saying I do this and I do these things that they say that I didn't do that I do-I do-I actually perform those tasks.” (Id.) Plaintiff further stated: “I was respectful, inquisitive. I asked questions, and I respectfully said that this is not true, and it's not true.” (Id. at 198.) When asked about Jones's statement in a subsequent email to Curry that plaintiff “presented as defensive throughout the discussion and challenged every provision that was discussed, ” plaintiff agreed that it was “a fair representation that [he was] defensive and challenged every provision.” (Id. at 201.) Plaintiff also acknowledged that he had said during the meeting that he “ran his building well and did not understand how [his superiors had] identified the areas in need of improvement.” (Id. at 202.)

         Due to plaintiff's rejection of the PIP, Jones decided to inspect Division VI the same day of the meeting, to make sure that the PIP was accurate and that there had not been improvement of which she was unaware. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.) Jones and Williams visited Division VI, and Reyes and Holmes were present. (Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff did not accompany them during the inspection. (Id. ¶ 32.) During the inspection, Jones found several deficiencies that she characterizes as safety, security, and sanitation concerns: the tunnel entrance to the division was unlocked; inmates had clotheslines in their cells and multiple mattresses; the division had lacked hot water for two weeks; sheets were piled in the hallways; a supervisor's jacket was accessible to inmates; and both a janitor's closet and a dispensary medication cart were unlocked. (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff denies that any of these issues constituted safety, security, or sanitation concerns, and denies that the building's plumbing was within his control. He also points out that there was an officer posted by the door in the basement, who let Jones and Holmes in with a key; the sheets were piled up because a laundry exchange was occurring; and the jacket was inside a sergeant's office. (Id.)

         After the inspection, Jones, Williams, Holmes, and Reyes met with plaintiff in his office. (Id. ¶ 35; Thomas Dep. 186-87.) In Jones's opinion, during the meeting plaintiff continued to challenge Jones and her findings. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Stmt. Facts ¶ 36.) Plaintiff says that he merely stated, “I didn't know I was that bad.” (Thomas Dep. 214-15.) After the meeting, Jones sent an email to Curry that day (copying Williams and Burke) in which she attached the signed PIPs for the employees who had received them and stated the following: all of the meetings had gone “well, ” “with the exception of [that of] Victor Thomas”; Thomas was “defensive” and “reported that he ran his building well and did not understand how we identified the areas in need of improvement”; she advised Thomas that she would be visiting his division; and later in the day, she visited the division for a 1.5 hour tour along with Williams, Holmes, and Reyes, during which Thomas “did not present himself.” (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 34, 37, 40; ECF No. 40-1, Decl. of Nneka Jones Tapia, Ex. 1, at 3-4.) Jones summarized her findings from the inspection and stated that she met with Thomas afterward and he “continued to challenge us.” (Jones Decl., Ex. 1, at 4.) She further stated: “We attempted to identify and review the deficiencies that have been noted with Superintendent Thomas for the last 6 months, however it was met with such resistance that it is clear that he is not willing to work on the issues. As a result, I am requesting immediate demotion.” (Id.) When Jones decided to request plaintiff's demotion, she was not influenced by anything in plaintiff's personnel file. (Id. ¶ 41.)

         Curry received Jones's email and, in an email dated January 12, 2016, he approved the demotion. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44.) On January 29, 2016-during the time between Curry's approval of the demotion and the time plaintiff was notified of it-Division VI was inspected by Superintendent Martha Yoksoulian and Assistant Executive Director Robert Lyles. (ECF No. 45, Defs.' Resp. Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 26.) Yoksoulian and Lyles produced two reports that were sent to Holmes and, in Holmes's view, “reflected nothing wrong with Division VI.” (Id. ¶ 27.) Holmes did not tell Jones about the January 29 inspection, and Jones testified that she had not seen the reports prior to preparing for her deposition in this case. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 31.) On February 16, 2016, Jones informed plaintiff that he was being demoted from Superintendent to Commander. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Stmt. Facts ¶ 45.) After the demotion, plaintiff became Commander of Division VIII at the CCDOC and was paid $2.50 per hour less than he was paid as a superintendent. (Id. ¶ 50.) Sean Julian, a white male, replaced plaintiff as Superintendent of Division VI. (Id. ¶ 52.) In July 2016, Julian transferred out of Division VI for reasons not related to performance, and Don Beachem, an African-American male, became Superintendent of Division VI. (Id.; Defs.' Resp. Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 37.)

         On December 13, 2016, plaintiff filed an amended charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, alleging that he was demoted to the position of Commander because of his race. Plaintiff filed the instant action on May 3, 2017. The complaint is organized into two counts. Count I alleges disparate treatment in violation of Title VII based on race discrimination. Count II is a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for race discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

         DISCUSSION

         A. ...


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