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Uhlir v. City of Wheaton

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

December 13, 2019

Jill Uhlir, Plaintiff,
City of Wheaton, Defendant.


          Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jill Uhlir sues the City of Wheaton, Illinois (“the City”), alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. Uhlir, an officer of the Wheaton Police Department (“WPD”), claims that the City discriminated against her on the basis of her sex and her age by declining to promote her to the rank of sergeant. The City seeks summary judgment as to both of Uhlir's claims. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is granted.


         Uhlir began working for the WPD as a patrol officer in 1998. Beginning in 2010 or 2011, she was permitted to act as an Officer in Charge (“OIC”), a position in which an officer performs the basic duties of a sergeant when a shift's primary sergeant is not present. In 2011, Uhlir applied for promotion to the rank of sergeant. Participants in the WPD's promotional process are required to undergo a series of tests, and those who pass are placed on an eligibility list for a two-year period. When a position becomes available, the WPD's Chief of Police selects individuals from the list to serve for one year as a probationary sergeant. If the candidate performs satisfactorily during that period, her or she is promoted to the rank of sergeant.

         Uhlir applied for the sergeant position in 2011, 2013, and 2015. Each time, she earned a spot on the eligibility list. She was not selected in 2011 (no candidates were selected that year) or in 2013 (two other candidates were selected). In 2015, however, she and another officer, Brian Gabryel, were chosen from a list of four candidates. Uhlir was selected by James Volpe, who had become the City's Police Chief in November 2015. Uhlir was the first female in the WPD's history to be promoted to probationary sergeant. As of the events at issue here, the WPD had never had a female sergeant, lieutenant, deputy chief, or chief.[1]

         Uhlir's probationary period began in February 2016, and her performance was assessed on a quarterly basis. Lieutenant Bill Cooley supervised Uhlir for the first two quarters; Lieutenant Tom Heidank supervised her for the second two quarters. Cooley and Heidank prepared quarterly evaluation memos assessing Uhlir's performance in five key areas: Teamwork; Job Knowledge; Communication; Accountability/Responsibility; and Leadership Capability. Uhlir's quarterly evaluations were reviewed with her and signed by her.

         Each of Uhlir's evaluations noted a number of deficiencies in her performance. Although she received an “Exceeded Standards” rating in the Teamwork category, and a “Meets Standards” rating in the Accountability/Responsibility category, Uhlir received a “Needs Improvement” rating in the categories of Job Knowledge, Communication, and Leadership Capability. See Uhlir Dep. Ex. 11 at PLT712. Although the problems identified in her evaluations varied in severity, a number of them were regarded as serious.

         In December 2016, Cooley and Heidank summarized their quarterly evaluations in a joint memo (“the Summary Memo”), which recommended that Uhlir's probationary period “be terminated unsatisfactorily.” Id. at PLT721. The following is a summary of the performance issues highlighted in the memos.

         First Quarter

• On February 7, 2016, Uhlir and three other officers responded to a home invasion call. Because the dispatcher gave them the incorrect address, they initially arrived at the wrong home. After discovering the mistake, the other officers proceeded to the correct address, but Uhlir stayed behind briefly to smooth things over with the homeowner. Following the incident, Cooley told Uhlir that she should have gone to the correct address immediately with the other officers, explaining that since four suspects were believed to have been involved in the home invasion, the officers were at a numerical disadvantage without her.
• On March 20, 2016, Uhlir responded to a call involving an apparently mentally ill individual at a convenience store who had stated that he wanted to hurt someone. Although the dispatcher had sent officers to provide backup assistance, Uhlir called them off and confronted the person alone. After the incident, Cooley told Uhlir that she should not have called off the backup and that handling the situation with other officers would have been safer than handling it alone.
• On April 28, 2016, another WPD officer, Michael Schumaker, complained that Uhlir had made disparaging remarks about him during the morning roll call. According to Schumaker, another officer told him that Uhlir had commented that she found Schumaker disgusting because of his excessive sweating. Cooley discussed the matter with Uhlir and reported that she “took full responsibility for her actions and apologized to the officer, ” adding that she “was accepting of the coaching and maintained a positive attitude.” Uhlir Dep. Ex. 11 at 162.
• Cooley observed that Uhlir's “critical incident reviews” had been returned multiple times for corrections and had not been submitted in a timely fashion. He cites one review relating to an incident that occurred on February 22, 2016, but was not submitted until April 14, 2016, despite several reminders. Id.

         Second ...

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