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West v. Illinois State Board of Education

November 20, 2007

SCOTT H. WEST, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, DONALD W. EVANS, CHRISTOPHER A. KOCH, AND ROBERT L. WOLFE, DEFENDANTS,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marvin E. Aspen, District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Defendants Illinois State Board of Education ("ISBE"); Christopher A. Koch, in his official capacity as State Superintendent of the ISBE; Robert L. Wolfe in his official capacity as External Assurance; Donald W. Evans, in his official capacity as Director of Human Resources, Professional Development and Conference Planning for the ISBE*fn1 move to dismiss in its entirety Scott West's ("Plaintiff") Complaint alleging a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"). For the reasons stated below, we deny Defendants' motion.

BACKGROUND Plaintiff, a retired employee of the ISBE, allegedly has severe learning disabilities. (Compl. ¶¶ 5, 11-14). Plaintiff contends that he is aggrieved by Defendant's conduct, actions and inactions in violation of the ADA. Plaintiff alleges that because of his disabilities he received an unsatisfactory performance evaluation ("PE") on March 18, 2005 from his immediate supervisor, Robert Wolfe. (Id. ¶ 6). Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Susan Ahmari, M.D., sent a letter to Defendants Wolfe and Evans on May 24, 2005, stating that Plaintiff suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder and non-verbal learning disabilities that required an accommodation in his work environment. (Id. ¶ 8). On August 4, 2005, Plaintiff's psychologist, Dr. M. Patricia Bernbom, sent an opinion to Defendant Evans stating that Plaintiff suffered from ADHD, a non-verbal learning disability, a processing speed deficit and a short-term auditory sequential memory deficit, and requested specific accommodations. (Id. ¶ 9). Despite these requests, Plaintiff did not receive any accommodations from his employer. (Id. ¶ 10). Instead, Plaintiff received another unsatisfactory PE in March 2006. (Id. Ex. A. ¶ 3(C)). Plaintiff claims that Defendants' actions were to force Plaintiff to resign. (Compl. ¶ 10).

In response to Defendants' allegedly discriminatory actions, Plaintiff filed a grievance with his union, IFSOE Local 3236. (Compl. Ex. A ¶ 7; Mot. at 1-2). To resolve the grievance, the parties entered a Settlement Agreement on April 3, 2006. (Mot. at 2). Plaintiff signed the Settlement Agreement and a Letter Offering to Retire, indicating his intent to retire effective June 30, 2006. (Compl. ¶ 14; Ex. A, B). Plaintiff's research on the Illinois State Attendance-On-Line website led him to think that he would attain twenty years of service with the ISBE in May of 2006. (Compl. ¶ 11). Plaintiff alleges that he believed he would be eligible to receive his full pension and medical benefits upon the June 30, 2006 retirement date in the Settlement Agreement, as he turned fifty-five years old on June 6, 2006, and had already accumulated the necessary twenty years of service as of May of 2006. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 15). Plaintiff's union representative participated in the resolution and signed the Settlement Agreement also. (Id. Ex. A ¶ 7). The Settlement Agreement provided Plaintiff an accommodation to work on a special project in the ISBE Chicago office as soon as he could be trained but, no later than April 10, 2006. (Id. Ex. A ¶ 1). He would continue with the project until his retirement. (Id.).

However, on April 7, 2006, His Teacher Retirement System ("TRS") representative, advised him that the information from the Attendance-On-Line website was incorrect. (Compl. ¶ 16). The Settlement Agreement left him seventy-two days short of the twenty years of service necessary to collect his pension. (Id.). Even if his accumulated sick, personal and vacation days were factored into the calculation, Plaintiff remained approximately thirty-three days short, rendering him ineligible to receive his pension or medical benefits until he reached the age of sixty. (Id.). On April 19, 2006, in response to the information from his TRS representative, Plaintiff sent a letter to the ISBE Human Resources Department attempting to rescind his Letter Offering to Retire and withdrawing his signature from the Settlement Agreement. (Id. ¶ 17; Ex. C). Defendants refused to accept his rescission. (Compl. ¶ 18).

Plaintiff filed a state court complaint against Defendants, on or about, June 29, 2006. (Mot. at 2, Ex. C). That complaint was dismissed on January 18, 2007, based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction and ripeness. (Id.). Plaintiff then pursued the matter at the federal level, filing his EEOC charge on January 12, 2007. (Mot. Ex. G). On or about February 28, 2007, Plaintiff received a Right to Sue Letter from the U.S. Department of Justice stating that he had ninety days from receipt of that letter in which to commence a civil action. (Compl. Ex. D). Plaintiff filed the present Complaint against ISBE alleging discrimination in violation of the ADA on May 29, 2007. (Compl. ¶ 48). Plaintiff asks that the Defendants be found in violation of the ADA, be enjoined from terminating Plaintiff's employment, and that they be required to provide him with reasonable accommodations. (Id. ¶ 6).

Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint on the following three grounds: 1) the individual Defendants should be dismissed as they do not fit within the definition of "employer" under the ADA and therefore they cannot be held liable; 2) Plaintiff's ADA claims are barred by the applicable statutory limitations period as he failed to file his EEOC charge within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory acts; and 3) Plaintiff's ADA claims are barred by the Settlement Agreement that Plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily executed on April 3, 2006.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A court may grant a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6) when "it appears beyond all doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102 (1957). The purpose of a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not to decide the merits of the case. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). A sufficient complaint need not give "detailed factual allegations," but it must provide more than "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007).

ANALYSIS

1. Individual Liability Under the ADA

Defendants Evans, Koch and Wolfe contend that individuals who do not fit the statutory definition of employer cannot be held liable under the ADA. EEOC v. AIC Sec. Investigations, Ltd., 55 F.3d 1276, 1282 (7th Cir. 1992). Under the ADA, an employer is "a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees . . . and any agent of such person."

42 U.S.C. § 12111(5)(A) (2007). Defendants argue, citing Seventh Circuit authority, that individual liability for supervisors was not intended under the ADA. Silk v. City of Chicago, 194 F.3d 788, 797 n.5 (7th Cir. 1999). Plaintiff responds that an exception to this rule, recognized by the Supreme Court and adopted by the Seventh Circuit, exists where state officials in their official capacities are sued for prospective injunctive relief. Bd. of Trustees v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 374, 121 S.Ct. 955, 968 n.9 (2001); Bruggeman v. Blagojevich, 324 F.3d 906, 912-13 (7th Cir. 2003).

Defendants Evans, Koch and Wolfe respond that any injunctive relief to which Plaintiff may be entitled could be attained against Defendant ISBE and that naming the individual Defendants is redundant. Jungels v. Pierce, 825 F.2d 1127, 1129 (7th Cir. 1987). The Jungels court found that adding the mayor as an individual defendant in his official capacity to the plaintiff's ยง1983 suit against the city made no practical difference as the city is liable for the official actions of its official. Id. However, Plaintiff here asks for more than liability. Plaintiff requests that we enjoin the individual Defendants, Evans, Koch and Wolfe, from terminating Plaintiff's employment, and require them to provide Plaintiff reasonable accommodations. Because the relief ...


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