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Warren v. Baird

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

July 25, 2018

KENDALL COUNTY SHERIFF DWIGHT BAIRD, in his official capacity and as successor in office to Richard Randall,, Defendants.

          Kendall County Sheriff Dwight Baird, Kendall County, Richard Randall, Scott Koster, and Sabrina Jennings, Julie A. Bruch One of their attorneys

          Julie A. Bruch, #6215813 O'Halloran Kosoff Geitner & Cook, LLC

          Mary Rowland Magistrate Judge



         Defendants Kendall County Sheriff Dwight Baird, in his official capacity as successor in office to Richard Randall (hereinafter “the Sheriff's Office”); Kendall County, Illinois; Richard Randall; Scott Koster; and Sabrina Jennings move for judgment as a matter of law in their favor and against the plaintiff under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50. In support of this motion, defendants state as follows:


         Plaintiff Carrie Warren has presented the following claims at trial: (1) Title VII gender discrimination claim against the Sheriff's Office and (2) section 1983 equal protection claims of gender discrimination against the Sheriff's Office, Randall, Koster, and Jennings. As a matter of law, based on the evidence presented thus far at trial, no reasonable jury could find for Warren on any of her claims.


         At any time before a case is submitted to the jury, a party may move for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Fed. Civ. P. 50(a)(2). Rule 50 authorizes the entry of judgment as a matter of law if a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1); Hall v. Forest River, Inc., 536 F.3d 615, 619 (7th Cir. 2008). “In other words, the question is simply whether the evidence as a whole, when combined with all reasonable inferences permissibly drawn from that evidence, is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of the plaintiff.” Id.

         I. No reasonable jury can find that Warren's gender was a motivating factor in her termination.

         The Supreme Court has described a “mixed-motives” case as one in which “an employee alleges that he suffered an adverse employment action because of both permissible and impermissible considerations.” Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 171, 129 S.Ct. 2343, 174 L.Ed.2d 119 (2009). If an employee in a mixed-motive case establishes that her gender, for instance, was a motivating factor for the employment action, the burden shifts to the employer to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have made the same decision regardless of the plaintiff's gender. Rapold v. Baxter Int'l Inc., 718 F.3d 602, 609 (7th Cir. 2013), as amended on denial of reh'g and reh'g en banc (June 3, 2013). The employer may avoid a finding of liability only by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have made the same decision even if it had not taken the plaintiff's gender into account. Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90, 93, 123 S.Ct. 2148, 2151, 156 L.Ed.2d 84 (2003).

         The same standards of establishing intentional discrimination apply to Warren's claims of gender discrimination under Title VII and equal protection. See Salas v. Wisconsin Dep't Corr., 493 F.3d 913, 926 (7th Cir.2007) (“The only difference is that a Title VII claim is against an employer, while an equal protection claim is against individual employees.”). Warren must prove that the defendants intentionally discriminated against her based in part upon her sex. Hong v. Children's Memorial Hospital, 993 F.2d 1257, 1261 (7th Cir. 1992). The legal standard is “whether the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the plaintiff's . . . sex . . . caused the discharge.” Ortiz, 834 F.3d at 765. “Evidence must be considered as a whole, rather than asking whether any particular piece of evidence proves the case by itself .... Relevant evidence must be considered and irrelevant evidence disregarded.” Id.

         In the instant case, Warren cannot show that her gender was a motivating factor or that it played any part in Defendants' decision to terminate her. Jennings testified that Warren's gender played no role in her decision to terminate Warren. Koster testified that in reviewing Jennings's disciplinary recommendations, he never saw any indication that she was recommending harsher discipline of a deputy because of gender. (Trial transcript, Vol 2-B, p. 337). Koster and Randall both testified that they never considered gender when deciding that Warren should be terminated for her untruthfulness. (Trial transcript, Vol 2-B, pp. 336-337; Trial transcript, Vol 3-B, p. 535, 573). Koster also testified that hiring and retaining female correctional deputies is particularly challenging because the jail environment is not one that attracts many candidates. Koster opined that they receive 10 or more applications from males for every 1 application from a female. The jail needs female deputies to serve the female prisoner population so the loss of a female deputy under any circumstance is very difficult on their operations. Despite the potential strain on operations from losing a female deputy, Koster did not create more lenient standards for Warren because of her gender. (Trial transcript, Vol 3-A, pp. 437-438, 510-511). The record is completely void of any evidence to support the notion that Warren's gender played a role in her termination.

