Civil Case Law - Seventh Circuit

7th Circuit (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin)

Cases Upholding Agency Anti-Fraternization Policies

Keeney v. Heath , 57 F.3d 579 (7th Cir. 1995): A female correctional officer became acquainted with a male inmate. Agency official suspected that the officer and inmate had begun an inappropriate relationship and transferred the inmate to another facility. The officer and inmate continued correspondence, and the officer began to visit the inmate. The captain questioned the officer about these visits, and she admitted she had a relationship with the inmate and planned to marry him. The captain told her to resign or give up her relationship, due to the agency policy forbidding employees from becoming “become involved socially with inmates in or out of the [jail].” She resigned and brought a § 1983 claim against county and jail officials alleging that the policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment due process right to marry. The Seventh Circuit held that rules which prohibit a correctional officer from dating an inmate who is in or out of jail do not violate the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause. The court reasoned that the burden on the officer’s right to marry was light, or at most moderate. Indiana has a unitary system of prisons and jails, and inmates frequently move among these facilities. Therefore an officer who is romantically involved with an inmate could facilitate unlawful communication or give favored treatment. Also, the court noted that this would give male inmates an incentive to romance female correctional officers, and inmates could claim any differences in treatment were due to an improper relationship. The court stated that “since the ratio of male prisoners to female guards is vastly higher than the ratio of female prisoners to male guards, there is no doubt that an anti-fraternization policy…will impair the marital prospects of women far more than those of men.”

Merrifield v. IL St. Police Bd., 691 N.E.2d 191 (App. 1997): The Illinois State Police Department had a policy that stated: "Except as necessary to the performance of official duties, or where unavoidable because of other family relationships of the officer, officers will avoid regular or continuous associations or dealings with persons whom they know, or should know, are persons under criminal investigation or indictment, or who have a reputation in the community or the Department for present or past involvement in felonious or criminal behavior." A male officer began dating a woman who was subsequently convicted on felony drug charges in another jurisdiction. The two moved in together after her release from custody, pending an appeal. The Department learned of this relationship, and when they questioned the officer, he lied about his knowledge of her criminal conviction, and indicated he had canceled their wedding plans. The officer later married the woman, and the Board recommended the officer’s termination for the relationship and for lying during the investigation. The circuit court reversed, finding that the pending appeal was not criminal investigation within the meaning of the policy, and implemented a 30-day suspension for lying during the investigation. The Appellate Court reinstated the Board’s decision of termination, as the officer’s wife had a criminal reputation within the Department, as at least 11 officers in the area knew of her conviction.

Cases Not Upholding Agency Anti-Fraternization Policies

Ziccarelli v. Leake , 767 F.Supp. 1450 (N.D. Ill. 1991): The Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDC) had an unwritten policy that prohibited officers from testifying about any job related matters, unless they were served with a subpoena, and either the assistant director or the executive director evaluated that subpoena. A correctional officer testified on behalf of a defendant in a death penalty hearing. The CCDC terminated the correctional officer for failing to report that he would be testifying. CCDC claimed that this policy was necessary to “ensure the safety of correctional officers who guard inmates and to ensure correctional officers are not indiscriminately making court appearances to testify about their jobs.” The court held that the correctional officer’s testimony was a matter of public concern, and therefore protected under the First Amendment, and that the CCDC’s unwritten policy violated the officer’s rights. The court found that the CCDC had not adequately justified the rationale behind the policy, as the officer’s testimony did not jeopardize safety or security.