Gabeau v. Starnes, Case No. 18-cv-2114-SMY

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. Southern District of Illinois
Writing for the CourtYANDLE, District Judge
PartiesCOURTNEY GABEAU, Plaintiff, v. WILLIAM STARNES, in both his Individual and Official Capacity, FAYETTE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, and FAYETTE COUNTY, ILLINOIS , Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 18-cv-2114-SMY
Decision Date03 August 2020

WILLIAM STARNES, in both his Individual and Official Capacity,

Case No. 18-cv-2114-SMY


August 3, 2020


YANDLE, District Judge:

Plaintiff Courtney Gabeau filed the instant lawsuit against Defendants William Starnes, Fayette County Circuit Court, and Fayette County, Illinois, asserting violations of Title VII, the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"), and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants move for summary judgment (Doc. 75), which Gabeau opposes (Doc. 76). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.

Factual Background

Construed in the light most favorable to Gabeau, the evidence and reasonable inferences establish the following facts relevant to the pending summary judgment motions: Courtney Gabeau was hired as the deputy felony clerk in the Fayette County Circuit Clerk's Office in August 2015 (Doc. 75-1, p. 35, p. 41). Her job duties included creating files, filing motions, updating all criminal records in the Judicial Information Management Services ("JIMS") and attending the criminal court calls. Id. at pp. 35-36. Defendant William Starnes was appointed Fayette County

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Public Defender in September 2016 and began work in that position on November 1, 2016. (Doc. 75-5, p. 16). Gabeau was transferred to the public defender's office on December 1, 2016, where she worked as Starnes' secretary. Id.

Gabeau alleges she was sexually harassed by Starnes on four occasions; December 13, 2016, January 4, 2017, February 6, 2017, and February 15, 2017. She kept a running ledger of the comments titled "Inappropriate comments made by William B. Starnes to his secretary" and made an entry after each comment. She used her work computer but kept the document on a flash drive so that it would not be found on the hard drive (Doc. 75-1, pp. 134-137, 140-141). Gabeau's father advised her to keep the ledger until the situation reached a point where she needed to report the comments. Id. at pp. 136-137, 142-143, 152.

Gabeau made the following entry to the ledger on December 13, 2016 (Comment #1):

"On my desktop background for my work computer, I have a picture of my boyfriend and I at his dad's house for Thanksgiving. William was standing behind me waiting for his coffee to brew and he said, 'It looks like you're taking it from behind,' referencing the background picture. My response was 'no, that is definitely not what it looks like or it that what's happening.'" (Doc. 75-8; Doc. 75-1, p. 138).

According to Gabeau, after her response, Starnes "looked like a deer in headlights" and walked away. Id. He never made another comment about the photo. Id. For the next three weeks, Starnes and Gabeau had normal and civil work-related conversations without inappropriate comments or incidents. Id., pp. 143-144.

The following entry was made on January 4, 2017 (Comment #2):

"William Starnes has come in from the courtroom into our office. On the case file, I have wrote "FAWC/PH", which stands for first appearance with counsel/preliminary hearing. This acronym is used in the Circuit Clerk's office and also in the Judge's docket entries. William looked at me from the doorway and said, 'we need to find a different saying because this sounds like fuck, and I didn't know if that was an invitation or not.' My response

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was 'no that was not and that was inappropriate.'" (Doc. 75-8; Doc. 75-1, p. 145).

Starnes never brought up this topic again and he and Gabeau had professional work-related conversations until the next incident occurred on February 6, 2017 (Doc. 75-1, pp. 154-155) (Comment #3):

"William Starnes and I were discussing a client and his place of employment at PETCO in St. Elmo, Illinois. I explained to William that my boyfriend's father was employed at PETCO until he broke his back and further explained that he tore his abdominal wall. The doctors repaired his abdomen and the joke in the family is that we refer to his stomach as an alien. After I finished my explanation, William Starnes made the comment, 'I can't imagine having sex with that,' and my response was, 'um, no, that was inappropriate, and I don't want to know that!'" (Doc. 75-8, Doc. 75-1, pp. 155-156).

Nine days later (February 15, 2017), Gabeau made the following entry (Comment #4):

"William Starnes at 8:25 a.m. closed our office door and said, 'I need to ask you a question.' I proceeded to answer, 'Okay, what's up?' William leaned over the chair and asked me, 'Do you have a thing going on with Judge Sheafor?' My response was, 'No, I do not! Judge Sheafor always says hi, how are you, ever since I have worked here, which was two years. From being in the courtroom every day for six months with Judge Sheafor, we always converse with one another. But no there is nothing going on between him and I.' William's response was 'I did not figure there was, but I wanted to ask, beings that this is [Judge Sheafor's] third time in the last eight days coming to our office to say hi.' I just stared at him with no response" (Doc. 75-8; Doc. 75-1, pp. 169-170).

The February 15, 2017 incident was the "straw that broke the camel's back" and Gabeau reported the incidents to Circuit Clerk Kathy Emerick. (Doc. 75-1, p. 172). Emerick called Victim Witness Coordinator Kira Palmer and County Clerk Vicki Conder (Doc. 75-3, pp. 108-109; Doc. 75-4, pp. 54-55; Doc. 75-9, p. 44; Doc. 75-12, p. 15). Gabeau gave a copy of her ledger to Conder (Doc. 75-1, pp. 188-89), and Conder contacted Sheriff Chris Smith and gave him the ledger (Doc. 75-9, pp. 46-47).

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Sheriff Smith, Chief Deputy Larry Halleman, Joshua Morrison, and Judge M. Don Sheafor met, reviewed the allegations, and discussed what to do (Doc. 75-2, ¶¶ 50-52). They then met with Gabeau to interview her about the incidents (Doc. 75-1, pp. 194-196). Gabeau told the group that Starnes did not touch her and stated that if he had, "this would have been an entirely different conversation and ...I would have kicked him in the balls." (Doc. 75-1, p. 191). The group discussed Starnes' comments, confirmed no touching had occurred and agreed to send Gabeau home with pay while they investigated (Doc. 75-1, pp. 198-201; Doc. 75-6, pp. 67-68, 79-80, Doc. 75-2, ¶54).

The next day, Judge Sheafor interviewed Gabeau while Halleman took notes (Doc. 75-2, ¶¶ 55-65). After the interview, Judge Sheafor asked Emerick and Conder if there were openings in any county offices, but neither had openings (Doc. 75-2, ¶¶ 65-69). Judge Sheafor asked Conder if she could put Gabeau to work on a temporary basis while the investigation was pending and reiterated that it would not be a permanent position; Conder agreed (Doc. 75-2, ¶¶ 70-71; Doc. 75-9, p. 61). Judge Sheafor told Gabeau to report to work in the...

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