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Shakir v. Board of Trustees of Rend Lake College

February 1, 2010

SALAH SHAKIR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF REND LAKE COLLEGE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David R Herndon Chief Judge United States District Court

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

HERNDON, Chief Judge

I. Introduction

Before the Court is a combined Motion to Dismiss Counts 4 through 6 of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and Motion to Strike (Doc. 46), filed by defendants Board of Trustees of Rend Lake College, County of Jefferson, State of Illinois (the "College"), and Bill Simpson, Randall Crocker and Bryan Drew. Accompanying the Motion is Defendants' supporting memorandum (Doc. 47). Plaintiff has filed an opposing Response (Doc. 53), to which Defendants have replied (Doc. 54). Also before the Court is a Stipulation for Dismissal (Doc. 67) between Plaintiff and defendant John Huffman, made pursuant to FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 41(a)(1)(ii). As the Court will discuss herein, it finds Defendants' arguments do not warrant dismissal based on the standard tied to such motions. Nor does Defendants' arguments warrant striking the cited allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Further, the Court acknowledges the Stipulation for Dismissal between Plaintiff and defendant Huffman to dismiss with prejudice Counts 2, 4 and 6 of the amended complaint against him.

II. Background

When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court may only accept as true the well-pleaded factual allegations of a complaint and must discount mere legal conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S.---, --- 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009). Accordingly, the Court will only recount allegations of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint which contain well-pleaded facts.

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 37) consisting of the following:

Count 1 - a claim under Title VII for discrimination and retaliation against the College;

Count 2 - a civil rights claim against the College, and defendants Simpson, Crocker, Drew and Huffman, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981;

Count 3 - a civil rights claim against the College pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983;

Count 4 - a claim for tortious interference with a prospective contractual relationship against defendants Simpson, Crocker, Drew and Huffman;

Count 5 - a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against the College and defendants Simpson, Crocker, Drew and Huffman; and

Count 6 - a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress against the College and defendants Simpson, Crocker, Drew and Huffman.

Defendants, the College, Simpson, Crocker and Drew move pursuant to FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(6) to dismiss Counts 4 through 6 of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

The facts are as Plaintiff alleges in his Amended Complaint (doc. 37). Plaintiff Salah Shakir is an employee of defendant Board of Trustees of Rend Lake College, County of Jefferson, State of Illinois (the "College"), currently serving as its Vice President of Information Technology (Doc. 37, ¶¶ 1 & 14). He is a Muslim individual of Iraqi national origin. He has seventeen years of college-level administrative and teaching experience and overall, twenty five years of experience in the field of information technology (Id. at ¶ 1). At the time at issue in this suit, defendant Bill Simpson ("Simpson") served as the Chairman of the College's Board of Trustees (the "Board") (Id. at ¶ 9). Defendants Randall Crocker ("Crocker") and Bryan Drew ("Drew") were also members of the Board (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11). Also at the time at issue in this suit, defendant John Huffman ("Huffman"), a private attorney, served as legal counsel for the College on a variety of matters (Id. at ¶ 12).

The Board received an anonymous letter on August 20, 2007, which accused Plaintiff of unethical behavior, specifically, for practicing his Muslim religion and speaking Arabic during school hours (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16*fn1 ). The letter also accused Plaintiff of using his position within the College for self serving and vengeful purposes and continued to question whether his attempts to recruit foreign students violated college rules, believing his attempts were for non-educations purposes, questioning why Plaintiff hired a non-English speaking computer programmer (Id. at ¶ 17). The letter's author stated that s/he would be watching the newspapers for mention of the concerns raised by the letter and further warned that s/he would contact local congressional representatives if the College failed to take action (Id. at ¶ 19).*fn2

In response to the letter, on August 29, 2007, the College launched an investigation. The investigation seemed to focus on Plaintiff. Plaintiff claims the investigation was unilaterally authorized by defendants Simpson and Crocker (Id. at ¶ 20). Simpson informed the local media of the investigation, but Plaintiff claims he was never informed of either the purpose or scope of the ultimate findings of the investigation (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22). On October 3, 2007, defendants Drew and Huffman questioned Plaintiff for approximately two hours (Id. at ¶ 25). During their investigation, Defendants received various letters and statements from certain of its employees regarding Plaintiff. Plaintiff claims Defendants never informed him of the contents of the letters and their statements nor was he given a chance to respond to them (Id. at ¶¶ 26-27).

Plaintiff further alleges that during an executive session of the Board on October 16, 2007, various members of the Board, including defendants Simpson, Crocker and Drew, attempted to convince the president of the College, Mark Kern, to terminate Plaintiff. Kern decided not to terminate Plaintiff, but instead suggested a course of lesser punitive action (Id. at ¶¶ 27-29). Defendant Simpson was quoted by the Southern Illinoisan newspaper on October 17, 2007 as stating that the investigation could result in "substantial organizational changes" at the College (Id. at ¶ 30). Subsequent articles reported that a decision about whether to remove Plaintiff as the Vice President of Student Services was to be made subsequent to the conclusion of an internal investigation (Id. at ¶ 31). Plaintiff claims several harsh reader comments to these newspaper articles attacked his character (Id. at ¶ 33).

Sometime on or about October 19, 2007, the College approved the removal of Plaintiff from his position as Vice President of Student Services and also placed a freeze on his salary (Id. at ¶ 34). Plaintiff claims the College never informed him of the reasons behind the decision to remove him from his position or why it decided to freeze his salary (Id. at ¶ 36).

According to Plaintiff, he continued to be falsely portrayed in the public media. For example, on October 25, 2007, the local evening news reported of a federal investigation regarding Plaintiff, lead by officials from Homeland Security and the FBI, spawned by an anonymous letter received by the College containing allegations of forged documents and physical attacks by administrators on employees (Id. at ¶ 37). Plaintiff believes an employee of the College contacted the Department of Homeland Security to request that an investigation be initiated. However, Plaintiff claims he spoke with an involved FBI official who informed Plaintiff that the allegations were deemed to be without merit and therefore, officials declined to investigate (Id. at ¶ 38). Plaintiff alleges that defendant Crocker knew the identity of the College employee who contacted the authorities, but never made any attempt to correct the false reports made concerning Plaintiff (Id. at ¶ 40).

Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants otherwise encouraged a hostile and discriminatory atmosphere at the College, listing as an example an administrator who told defendants Carlock and Huffman that she locked herself in her office out of fear for her safety. Plaintiff further claims that Defendants granted the administrator's request for extra security at the campus daycare facility, due to her safety concerns stemming from the presence of Saudi Arabian students at the College (Id. at ¶ 35).

Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") regarding what he felt was discriminatory treatment by the College (Id. at ¶ 41). At the December 9, 2008 Board meeting, defendant Simpson announced the fact that Plaintiff had filed an EEOC complaint. Plaintiff alleges that on January 15, 2008, defendant Crocker told the College president, Mark Kern, that if Plaintiff would back off of his lawsuit, he could stay as long as he wanted (Id. at ¶ 42). Yet, Plaintiff claims that on February 12, 2008, another Board member told Kern it would be better for Plaintiff to leave the College (Id. at ¶ 43). Plaintiff wrote a letter to the College complaining of discriminatory treatment and seeking redress -- Defendants were made aware of his letter on or about March 11, 2008 (Id. at ¶ 45). ...


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