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United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois

June 16, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James B. Zagel, Magistrate Judge


Rodney Bradford, an at-will employee, started working for Hanjin Shipping Co. in May 2000 and was fired on August 13, 2002. On January 11, 2002, he filed an EEOC complaint against Hanjin alleging national origin discrimination. He received a right to sue letter on or about April 13, 2002, and Bradford does not deny receipt by this presumptive date. In October 2002, he filed another EEOC complaint, this time alleging retaliation and national origin discrimination, and received a right to sue letter for that claim on October 29, 2002. Bradford has now sued Hanjin for employment discrimination on grounds of race and national origin invoking Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 1983. As to § 1983, he also invokes discrimination on the grounds of color. On January 29, 2003, the Clerk of Court filed Bradford's complaint in this matter. Hanjin now moves for partial summary judgment and Bradford has orally renewed his motion for appointment of counsel.

Some of the claims for which Hanjin seeks summary judgment can be resolved fairly easily. First, Bradford failed to file this suit within 90 days of receiving a right to sue letter with respect to his January 11, 2002 EEOC complaint. Rather, he filed suit about nine months after receipt of that letter. Second, the race discrimination charges cannot stand because they were not made in the EEOC complaints. Finally, the § 1983 claims are faulty because Hanjin is not a government entity. Accordingly, summary judgment is appropriate as to all Title VII claims recited in the January charge, the Title VII race discrimination claims, and the § 1983 claims.

After disposing of these claims, Bradford is left with his § 1981 claims, the national origin and retaliation claims with respect to Title VII made in the October 2002 EEOC charge. Regarding these claims, there is a current dispute among the judges of this court regarding § 1981's application to at-will employees. I express no view on the issues which are the subject of various opinions, but on the issue before me here, I find that there is no application of § 1981 to claims of termination of employment. Cf. Gonzalez v. Ingersoll Milling Machine Co., 133 F.3d 1025 (7th Cir. 1998). Accordingly, summary judgment is appropriate as to Bradford's § 1981 claims as well.

As for Bradford's request for appointed counsel, it is clear to me that counsel could not have saved the claims here because they were lost, as a matter of law, before the case was ever filed. Moreover, appointing counsel in this particular case would impose an unfair burden on a lawyer who would have to work for Bradford without any possibility of compensation. Compensation is unlikely because of Bradford's attempt to exercise "self-help" before filing suit by sending Hanjin e-mail messages threatening to defame the company to its customers. These actions led to Hanjin filing counterclaims against Bradford, which he never answered or denied. As a result thereof, default judgment on the counterclaims has been entered against him. So there is little chance that were Bradford to prevail on the remaining Title VII claims, he would recover any more money than he has lost on the counterclaims. This is why Bradford cannot find a lawyer willing to take the case, even though a winning case would result in the defendant paying his or her fees — no small incentive for a lawyer to take on a case like this if it appeared to have any promise. Bradford is entitled to go on pursuing this matter, but the case does not warrant appointment of counsel.

For the reasons above, Hanjin's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is GRANTED and Bradford's Renewed Motion for Appointment of Counsel is DENIED.


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