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Alexander v. Northeastern Illinois University

May 29, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall


On July 8, 2005, Michael Alexander ("Alexander") filed an amended complaint, pro se, against Northeastern Illinois University ("NEIU") and eleven of its current and former employees (collectively the "individual defendants") alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (2006). NEIU and the individual defendants answered the amended complaint on May 31, 2005, and moved to dismiss Alexander's amended complaint and strike his request for punitive damages on January 20, 2006. Defendants' respective motions to dismiss are granted in part and denied in part. For the reasons stated below, NEIU's motion to dismiss Alexander's retaliation-based Title VII claim is denied. The Title VII retaliation claim against the individual defendants is dismissed. NEIU's motion to strike Alexander's request for punitive damages is granted.


Alexander has been employed by NEIU as a carpenter since 1989. Alexander alleges that during his employment, he was sexually harassed by his female supervisor, Debra Cokley ("Cokley"), and that he was retaliated against by the individual defendants for complaining about the harassment to NEIU.

Specifically, Alexander alleges that Cokley attempted to kiss him in late 1994 in the NEIU carpentry shop. Am. Compl. 1. She then made subsequent sexual advances at him, all of which were met with his rebuke. Id.

In 1996, Alexander filed an internal grievance (the "grievance") with NEIU complaining about Cokley's conduct. Id. 2. Alexander's amended complaint alleges that, in the ensuing proceedings, several managerial employees of NEIU misrepresented facts, falsified records, or colluded in these misrepresentations. Id. 2. In March 1998, Alexander was informed that his grievance was denied because it lacked a basis. Id. 6.

Alexander alleges that, following these proceedings, Cokley and several current and former NEIU managers retaliated against him for complaining about Cokley's conduct. This retaliation included the denial of his right to appeal the grievance decision, suspension without pay, delay in reimbursement for sick pay, writing baseless unfavorable reports about him, loss of certain privileges as a result of these unfavorable reports, denial of his right to run for and serve on the Civil Service Council, and refusal to accommodate his injuries.

On April 30, 2004, Alexander filed a formal charge with the EEOC (the "EEOC charge"), alleging continuing discrimination based on retaliation. In filling out the EEOC charge form, Alexander checked only the box indicating discrimination based on retaliation. He did not check the available "sex" discrimination box.

On January 31, 2005, Alexander received a right to sue letter from the EEOC. He commenced the present suit when he filed his initial complaint on April 29, 2005. Alexander's pro se complaint is very difficult to comprehend. The complaint does not delineate specific counts, but the factual allegations lend themselves, at least superficially, to a claim of retaliation under Title VII. Alexander requests damages of $1,000,000 for lost wages and additional compensation, in the form of "restitution, recovery, punitive damages, in essence 'to be made whole' and any other form of relief permitted or require [sic] by law for these causes." Id. 8.

As a pro se plaintiff, Alexander is entitled to a liberal reading of his complaint. See Greer v. Board of Educ. of City of Chicago, 267 F.3d 723, 727 (7th Cir. 2001) ("[W]e liberally construe the pleadings of individuals who proceed pro se."); McCormick v. City of Chicago, 230 F.3d 319, 325 (7th Cir. 2000) ("It is the well-settled law of this circuit that pro se complaints are to be liberally construed and not held to the stringent standards expected of pleadings drafted by lawyers."). The court reads Alexander's complaint to allege a Title VII retaliation claim against both NEIU and the Individual Defendants.*fn1


When considering a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations in the complaint are taken as true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the plaintiff's favor. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Perkins v. Silverstein, 939 F.2d 463, 466 (7th Cir. 1991). A pro se plaintiff is accorded greater latitude in pleading legally sufficient facts and allegations that could entitle him to relief. See McCormick, 230 F.3d at 325 ("[A] pro se civil rights complaint may only be dismissed if it is beyond doubt that there is no set of facts under which the plaintiff could obtain relief.").

A. Title VII Retaliation Claim Against NEIU

Before initiating a civil action under Title VII, a plaintiff must comply with the conditions precedent outlined in 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5 (2006), which are: (1) filing an EEOC charge within no more than three hundred days of the alleged incident; (2) obtaining a right to sue letter from the EEOC; and (3) filing a complaint within 90 days of receipt of a right to sue letter that is based on claims within the scope of allegations in the EEOC charge. See 42 U.S.C. ...

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