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Knox v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

June 20, 2007

DANIEL KNOX, PLAINTIFF,
v.
METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DISTRICT OF GREATER CHICAGO AND PATRICK FOLEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONNEL DIRECTOR OF THE METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DISTRICT OF GREATER CHICAGO, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Daniel Knox ("Plaintiff") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendant Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago ("District") and its Director of Personnel, Defendant Patrick Foley ("Foley"), discriminated against him on the basis of race. The District and Foley, in his official capacity, have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Foley answered the claim brought against him personally. Plaintiff's claim against the District survives because he has alleged facts that plausibly suggest a widespread practice of discrimination that constitutes a custom. Plaintiff's claim against Foley, in his official capacity, is dismissed because it duplicates the claim against the District.

PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

Plaintiff is an African-American male. 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 5. Plaintiff applied for the position of hoisting engineer with the District. Id. ¶ 8. On October 3, 2004, Plaintiff participated in an examination for hoisting engineer candidates which consisted of two parts: (1) a written test and; (2) a performance test. Id. ¶¶ 10, 37. Candidates who receive the highest scores on the examination are placed on the "A" list and are the first applicants hired when a position for a hoisting engineer becomes available. Id. ¶¶ 17, 18. Plaintiff passed the written test and proceeded to take the performance test. Id. ¶ 12. In December 2004, Plaintiff was notified that he had not passed the performance test. Id. ¶ 20.

Plaintiff appealed the results of the performance test to the Civil Service Board ("CSB"). Id. ¶ 37. The CSB was established by the District Enabling Act and is tasked with "investigat[ing] the enforcement of this Act and the rules adopted pursuant to this Act." 70 ILCS 2605/4.2, 2605/4.16. The CSB ordered the District to place Plaintiff on the District's "A" list. 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 38. The District has not done so, pending its administrative appeal of the CSB's decision. Id. ¶ 39.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant rated him poorly on the performance test because of his race, and that the District's conduct towards him is part of "a longstanding, widespread pattern and practice of discrimination and a policy of deprivations of equal rights of black candidates." Id. ¶¶ 30, 31. Plaintiff also alleges that Foley is a policymaker who injured Plaintiff by discriminating against him. Id. ¶¶ 33, 34.

DISCUSSION

When considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995). The plaintiff need not allege all of the facts involved in the claim. See Sanjuan v. American Bd. of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994). The claim though must be supported with enough facts, taken as true, that plausibly suggest that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007).

I. Plaintiff's Claim Against the District

Plaintiff has sued the District under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pursuant to § 1983, the District cannot be liable under a theory of respondeat superior. See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). A District policy itself must be the source of the discrimination. See id. at 691; Baxter v. Vigo County Sch. Corp., 26 F.3d 728, 734 (7th Cir. 1994). Generally speaking, claims for municipal liability are not subject to a heightened pleading standard. See McCormick v. City of Chicago, 230 F.3d 319, 323-24 (7th Cir. 2000) (citing Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993)). To allege adequately a policy that violates an individual's civil rights, a plaintiff must plead facts that give rise to the plausible inference of: "(1) an express policy that, when enforced, causes a constitutional deprivation; (2) a widespread practice, that, although not authorized by written law or express municipal policy, is so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law; or (3) an allegation that the constitutional injury was caused by a person with final policymaking authority." Baxter, 26 F.3d at 734-35. Plaintiff relies on both the second and third options.

A. The District's Pattern and Practice

Plaintiff alleges that the District's conduct towards him is part of a widespread practice so permanent and well-settled as to constitute a custom with the force of law. To establish a custom, the plaintiff must allege "a pattern or a series of incidents of unconstitutional conduct," not just a single incident. Gray v. County of Dane, 854 F.2d 179, 183 (7th Cir. 1988) (quoting Powe v. City of Chicago, 664 F.2d 639, 650 (7th Cir. 1981)). Plaintiff alleges that the District "intentionally discriminates against Black candidates by making sure that they do not obtain a high score on the performance test." 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 29. In support of this conclusion, Plaintiff alleges that two white candidates who were unqualified for the position of hoisting engineer nonetheless were given high scores on the examination because they were white. Id. ¶¶ 22-27. Plaintiff also alleges that, as of the time the discrimination occurred, the District had not hired any African-American candidates as hoisting engineers for over twenty years. Id. ¶ 28. These facts plausibly suggest that the District discriminates against African-American candidates in hiring hoisting engineers.

The District contends that Plaintiff has undermined his claim of a widespread practice of discrimination by availing himself of the District's internal review procedures. The existence of "workable review procedures" may indeed undermine a plaintiff's claim that a defendant has a custom of discrimination. See Gray, 854 F.2d at 184. In Gray, the plaintiff "plainly derived some measure of satisfaction" from the "County's significant efforts to address [the plaintiff's] complaints." Id. at 183-184. Specifically, in response to the plaintiff's first grievance about unequal salary, the defendant placed the plaintiff at a higher pay grade. See id. at 183. In response to the plaintiff's later harassment and retaliation complaints, the defendant reassigned her to another supervisor. See id. Thus, the court reasoned that the "offending officials clearly were not conforming to informal practices 'so permanent and well settled as to constitute'" a custom with the force of law. Id. at 184 (quoting St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988)).

Plaintiff has not "plainly derived some measure of satisfaction" from his appeal to the CSB. The District has not placed Plaintiff on its "A" list, as ordered by the CSB. Plaintiff today is in the same ...


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