Seventh Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Two Title VII Lawsuits

Attorneys: Guolee, Terrence F.    Kowalczyk, Larry S.    Lemley, Brandon K.

Related Practices: Appellate


April 22, 2010

This information is a matter of public record. Prior results do not guarantee similar outcomes.

On April 22, 2010, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued opinions in two cases in which Querrey & Harrow’s government team represented the Office of the Sheriff of Cook County. Although the cases arose out of the same series of transactions, they were filed as separate lawsuits and the Plaintiffs made somewhat differing claims.

In Swearnigen-El v. Cook County Sheriff’s Department, No. 09-2709, the Seventh Circuit upheld the ruling of the U.S. District Court in granting the Sheriff employer’s motion for summary judgment in a Title VII action. The plaintiff had been accused in statements by inmates of custodial sexual assault. The Cook County Department of Corrections referred the matter to the Sheriff’s Police Department, which in turn referred the matter to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for further investigation. The State’s Attorney’s Office, after investigation, chose to prosecute the plaintiff. The plaintiff was eventually cleared of the criminal charges.

On a separate track, the Sheriff’s Department initiated disciplinary action against the plaintiff, de-deputizing him and transferring him from the Women’s Division in the jail. Plaintiff resigned after he had been suspended with pay and did not participate in any disciplinary hearings. Plaintiff alleged that he had been constructively discharged and that the job action against him was taken on account of his race, his gender, and statements he claimed were protected by the First Amendment.

The Seventh Circuit ruled that there was no question of fact with respect to plaintiff’s claim of gender discrimination and that he failed to show race discrimination under either the direct or indirect method of proof. Furthermore, plaintiff’s speech in objection to policy was made in his capacity as a public employee and was not constitutionally protected. The court also held that the fact that plaintiff was acquitted of the criminal charges was irrelevant. The oral argument, presented by Dan Gallagher, as well as a copy of the opinion can be found on the Seventh Circuit Court's website within its Oral Arguments section.

In Egonmwan v. Cook County Sheriff’s Department, No. 09-2764, decided on the same date, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s entry of summary judgment on behalf of the Sheriff in plaintiff’s §1983 action. Plaintiff Egonmwan had also been charged with custodial sexual misconduct while employed as a correctional officer in the Cook County Jail’s Women’s Division. He was subsequently terminated after a Merit Board Hearing in which he declined to participate. Plaintiff was acquitted of the criminal charges and brought a lawsuit alleging that the defendants initiated a frivolous criminal prosecution and terminated him because of his gender, race, and protected speech.

In the U.S. District Court, Judge St. Eve granted summary judgment to the defendants. The Sheriff claimed that plaintiff was terminated because of his sexual misconduct, that the State’s Attorney’s Office and not the Sheriff’s Department brought the criminal prosecution, and that plaintiff had failed to raise any question of fact relating to gender or race discrimination.

Congratulations to the government defense team including Daniel F. Gallagher, Terrence Guolee, Larry Kowalczyk and Brandon Lemley for this excellent result.

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