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Brown v. Yellow Transportation

July 26, 2010

CHARLES BROWN, JEFFREY BURKS, ANTONIO COLON, JAMES DEMOSS, JAMESON DIXON, CLARK FAULKNER, KENNETH GEORGE, LEONARD GREGORY, MARSHUN HILL, CEDRIC MUSE, LAROY WASHINGTON, DARRELL WILLIAMS, CHARLES WOODS, AND MICHAEL WOODS, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND SIMILARLY SITUATED AFRICAN-AMERICAN EMPLOYEES, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
YELLOW TRANSPORTATION, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Nan R. Nolan

Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, current and former employees of Defendant Yellow Transportation, Inc. ("Yellow"), have filed suit on behalf of themselves and similarly situated African-American employees, seeking redress for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that they were subjected to an offensive and racially discriminatory work environment, including racial slurs; racial graffiti; co-workers wearing racially derogatory apparel; disparate terms of employment; denial of equal opportunity to promotions; racially biased discipline; and retaliation for complaints of racial bias.

Currently before the court is Plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend the complaint. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on October 15, 2008, seeking to represent a class of African-American employees working at Yellow's facility in Chicago Ridge, Illinois from October 15, 2004 to the present. The parties promptly commenced oral and written discovery relating to the issue of class certification, focusing on Plaintiffs' allegations of wrongdoing at Chicago Ridge. In or about March 2009, YRC, Inc. ("YRC"), Yellow's parent company, merged Yellow's operations with another YRC company, Roadway Express, Inc. ("Roadway"). In December 2009, the Chicago Ridge facility was closed, and all Plaintiffs and putative class members who were not on lay-off status and who had active work shifts were transferred to a former Roadway facility in Chicago Heights, Illinois.

With two minor exceptions, class discovery closed nearly a year ago on July 31, 2009. On April 12, 2010, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint adding Mack Leonard as a named Plaintiff; adding YRC as a named Defendant; and redefining the class to include individuals employed at both the Chicago Ridge and Chicago Heights facilities. (Doc. 71.) Defendants objected that the class definition was overly broad, prompting Plaintiffs to seek leave to file a corrected amended complaint with the following new class definition: "all current and former African-American employees employed . . . at [Defendants'] facility [in] Chicago Ridge, Illinois and those Chicago Ridge employees transferred to work at the facility located [in] Chicago Heights, Illinois."

Plaintiffs' motion for class certification is due on July 31, 2010, but the parties cannot agree on the proper scope of the amended complaint. Yellow does not object to adding Mr. Leonard as a Plaintiff, or to adding YRC as a Defendant. Both of those changes are granted. Yellow does, however, object to expanding the putative class to include claims arising after Chicago Ridge employees transferred to Chicago Heights.

DISCUSSION

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) provides that leave to amend a complaint "shall be freely given when justice so requires," so long as there is no harm to the other party. FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(2); Smithkline Beecham Corp. v. Apotex Corp., No. 98 C 3952, 2000 WL 116082, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 24, 2000). "Reasons for finding that leave should not be granted include 'undue delay [and] undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment.'" Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT & T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 666 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). Yellow argues that it will suffer undue prejudice and delay if the court accepts Plaintiffs' new class definition. The company also objects that allegations relating to the Chicago Heights facility are the subject of another lawsuit pending in this district, and should not be duplicated here. See E.E.O.C. v. Roadway Express, Inc. and YRC, Inc., Nos. 06 C 4805, 08 C 5555 (N.D. Ill.) (Judge Cox) (the "Roadway Litigation"). Plaintiffs argue that the transferred individuals continue to experience race discrimination and harassment at Chicago Heights, and that they should be allowed to obtain injunctive relief and recover damages for this ongoing mistreatment.

A. Undue Prejudice and Delay

Yellow sees Plaintiffs' new class definition as an improper attempt to add new claims arising out of an entirely separate facility. Yellow stresses that class discovery is closed, and that it has not been able to conduct any discovery to identify:

(1) what the Chicago Heights claims may be, (2) who, if anyone, may have been the alleged bad actors, (3) who among the Chicago Heights' supervisors and which of Chicago Heights' policies and procedures might be relevant to the alleged new claims, and (4) what, if any, similarity exists between the Chicago Heights claims and the Chicago Ridge claims. (Doc. 83, at 7.) Plaintiffs respond that they are merely "adapt[ing] their Complaint to the changed circumstances that Defendant has occasioned by its transfer of Plaintiffs to the Chicago Heights facility and its ongoing racial harassment of Plaintiffs at that facility." (Doc. 84, at 4.) Plaintiffs note that the original complaint always sought to recover for race discrimination and harassment occurring from October 15, 2004 to the present, and emphasize that Yellow (or YRC) itself is responsible for the mid-litigation transfer of employees to a new facility. (Id. at 5.)

In the court's view, Yellow has not met its burden of establishing that it will suffer undue prejudice by virtue of the amended class definition. The definition arguably contemplates new incidents of race discrimination and harassment occurring at a separate Chicago Heights facility, which may involve different conduct, actors and procedures. Nevertheless, the parties have not yet taken any merits discovery in this case, no trial date has been set, and Plaintiffs promptly sought leave to amend within four months of learning of the employee transfers. In addition, Plaintiffs' amendment stems from Yellow's ...


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