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Crouse v. Crossroads Workforce Investment Board

March 31, 2008

KEVIN CROUSE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CROSSROADS WORKFORCE INVESTMENT BOARD, AND THERESE MCMAHON, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stiehl, District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Before the Court is defendant McMahon's motion to dismiss (Doc. 20), to which plaintiffs have responded (Doc. 26). Plaintiffs filed a three count complaint seeking to recover for alleged violations of their civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 for sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation.

BACKGROUND

Under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 ("WIA"), Congress appropriates monies to state agencies to support workforce investment activities. State agencies then disburse these funds to statewide and local organizations that provide community workforce investment systems. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is a state agency that, among other things, distributes WIA funds to organizations throughout Illinois. It does this through its Bureau of Workforce Development ("BWD"). The Crossroads Workforce Investment Board ("CWIB"), also known as Local Workforce Investment Area #23, is a nonprofit corporation that receives funding from the BWD. CWIB uses its funding to provide workforce development programs to employers and employees in fourteen Illinois counties.

Between July 1, 2003, and November 16, 2005,*fn1 CWIB employed plaintiffs Ginger Crouse, Kevin Crouse, and Steve Weber at its corporate office in Marion County, Illinois. On December 8, 2004, Ginger Crouse contacted the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to report personal complaints of sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation by CWIB board member, Jerry Michels. She also complained of similar retaliation by board member, Marva Green, who took no action in regard to Crouse's complaint of sexual harassment that she and other women working at CWIB suffered from Michels.

Ginger Crouse's complaint was investigated by Erin Davis, a lawyer and equal opportunity officer employed by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. During Davis's investigation, Kevin Crouse and Steve Weber were interviewed as witnesses. Both supported Ginger Crouse's complaint. Ultimately, Davis concluded that Ginger Crouse had been subject to gender discrimination and unlawfully retaliated against. In her Notice of Final Action dated June 22, 2005, Davis recommended that Michels and Green either voluntarily resign or be removed from their CWIB board positions.

On June 22, 2005, the CWIB board met to discuss the Notice of Final Action prepared by Davis. Both Davis and Therese McMahon, the Deputy Director of BWD, were present at the closed meeting. Subsequently, Green and Michels were forced to resign from their board positions. Following the departure of Green and Michels, Ginger and Kevin Crouse allege that they experienced increased retaliation. All three plaintiffs allege that their work became more difficult to perform. In August of 2005, Ginger and Kevin Crouse allege that McMahon sent two staff members into the Crouses' offices to search for certain documents while they were on vacation. Plaintiffs further allege that this search was uncalled for because only three months prior the State Fiscal Monitors had conducted a review of the Crouses' offices and concluded that there were no inappropriate findings or problems.

On November 16, 2005, the CWIB held another closed meeting. None of the plaintiffs were allowed to attend the meeting; however, certain of their legal representatives were allowed to be present. Plaintiffs allege that during the meeting McMahon threatened the CWIB board that it would have to repay approximately $750,000 in disallowed costs unless the board voted to fire all three plaintiffs that night. The board voted and all three plaintiffs were terminated. Plaintiffs subsequently filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received timely right to sue letters.

In their three-count complaint, plaintiffs Ginger Crouse, Kevin Crouse, and Steve Weber allege that they suffered: (Count I) retaliation in violation of Title VII for engaging in a protected activity; (Count II) deprivation of various constitutional rights including their First Amendment, equal protection, and due process rights; and (Count III) intentional infliction of emotional distress based on the malicious conduct of McMahon. Both the CWIB and McMahon are named defendants. Therese McMahon seeks dismissal of the claims against her based on qualified immunity.

ANALYSIS

In ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must assume that all facts in the complaint are true and construe allegations in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Hernandez v. City of Goshen, Ind., 324 F.3d 535, 537 (7th Cir. 2003). Dismissal is appropriate only it if appears beyond a doubt that no relief may be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations in the complaint. See Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46; Veazy v. Commc'ns & Cable of Chi., Inc., 194 F.3d 850, 854 (7th Cir. 1999). Although a plaintiff need not set out in detail all the facts upon which a claim is based, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to outline a cause of action. See Stevens v. Umsted, 131 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 1997).

I. Qualified Immunity

Qualified immunity is a privilege "not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation." Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). It is a privilege of "immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; and like an absolute immunity, it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial." Id. Because qualified immunity determines whether or not an official may even be haled into court, the Supreme Court has repeatedly reiterated that the question of qualified immunity must be resolved "at the earliest possible stage in litigation." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (1991) (quoting Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991)).

A two-part analysis is required to determine whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. See also Vose v. Kliment, 506 F.3d 565, 568 (7th Cir. 2007). First, the Court must determine whether the facts as alleged by plaintiffs, construed in a light most favorable to them, properly demonstrate that the official violated a constitutional right. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. Second, the Court must determine whether the right was clearly established. Id. Thus, the first inquiry requires the Court to assess the "existence or nonexistence of a constitutional right," while the second inquiry requires the Court to assess ...


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