EGONMWAN v. COOK COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT (April 22, 2010)

Iyare Egonmwan was a black male jail guard at the Cook County Jail. In 2001, he was transferred into the women's division. The following year, the female superintendent of the division disciplined him for conduct that had occurred prior to his transfer. Several days later, Egonmwan accused the superintendent of sexual harassment. The claim was investigated and determined to be unfounded. In 2003, during a general investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct between guards and prisoners, a female detainee informed the investigators that she and at least one other prisoner had had a sexual encounter with Egonmwan. Although Egonmwan was acquitted of criminal charges in 2004, an administrative hearing board terminated his employment in January of 2005 for violation of institutional rules. Egonmwan brought suit against, among others, Cook County and the Sheriff's Department. He alleged § 1981 race discrimination and § 1983 gender and race discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. Egonmwan appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Cudahy, Evans, and Sykes affirmed. The Court first affirmed the summary judgment on the gender discrimination claim. Egonmwan proceeded under the direct method but presented only a few isolated remarks by the women's division superintendent. The Court noted that isolated remarks may be sufficient to establish a discriminatory motive, but they must be made by the decision-maker, at the time of the decision, and regarding the decision. Here, the Court doubted (but did not decide) that the superintendent could be considered the decision-maker. It upheld the summary judgment because of the seven to ten month lag between the remarks and the action and the fact that the remarks did not refer to Egonmwan's termination. With respect to the race discrimination claim, the Court concluded that Egonmwan was unable to show that similarly situated non-blacks were treated more favorably or that the defendants' reasons for his termination were not legitimate.