351 F.3d 317 (7th Cir. 2003), 02-3316, Robinson v. Sappington

Docket Nº:02-3316
Citation:351 F.3d 317
Party Name:Robinson v. Sappington
Case Date:December 09, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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351 F.3d 317 (7th Cir. 2003)

Melissa ROBINSON, formerly known as Melissa Schroeder, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Warren A. SAPPINGTON, Judge, Sixth Judicial Circuit, in official capacity and individually, John P. Shonkwiler, Chief Judge, Sixth Judicial Circuit, Macon County Circuit Court, in official capacity and not individually and County of Macon, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 02-3316.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 9, 2003

Argued May 23, 2003.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Melissa M. McGrath (argued), Thomson & Weintraub, Bloomington, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Melissa A. Murphy-Petros (argued), Clausen Miller, Richard S. Huszagh, William P. Hardy (argued), Office of the Attorney General, Chicago, IL, John E. Cassidy, III (argued), Cassidy & Mueller, Peoria, IL, for Defendants-Appellees.

Mary L. Leahy, Springfield, IL, for Amicus Curiae.

Before EASTERBROOK, RIPPLE and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

Melissa Robinson brought this cause of action for hostile work environment sexual harassment and constructive discharge pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Her complaint named her immediate supervisor, Judge Warren A. Sappington, in his individual and official capacities; her purported employer, Macon County, Illinois; and the chief judge of the state judicial circuit in which Judge Sappington sat, Chief Judge John P. Shonkwiler, in his official capacity. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the district court, and we remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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A. Facts 1


Ms. Robinson was hired as a judicial secretary to Judge Warren Sappington, a judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit in Macon County, Illinois, on March 28, 1994. Ms. Robinson, with the other judicial secretaries, was later reclassified as a judicial clerk. That position entailed performing secretarial duties, as well as attending court with the judge to whom she was assigned, handling docket entries and setting dates for cases.

At the time that the legal secretaries became judicial clerks, Janice Shonkwiler, who had been a legal secretary to Judge John Greanias, was named as an "administrative assistant." R.262, Ex.14 at 87. Although Janice Shonkwiler, in her new capacity, did not supervise the judicial clerks' daily activities, they "were told that [they] report to her." Id. Janice Shonkwiler reported directly to Judge Greanias, presiding judge for Macon County Circuit Court. Judge John P. Shonkwiler 2 was the chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, the circuit that included Macon County; however, Judge Shonkwiler's chambers were not in Macon County.


When Ms. Robinson began her employment with the Macon County Circuit Court, she enjoyed a good working relationship with Judge Sappington. However, beginning in July 1996, Judge Sappington began inquiring frequently about Ms. Robinson's personal life, specifically her relationship with her husband. When Ms. Robinson informed Judge Sappington that she was separating from her husband and seeking a divorce, Judge Sappington urged her not to become sexually promiscuous and offered to buy her a vibrator so that she would not "mess[ ] around." R.262, Ex.14 at 28. Ms. Robinson turned "very red" from embarrassment, informed Judge Sappington that she did not like to discuss such topics and left the room. Id. at 30-31.

Also beginning in July, Judge Sappington started telling Ms. Robinson on a daily basis that she was beautiful. Ms. Robinson estimates that Judge Sappington said this approximately 50 to 100 times between the months of July and November 1996. During the same time period, Judge Sappington referred to Ms. Robinson as a "blond Demi Moore" approximately twenty-five times and, on occasion, called her a golden goddess. Id. at 82.

In August 1996, for a period of several weeks, Judge Sappington shook Ms. Robinson's hand on a daily basis, both in the morning when they arrived and in the evening before he left. When Ms. Robinson asked Judge Sappington why he was doing this, Judge Sappington stated that he would no longer shake her hand because he realized that he was doing it for physical contact with her, which was inappropriate.

August 1996 marked two other incidents of note. On one occasion, Ms. Robinson was in the courtroom scheduling court dates with attorneys when Judge Sappington summoned Ms. Robinson to his office.

