269 F.3d 785 (7th Cir. 2001), 00-1603, Lalvani v Cook County, IL

Docket Nº:00-1603
Citation:269 F.3d 785
Party Name:Prem Lalvani, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Cook County, Illinois, and Robert Coleman, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:October 15, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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Page 785

269 F.3d 785 (7th Cir. 2001)

Prem Lalvani, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Cook County, Illinois, and Robert Coleman, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 00-1603

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 15, 2001

Argued December 4, 2000

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 98 C 2847--Ronald Guzman, Judge.

Page 786

Before Flaum, Chief Judge, and Diane P. Wood and Williams, Circuit Judges.

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Diane P. Wood, Circuit Judge.

Prem Lalvani worked as a social worker for Cook County Hospital (CCH) from 1966 until 1996, when he lost his job as part of an overall reduction in force, or RIF. Believing he had been unfairly selected for termination, he fought back with a lawsuit against Cook County and the Director of the Social Work Department at CCH, Robert Coleman, charging unlawful discrimination, retaliation, and a variety of other federal and state claims. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all of the federal claims and declined to retain jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. Lalvani has appealed only the dismissal of his discrimination claims, his retaliation claim, and his due process claim. While we agree with the district court that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the discrimination and retaliation claims, we conclude that further proceedings are necessary on the due process claim, which we therefore remand.

I

When Lalvani, a man of Asian-Indian descent, began working as a social worker at CCH in 1966, the hospital was under the authority of Cook County. In 1969, control of the hospital was transferred to the Health and Hospitals Governing Commission (HHGC), pursuant to the County Hospitals Governing Commission Act, 1969 Ill. Laws 76-32, codified at Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 34, &#182 &#182 5011 et seq. Four years later, in 1973, while CCH was under HHGC control, CCH promoted Lalvani to the position of Medical Social Worker IV. Effective November 30, 1979, the HHGC was abolished by 1979 Ill. Laws 81-1197, at which time control over CCH was returned to Cook County. The latter statute contained a provision, now codified at 55 ILCS 5/5-37003, stipulating that the Cook County Board of Commissioners was to "have and exercise all rights, powers and duties heretofore exercised by the Commission [i.e., HHGC]. . . . All rights, duties, and obligations of the Commission shall become the rights, duties and obligations of the Board of Commissioners." Id. Since 1979, CCH has remained under the control of Cook County.

Between 1979 and his termination in 1996, Lalvani remained in his Social Worker IV position. In 1989, he applied for a promotion to a vacant Medical Social Worker V position, but he was unsuccessful. He believed the reason was that the selection committee had decided in advance to select an African-American for the position; this belief prompted him to file a grievance with CCH. CCH found no merit in the grievance, but Lalvani pursued it in a race discrimination complaint filed in 1989 with the Illinois Human Rights Commission (HRC). To put it mildly, the HRC took its time in processing the complaint. It was not until approximately six years later that the Commission at last scheduled a hearing on the complaint, which took place before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on May 12, 1995. The ALJ ruled in Lalvani's favor, finding that CCH's failure to promote him had been discriminatory. In the end, however, he did not prevail, as the Commission reversed the ALJ's ruling in January of 1998.

According to Lalvani's evidence, his relationship with management in the Social Work Department deteriorated markedly after he filed his complaint with the Commission. Prior to that time, he had been highly praised and had never been disciplined. Afterwards, between late 1989 and November 1993, he endured a long string of setbacks, including increased work assignments and disparate treatment with respect to matters such as discipline, time

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off, access to resources, and promotions. During this period, he filed several successful grievances against his immediate supervisors. The final incident during this period occurred in November 1993, when Coleman, who was Lalvani's direct supervisor, assigned him to a non- supervisory ward duty position typically assigned to a Social Worker I. This required Lalvani to perform functions normally assigned to employees three rank levels below his. As far as the record reveals, all was then quiet until July of 1995, when Coleman filed written complaints against Lalvani alleging that he was not satisfactorily performing his duties. Lalvani challenged the charges and, rather than pursuing them, Coleman dropped the matter.

In 1996, Cook County engaged in a substantial reduction in force under which it eventually laid off 500 employees county-wide, some of whom worked at CCH. CCH department heads such as Coleman were given strict payroll bud get limits to observe and were instructed to reorganize staffing as necessary to meet their departmental service requirements. Coleman decided to eliminate the only two Social Worker IV positions in his department, along with an Administrative Assistant IV position. At the same time, he chose to retain four vacant Social Worker II positions, and he created a new Assistant Director position for the Department. This reorganization did not reduce the Social Work Department's total salary expenditures, but it obviously reshuffled the content of the jobs. Asked to explain the reorganization at his deposition, Coleman said, "I went by what type of organizational structure do we need in place to best be able to meet our obligation to patient care."

After Coleman and the other department heads made their decisions, letters went out informing the unlucky employees who had been targeted to lose their jobs. On December 7, 1996, the 30-year veteran Lalvani received a letter from Barbara Penn, the CCH Director of Human Resources, bluntly telling him that his position had been eliminated "due to a decrease in budgeted funds for certain departments." The letter went on to say that if his position was Civil Service certified he might be entitled to certain bumping and recall rights and that he should direct any questions to the Department of Human Resources. Lalvani followed that advice and sent a letter requesting clarification...

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