United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois
September 2, 2003
PAULA MENDOZA, PLAINTIFF,
MICRO ELECTRONICS, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joan Gottschall, District Judge
Paula Mendoza sued Micro Electronics, Inc. and Micro Center Sales Corporation d/b/a Micro Center (collectively "Micro Center"), alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. ("FMLA") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII") resulting in her discharge from employment. Mendoza claims that Micro Center violated FMLA by terminating her during her twelve-week leave period. Mendoza also claims that Micro Center violated Title VII because its decision to terminate her was motivated and influenced by her pregnancy or new mother status. Defendant Micro Center filed a motion to dismiss both counts. For the reasons explained below, that motion is denied.
Plaintiff was employed by Micro Center from December 1996 through January 2002 as a Front End Supervisor. In 2001, Mendoza became pregnant and later began to experience premature contractions. On October 12, 2001, these contractions caused Mendoza to fall from a chair while at work. The following day, she was examined by an emergency room physician at St. Joseph Hospital and during an October 17th follow-up with her private physician, Mendoza was placed on modified bed rest for the Page 2 remainder of her pregnancy.
On or about October 17, 2001, Micro Center approved Mendoza's request for a family and medical leave of absence, which was effective as of October 13, 2001. On November 2, 2001, Micro Center sent Mendoza a letter, incorrectly advising her that her family and medical leave period would expire on December 31, 2001. In reality, the twelve-week period expired January 5, 2002. On January 1, 2002, Mendoza gave birth to the Chicago area's first baby boy of the year 2002. In her complaint, Mendoza alleges that she contacted Micro Center on January 2, 2002 to inform it "of her desire to return to work as soon as she is scheduled to do so." However, in her EEOC charge, Mendoza indicates that on January 2, 2002, she informed Micro Center that she "would be able to return to work in six weeks." On January 4, 2002, Mendoza spoke with Micro Center Human Resources Manager, Layda Cardoso-Duris, who informed Mendoza that she had been terminated effective December 31, 2002 for exceeding her family and medical leave.*fn1 In late January 2002, Mendoza received a revised letter dated November 2, 2001 in a Micro Center envelope postmarked January 23, 2002 informing her that her twelve-week leave period expired January 5, 2002.
A complaint can be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). However, "a court may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be Page 3 granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984). Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, pleading is not "a game of skill in which one misstep by counsel may be decisive to the outcome." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 48 (1957). Rather, a complaint need only set out "a short and plain statement showing the plaintiff is entitled to relief, the purpose of which is to give the defendant notice of the claims and the grounds they rest upon." Thompson v. Illinois Dep't of Prof'l Regulation, 300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002) (citing Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163 (1993)). When evaluating a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts must accept the well-pled allegations of the plaintiff's complaint as true and construe any ambiguities in favor of the plaintiff. Id.
While there is a discrepancy between plaintiff's complaint and her EEOC charge regarding what she told Micro Center on January 2, 2002, the court need not resolve the dispute. Even accepting as true that during the January 2nd conversation plaintiff represented that she would be able to return to work in six weeks, i.e., well outside of the twelve week leave mandated by the FMLA, Mendoza states a claim for which relief can be granted under the FMLA. "For the purpose of a motion to dismiss, the complaint must set forth facts establishing that the plaintiff was eligible for FMLA leave and that the defendants interfered with her rights upon taking leave and thereafter."*fn2 Divizio v. Elmwood Care, Inc., 97 C 8365, 1998 WL 292982, at *2 (N.D. Ill. May 28, 1998); see also Diaz v. Fort Wayne Foundry Corp., 131 F.3d 711 Page 4 (7th Cir. 1997). Here, plaintiff has alleged that she was eligible for FMLA leave (Compl. ¶¶ 11-21) and that Micro Center interfered with her FMLA rights when it terminated her employment prior to the expiration of her FMLA leave. (Compl. ¶¶ 11-21, 23-25.)
Defendant believes that it is fatal to plaintiff's FMLA claim that plaintiff told defendant before the end of the twelve week period that she would not return within the statutorily protected period. Defendant argues that plaintiff has pled herself out of court and her cause of action must fail as a matter of law. The court disagrees. What plaintiff told Micro Center in that January 2nd conversation is irrelevant to the court's analysis at this stage. While the fact that plaintiff may have told Micro Center that she did not intend to return to work for six weeks may very well affect what damages*fn3 she is entitled to, it does not change the fact that Micro Center miscalculated the twelve-week period, and terminated Mendoza during her leave period. Micro Center has provided this court with no authority for its argument that an employer may legally fire an employee during their leave period simply because the employee indicates that she plans on returning to work after the expiration of the leave period. Plaintiff's FMLA claim will not be dismissed.
Sex discrimination or discrimination arising from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions is "a claim upon which relief can be granted." See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k) (2000). Plaintiff alleges "[p]laintiff's sex was a motivating factor and made a difference in the [defendant Micro Center's] decision Page 5 to discharge Plaintiff . . ." (Compl. ¶ 32.) Further, plaintiff pleads that she was qualified for her employment position, that she was pregnant, and that shortly after informing defendant Micro Center of her childbirth, she was discharged.
Defendant argues that plaintiff's allegations are insufficient, conclusory and unsupported by factual allegations.*fn4 It is unnecessary for a plaintiff to plead the elements of a prima facie case of discrimination in order to state a claim for which relief can be granted in an employment discrimination case. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 (2002). Instead all that is required is "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). In the context of a racial discrimination claim, the Seventh Circuit has indicated that a hypothetical complaint stating only "`I was turned down for a job because of my race'" would sufficiently state a claim upon which relief could be granted, making dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) inappropriate. Bennett v. Schmidt, 153 F.3d 516, 518 (7th Cir. 1998). In order to dismiss plaintiff's Title VII claim, this court would have to find that it provides less notice than the hypothetical complaint in Bennett. See Scott v. City of Chicago, 195 F.3d 950, 952 (7th Cir. 1999); see also Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 514 (complaint alleging discrimination and detailing the events leading up to termination, with relevant dates, provides fair notice to the defendant of what the claims against it are and the grounds upon which they rest). Simply stating that "sex was a motivating factor and made a difference in the decision to discharge" with nothing more would provide Page 6 defendant Micro Center with as much notice of the allegations against it as the defendant in Bennett received, but plaintiff Mendoza provides additional notice. Her complaint tells the defendant Micro Center when she was discharged, in what manner and by whom. (Compl. ¶¶ 22-24.) As such, plaintiff's Title VII claim stands.