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Huon v. Johnson & Bell

August 26, 2010

MEANITH HUON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHNSON & BELL, LTD., WILLIAM V. JOHNSON, WILLIAM G. BEATTY, AND SCOTT W. HOYNE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Blanche M. Manning

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Meanith Huon worked as an attorney at the law firm of Johnson & Bell, Ltd. until his termination on January 9, 2008. He believes he was terminated because he is Cambodian and has sued Johnson & Bell and some of its employees for various civil rights violations, as well as a state law claim of tortious interference with a prospective business expectancy. The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss directed at all of Huon's claims. For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the complaint and deemed to be true for purposes of resolving the motion to dismiss. See Marshall-Mosby v. Corporate Receivables, Inc., 205 F.3d 323, 326 (7th Cir. 2000). Plaintiff Meanith Huon began working at Johnson & Bell on December 1, 2003. Huon worked in several different capacities during his years at Johnson & Bell, most recently as an attorney, and according to Huon he always performed in a satisfactory manner. Nevertheless, during his employment Huon contends that he was treated less favorably than white employees. For instance, he contends that he did not receive the same responsibilities, work assignments, or salary. He also alleges that he was never promoted to partner even though he had met his employer's legitimate expectations. Finally, on January 9, 2008, he was terminated by defendant William Johnson, who is the president of Johnson & Bell. Huon contends that white employees were placed on probation before being terminated, but he was not. Huon's job was filled by a white attorney.

After his termination, Huon cross-filed a charge of discrimination with both the EEOC and the Illinois Department of Human Rights on July 7, 2008. He received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC on September 24, 2009, and filed suit within the 90 days provided under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After filing his charge of discrimination with the EEOC, but before receiving his right-tosue letter, Huon filed suit in state court on January 8, 2009, against Johnson & Bell and three of the firm's attorneys, Charles Rantis, William Beatty, and Scott Hoyne. In his state suit, Huon alleged that Rantis, Beatty, and Hoyne had made false statements about him during performance evaluation discussions held by the firm's shareholders. The statements consisted of various observations of Huon, such as that he was "incompetent," and comments such as he "requires a higher level of supervision" and "should be working more independently." Huon alleged that statements were defamatory, and that Rantis, Beatty, and Hoyne had intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon him. He further alleged that as their employer, Johnson & Bell was vicariously liable for the defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The state court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss Huon's complaint. The court concluded that the statements at issue were opinions, were protected by a qualified privilege, and that the statements of Hoyne were further protected by an absolute privilege. The court also concluded that Huon had failed to state a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress because the statements alleged were not extreme and outrageous. Huon appealed the circuit court's dismissal of his amended complaint, which remains pending before the Illinois Appellate Court.

Huon has now filed a two-count complaint in federal court against three of the defendants to his state court proceeding-Johnson & Bell, Beatty, and Hoyne-plus Johnson & Bell president William Johnson. In count I, he alleges that the defendants discriminated against him based upon his race and/or national origin in violation of both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as well as 42 U.S.C. § 1981. In count II, he alleges that the individual defendants tortiously interfered with his prospective economic advantage.

Before the court is the motion to dismiss and/or stay filed by the defendants. In the motion, the defendants contend that both counts I and II should be dismissed because the allegations are inadequately pled. Alternatively, they contend that this court should stay its proceedings because of parallel proceedings in state court.

Additionally, the court directed the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing the applicability of the doctrines of claim splitting and res judicata to Huon's claims, which they have done.

ANALYSIS

I. Motion to Dismiss and/or for a Stay Based Upon Res Judiciata

Before addressing the arguments raised in the motion to dismiss, the court begins with the issue it directed the parties to address during supplemental briefing: whether the claims brought before this court are barred by the claims he brought in his earlier state proceeding under the doctrine of res judicata. The defendants assert that the doctrine of res judicata may bar Huon's tortious interference claim because it could have been raised in his earlier state proceeding. Huon argues that res judicata is inapplicable because the defendants cannot satisfy any of the doctrine's elements.

The doctrine of res judicata bars the litigation of issues that were either actually raised in a prior proceeding, or that could have been raised. Hicks v. Midwest Transit, Inc., 479 F.3d 468, 471 (7th Cir. 2007). Under Illinois law, the doctrine of res judicata applies where (1) a final judgment on the merits was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) there is an identity of parties or their privies, and (3) there is an identity of causes of action. In re Dollie's Playhouse, Inc., 481 F.3d 998, 1001 (7th Cir. ...


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