United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
October 5, 2004.
LILLIE M. WILLIS, Plaintiff,
CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Lillie Willis filed a two-count complaint against
Defendant City of Chicago, alleging sexual harassment in
violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e et seq. (Count I),
and disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C.A. § 12101 (Count II). Defendant has
moved to dismiss Count I pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Defendant
further argues that the Court should strike Plaintiff's request
for punitive damages.*fn1
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency
of a complaint, not the merits of the case. See Triad Assocs.,
Inc. v. Chic. Hous. Auth., 892 F.2d 583, 586 (7th Cir.
1989). When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court considers
"whether relief is possible under [any] set of facts that could
be established consistent with [the] allegations." Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G. (Zurich), 953 F.2d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir.
1992). The Court views the complaint "in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff, taking as true all well-pleaded factual
allegations and making all possible inferences from those
allegations in his or her favor." Lee v. City of Chicago,
330 F.3d 456, 459 (7th Cir. 2003); see also Thomas v. Law Firm
of Simpson & Cybak, 354 F.3d 696, 697 (7th Cir. 2004). The
Court is not, however, "obliged to accept as true legal
conclusions or unsupported conclusions of fact." Hickey v.
O'Bannon, 287 F.3d 656, 658 (7th Cir. 2002).
The City of Chicago (the "City") is a municipality that
employed Plaintiff as a bridge operator in the Department of
Transportation. (Id. ¶ 2.) The City continues to employ
Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 4.)
In her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges the following
facts. In 1996 or 1997, Plaintiff found Hustler and Playboy
magazines in the bathroom when she was working as a roving
operator at the 3300 E. 92nd Street bridge. (Id. ¶ 8.) She
complained to superintendent Darryl Rouse ("Rouse"), who removed
the magazines but did nothing to prevent further incidents.
(Id.) In 1998 or 1999, Plaintiff saw a photograph of a nude
woman from Hustler magazine with Plaintiff's name written across
it when she was working as a Rover 4 at the Dearborn Street
bridge tower. (Id.) She removed the photo and complained to
Rouse, who did nothing about the incident. (Id.) Around this
time, Plaintiff also found Hustler magazines and photos of naked
people engaging in sexual activity in the East Grand Avenue
trailer. (Id.) Plaintiff again complained to Rouse, who
circulated a memorandum prohibiting sexual harassment, but did
not take any further actions. (Id.) On May 28, 2003, Plaintiff
found a pair of women's panties laying on the floor next to the Kinzie Street
bridge door. (Id.) Plaintiff called foreman Jim Forbes, who
took pictures, called Rouse, and asked Plaintiff to write it up.
Plaintiff contends that her co-workers have harassed her since
she began reporting the sexual harassment incidents. (Id.)
Specifically, her co-workers stopped up the toilet so that
Plaintiff could not use it and left a dead fish lying on a paper
towel in Plaintiff's workplace. (Id.) In addition, a co-worker
asked Plaintiff to leave the bridge controls at 2470 S. Loomis so
that he could have privacy during his personal phone calls.
Plaintiff alleges that as a result of these incidents she does
not feel comfortable working as a bridge operator for the City.
(Id.) She contends that her work environment is intimidating,
unsettling, worrisome, and hostile, and that any reasonable
person would perceive her work environment this way. (Id. ¶
I. The Continuing Violation Doctrine
Defendant argues that Plaintiff's sexual harassment claim is
barred because the conduct complained of occurred more than 300
days before Plaintiff filed her charge with the EEOC.
Specifically, Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot sue under
Title VII for any conduct that occurred before October 8, 2002
because she filed her charge of sexual harassment on August 4,
2003. Plaintiff counters that such claims are timely under the
continuing violation doctrine. The Court agrees with Plaintiff.
Under the continuing violation doctrine, an employee can
recover on a hostile work environment theory for acts that
occurred more than 300 days before the employee filed a charge of
discrimination as long as the acts were part of the same hostile
work environment and at least one of the acts occurred within the 300-day period. National
R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 117-18,
122 S. Ct 2061, 2074-75 (2002). Plaintiff alleges specific acts of
harassment constituting a pattern of ongoing discrimination in
Paragraph 8a-g of the Amended Complaint. Defendant admits that at
least one of these acts (finding women's panties in Plaintiff's
workplace) took place within the 300-day period. Accordingly,
Plaintiff has provided a sufficient factual basis to support her
continuing violation theory and to survive Defendant's motion to
II. Hostile Work Environment Claim
To prevail on her hostile work environment*fn2 claim,
Plaintiff must establish that: (1) she was subjected to unwelcome
verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature; (2) the conduct
was severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work
environment; (3) the conduct was directed at her because of her
sex; and (4) there is a basis for employer liability. Hall v.
Bodine Elec. Co., 276 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2002). To
qualify as "hostile," the work environment must be "both
objectively and subjectively offensive." Rhodes v. Illinois
Dep't of Transp., 359 F.3d 498, 505 (7th Cir. 2004). To
decide whether particular conduct constitutes an actionable
hostile work environment, the fact finder examines the totality
of the circumstances including "the frequency of the
discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically
threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and
whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance." Harris v. Forklift Sys. Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 23,
114 S.Ct. 367, 371 (1993).
Defendant argues that Plaintiff has not shown that her work
environment was both subjectively and objectively hostile or
abusive. In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges multiple
incidents in which she found Hustler and Playboy magazines in the
workplace, photos of naked people engaging in sexual activity, a
photo of a nude woman with Plaintiff's name written across it,
and women's panties on the floor of her work place. (R. 14-1, Am.
Compl. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff further alleges that she complained about
these incidents, that her supervisor did nothing to stop further
incidents, and that her work environment is "intimidating,
unsettling, worrisome, and hostile, and it would be so to any
reasonable person." (Id. ¶¶ 8, 10.) These allegations are
sufficient to survive Defendant's motion to dismiss. Accordingly,
Defendant's motion to dismiss is denied.
III. Punitive Damages
Title VII provides that parties cannot recover punitive damages
in a case against the government, a government agency, or a
political subdivision. Baker v. Runyon, 114 F.3d 668, 669
(7th Cir. 1997). Accordingly, Plaintiff is not entitled to
punitive damages under Title VII, and the claims for punitive
damages are stricken. CONCLUSION
Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiff states sufficient facts supporting her hostile work
environment claim. Punitive damages are stricken because they are
not available under Title VII in a case against a municipality.