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Davies v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago


October 11, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan H. Lefkow


Plaintiff Emmanuel N. Davies ("Davies") filed this action alleging that defendants Board of Education of the City of Chicago ("Board of Education") and Phyllis Hammond ("Hammond") discriminated against him on the basis of his national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Hammond has moved pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., to dismiss Davies' claims for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.


A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the compliant for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. General Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution Corp., 128 F.3d 1074, 1080 (7th Cir. 1997). Dismissal is appropriate only if it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 732 (7th Cir. 2001). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint, and it draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor. Dixon v. Page, 291 F.3d 485, 486 (7th Cir. 2002). In a case brought by a pro se plaintiff, the court relaxes the liberal standards of notice pleading, and the "complaint must be liberally construed and is entitled to less stringent scrutiny than those prepared by counsel." Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1369 (7th Cir. 1997).


On March 19, 2001, the Board of Education hired Davies as a teacher at Tilden Academy, where Hammond was the principal. While teaching, Davies was abused both verbally and physically by his students, and his co-workers acted in a hostile and intimidating manner towards him. On one occasion, a staff member approached Davies and told him to "go back to Africa." Africa is Davies' birth place. On another occasion, a different staff member entered Davies' classroom and called him a liar. Although Hammond and other school administrators were aware of the abuse, they failed to punish the abusive students and staff members and took no steps to prevent any future abuse.

After Davies complained to the Chicago Teachers Union (the "Union") about the abusive treatment, the Union filed a grievance on his behalf on May 2, 2002. On May 6, 2002, Davies filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, alleging that he was harassed because of his national origin, Liberian. Following Davies' complaints of discrimination and at the beginning of the school term, Hammond fired Davies without any explanation.

Hammond now moves to dismiss Davies' Title VII and § 1981 claims, arguing that a suit against her in either her individual or official capacity is inappropriate. Hammond also argues that the court should dismiss Davies' § 1981 claim because § 1981 does not permit claims based on national origin.


I. Davies' Claims Against Hammond

It is unclear from Davies' pro se complaint whether he intended to sue Hammond as an individual or in her official capacity as principal of Tilden Academy. Davies has since conceded that he cannot sue Hammond in her individual capacity under Title VII and, instead, asserts that he is suing Hammond in her official capacity. Official capacity suits are equivalent to suing the entity itself. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690, n. 55, 56 L.Ed. 2d 611, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (1978). Because Davies names the Board of Education as a defendant to his Title VII claims, naming Hammond in her official capacity is superfluous. Jungels v. Pierce, 825 F.2d 1127, 1129 (7th Cir. 1987) (where plaintiff sued the city, "nothing was added by suing the mayor in his official capacity."). Therefore, the court dismisses the claims asserted against Hammond. See Kiser v. Naperville Cmty. Unit, 227 F. Supp. 2d 954 at 960-61 (N.D. Ill. 2002) (dismissing claims against individuals sued in their official capacities because they served "no legitimate purpose."); Admiral Theatre v. City of Chicago, 832 F. Supp. 1195, 1200 (N.D. Ill. 1993) ("Where the unit of local government is sued as well, the suit against the officials is redundant and should therefore be dismissed.").

II. Section 1981

Section 1981 provides that "all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens." 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). Hammond correctly notes that § 1981 does not apply to discrimination on the basis of national origin; instead, § 1981 "is designed to remedy discrimination based on race or ethnicity." Von Zuckerstein v. Argonne Nat'l Labs, 984 F.2d 1467, 1472 (7th Cir. 1993). The distinction between claims based on national origin and claims based on race is not precise, however, and the Seventh Circuit has suggested that "failure to plead discrimination based on race or ethnicity for section 1981 purposes is not necessarily fatal" where a plaintiff has alleged national origin discrimination. Id.

In Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604, 613, 95 L.Ed. 2d 582, 107 S.Ct. 2022 (1987), which involved a claim of discrimination by a man born in Iraq, the Supreme Court held that a claim of discrimination based on ancestry or ethnic characteristics was actionable under § 1981. The Court concluded that if, on remand, the plaintiff "can prove that he was subjected to intentional discrimination based on the fact that he was born an Arab, rather than solely on the place of his origin, or his religion, he will have made out a case under § 1981." Id.

In this case, Davies alleges that he was harassed and discriminated against because of his national origin, Liberian. He offers as an example of such discrimination the statement of his co-worker telling him to "go back to Africa." While it is arguable that this alleged act of discrimination does not demonstrate any specific connection to his Liberian ethnicity, it is also reasonable to infer, as Davies suggests, that his co-worker recognized that Davies had characteristics that set him apart from non-Africans. As noted by Davies, Liberia was founded by freeborn blacks and former slaves from America. It is therefore reasonable to infer from Davies' ancestry that he belongs to a group which is distinct from the white race, in both race and color. In order to succeed on his claim under § 1981, Davies will have to establish that he was discriminated against because of his Liberian ethnicity. Accordingly, the court finds that Davies has stated a claim of discrimination under § 1981.*fn1 See Episcopo v. GMC, No. 02 C 8675, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5142 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 29, 2004) ("A claim of discrimination on the basis of national origin may proceed under section 1981 if it is clear that the discrimination allegedly occurred because of plaintiff's membership in a group distinct from white citizens as a matter of race and color.") (internal quotations and citations omitted).

For the reasons stated above, the court grants in part and denies in part Hammond's motion to dismiss [#10].

JOAN HUMPHREY LEFKOW United States District Judge

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