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Heater v. Local Union No. 176

September 15, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joan Humphrey Lefkow United States District Judge

Judge Joan H. Lefkow


Plaintiff Deborah Heater filed a four-count complaint in which she named two defendants: (1) Local Union No. 176, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFLCIO ("Union") and (2) Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee*fn1 ("JATC") (collectively, "defendants"). Counts I is a claim for discrimination and failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. Count II alleges a hostile work environment in violation of the ADA. Count III is a claim for sexual harassment and gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Count IV is a supplemental state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). Before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss Counts I, II and IV pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss [#14] will be denied.


A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. General Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution Corp., 128 F.3d 1074, 1080 (7th Cir. 1997). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint and draws reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. Dixon v. Page, 291 F.3d 485, 486 (7th Cir. 2002). In order to survive a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the Seventh Circuit has stated that the complaint must provide the defendant with "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776--77 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, --- U.S. ---, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.E.2d 929 (2007)). The allegations in the complaint must also be "enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965.


Heater was a member of the Union from approximately 2002 through May of 2005, during which time she received job apprenticeship training provided by the JATC. As part of this training, she was required to take periodic assessment tests. Heater's union membership and involvement in the JATC training program were ultimately terminated as a result of poor performance on these tests.

Heater alleges that she suffers from Adult Attention Deficit Disorder ("ADD"), that the Union was aware that she suffered from this disorder, and that the Union unreasonably refused to accommodate her learning deficiencies that resulted from her impairment. Heater also alleges that the Union's instructors, senior members, officers, and agents inappropriately revealed the fact that she suffered from this disorder to other members and intentionally tried to humiliate and harass her in ways relating to her disability. Heater further alleges that the Union held its male members to lower job performance standards and did not terminate their membership on the basis of similarly poor test performance.

Heater also alleges that the union employees and members subjected her to "repeated and pervasive verbal sexual advances, innuendo, suggestive sexual comments, degrading and derogatory remarks, and discriminatory, differential and unfair treatment because of her gender." Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 25. She alleges that this harassment was severe and continued on regular basis throughout her time as a union member, despite her complaints to union supervisors. Heater's supervisors allegedly took no action to control or prevent the harassment from the other union members and officers. Heater claims that this made her work environment "both subjectively and objectively . . . hostile, threatening and unsafe" and "interfered with [her] ability to adequately perform her job." Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 41.

As a result of these working conditions, Heater claims to have suffered from, among other things, lost wages and benefits, future pecuniary losses, and emotional distress.


I. Preemption Under the National Labor Relations Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act

The Union argues that the jurisdiction of this court is preempted by both (a) Section 301 of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") and (b) the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Heater contends that defendants' jurisdictional arguments are beyond the scope of this motion, because the motion was brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Regardless of which rule defendants cited in their motion, however, Rule 12(h)(3) provides that "[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3); see also BEM I, L.L.C. v. Anthropologie, Inc., 301 F.3d 548, 551 (7th Cir. 2002) ("[L]awyers who practice in federal court have an obligation to assist the judges to keep within the boundaries fixed by the Constitution and Congress."). The court will therefore consider both of defendants' jurisdictional arguments.

First, defendants argue that the jurisdiction of this court is preempted by Section 301 of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), which provides the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") with exclusive jurisdiction over claims involving unfair labor practices. Defendants rely on the Supreme Court's assertion in San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 245, 79 S.Ct. 773, 3 L.Ed. 2d 775 (1959), that "when an activity is arguably subject to § 7 or § 8 of the Act, the States as well as the federal courts must defer to the exclusive competence of the National Labor Relations Board if the danger of state interference with national policy is to be averted." Id. at 245. Standing alone, this quote might be read to suggest that federal courts and state courts alike do not have jurisdiction in any labor dispute that arguably falls within these sections of the NLRA. When read in the context of the rest of the decision and in light of the purpose of federal statutory preemption, however, it is clear that the Garmon Court did not intend to remove all labor disputes ...

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