Trudy A. ZOEPFEL-THULINE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
BLACK HAWK COLLEGE, Defendant-Appellee.
from the Circuit Court of Rock Island County, No. 13-L-58;
the Hon. James G. Conway Jr., Judge, presiding.
Thuline, of Galva, for appellant.
Jeffrey D. Wright and Allison K. Wright, of Pappas
O'Connor, P.C., of Rock Island, for appellee.
JUSTICE McDADE delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Schmidt and Justice Holdridge
concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 The
plaintiff, Trudy Zoepfel-Thuline, sued the defendant, Black
Hawk College (the College), for alleged violations of the
Illinois Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq.
(West 2008)), alleging that the College first delayed
offering her employment contracts in retaliation for her
reporting sexual harassment, then later terminated her
employment in retaliation for the discrimination suit she
filed against the College. The circuit court entered summary
judgment in favor of the College, and the plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, plaintiff argues that the court erred when it
ruled that she was not engaged in a protected activity when
she filed her discrimination suit against the College. We
2 I. BACKGROUND
¶ 3 The
facts of this case are not in dispute. Those facts relevant
to the disposition of this appeal are as follows.
¶ 4 In
2003, plaintiff began teaching General Education Development
classes at the College on a part-time basis. For each class
plaintiff taught, the College would require her to sign a
stand-alone contract, which included, inter alia, a
provision stating that her employment was subject to
cancellation "if the enrollment, funds, or attendance is
insufficient to justify holding class, or it is necessary to
combine or reassign the class because of its size."
Plaintiff was hired by David Harris, the College's
outreach coordinator, who was also her direct supervisor.
¶ 5 In
August 2009, Terry Urban, the evening receptionist in the
College's Community Education Center, approached
plaintiff and stated that while looking for vouchers in
Harris's desk, she found something that she wanted
plaintiff to know about. Plaintiff followed Urban to
Harris's desk, and Urban showed her a stack of printed
pictures that plaintiff classified as pornographic. The
material was located underneath some hanging file folders.
Plaintiff stated that she did not have authorization to go
into Harris's desk, nor would there be any reason for her
to do so.
Urban told plaintiff that she did not know what to do about
the situation. Plaintiff told Urban to make copies of the
pictures and give them to her so she could report it to the
College. When plaintiff reported the situation to Jo Johnson
in the College's human resources department, she was
directed to mail copies to Johnson, who would follow up with
Urban. Regarding her conversation with Johnson, plaintiff
stated, "I wouldn't have said [Harris] had sexually
harassed me. I would have said that I found it to be
¶ 7 The
printed pictures listed the websites from which they had been
accessed. An October 2009 e-mail exchange between Johnson and
Karen Boyd, another administrator in the human resources
office, indicated that a network analyst had been asked to
perform an initial search of a computer in the Community
Education Center that apparently was the suspected source of
the printed pictures. However, the analyst did not find any
browser history to confirm that suspicion. The e-mail
exchange stated that nothing further would be done about the
¶ 8 It
does not appear from the record that the initial
investigation into the situation included advising Harris
that the pictures had been found in his desk or asking him
how they came to be in his possession. He did explain their
presence in a later affidavit filed with the circuit court.
He stated that he had found the pictures in a printer in the
Community Education Center's public computer lab and that
he had suspected the pictures had been printed by a student
whom he had confronted on an earlier occasion about printing
the same kind of material. Harris stored the printed pictures
in his desk until he could confront the student. He did not
see the student
following the discovery of the printed pictures, however.
Harris also averred that "[n]o employees, including
[Trudy], had authorization to get into my personal work desk
or file cabinet— where I had stored the material, nor
would their job duties ever require them to do so without my
¶ 10 On
an afternoon in April 2010, plaintiff found herself short of
calculators for her class. She approached Debra Rhodes in the
Community Education Center and asked if she had any extras.
Rhodes said that she thought Harris had some in his office.
While Rhodes looked in Harris's office, including his
desk, plaintiff saw the same printed pictures in the same
place in Harris's desk.
During the first week of May 2010, plaintiff received an
e-mail in error from Harris, in which he was critical about
plaintiff's classroom management abilities. Plaintiff was
angered by the e-mail and reported it to Johnson. During that
conversation, plaintiff informed Johnson that the printed
pictures were still in Harris's desk. Plaintiff asked
Johnson what Harris had said about the situation. Johnson
replied that he had not been asked about it. Surprised,
"I told her that I didn't care how he came by it, it
was his now. It had been in that drawer for over a year. I
said, `I don't know why somebody didn't make him get
rid of it, destroy it, whatever, but certainly not keep it in
a drawer where faculty, staff and possibly even students
could run into it,' and here I had twice, not expecting
that would ever happen. I never went into his office,
snooping around or, you know, ...