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Williams v. Cook County

June 29, 2006

TOBI WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COOK COUNTY, JOHN STROGER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY; MARK KILGALLON, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY,AND JAMES WHIGHAM, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Tobi Williams filed the present Amended Complaint against Defendants Cook County, Cook County Board President John Stroger, Cook County Director of Human Resources Mark Kilgallon, and Cook County Inspector General James Whigham alleging deprivation of equal protection of the laws pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and conspiracy to commit the same pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) for discriminatory treatment based on gender and disability. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion.

LEGAL STANDARD

The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint, not the factual sufficiency. Szabo v. Bridgeport Mach., Inc., 249 F.3d 672, 675-76 (7th Cir. 2001); see also Cler v. Illinois Educ. Ass'n, 423 F.3d 726, 729 (7th Cir. 2005) (motion to dismiss challenges complaint's sufficiency). The Court will only grant a motion to dismiss if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Centers v. Mortgage, Inc., 398 F.3d 930, 933 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). The Court must assume the truth of the facts alleged in the pleadings, construe the allegations liberally, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Centers, 398 F.3d at 333.

BACKGROUND

In 1994, Cook County hired Plaintiff Tobi Williams as Director of Special Events of Cook County -- a "Shakman-exempt" position.*fn1 (R. 20-2; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 6.) Williams reported directly to Cook County Board (the "Board") President John Stroger. (Id. ¶ 13.)

In December of 2002, Karen Stancik,*fn2 a Cook County employee who is not named as a Defendant in this lawsuit, purported to create a new department entitled the Department of Public Affairs and Communications to which Williams was to report. (Id.¶ 14.) Because Williams viewed Stancik as her equal regarding employment status, Williams interpreted this change as a demotion. (Id.) Williams further alleges that on May 7, 2003, Stroger informed Williams that he was unaware of her new reporting obligations. (Id.¶ 15.) Gerald Nichols, Stroger's assistant, subsequently informed Williams that she was no longer required to attend Stancik's weekly meetings per Stroger's order. (Id.¶ 17.) Despite this order, Williams alleges that Stroger personally admonished her later that month for failing to attend Stancik's meetings and that Stroger indicated to Williams that any instruction to the contrary had not come from him. (Id.¶ 18.) During this time period, Williams also alleges that Stancik began to verbally harass, threaten, and humiliate her. (Id.¶ 16.) Moreover, Williams alleges that Stancik and the Director of Human Resources, Mark Kilgallon, began to issue notices requiring Williams to attend pre-disciplinary hearings to address her alleged inadequate job performance. (Id.¶ 19.) Meanwhile, in February of 2003, Williams was diagnosed with a heart condition, high-blood pressure, insomnia, and depression. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 23.) Williams further alleges that this diagnosis was due to work-related stress that eventually resulted in her going on disability leave beginning on October 2, 2003. (Id.¶ 23.)

On January 14, 2004, the Cook County Inspector General's Office, acting under the direction of Inspector General (the "IG") James Whigham and at the behest of Stroger and Kilgallon, contacted Williams to investigate allegations concerning the improper expenditure of $107.00 to purchase table linens. (Id.¶¶ 25, 28, 48.) The intended recipient of the linens, Cook County Commissioner John Daley's secretary, had allegedly paid for them in November of 2003. (Id.¶ 27.) Williams alleges that the lead investigator conducted a "sham" investigation into the linen purchase because the investigator failed to consider all relevant documents and exculpatory evidence, failed to interview all pertinent witnesses, refused to provide her a copy of the complaint, and violated various Cook County policies and rules governing investigations. (Id.¶ 29.) Whigham nonetheless signed the summary report containing the investigation's findings. (Id.¶ 30.) Pursuant to the investigation, Kilgallon required Williams to submit to a pre-disciplinary hearing in February of 2004 to contest the three alleged infractions relating to the improper linen purchase. (Id.¶ 33.) Notwithstanding Williams' claim that as a Shakman-exempt employee she was not subject to such hearings, she attended the hearing. (Id.¶¶ 39, 41, 44.) Williams alleges that during the hearing, Kilgallon relied on the improper investigation and ignored exculpatory evidence. (Id.¶ 39.) Pursuant to the hearing, Cook County terminated Williams' employment while she was on disability leave. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 41.)

Furthermore, Williams alleges that Nichols, a similarly situated male and non-disabled employee, misappropriated funds for amounts in excess of $107.00 and after which no disciplinary action was taken. (Id.¶¶ 51-54.) Williams further alleges that Mazek Williams and Earl Bell also committed wrongdoing for which no adverse employment action was taken. (Id. ¶ 56.)

On November 7, 2005, Williams filed her original Complaint in federal court seeking to recover for discrimination based on gender and her status as a disabled person under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). Williams filed her Amended Complaint on February 16, 2006.

ANALYSIS

I. Intra-Corporate Conspiracy Doctrine

First, Williams seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) alleging that Defendants engaged in a conspiracy for the purpose of depriving her of her rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants, on the other hand, contend that the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine bars Williams' Section 1985(3) claim. The intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine precludes conspiracy claims against members of the same entity acting within the scope of their authority. Payton v. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Med. Ctr., 184 F.3d 623, 632-33 (7th Cir. 1999); Wright v. Illinois Dept. of Children & Family Servs.,40 F.3d 1492, 1508 (7th Cir. 1994) (applying the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine to public entities); Allen v. City of Chicago, 828 F.Supp. 543, 564 (N.D. Ill. 1993) (applying the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine to municipal corporations). "The policy behind the doctrine is to preserve independent decision-making by business entities and their agents free of the pressure that can be generated by allegations of conspiracy." Tabor v. City of Chicago, 10 F.Supp.2d 988, 994 (N.D. Ill. 1998). The intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine, however, does not apply in egregious circumstances where employees "are shown to have been motivated solely by personal bias." Hartman v. Board of Tr. of Cmty Coll. Dist. No. 508, 4 F.3d 465, 470 (7th Cir. 1993).

Williams offers two alternative theories in opposition to the application of the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine: (1) Defendants acted outside the scope of their authority; and (2) Defendants are not all members of the same ...


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