Oest v. IL Dept. of Corrections, 99-3883

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Citation240 F.3d 605
Docket NumberNo. 99-3883,99-3883
Parties(7th Cir. 2001) FAYE M. OEST, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Defendant-Appellee
Decision Date14 February 2001

Page 605

240 F.3d 605 (7th Cir. 2001)
FAYE M. OEST, Plaintiff-Appellant,
No. 99-3883
In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit
Argued September 18, 2000
Decided February 14, 2001

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 97 C 1339--Joe Billy McDade, Chief Judge.

Page 606

Before EASTERBROOK, RIPPLE and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

Faye Oest worked as a correctional officer for the Illinois Department of Corrections ("Department") until she was discharged under the Department's progressive discipline system. In this action, she alleges that the Department violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000e et seq., when it (1) discriminated

Page 607

against her on the basis of sex and (2) discharged her in retaliation for her earlier filing of a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The district court granted summary judgment for the Department. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.



Ms. Oest began working for the Department as a correctional officer in January 1992. She was employed at the Hanna City Work Camp in Hanna City, Illinois, until her discharge for cause in November 1995, effective January 1996.

All correctional officers are supervised by lieutenants and, above them, captains. Lieutenants Pelphrey and Holley always supervised Ms. Oest; the supervising captain varied. Captain Reynolds, in his role as internal affairs officer, conducted many of the investigations into Ms. Oest's alleged misconduct, as well as supervised her during her probationary period when she first began her employment with the Department. In this latter role, he conducted her final probationary evaluation and recommended that Ms. Oest not be certified as a correctional officer, the first time he ever had made such a recommendation. He found problematic Ms. Oest's attendance, her miscounts of inmates, and her difficulty relating to and following the orders of Department staff. The warden's office, however, instructed Captain Reynolds to remove his negative conclusion from Ms. Oest's evaluation.


The Department utilizes a progressive system of discipline under which management employs various measures of correction and discipline as infractions accrue. The process starts with lesser measures, such as oral or written reprimands; additional violations precipitate suspensions and eventually termination.

During her period of employment at the camp, Ms. Oest consistently received negative performance evaluations. She also was given many reprimands and suspensions for violating the Department's standards of conduct. Keeping in mind the importance of the temporal relationship of the various events in Ms. Oest's employment history, we shall chronicle the principal incidents leading to Ms. Oest's discharge.

1. Events prior to filing of EEOC charge

In June 1992, Ms. Oest gave a co-worker an oversized condom as a "joke" and later received a written reprimand from Captain Reynolds for this action. During the same period, in July 1992, Captain Reynolds gave her an oral reprimand for miscounting inmates. Ms. Oest was also required in July to account for the number of sick days she had used, even though she had a doctor's statement for all but one of the days taken.

In January 1993, Ms. Oest received counseling after Lieutenant Pelphrey wrote her up for failing to confiscate a visitor's car keys. Ms. Oest contends that the visitor did not have the keys in her possession when she was searched. In May 1993, Captain Roach asked Ms. Oest to have an inmate redo a cleaning assignment that she had supervised, a request apparently not given to other correctional officers.

Ms. Oest was next referred for discipline by Lieutenant Pelphrey in November 1993 for failing to present on a timely basis a slip from her physician concerning a medical restriction. Ms. Oest claims that she received a one-day suspension for the infraction, although Department records indicate that only a written reprimand was dispensed.

Page 608

In January 1994, Ms. Oest received a three-day suspension for allegedly ignoring a request in December 1993 to search a female visitor. Ms. Oest was referred for discipline after Officer Barclay, a co-worker, reported that she had refused Lieutenant Holley's order to search the visitor.1 Ms. Oest maintains that she did not disobey an order to search nor was she ever given a direct order to do so.

On January 24, 1994,2 Ms. Oest requested a four-hour "turnaround," a request at the beginning of a shift to substitute accrued sick days or other time off for a scheduled work period. The request is usually, but not always, granted if ten other officers are available. Although other officers were present on the day in question, Lieutenant Pelphrey denied Ms. Oest's request. Ms. Oest did, however, receive turnarounds on other occasions.

