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Navarrete v. Madison County

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 27, 2019




         Plaintiff Gustavo Navarrete[1] alleges that Defendant Madison County, Illinois (“Madison County”) discriminated against him on account of his national origin (Latino) by terminating his employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Pending before the Court is Madison County’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 35). Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. 39), and Madison County replied (Doc. 42). For the following reasons, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.


         The following facts are undisputed except where noted. All facts are taken in a light most favorable to Plaintiff Gustavo Navarrete. National American Ins. Co. v. Artisan and Truckers Cas. Co., 796 F.3d 717, 722-23 (7th Cir. 2015).

         Navarrete was employed by the Madison County Sheriff’s Department – Jail Division, on October 20, 2008 and served as a correctional officer at the Madison County Jail.

         When Navarrete was interviewed for his job, his ability to speak Spanish was raised and he agreed that he would translate when necessary (Doc. 35-5, p. 22). Prior to his termination, Navarrete was tasked with translating from Spanish to English whenever the need arose at the jail. He translated during intake, booking, and nurse call times (Doc. 39-2, pp. 6-8). From October 2010 to January 2013, he translated during Court proceedings conducted by video-conference in the jail’s library (Doc. 39-1, pp. 4). On one occasion, he was taken just outside the jail to the parking lot or road by Patrol Officer Hernandez to translate for 1 of 7 arrestees located in a police van (Doc. 35-3, p. 12). He was not given a bullet-proof vest or gun even though the other officers at the scene had guns and vests. Captain Dixon also took Navarrete to Granite City, Fairmont City, and another town to translate without providing him with protective gear. Navarrete was not given additional compensation or benefits for providing translation services (Doc. 39-1, p. 10). Every time he was asked to translate, Navarrete explained that he is not a translator and that there are many Spanish dialects (Doc. 39-1, p. 5-6). He was concerned that he might translate incorrectly during medical screenings and judicial proceedings. He complained to Sergeant Hill, Sergeant Court, Captain Bost, Captain Bunt, and “anyone who would listen to [him]” that he did not want the responsibility of translating or to be taken away from his regular duties in order to translate (Doc. 39-1, p. 6). On one occasion, when he refused to translate for a nurse, he was falsely “written up” the next day by Sergeant Court who made a comment about his accent while doing so (Doc. 39-1, pp. 7-8). In February 2013, Navarrete had a heated conversation with Major Wells about translating and was told that he was not required to translate any more (Doc. 39-1, p. 14). Then Sheriff Hertz met with Navarrete on February 26, 2013 and inquired why he no longer wanted to translate (Doc. 39-1, pp. 21-22). Navarrete was required to translate even after this conversation (Doc. 39-1, pp. 15, 32). There is no evidence that Sheriff Lakin, who replaced Hertz, had any discussions with Navarrete about translating.

         Navarrete was subjected to offensive comments related to his ethnicity. Once he was accused of lying when he said he did not understand a Spanish-speaking person (Doc. 39-1, p. 25). When he was a patrolman, his field training officer would make fun of his accent, but Navarrete never reported the incident (Id. 26-7). While at the jail, he was subjected to various offensive comments which he did report, including references to “his people” doing yard work, asking him to speak so that others could understand (i.e. a commentary on his accent), referring to him and “his kind” as illegal immigrants, commenting “imagine that” when he was spotted eating food from Taco Bell, and calling him “speedy Gonzalez” (Doc. 39-1, pp. 66-67). In response to these comments, Navarrete walked away (e.g. Doc. 39-1, p. 29).[2]

         After Navarrete was assured by Sheriff Hertz that steps would be taken to ensure additional training to staff regarding diversity (Doc. 39-1, pp. 67-68), an incident occurred involving a dispatcher named “Richards” who Navarrete had never met before. In July 2013, when Navarrete handed him a paper, Richards said “gracias” (while giggling) to which Navarrete replied that he would “beat his ass the next time with a smile on his face” (Doc. 39-1, pp. 34, 55). Navarrete believed saying “gracias” was a continuation of the verbal harassment he had experienced earlier, which the Sheriff assured him would end (Doc. 39-1, p. 34).[3] As a result, Navarrete filed a Charge with the EEOC regarding Richards’ comment (Doc. 39-1, p. 56) and Sheriff Hertz recommended that Navarrete be discharged because the threat directed to Richards (Doc. 39-1, p. 57-8). By August 1, 2013, however, Navarrete withdrew the EEOC Charge and apologized to Richards in exchange for the withdrawal of the recommendation that his employment be terminated (Doc. 39-1, p. 59). During this time period, Navarrete was also counseled by this immediate supervisors and Sheriff Hertz about his unfriendly attitude towards his co-workers (Doc. 39-1, pp. 64-71). There is no evidence that any additional offensive comments were made after 2013.

         On August 17, 2015, Navarrete’s supervisors, Sergeant Ridings and Sergeant Sarhage, issued an employee evaluation report in which they stated:

Deputy Navarrete [sic] has worked at the Sheriff’s Office for 7 years. He has a great work ethic, he takes initiative in doing whatever needs to be done. He also has a great working relations with the staff and detainees. He takes pride in every aspect of the job, from his appearance to his performance. (Doc. 39-2, p. 34).

         On November 12, 2015, an inmate, “Govero, ” accused Navarrete of abusing him, by threatening to pepper spray him, compelling him to wear a wet jumpsuit, and encouraging another inmate to assault him (Doc. 35-1).[4] Navarrete denied the allegations and was placed on administrative leave during an investigation by the Illinois State Police (“ISP”). Neither the Sheriff nor administrative officers asked Navarrete about the incident (Doc. 39-1. p. 49). Navarrete disputes the conclusions of the ISP that he threatened Govero with pepper spray or acted inappropriately, and disputes participation in the honey bun hit (Doc. 39-1, pp. 46, 48).

         After the investigation, the Madison County State’s Attorney declined to press charges against Navarrete (Doc. 39-3, pp. 10-11). Sheriff Lakin recommended Navarrete’s termination in a January 16, 2016 letter to the Sheriff’s Merit Commission, citing to a variety of rules violations (Doc. 35-1, pp. 1-2). The letter specifically referred to the November 2015 incident with inmates Govero and Osborn and the August 2013 incident with employee Richards.

         Sheriff Lakin terminated Navarrete’s employment on February 1, 2016 (Doc. 35-1, p. 3). Prior to terminating Navarrete, Lakin was aware of the conclusions of the ISP and the State’s Attorney but had not reviewed their findings (Doc. 39-3, p. 4-5). He also reviewed Navarrete’s personnel file and apparently noted admonitions related to his attitude (Id.). He did not review Navarrete’s employee evaluations or speak to his supervisors (Id.). In determining the facts related to the honey bun/shower incident, Sheriff Lakin relied on the reports of either Captain Joseph or Major Connor, who probably got their information from Govero (Doc. 39-3, p. 5). He based his decision to fire Navarrete on the honey bun incident (which includes the events that took place with Govero ...

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