United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO
JOSEPH United States Magistrate Judge.
Alexander, a former Section Chief for the Wisconsin
Department of Children and Family Services
(“DCF”), sues DCF, former Deputy Secretary of DCF
Lisa Marks, DCF's former in-house counsel Mary Burke
(collectively the “State Defendants”), and Steve
F. Taylor, a private citizen, for violations of the First and
Fourteenth Amendments, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; civil
conspiracy, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); state common-law
wrongful termination; and state tortious interference with
relationships. Taylor and the State Defendants move to
dismiss Alexander's conspiracy count on the grounds that
it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Taylor also moves under Rule
12(b)(6) to dismiss Alexander's tortious interference
count. For the reasons that follow, the defendants'
motions are denied.
to the Amended Complaint, in 2012, Deanna Alexander was
elected to serve on the Milwaukee County Board of
Supervisors. (First Amended Complaint ¶ 4009, Docket #
30.) A few years later, in the summer of 2016, she was hired
as a Section Chief for the Wisconsin Department of Children
and Family Services. (Id. ¶ 4006.) Alexander
continued to serve as a County Supervisor while employed with
DCF. (Id. ¶¶ 4011-15.) At DCF,
Alexander's direct supervisor was Division Administrator
Robin Joseph. (Id. ¶¶ 4015, 4019, 4022,
4026.) Joseph, in turn, directly reported to the
Secretary's Office of DCF. (Id. ¶ 4019.) In
April 2017, then-Governor Scott Walker appointed Lisa Marks
as the Deputy Secretary of DCF. (Id. ¶ 4030.)
Marks and Governor Walker had previously “worked
closely together in Milwaukee County government.”
(Id. ¶ 4031.)
employment with DCF was going well-she consistently received
positive performance evaluations and praise from Joseph-until
early 2018, when Marks and Steve Taylor, then a Milwaukee
County Supervisor, allegedly began scheming as to how to
unlawfully oust Alexander from her State job. (Id.
¶¶ 4027-29, 4051.) Alexander states that Taylor is
a Republican and a close political ally of Governor Walker,
(id. ¶ 4053), and that Walker, Marks, and
Taylor worked closely together and were connected politically
during Walker's time as Milwaukee County Executive.
(Id. ¶ 4033.)
March 28, 2018, Alexander wrote an article speaking out
against the sexual harassment and sex discrimination she had
allegedly experienced at the hands of Taylor. (Id.
¶ 4052.) The article explained in detail how Taylor had
refused to participate in a meeting involving government
officials until Alexander, the only female, left the room and
how, after the meeting, Taylor told Alexander she could go
into the room “if she wanted ‘sloppy
seconds.'” (Id. ¶ 4056.) The article
also expressed Alexander's support for Taylor's
Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, Patti Logsdon.
(Id. ¶ 4058.) Alexander's article garnered
significant media attention and resulted in other County
officials and citizens standing in unity with her.
(Id. ¶¶ 4062-66.) The publicity
surrounding Alexander's article contributed to Taylor
losing his seat as a County Supervisor to Logsdon in the 2018
Spring election. (Id. ¶ 4067.)
retaliation for the article and Alexander's perceived
aligning with Democrats, Taylor and the Walker
administration, through Marks and Mary Burke, DCF's
in-house counsel, allegedly conspired together to have
Alexander fired. (Id. ¶¶ 4068-69, 4070.)
Taylor complained about Alexander to her supervisor, Joseph.
(Id. ¶¶ 4069(a)-(b).) Joseph, however, did
not believe Taylor's complaints had merit, so Taylor
contacted Joseph's superiors, including but not limited
to Marks. (Id. ¶¶ 4069(c)-(d).)
Alexander began experiencing problems with her superiors at
DCF. In April 2018, Joseph drafted Alexander's
performance evaluation, which, like the previous one, was
quite positive. (Id. ¶¶ 4103-06, 4111.)
Marks instructed Joseph not to finalize or sign the
evaluation; Joseph did not receive a similar directive
regarding any of her other subordinates. (Id.
