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Brewer v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

June 17, 2003

LONNELL BREWER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS; AND KERRIN THOMPSON, L. DENISE HENDRICKS, WALLACE HENDRICKS, AND PETER FEUILLE, IN THEIR OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 02L128 Honorable John R. DeLaMar, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Appleton

PUBLISHED

Plaintiff, Lonnell Brewer, filed a complaint alleging violations of federal antidiscrimination statutes. He named, as defendants, the Board of Trustees (Board) of the University of Illinois and four employees of the Board, in their official and individual capacities.

Pursuant to section 2-619(a)(1) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(1) (West 2000)), defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds of sovereign immunity and a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The circuit court granted the motion. Plaintiff appeals, arguing that (1) Illinois has consented to being sued in circuit court for disability discrimination; (2) section 8-111(C) of the Illinois Human Rights Act (Human Rights Act) (775 ILCS 5/8-111(C) (West 2000)) allows a circuit court to exercise original jurisdiction over claims of discrimination that arise from federal statutes; and (3) the circuit court, rather than the Court of Claims, had subject-matter jurisdiction over his claims.

We disagree with all three of those contentions. We hold that the Board, as an arm of the State of Illinois, has sovereign immunity to claims for damages in circuit court, including claims arising out of federal antidiscrimination statutes. We further hold that the circuit court had no subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims, because the claims were essentially "subjects" of alleged "civil rights violations" within the meaning of section 8-111(C)--claims over which the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission) had exclusive subject-matter jurisdiction. Therefore, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

In his five-count complaint, plaintiff alleged he was an African-American with a learning disability that "substantially impair[ed] one or more [of his] major life activities[,] including, but not limited to, reading and other tasks relating to cognitive processing." From August 29, 1997, through April 22, 1998, he was employed as a research assistant in the university's personnel services office. Also, from the fall semester of 1997 through June 18, 1998, he was enrolled in the university's master's-degree program in its Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations (Institute). The individual defendants were Kerrin Thompson, special assistant to the director of the personnel services office; L. Denise Hendricks, assistant vice president of human resources, associate vice chancellor for adminis-trative affairs, and director of the personnel services office; Wallace Hendricks, a professor in the Institute; and Peter Feuille, a professor and the Institute's director.

In count I, directed against all the defendants, plaintiff alleged they had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) (42 U.S.C. §§2000e through 2000e-17 (2000)) by firing him, and terminating his enrollment in the master's-degree program, because of his race.

In count II, directed against the Board, Thompson, and L. Denise Hendricks, plaintiff alleged they had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (42 U.S.C. §§12111 through 12117 (2000)) by failing to provide him reasonable accommodations in his job as a research assistant.

In count III, directed against all of the individual defendants, he alleged they were liable to him under section 1 of the Civil Rights Act (section 1983) (42 U.S.C. §1983 (2000)) for treating him less favorably than similarly situated employees and students who were not African-American, thereby depriving him of the equal protection of the laws, in violation of the fourteenth amendment (U.S. Const., amend. XIV), and for discriminating against him because of his learning disability, in violation of the ADA.

In count IV, directed against all of the defendants, he alleged, on information and belief, that the university or the Institute was a "program" (or both of them were "programs") receiving federal financial assistance within the meaning of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) (42 U.S.C. §§2000d through 2000d-4 (2000)) and that defendants had violated Title VI by denying him "the benefits of[,] and continued participation in, the program[] on the basis of his race."

In count V, directed against all of the defendants, he alleged they had unlawfully retaliated against him, firing him and terminating his enrollment in the master's-degree program, because he had complained of their discrimination against him.

In its order granting defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint, the trial court stated: "The dismissal of these claims is jurisdictional in nature and not an adjudication on the merits. The dismissal is without prejudice to any potential claims plaintiff may have in federal court. Plaintiff is prevented from further prosecuting his claims in this court ***."This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of ...


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