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Filinovich v. Claar

July 14, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall


Plaintiff Alice Filinovich ("Plaintiff") brought this action under Title VII and § 1983 alleging Defendants failed to accommodate her religious practices and observances. Two and a half years after the initiation of this case, Defendants Roger Claar and the Village of Bolingbrook now move to dismiss her § 1983 claims under Rule 12(b)(6), citing "new" case law. Defendants rely on Shrum v. Coweta, 2006 WL 1554608 (10th Cir. June 8, 2006), to argue that the First Amendment does not require them to accommodate Plaintiff's religious practice because their employment requirement of attending Saturday budget meetings is neutral and generally applicable.

The parties ardently debate whether this Court should find Shrum's holding persuasive. But the Seventh Circuit -- whose opinion controls in this Court -- decided the issue of accommodation under the First Amendment fifteen years ago. Defendants also apparently assume, because they never explain why, that their employment requirement is indeed neutral and generally applicable. Finally, Defendants never explain why Plaintiff's § 1983 claims must be dismissed merely because she cannot base them on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. In other words, why can neither Title VII nor the Fourteenth Amendment create rights that may be vindicated through her § 1983 claims, as Plaintiff contends. In spite of their failure to address these potentially dispositive issues, Defendants are fortunate that the Court cannot permit claims to go forward that are not allowed by the law. Finding, for the reasons explained below, that Plaintiff cannot establish the deprivation of any federal right that may be vindicated under § 1983, Defendants' Motion must be granted.


Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's § 1983 claims under Rule 12(b)(6). Because Defendants already have answered the complaint, their Rule 12(b)(6) motion will be construed as a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). See Warzon v. Drew, 60 F.3d 1234, 1237 (7th Cir. 1995). A motion under Rule 12(c) may be granted only if the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would entitle her to relief. See Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution Corp., 128 F.3d 1074, 1080 (7th Cir. 1997).


Plaintiff has alleged Defendants violated her federal rights by discriminating against, and not accommodating, her religious observances. As explained fully in this Court's prior order denying summary judgment, Plaintiff interviewed for the Director of Finance with the Village of Bolingbrook. According to the Village, the position required attendance at quarterly budget workshops held on Saturdays. Despite being the Village's top candidate, Plaintiff was not hired because her religious beliefs as a Seventh-Day Adventist preclude her from working on the Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). Defendants made no accommodation for Plaintiff's religious observance. Consequently, Plaintiff brought suit in this Court charging Defendants with violating § 1983.

Section 1983 provides an action against a person who, under color of law, deprives a citizen of any "rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws." 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see also Golden State Transit Corp. v. City of L.A., 493 U.S. 103, 105 (1989). Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights," but instead allows "a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3 (1979). In other words, a plaintiff has a cause of action under § 1983 only when she alleges a violation of rights already created or secured by the Constitution or federal law. Plaintiff based her § 1983 claim on the violation of three federal laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. As explained below, none of the three confer a federal right that may be vindicated through Plaintiff's § 1983 claim.

I. Title VII

First, any right conferred by Title VII cannot be vindicated under § 1983. See Great Am. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n. v. Novotny, 442 U.S. 366, 378 (1979). In Novotny, the Supreme Court held that a plaintiff could not invoke § 1985(3) to redress an alleged Title VII violation. Id. Doing so, the Court reasoned, would allow plaintiffs to circumvent or bypass the mandatory administrative process in Title VII. Id. at 376. While Plaintiff brings her claim under § 1983 instead of § 1985(3), the two sections are legally indistinguishable on this point. Like § 1985(3), § 1983 provides no substantial rights itself but only "provides a remedy for violation of the rights it designates." Novotny, 442 U.S. at 372. In this regard, each section provides a remedy when a person is deprived of any right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. The main difference between the two sections -- that § 1983 applies to a single actor, while § 1985(3) deals with acts committed by two or more persons in conspiracy -- is immaterial to the question presented here.

Using Title VII as the basis for a § 1983 claim raises the identical concerns regarding Title VII's administrative framework that motivated the Court's decision in Novotny. Accordingly, if "Title VII cannot be the basis for a cause of action under § 1985(3)," id. at 378, neither can it be the basis for Plaintiff's cause of action under § 1983. See Patterson v. County of Oneida, N.Y., 375 F.3d 206, 225 (2d Cir. 2004) ("[A] § 1983 action may not, however, be brought to vindicate rights conferred only by a statute that contains its own structure for private enforcement, such as Title VII"); Day v. Wayne County Bd. of Auditors, 749 F.2d 1199, 1204 (6th Cir. 1984) ("Title VII provides the exclusive remedy when the only § 1983 cause of action is based on a violation of Title VII").

II. Constitutional Rights

Although Plaintiff cannot use Title VII as the basis of her § 1983 claim, § 1983 provides a potential remedy if the same conduct allegedly violated her Constitutional rights. See Trigg v. Fort Wayne Cmty. Schs., 766 F.2d 299, 302 (7th Cir. 1985) (holding that the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VII grant public sector employees independent rights, and employee may bring a §1983 claim via a Constitution right); see also Gierlinger v. N.Y. State Police, 15 F.3d 32, 34 (2d Cir. 1994) (holding that Title VII plaintiff can bring a concurrent ยง 1983 claim as long as the latter claim is based on violation of a constitutional right and not a Title VII right). Plaintiff claims that ...

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