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Derden v. Cook County Sheriff's Office

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

October 1, 2019

Hazel L. Derden, Plaintiff,
v.
Cook County Sheriff's Office, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Thomas M. Durkin Judge

         Hazel Derden, represented by counsel, alleges that she was discriminated and retaliated against by her employer, the Cook County Sheriff's Office, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, she claims that: (1) the Sheriff failed to promote her in 2016 because she is black; and (2) the Sheriff retaliated against her because she was named as a witness in a colleague's EEOC complaint.[1]The Sheriff has moved for summary judgment. R. 59. That motion is granted.

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Court considers the entire evidentiary record and must view all of the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Horton v. Pobjecky, 883 F.3d 941, 948 (7th Cir. 2018). To defeat summary judgment, a nonmovant must produce more than a “mere scintilla of evidence” and come forward with “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Johnson v. Advocate Health and Hosps. Corp., 892 F.3d 887, 894, 896 (7th Cir. 2018). Ultimately, summary judgment is warranted only if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         Analysis

         I. Discrimination

          To defeat summary judgment on her discrimination claim, Derden must show that she was not promoted because she is black. See LaRiviere v. Bd. of Trustees of S. Ill. Univ., 926 F.3d 356, 359 (7th Cir. 2019) (“In racial discrimination suits, the question we seek to answer is whether a reasonable juror could conclude that [the defendant] would have kept her job if she had a different ethnicity, and everything else had remained the same.”). Since she has no direct evidence supporting her claim, Derden relies on the burden shifting method of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). “Under that framework, [the plaintiff] has the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation, which involves showing that ‘(1) she is a member of a protected class, (2) her job performance met [the employer's] legitimate expectations, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) another similarly situated individual who was not in the protected class was treated more favorably than the plaintiff.'” LaRiviere, 926 F.3d at 360.

         The Sheriff argues that there is no evidence that a similarly situated person who is not black was promoted. Derden argues that two of the three people who were promoted were white. But she also admits that both of those people had higher scores in the point system the Sheriff uses to determine promotions. See R. 60 at 7 (¶ 29); R. 65 at 3 (¶ 29). (Derden does not claim that this ranking process itself is discriminatory.) The two white employees who were promoted were ranked first and second in the point system. Derden ranked thirteenth. Because the two white employees who the Sheriff promoted scored higher in the rankings, Derden has failed to establish a prima facie case that she was similarly situated to the employees who were promoted.

         The Sheriff's regulations also permit the Sheriff to make a discretionary promotion outside the score ranking system in certain circumstances. In accordance with this regulation, the Sheriff promoted a black woman who scored 32nd. See R. 60-10 at 4. Derden argues that this is evidence of discrimination against her. But since Derden and the woman who scored 32nd are both black, the preferential treatment given to the other woman at Derden's expense is not evidence of racial discrimination.

         Therefore, summary judgment on Derden's discrimination claim is granted to the Sheriff.

         II. Retaliation

         Derden also alleges that the Sheriff retaliated against her because she was named as a witness in a colleague's EEOC complaint. Derden claims that the Sheriff took the following actions in retaliation: (1) denying her access to the payroll system; (2) forcing her to work with a reduced staff; (3) threatening her with “write-ups”; (4) denying her use of “lunch premiums” (a term explained below); (5) ordering her to require her subordinates to wear certain uniforms; (6) disciplining her for failing to perform tasks assigned by an email sent on her day-off; and (7) denying her the opportunity to attend certain meetings.

         To defeat summary judgment on a retaliation claim, a plaintiff must show that “(1) she engaged in a statutorily protected activity; (2) she performed her job according to her employer's legitimate expectations; (3) despite her satisfactory job performance, the employer took an adverse action against her; and (4) she was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees who did not engage in statutorily protected activity.” Rozumalski v. W.F. Baird & Assocs., Ltd., 2019 WL 3955383, at *4 (7th Cir. Aug. 22, 2019). The Sheriff argues that Derden has failed to present evidence of protected activity, adverse action, or causation.

         A. ...


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