         Koster and Jennings testified at length about the male deputies who were disciplined for their various infractions of the Code of Conduct. In fact, Koster testified that the Sheriff's Office produced over 3000 pages of disciplinary records for the corrections division alone and that each year he reviews hundreds of disciplinary reports. (Trial transcript, Vol 3-A, p. 458). If a male deputy had done what Warren did, Koster would have recommended termination for that male deputy. (Trial transcript, Vol 3-B, p. 536). Although the Sheriff's Office never had a deputy untruthful to the extent that Warren was, they did have two male deputies, Dean and Geisen, who were untruthful during formal interrogations and were terminated. No. deputy, other than Warren, had been untruthful during a formal interrogation and then enlisted a third party to make a statement that by the third party's own admission was false. (Trial transcript, Vol 3-A, p. 434).

         A. Because Jennings did not cause or participate in the decision to fire Warren, she cannot be liable on the Section 1983 claim.

         For an individual defendant to be liable under section 1983, he or she must have participated directly in the constitutional violation. “Section 1983 creates a cause of action based on personal liability and predicated upon fault; thus, liability does not attach unless the individual defendant caused or participated in a constitutional deprivation.” Hildebrandt v. Illinois Dep't of Nat. Res., 347 F.3d 1014, 1039 (7th Cir. 2003).

         Here, Commander Jennings initiated the investigation into Warren's jury service but Chief Koster took over the investigation and independently gathered additional evidence and made the recommendation to Sheriff Randall to terminate Warren's employment for reasons different than those recommended by Jennings. (Trial transcript, Vol 2-B, pp. 360-361, 368; Trial transcript, Vol 3-A, pp. 441-442). Warren's most egregious misconduct of presenting a redacted cell phone record and claiming that a redacted call came from her travel agent Fidler occurred after Jennings relinquished control of the investigation. (Trial transcript, Vol 2-B, pp. 375-378, 381-383; Trial transcript, Vol 3-A, pp. 429-430). Koster testified that he independently made the decision to recommend Warren's termination. (Trial transcript, Vol 2-B, pp. 368; Trial transcript, Vol 3-A, pp. 429-435, 437). Therefore, Jennings is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on this claim because she was not the decision maker and did not cause or participate in the ultimate decision to terminate Warren's employment. See Harris v. Warrick County Sheriff's Dept., 666 F.3d 444, 448 (7th Cir. 2012)(“to prove employment discrimination, a plaintiff needed direct or circumstantial evidence ‘that the decisionmaker has acted for a prohibited reason.'”); Woods v. City of Berwyn, 803 F.3d 865, 870 (7th Cir. 2015)(“[A] determination apart from the biased subordinate's recommendation can break the chain of causation.”).

         B. Warren was fired not because she is a woman, but because she was untruthful.

         As noted above, Warren's March 2014 termination followed an investigation into her conduct during jury duty that was initiated by a complaint to the Sheriff's Office from Kendall County Chief Judge Tim McCann and Judge Robert Pilmer. Following his investigation, Chief Koster concluded that Warren had been untruthful in violation of the Sheriff's Office Code of Conduct during the formal investigation into the circumstances of her release from jury duty, and in connection with that investigation she fabricated evidence. (Trial transcript, Vol 3-A, pp. 440-443).

         Warren contends that such conduct was not worthy of termination, but courts have repeatedly stated that employers “may terminate an employee for a good or bad reason without violating federal law. Flowers v. Troup County, Ga., School Dist., 803 F.3d 1327, 1338 (11th Cir. 2015). Multiple courts have found that terminating law enforcement officers for untruthfulness is a legitimate basis for termination. Therefore, the untruthful law enforcement officer was not qualified for the job. For example, in Thomas v. Johnson, 788 F.3d 177 (5th Cir. 2015), a provisionary border patrol agent was terminated for lack of candor and the Fifth Circuit found that lack of candor is a legitimate basis for termination. In Gilty v. Village of Oak Park, 919 F.2d 1247 (7th Cir. 1990), the court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Village of Oak Park on a race discrimination claim after the police chief fired a black police officer for falsifying his academic ...

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