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Righter v. Zuccarelli

May 17, 2010

GINA M. RIGHTER PLAINTIFF,
v.
FRANK M. ZUCCARELLI, DONALD MANNING, MARTIN LAREAU, LEONARD CHIARO, AND SOUTH SUBURBAN COLLEGE DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On December 6, 2009, plaintiff Gina M. Righter ("Righter") filed a six count complaint against defendants Frank M. Zuccarelli, Donald Manning, Martin Lareau, Leonard Chiaro, and South Suburban College (collectively "Defendants"), alleging discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") (Count I), gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII") (Count II), pay discrimination in violation of the Equal Pay Act ("EPA") (Count III), retaliatory discharge in violation of both the ADA and Title VII (Count IV), violations of her constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count V), and retaliatory discharge in violation of public policy (Count VI). (Dkt. No. 1 ("Compl.").) Righter's claims stem from her employment with, and eventual discharge from, the South Suburban College Police Department ("Department"). Now before the court is Defendants' "Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Strike and Dismiss the Complaint." (Dkt. No. 6 ("Defs.' Mot.").) For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion is granted as to Counts I (ADA), II (Title VII), and IV (retaliatory discharge) and denied as to Counts III (EPA), V (§ 1983), and VI (retaliation in violation of public policy).

BACKGROUND

When ruling on a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept as true all well-pleaded facts therein. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008). Therefore, for purposes of this motion, the court accepts as true the following version of events as alleged by Righter in her complaint.*fn1

On or about January 3, 1989, the Department hired Righter as its only female police officer. (Compl. ¶¶ 11-12.) Defendant Frank M. Zuccarelli ("Zuccarelli") is Chairman of the South Suburban College Board of Trustees (id. ¶ 5), and defendant Donald Manning ("Manning") is Vice President of the South Suburban College ("College") and a former Director of the Department (id. ¶ 6). Defendant Leonard Chiaro ("Chiaro") became the Police Chief in the early nineties (id. ¶ 25), and in 2005, defendant Martin Lareau ("Lareau") became Director of the Department (id. ¶ 38(o)). As of the date Righter filed her complaint, both Chiaro and Lareau remained in these positions. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.)

Righter was the only female working for the Department during seventeen of her approximately twenty years of employment. (Id. ¶ 12.) Righter initially worked on the third shift from 4:00 p.m. to midnight as an officer and later worked the third shift for ten years as a sergeant. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 26.) As a member of the College's Employees' Union, Righter received overtime compensation, paid leaves of absence, and compensation for time spent in a courtroom or at the gun range, in addition to other benefits. (Id. ¶ 16.) On or about July 12, 1992, Righter was promoted to the rank of sergeant, which, according to the Department's policy, resulted in her loss of union membership. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 21.) Consequently, after her promotion, Righter was paid less than the male police officers for similar work due to her loss of union benefits, including overtime pay. (Id. ¶ 21.)

In 1995, Righter heard a rumor that the two other sergeants in the Department, both of whom were male, were receiving higher salaries than her. (Id. ¶ 30.) Righter asked Manning, who was then Director of the Department, whether she was being paid less than the other sergeants and was told that she was not. (Id. ¶ 31.) Sometime thereafter, Righter asked Chiaro to submit a request to the Board of Trustees that her pay be adjusted to match the male sergeants' salaries if her salary was less than theirs. Chiaro took no action in response to her request. (Id. ¶ 33.) Furthermore, either Manning or Chiaro instructed the other sergeants and officers in the Department not to discuss their compensation with Righter. (Id.)

In 2001, Righter's immune system began to falter following a hysterectomy, leading to various symptoms including a retinal disorder and spondylitis. (Id. ¶ 34.) Righter's doctors found that these symptoms would interfere with her ability to work the night shift and to perform aspects of her job that were not administrative or office-related. (Id.) Consequently, Righter began applying for jobs at the College outside of the Department, as well as applying for positions within the Department that would not exacerbate her medical condition. (Id. ¶ 35.) Over the course of seven years, between June of 2001 and November of 2008, Righter applied for and was denied approximately fifteen positions with the College outside the Department. (Id. ¶ 44.) Righter also repeatedly asked to be transferred to the day shift and be given light duty work during this period of time, frequently offering to be demoted to officer from her rank of sergeant to facilitate her request. (Id. ¶¶ 35, 38(a), (c), (d), (h), (n), (o), (p), (q).) Her requests were denied on the grounds that the day shift did not have any available positions (id. ¶¶ 38(a), (h), (n), (p)), or that there was no "light duty" position within the Department (id. ¶ 38(d)).

On November 27, 2007, the South Suburban Medical Clinic determined that Righter was no longer able to work due to her medical conditions. (Id. ¶ 38(y).) On January 4, 2008, Righter was given a twelve month Health and Hardship Leave of Absence pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654. (Id. ¶ 38(z).) She received her final paycheck from the College on March 31, 2008, and her benefits were terminated on April 1, 2008. (Id. ¶¶ 38(aa), (bb).) Between April and the end of November of 2008, Righter continued to unsuccessfully apply for available positions in other departments at the College as well as request to be placed on the day shift at the Department. (Id. ¶¶ 40, 42, 44.) On December 9, 2008, Righter filled out a questionnaire with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Id. ¶ 48.) On December 11, 2008, Righter was called before the Board of Trustees and terminated for being excessively absent from her job. (Id. ¶¶ 50-51.) On January 23, 2009, 298 days after receiving her final paycheck, Righter filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. (Id. ¶¶ 52-53; id. at Ex. B.)

On February 20, 2009, one of Righter's former co-workers, Officer Alexander, informed Righter that the male sergeants at the Department had received a higher salary than her. (Id. ¶ 54.) Righter subsequently learned that male officers had been paid bonuses for doing work that she had performed without receiving extra compensation. (Id. ¶ 55.)

On July 14, 2009, Righter received a right to sue letter from the EEOC. (Id. ¶ 58.) Within 90 days of receiving the right to sue letter, Righter filed a timely complaint in Righter v. Zuccarelli,No. 09-C-6375 (N.D. Ill.), alleging violations of the ADA, Title VII, § 1983, Equal Protection under the U.S. Constitution, and retaliatory discharge. (Case No. 09-C-6375, Dkt. No. 1.) In response to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss filed by Defendants, Righter voluntarily dismissed her suit on November 12, 2009. (Id. at Dkt. No. 10.) She subsequently filed her complaint in this case on December 6, 2009.

LEGAL STANDARD

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must state a facially plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

A claim is facially plausible when the "plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. A complaint must do more than allege facts that are merely consistent with an entitlement to relief; it must "raise the right to relief above the speculative level" and cross "the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitle[ment] to relief.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-57 (alteration in original). In ruling on a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must "tak[e] the factual ...


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