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He told her that he did not like the attorneys speaking to her. When Ms. Robinson asked why, Judge Sappington commented that she was "a very beautiful woman" and that "they're talking to you today ... because of the fact that you wore a thin bra and that [your] nipples were showing." Id. at 33. Ms. Robinson, believing that she was dressed professionally and not perceiving any objectionable behavior on the part of the attorneys, was very embarrassed by Judge Sappington's comments. The incident nearly brought her to tears, and she rushed home to change her clothes.

On another occasion in August 1996, Judge Sappington called Ms. Robinson into his office and went into a tirade because he believed she was involved romantically with an attorney who frequently was in the courthouse. 3 When Ms. Robinson questioned Judge Sappington as to why he felt he had the right to inquire about the men she saw, Judge Sappington replied that he could not stand the thought of Ms. Robinson with any other man. He further elaborated that he had been drinking over the weekend and that he "was dealing with issues" concerning "his feelings" towards Ms. Robinson and his own mortality. Id. at 42. He also acknowledged that his feelings for Ms. Robinson were "inappropriate." Id. at 43-44. Ms. Robinson suggested to Judge Sappington that he get his feelings under control lest he endanger his relationship with his wife.

By September of 1996, it became a courthouse rumor that the relationship between Judge Sappington and Ms. Robinson was something more than professional. Judge Sappington told Ms. Robinson that he wanted to kiss her in front of the courthouse staff in response to the rumors. Ms. Robinson expressed disgust at the remark and, knowing that Judge Sappington purported to be a religious man, suggested that he should seek forgiveness for such a remark. See id. at 68-69. Judge Sappington laughed at her suggestion.

On September 9, 1996, Ms. Robinson was in the courtroom with Judge Sappington. During the proceedings, a woman had testified that "she had kind of moved around from guy to guy." Id. at 49. After Judge Sappington and Ms. Robinson returned to chambers, Ms. Robinson was placing files on Judge Sappington's desk when he grabbed her face. Ms. Robinson testified that "he brought my face up so that I made eye contact, and he told me that he wanted me to look into his eyes so that I fully understood what he was saying.... He told me if he ever found out I was shacking up with anybody, he would kill me." Id. at 49-50.

Less than two weeks later, Ms. Robinson had another troubling encounter with Judge Sappington. On September 18, 1996, an attorney approached Ms. Robinson and told her that another judge in the courthouse, Judge John Davis, was upset with instructions that she (Ms. Robinson) had given a litigant. Ms. Robinson related the conversation to Judge Sappington, and Judge Sappington "asked ... if any sexual remarks had been made"; Ms. Robinson responded that they had not. Id. at 71. At that point, Judge Sappington told Ms. Robinson about a conversation that he had with Judge Davis a few weeks prior. According to Ms. Robinson, "Judge Davis asked him [Judge Sappington] if Judge Sappington wanted me to sit on his face .... And Judge Sappington said that he remarked, yes, he wanted me to sit on his

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face." Id. at 73. The day after he related the comment to Ms. Robinson, Judge Sappington brought up the comment again and asked if she had any questions about the comment. Ms. Robinson replied that she did not.

Near the end of September, the judicial clerk for Judge Scott Diamond became ill. During that time, Judge Diamond came to speak to Judge Sappington. Ms. Robinson testified that, "when he came up, I told him that I knew his clerk was gone, if he was getting behind and if he needed me in any way that I would help him." Id. at 78. A few days later, when Ms. Robinson went into Judge Sappington's office to inform him that she was going to Judge Diamond's office to pick up some paperwork,

[Judge Sappington] took one of the files that I set on his desk, flung it over his desk, his coffee cup went flying across the room and into a metal cabinet. He started yelling at me, ... telling me that he would not allow me to work for any other judge in that building ever, and he went storming out of the office.

Id. at 79. Ms. Robinson was "visibly upset" by Judge Sappington's outburst. Id.

During the months of August and September, Judge Sappington also closely monitored Ms. Robinson's actions and company. Judge Sappington would note where Ms. Robinson's car was parked and whom she was parked next to; he also would put money in her parking meter for her. When Ms. Robinson went to lunch with another coworker, but without Judge Sappington, Judge Sappington would watch her from his office window. Judge Sappington also kept track of Ms. Robinson's activities outside the courthouse. For instance, when Ms. Robinson spent the weekend at her mother's farm in September, Judge Sappington--a private pilot--flew over her mother's house several times.


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