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WELCH v. COOK COUNTY CLERK'S OFFICE

January 14, 1999

JUDITH M. WELCH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COOK COUNTY CLERK'S OFFICE, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION; TRICIA TEATER; DAVID ROBINSON, BETTY MURRAY, GENEVA JACKSON HALLEN, AND LOUISE LAMONT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pallmeyer, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Judith Welch, an African-American woman, challenges her suspension and discharge from employment with Defendant Cook County Clerk's Office. Her complaint as amended consists of four counts: Count I, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, alleges a deprivation of her federal constitutional rights; Count II asserts a claim of race discrimination and disparate treatment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Counts III and IV assert claims of race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Named as Defendants are the Cook County Clerk's Office and several individual supervisors or co-workers.

Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint on several grounds. First, Defendant urges that Plaintiff's allegations do not set forth a prima facie case of race discrimination under Title VII and § 1981, or deprivation of a federal constitutional right in violation of § 1983. Defendant also argues that the Title VII claims of harassment and retaliatory termination should be dismissed on the grounds that the amended complaint exceeds the scope of the EEOC complaint filed on May 27, 1997. Defendant contends, further, that allegations of acts that are time-barred by the 300-day statute of limitations for Title VII charges and the two-year statute of limitations for Sections 1981 and 1983 claims should be stricken. Finally, Defendant argues that claims against employees of the Cook County Clerk's Office as individuals should be dismissed.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint is nearly 20 pages long and recounts the history of her employment with the Cook County Clerk's office in some detail. The allegations will be summarized here briefly. Plaintiff Judith M. Welch began employment as a Clerk for Defendant Cook County Clerk's Office on March 20, 1995. (Amended Complaint (hereinafter "Am. Compl.") ¶ 20.) Within a month of beginning her employment, Plaintiff observed that similarly situated white co-workers were given preferential treatment. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff alleges numerous incidents of disparate treatment and harassment by employees of the Cook County Clerk's Office against herself and other non-white employees beginning in May 1995 and continuing through the date of Plaintiff's suspension in May 1997 and termination in October 1997. (Id. ¶¶ 22-71.)*fn1 Persons responsible for the alleged wrongdoing include Defendants Tricia Teater, a white female employed as the Director of Human Resources; David Robinson, a black male employed as the Deputy Clerk; Betty Murray, a white female employed as an Assistant Deputy Clerk; Geneva Jackson-Hallen, a black female employed as an Administrative Assistant; and Louise LaMont, a white female employed as a Clerk. (Id. ¶¶ 12-16.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Teater, Robinson, Murray, and Jackson-Hallen held supervisory positions with the authority to make disciplinary and other employment decisions and that they participated in or had knowledge of the alleged harassment but failed to take action to terminate or correct it. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 72.)

Plaintiff claims that she was reprimanded on several occasions when she brought incidents of harassment and unfair treatment to the attention of her supervisors. For example, on September 11, 1996, Plaintiff was given a verbal warning/reprimand by Ray Bentley and Betty Murray for leaving the office to seek union representation (id. ¶ 57); in early October 1996, Defendant Teater denied her the right to file a grievance about Defendant Murray (Plaintiff does not explain how) (id. ¶ 58); on May 14, 1997, Defendant Robinson told Plaintiff that if she filed a grievance she would "suffer consequences" (id. ¶ 61); and on May 15, 1997, Robinson told other clerks that before joining Plaintiff in any grievance or suit against the Clerk, they should think about their families and job "because the one with power always wins." (Id. ¶ 62).

On May 16, 1997, Plaintiff was given a three-day suspension, allegedly for inappropriate behavior in a staff meeting and leaving the office without permission. (Id. ¶ 63.) Plaintiff alleges that she was threatened by Robinson and Murray and told "to go home and think about what you did and not take it any further." (Id. ¶ 64.) On May 20, 1997, Plaintiff filed a charge of race discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission ("EEOC"). (Id. ¶ 3.) On May 22, 1997, she filed a complaint with the Cook County Commission on Human Rights. (Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff also filed a union grievance alleging unjust discipline, on May 30, 1997. (Id. ¶ 65.)

On October 9, 1997, Plaintiff found herself unable to log in to her computer. (Id. ¶ 67.) Defendants Teater and Robinson told Plaintiff that her resignation was accepted and that she must leave the office immediately. (Id.) Plaintiff was escorted to her desk and out of the building by the Cook County Sheriff, causing her shock and embarrassment. (Id. ¶ 68.) On October 29, 1997, Plaintiff filed an amended charge with the Cook County Commission on Human Rights, alleging retaliation. (Id. ¶ 5.)

On February 13, 1998, Plaintiff received a notice of her right to sue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. from the EEOC. (Id. ¶ 6.) She filed her original complaint in this court on May 14. On September 25, 1998, she filed the Amended Complaint that is the subject of Defendant's motion to dismiss.

DISCUSSION

A. Sufficiency of the Complaint under Federal Pleading
  Requirements

A motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) does not test whether the plaintiff will prevail on the merits but instead tests whether the claimant has properly stated a claim. See Pickrel v. City of Springfield, 45 F.3d 1115, 1118 (7th Cir. 1995) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974)). In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court will consider all allegations of the complaint as true, and will draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Pickrel, 45 F.3d at 1116; Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 118, 110 S.Ct. 975, 108 L.Ed.2d 100 (1990). It is well established that a dismissal is proper only if it appears beyond doubt that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of her claim that would entitle her to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957).

Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to allege facts to support her claims of discrimination under Title VII and § 1981, and for violation of her 1st and 14th amendment constitutional rights under § 1983, and that these claims should be dismissed. The federal rule of notice pleading requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168, 113 S.Ct. 1160, 122 L.Ed.2d 517 (1993) (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47, 78 S.Ct. 99 (footnote and citation omitted)). To give fair notice, "a complaint must at least `include the operative facts upon which a plaintiff bases his claim.'" Lucien v. Preiner, 967 F.2d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 1992) (quoting Rodgers v. Lincoln Towing Serv., Inc., 771 F.2d 194, 198 (7th Cir. 1985)). A plaintiff "need not plead facts; he can plead conclusions . . . [but] the conclusions must provide the defendant with at least minimal notice of the ...


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