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Gardner v. Illinois Dep't of Corrections

August 5, 2008

DONNELL GARDNER AND MICHAEL LOCKE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RICHARD HARRINGTON, BRAD THOMAS, R. D. MOORE, AND GARY CONNORS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 12). Plaintiffs timely responded. (Doc. 15). The time for further filing has passed. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the Motion to Dismiss.

BACKGROUND

For purposes of this motion, the Court accepts as true the following facts. Plaintiffs Michael Locke (Locke) and Donnell Gardner (Gardner) are both African-American men who were employed as Corrections Officers (COs) by Defendant Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"). Both worked at Menard Correctional Center (Menard) in Chester, Illinois. Locke began working for IDOC in 1997; Gardner began working for IDOC in 1998. Inmates at Menard and other correctional centers will often make allegations that COs are engaged in misconduct. Such allegations, when made against Caucasian COs, do not result in disciplinary actions or the termination of the accused CO's employment.

An inmate at Menard made false allegations that Locke was distributing contraband to the inmates. On February 15, 2005, based on those allegations, Locke's superiors directed him to turn in his keys and meet with Defendant Richard Harrington, an investigator for the Central Intelligence Department of IDOC. Locke was then taken to the Chester Police Department, where he was arrested and charged with attempting to bring contraband into the penal institution and conspiracy to distribute illegal substances. The Randolph County State's attorney subsequently amended the charges to unauthorized possession and delivery of cannabis. Locke was ultimately acquitted of the charges. Nevertheless, IDOC terminated Locke's employment on or about January 6, 2006, ostensibly because Locke had attempted to smuggle contraband into Menard and because he had prior reprimands on his record. However, Locke had not, in fact, attempted to smuggle contraband into Menard and did not have any prior reprimands in his record. IDOC knew that at the time it terminated his employment. On February 28, 2006, Locke filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Locke received his Notice of Right to Sue letter on October 19, 2007. He filed this action of November 6, 2007, alleging that IDOC terminated him because of his race, in violation of Title VII.

An inmate at Menard made false allegations that Gardner was distributing contraband to the inmates. On September 27, 2005, Gardner parked his vehicle across the street from the Menard Correctional facility prior to beginning his shift. Defendant Harrington, Defendant Brad Thomas (also an investigator with the Central Intelligence Department of IDOC), Defendant R. D. Moore (a Major with IDOC), and Defendant Gary Connors (Assistant Warden at Menard), demanded permission to search Gardner's vehicle. Harrington, Thomas, Moore and Connors based their demand on the inmate's allegations. Gardner refused to allow them to search his vehicle. Harrington, Thomas, Moore and Connors held Gardner's vehicle until they obtained a search warrant. The search did not uncover contraband. However, a firearm was found in the vehicle. As a correctional officer, Gardner was authorized to carry and transport a weapon to work. Nonetheless, Harrington, Thomas, Moore and Connors had Gardner arrested and charged with unlawful use of a weapon. The Randolph County State's Attorney later dismissed the charges. Despite the dismissal of the charges against him, IDOC suspended Gardner without pay for approximately three months. On March 2, 2006, Gardner filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and with the EEOC. He received his Notice of Right to Sue on August 9, 2007. Gardner filed this action on November 6, 2007, alleging that IDOC suspended him because of his race, in violation of Title VII, and that Harrington, Thomas, Moore, and Connors violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they had him falsely arrested.

ANALYSIS

For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (per curiam ) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)); Tricontinental Indus., Ltd. v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, 475 F.3d 824, 833 (7th Cir.2007). The federal system of notice pleading requires only that the plaintiff provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In order to provide fair notice of the grounds for his claim, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Pisciotta v. Old Nat'l Bancorp, 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir.2007)(quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (2007)) (internal quotations omitted).

The complaint must offer "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. Moreover, the Court is "not obliged to ignore any facts set forth in the complaint that undermine the plaintiff's claim."

R.J.R. Services Inc. v. Aetna Casualty and Surety Co., 895 F.2d 279, 281 (7th Cir.1989). However, "when a complaint adequately states a claim, it may not be dismissed based on a district court's assessment that the plaintiff will fail to find evidentiary support for his allegations or prove his claim to the satisfaction of the factfinder." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1969 n.8.

I. Count I - Locke's Title VII Claim

Defendants argue the Court should dismiss part of Count I, Locke's Title VII disparate treatment claim, as time barred. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1) provides that a person in Illinois has three hundred days to file a complaint with the EEOC after the date of the alleged unlawful employment practice. Discrete discriminatory acts, such as termination of employment, are not actionable if a complaint is not filed with the EEOC within the statutory period. National R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113 (2002).

The existence of past acts and the employee's prior knowledge of their occurrence, however, does not bar employees from filing charges about related discrete acts so long as the acts are independently discriminatory and charges addressing those acts are themselves timely filed. Nor does the statute bar an ...


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