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FLOWERS v. COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO

June 23, 2004.

MICHAEL FLOWERS, Plaintiff,
v.
COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES KOCORAS, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on the motion of Defendant Columbia College ("Columbia") to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

  According to the complaint, Flowers is a former employee of Columbia and a Rastafarian. As part of his religious practices, he wears his hair in dreadlocks, which are covered by a hat called a kofi. As part of his employment with Columbia, Flowers was assigned to be an academic advisor to students at Dyett Academic Center, a high school within the Chicago Public Schools ("CPS"). Flowers claims that he encountered difficulties at Dyett because of his hair and his kofi. Consequently, he filed a charge of religious discrimination with the EEOC against CPS. His complaint alleges that, when Columbia became aware of his dispute with CPS, they began to harass him through undeserved negative evaluations of his work that ultimately ended with the termination of his employment with Columbia in July 2003.

  Flowers filed suit*fn1 against CPS in the Northern District of Illinois about a month after his termination; the case was assigned to Judge Zagel. Flowers petitioned for leave to file in forma pauperis, and Judge Zagel performed an initial screening of the complaint as provided in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In so doing, the judge determined that Flowers had not alleged that CPS was his employer, so his claims, exclusively based in Title VII, were dismissed. He also deemed the complaint frivolous.

  Rather than seeking review of Judge Zagel's decision, Flowers filed another charge with the EEOC five days after the dismissal, this time against Columbia for terminating his employment. After receiving notice of his right to sue, he returned to the federal courthouse to file this suit. The complaint consists of two Title VII counts: one for religious discrimination and one for retaliation. Columbia moves to dismiss the entire complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 12(b)(6). LEGAL STANDARD

  A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is used to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, construe allegations of a complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations in the complaint. Bontkowski v. First Nat'l Bank of Cicero, 998 F.2d 459, 461 (7th Cir. 1993); Perkins v. Silverstein, 939 F.2d 463, 466 (7th Cir. 1991). The allegations of a complaint "should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Nonetheless, in order to withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege the "operative facts" upon which each claim is based. Kyle v. Morton High Sch., 144 F.3d 448, 454-55 (7th Cir. 1998). The plaintiff need not allege all of the facts involved in a claim and can plead conclusions. Higgs v. Carter, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. 2002); Kyle, 144 F.3d at 455. A pleading need only convey enough information that the defendant is able to understand the gravamen of the complaint. Payton v. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Med. Ctr., 184 F.3d 623, 627 (7th Cir. 1999). However, any conclusions pled must "provide the defendant with at least minimal notice of the claim." Kyle, 144 F.3d at 455. Further, the plaintiff cannot satisfy federal pleading requirements merely "by attaching bare legal conclusions to narrated facts which fail to outline the basis" of the claim. Perkins, 939 F.2d at 466-67. With these principles in mind, we turn to the motion at hand

  DISCUSSION

  Count I: Religious Discrimination

  Count I alleges that Columbia discriminated against Flowers because of his religion, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Columbia challenges this count on the grounds that the claims it contains were not encompassed within the EEOC charge that Flowers filed against them.*fn2

  It is well settled that a plaintiff in an employment discrimination suit must present his or her claims in an appropriate administrative forum prior to filing in federal court. See, e.g., Cheek v. Western and Southern Life Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 497, 500 (7th Cir. 1994); Babrocky v. Jewel Food Co., 773 F.2d 857, 863 (7th Cir. 1985). Presentation is a somewhat elastic concept; a claim is considered presented if it is "reasonably related" to the allegations made within the EEOC charge. Peters v. Renaissance Hotel Operating Company, 307 F.3d 535, 550 (7th Cir. 2002). To be reasonably related, the allegations of the EEOC charge and those of the complaint must, at a minimum, "describe the same conduct and implicate the same individuals." Id.

  Flowers argues that the allegations of Count I are reasonably related to his EEOC charge because the agency's investigation could be expected to eventually delve into the circumstances of the alleged religious discrimination. This is not enough. It is because of the potential breadth of an investigation that the EEOC charge serves a notice function, giving respondents fair apprisal of what could be on the horizon. See Sitar v. Indiana Dept. of Transportation, 344 F.3d 720, 727 (7th Cir. 2003). As the Seventh Circuit noted in Sitar, while the chain of events leading up to a claimed retaliation may provide "context and support" for a plaintiff's claim, that does not automatically render them so closely related to the charge of retaliation that they will open the door to a discrimination claim that was not explicitly laid out in the EEOC charge. Id.

  Here, the EEOC charge and the complaint both implicate Columbia, but they each describe distinct courses of conduct by Columbia. The charge refers only to Columbia's alleged retaliation; it does not mention and starts no reasonable journey leading to what Columbia did or did not do before the claimed retaliation took place. Thus, it is ...


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