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Lewis v. Henneman

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

May 24, 2018

JAMES A. LEWIS, Plaintiff,

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff James A. Lewis, a prisoner currently incarcerated at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (WSPF), brings this lawsuit alleging that defendants, WSPF officials Chad Henneman, Lorie Iverson, and Laurie Neuroth, harassed and disciplined Lewis in retaliation for his complaining about sexual harassment by Henneman. I granted Lewis leave to proceed on First Amendment retaliation and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claims against defendants. Defendants move for summary judgment. Dkt. 28. Lewis asks for leave to file a sur-reply to address new facts raised in defendants' reply. Dkt. 80. I will grant his motion so that I may consider the full record and arguments.

         The record shows that Lewis was subjected to job-related discipline for reasons that might not have been fully legitimate. Henneman in particular may have treated Lewis poorly. But on the legal merits, I must grant defendants' motion for summary judgment. Lewis has not presented evidence that defendants were motivated by Lewis's First Amendment activity, so Lewis's retaliation claims against the defendants fail. Lewis cannot base a class-of-one equal protection claim on a discretionary employment decision, so his claims against Iverson and Neuroth fail. And finally, Henneman is entitled to qualified immunity because it is not clearly established that Henneman's conduct reports violated Lewis's rights under the Equal Protection Clause.


         The following facts are undisputed, except where noted.

         In December 2014, Lewis got a prison job as a kitchen worker in the WSPF kitchen. Defendant Chad Henneman worked in the kitchen as a corrections food service leader; defendant Laurie Neuroth was a food service manager; and defendant Lorie Iverson was the food service administrator.

         In March 2015, Lewis received his first performance evaluation from Iverson. She gave him a score of 30 out of 33 possible points, which was “above average.” Dkt. 31-1, at 1. Later that month, she promoted him to kitchen worker advanced and gave him a raise, effective March 29. On April 13, Iverson gave Lewis a second raise and backdated it so that it was effective March 29, too. During these early months of work, Lewis got along well with Henneman-Henneman even taught Lewis how to play euchre. Lewis also trained incoming workers. Each defendant agrees that at that time, Lewis was a good worker.

         But soon after that, Lewis's work relationship with Henneman began to deteriorate. On April 15, Henneman reported that Lewis “became argumentative, distracting, [and] disruptive at work [and] began to take everything literally when taking directions.” Dkt. 31-15, at 3. Lewis agrees that Henneman made this report, but states that Henneman was the one causing problems, not Lewis: Henneman ordered Lewis not to talk to the other inmate workers, and Lewis complied, but Henneman then complained that Lewis didn't tell the other inmate workers when they were making mistakes.

         According to Lewis, in May 2015 he was bent over in the kitchen when Henneman saw him and said, “Mmm, Mr. Lewis, what an interesting view.” Dkt. 48, ¶ 7. Lewis interpreted this as a sexual comment and “got angry and cursed Henneman out.” Id. ¶ 8. Defendants say this episode never occurred.

         According to Lewis, “[f]rom that moment on, Henneman started harassing” him. Id. ¶ 9. For example, Henneman would assign extra tasks to Lewis, especially undesirable tasks like cleaning up after the other kitchen workers. Lewis reported this harassment to Iverson, Neuroth, and Anthony Broadbent (a WSPF unit manager). He also told his daughter, Tiffany Lewis, about Henneman's harassment. Tiffany called Iverson in “May or June of 2015, ” and Iverson told her “she would handle the situation.” Dkt. 57, ¶ 6.

         On May 27, Henneman reported in a “behavior log” that Lewis “gets annoyed with work rules in the kitchen or with decisions made by staff then complains loudly and attempts to do what he wants to, not what staff tell him to do.” Dkt. 31-15, at 3. The same day, Henneman sent an email to Iverson and Neuroth stating, “Lewis is increasingly becoming hostile and agitated at what he perceives to be slights and his overworking.” Dkt. 76-1, at 1.

         On June 28, Henneman reported that Lewis “became very animated and disruptive when he smelled gas 10 minutes into his work shift in the kitchen and began pleading with staff to send him back.” Dkt. 31-15, at 3.

         On July 30, Henneman reported that Lewis “can have very good work performances when he wants to work [but] at other times, is very slow and intentionally slow to get out of work.” Id. The same day, Henneman wrote Lewis a conduct report and sent him back from work “for becoming a disruption and for arguing with staff.” Id. Lebbeus Brown, a WSPF captain, reviewed the conduct report, including Lewis's statement contesting Henneman's accusations, and found Lewis guilty of inadequate work performance and disruptive conduct.

         In early August, Lewis filed a grievance complaining of Henneman's “harassment and unfair treatment.” Dkt. 31-3, at 6. The grievance was rejected as outside the scope of the grievance procedure-in other words, Lewis should have appealed the conduct report rather than written a grievance about it. Sometime that same month, Lewis's daughter Tiffany called Iverson a second time; Iverson “explained that [Lewis] and Mr. Henneman just had a personality conflict.” Dkt. 57, ¶ 7.

         On August 25, Henneman yelled at Lewis about a mistake until another inmate worker admitted that he made the mistake. On August 26, Henneman reported that Lewis “does not take orders well.” Dkt. 31-15, at 3.

         On August 31, Lewis filed another grievance, complaining that on August 25 he “was again the target of Mr. Henneman's bullying.” Dkt. 31-4, at 5. The inmate complaint examiner spoke to Iverson about the grievance and rejected the grievance as moot because Iverson said she “already addressed this issue.” Id. at 3.

         On October 7, Henneman reported that Lewis “does not make good use of his time, attempts to leave work early so that he can go to law library even though he is still scheduled to be at work.” Dkt. 31-15, at 2. According to Lewis, another corrections food service leader had told Lewis that he could leave work early to go to the law ...

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