¶¶ 4107-08, 4112.) Although Joseph initially
withheld the evaluation as instructed, she did advise
Alexander to file a complaint with HR and seek out assistance
from an attorney. (Id. ¶¶ 4109-10.) Joseph
ultimately signed the evaluation as originally drafted.
(Id. ¶¶ 4113-14.) In response, Marks
allegedly instructed Joseph not to have any more contact with
Alexander and told her that the Secretary's Office would
be taking over the direct supervision of Alexander.
(Id. ¶ 4115.)
also drafted an email for Joseph's signature, revoking
Alexander's previously authorized flexible work schedule
and informing Alexander that future requests for an
alternative schedule would need advance approval from the
Secretary's Office. (Id. ¶¶ 4116- 18.)
Around this same time, two separate DCF colleagues told
Alexander that they heard that Marks was handing off her work
to others. (Id. ¶ 4120.) Alexander became
concerned that she was being targeted, and she expressed her
beliefs to Marks and DCF's Affirmative Action Officer.
(Id. ¶¶ 4123-29.)
Joseph's recommendation, Alexander filed an internal
complaint alleging that she was being targeted, harassed, and
treated unfairly on the basis of her sex. (Id.
¶ 4131.) The complaint was sent to the Wisconsin
Department of Administration (“DOA”) for
investigation. (Id. ¶ 4132.) Alexander told DOA
investigators “that she was making this protected
complaint at the suggestion of her supervisor, Dr.
Joseph.” (Id. ¶¶ 4133, 4135.)
Despite assurances that the investigation would be
confidential, (id. ¶ 4134), on May 5, 2018, DCF
Secretary Eloise Anderson told Joseph “that she was
being fired because she had coached Ms. Alexander to retain
an attorney, ” “Ms. Alexander was ‘at the
governor's office running her mouth, '” and
“‘they had to fire Dr. Joseph to get to Ms.
Alexander, '” (id. ¶ 4136). A few
weeks later, Joseph was interviewed by DOA investigators.
(Id. ¶ 4141.) She told them that Alexander
“was an unproblematic employee who was being treated
unfairly.” (Id.) Joseph eventually decided to
resign in lieu of termination. (Id. ¶ 4137.)
same day Joseph met with investigators, a disciplinary
personnel investigation was opened concerning Alexander.
(Id. ¶ 4150.) Alexander was summoned to an
investigatory meeting on June 1, 2018-the day Joseph's
resignation took effect. (Id. ¶¶ 4151-52.)
“Alexander was interrogated . . . for four hours,
mostly regarding the schedule she kept.” (Id.
¶ 4153.) The investigation concluded on June 12, 2018,
finding no wrongdoing by Alexander. (Id.
¶¶ 4157-59.) Nevertheless, on June 15, 2018,
Alexander's probationary employment was terminated
purportedly because “‘[her] performance [did] not
meet the standards expected of [her].'”
(Id. ¶¶ 4161-62.)
immediately after she was fired, Alexander was contacted by
Dan Bice, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
(Id. ¶ 4164(a).) Bice told Alexander that
“Taylor was ‘taking credit' for Ms.
Alexander's termination.” (Id.
¶¶ 4164(b)-(c).) Bice wrote an article, published
on June 27, 2018, claiming that Taylor had told him that he
complained to Alexander's supervisor earlier that year
“that she was doing county campaign work on state
time.” (Id. ¶ 4164(d).) The article
also claimed that Taylor had told Bice that “he called
the state” after Alexander apparently told Logsdon,
Taylor's election opponent, that Taylor was absent for a
certain government meeting. (Id.) About three months
after the article ran, Bice claimed that Taylor informed him
that Alexander “was ‘in mediation' with the
State.” (Id. ¶ 4168(a).)
February 2019, Alexander had obtained employment as Treasurer
for the Republican Party of Milwaukee County. (Id.
¶ 4170.) Taylor called Sam Hagedorn, the
organization's Chair, “to complain about, and
question the wisdom of, having Ms. Alexander serve the
Republican Party as Treasurer.” (Id. ...