Ms. Oest also submits that various officers repeatedly requested to see her badge; she received, on numerous occasions, counseling sessions for not displaying the badge on her coat. Her male counterparts, she claims, were not similarly disciplined when they omitted their badges from their work attire. Ms. Oest also alleges that she, but not others, was repeatedly asked if she had the proper number of stripes on her coat. Yet some evidence exists that these types of queries often occurred at role call, when the supervisors could not see the shorter Ms. Oest standing behind taller correctional officers.

Ms. Oest also alleges other instances of discriminatory treatment. She contends that she was often criticized for initiating assignments without consulting her supervisors. At other times, she was reprimanded for lack of initiative and for asking too many questions. Ms. Oest also mentions that she was once required to search inmates in the rain. The record indicates, however, that Ms. Oest was responsible for watching the camp's main gate that day; conducting the search outside permitted her to watch the gate at the same time. Further, a male officer similarly had been ordered to search inmates in the rain. Ms. Oest claims that Lieutenant Pelphrey once asked her how many inmates she had shaken down and that he became "violently upset" when she responded that she would have kept count if he had requested it. R.31, Oest Dep. at 86. To her knowledge, no male officers were asked the same question.

Ms. Oest took a leave of absence from March until July 1994. During this period, on June 21, 1994, she filed a charge with the EEOC, alleging that the Department had discriminated against her because of her sex.

2. Events after filing of EEOC charge


Lieutenant Sisson, an internal affairs investigator, was assigned to investigate Ms. Oest's EEOC complaint. He interviewed Captain Reynolds and Lieutenants Holley and Pelphrey, among others, in December 1994. In those meetings, Lieutenants Holley and Pelphrey expressed concern that the Department's employee review board had not sufficiently considered the disciplinary referrals they had submitted regarding Ms. Oest. Lieutenant Sisson responded that better "documentation" would provide the board with the necessary information to assess the recommendations. R.31, Sisson Dep. at 46. He noted that their referral packages to the board often omitted relevant information, testimony, or evidence. Lieutenant Sisson suggested, therefore, that Lieutenants Holley and Pelphrey submit more complete reports in the future to remedy these "shortcomings in procedure." Id. at 42.

Page 609

During this period, two of the lieutenants wrote letters to the internal affairs division in which they set forth their views on Ms. Oest's performance. Lieutenant Pelphrey wrote a letter in late 1994 or early 1995 in which he alleged that Ms. Oest showed signs of mental instability and was "stalking" her supervisors. R.31, Ex.C at 2. Lieutenant Pelphrey wrote that the "environment that this employee [Ms. Oest] creates is nothing less than frightening." Id. In that letter, Lieutenant Pelphrey also describes a meeting that took place on October 27, 1994, at which Lieutenant Holley stated that Lieutenant Pelphrey and he "could not effectively supervise [Ms. Oest] under the constant threat of legal action." R.31, Ex.C at 1. According to Lieutenant Pelphrey's letter, that statement was "followed by either she goes or we go." Id. Lieutenant Holley also authored a memo to internal affairs in early January 1995. He questioned whether Ms. Oest had passed her agility test and wrote that the supervisors' "authority and supervisory skills have been emasculated by upper management." R.31, Ex.D at 2.


Subsequent to Ms. Oest's filing of the EEOC complaint, she was written up for various minor infractions, but at least two of those reports were withdrawn. In February 1995, Captain Gossett wrote up Ms. Oest for insufficiently cleaning a van, an infraction for which she received a three-day suspension in March. Ms. Oest claims, however, that the vehicle did not need further cleaning.

Ms. Oest's step increase was withheld for failure to meet Department objectives on April 1, 1995, and she took various leaves of absence from April to July 1995.

Lieutenant Pelphrey issued Ms. Oest a written reprimand in September 1995 for redoing a roster on her personal computer at home in contravention of policy prohibiting the removal of confidential information from the work site. She received a seven-day suspension. According to Ms. Oest, Captain Gossett knew she was redoing the roster and had given her permission to do so.

Also in September 1995, Ms. Oest was referred for discipline by Lieutenant Pelphrey and Captain Ward; in October, she was issued a ten-day suspension for permitting the unauthorized movement of an inmate.


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