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Flowers v. Carbondale Elementary School Dist. No. 95

October 6, 2010

LINDA FLOWERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CARBONDALE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 95, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Murphy, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant Carbondale Elementary School District No. 95's (the District) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 21). On October 6, 2009, Plaintiff Linda Flowers (Flowers) filed a Complaint against the District alleging race discrimination in her terms of employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Doc. 2). After the District raised the statute of limitation in a Motion to Dismiss, Flowers filed an Amended Complaint alleging discrimination "in terms of making and enforcement of employment contracts on the basis of race" pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1981; along with two additional state law claims for defamation per se and intentional infliction of emotional distress brought pursuant to this Court's supplemental jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (Doc. 13).*fn1 Flowers responded to the District's Motion for Summary Judgment on June 20, 2010. The matter therefore has been fully briefed, and upon a complete review of all the papers submitted, the Court now rules as follows.

BACKGROUND

On summary judgment, the Court considers the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and adopts reasonable inferences and resolves doubts in favor of that party. Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc., v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008). With that said, Flowers' Amended Complaint, along with her other papers, are so sparse and lacking in factual detail that there is not much information from which inferences may be drawn. For example, nowhere in her papers does Flowers plead her specific job position. As it turns out, Flowers was employed as an elementary school Principal within the District. In her Amended Complaint, Flowers alleges that the District discriminated against her on the basis of her race, African-American, "by subjecting [her] to different terms and conditions not imposed on similarly situated white employees; and . by selecting a non-qualified white employee to fill a position that [she] had applied for and was well qualified for." (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 3, 3(a), (b)). At issue is a curriculum coordinator position for which Flowers was not hired in the spring or summer of 2007.

In its Motion for Summary Judgment, the District argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Flowers' discrimination claim-based upon her failure to be hired for the curriculum coordinator position-is barred by the applicable two-year state statute of limitation (statute). In response, Flowers argues that the District waived its statute of limitations defense by "neglecting to raise this issue in [its] Answer to [the] Amended Complaint." (Doc. 23, p. 2). Oddly, the District raised the statute as an affirmative defense both to the claims in the original Complaint, and to Counts Two and Three of the Amended Complaint, but not as to Count One (see Doc. 15, p. 2). However, this Court granted the District's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Answer (Doc. 24) because "Courts are to use their discretion under Rule 15(a) to liberally grant permission to amend pleadings[.]" Sides v. City of Champaign, 496 F.3d 820, 825 (7th Cir. 2007).*fn2 (Doc. 27). As a result, the District rightfully asserted the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense to Count One and the defense was not waived.

In her response to the District's motion, for the first time, Flowers argues that her "Amended Complaint includes claims of disparate treatment during [her] employment with defendant," and that the "cumulative effect of the [District's] discriminatory acts created a hostile work environment" (Doc. 23, pp. 2 and 7). According to Flowers, these two claims are not barred by the two-year statute of limitations.

ANALYSIS

The standard applied to summary judgment motions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is well-settled and has been succinctly stated as follows:

Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, [the Court] must view the record in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Because the primary purpose of summary judgment is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims, the non-movant may not rest on the pleadings but must respond, with affidavits or otherwise, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.. A mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position is insufficient; a party will be successful in opposing summary judgment only when it presents definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion.

Albiero v. City of Kankakee, 246 F.3d 927, 931-32 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations and quotations omitted). As will be discussed in greater detail below, here, Flowers has not met her burden of presenting any "definite, competent evidence to rebut the [District's] motion." Id.

If, as the District argues, Flowers' discrimination claim in Count One is limited to the District's failure to hire her for the curriculum coordinator position, then the two-year state statute of limitations applies and effectively bars her claim. Under the Supreme Court's holding in Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 541 U.S. 369 (2004), claims premised on conduct which took place after the formation of an employment contract are governed by Congress's four--year catch--all statue of limitations, codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1658. Dandy v. UPS, Inc., 388 F.3d 263, 269 (7th Cir. 2004). By contrast, claims involving the making or enforcement of contracts are subject to the "analogous state personal rights statute of limitations." See Id. at n. 4. As such, Flowers' claim in Count One-which explicitly involves the "making and enforcement of employment contracts"-is governed by the Illinois two-year statute of limitations period for personal injury claims. Fit v. Northern Trust, Corp., 2007 WL 4373971 at *1 (N.D. Ill. 2007).

The Court agrees with the District that Flowers' sparse Amended Complaint only states a "failure to hire" discrimination claim. Flowers, of course, argues otherwise. Specifically, Flowers argues that she has adequately pled disparate treatment, and, for the first time, that the cumulative effect of the District's alleged discriminatory acts resulted in a hostile work environment. Unfortunately, for Flowers, her post-hoc attempts to amend her pleadings in response to the District's Summary Judgment Motion are not only unavailing, they are unacceptable. See e.g., Shanahan v. City of Chicago, 82 F.3d 776, 781 (7th Cir. 1996) ("A plaintiff may not amend [her] complaint through arguments in [her] brief in opposition to a motion for summary judgment."); see also Griffin v. Potter, 356 F.3d 824, 829 (7th Cir. 2004) (same). Similarly, a plaintiff may not attempt to raise a hostile work environment argument in order to evade dismissal based on the statute of limitations. Shanahan, 356 F.3d at 829. At bottom, nowhere in her Amended Complaint does Flowers' even mention a hostile work environment, and she cannot attempt to change this via new arguments, raised for the first time, in response to the District's motion.

Regarding her alleged disparate treatment claim, Flowers directs the Court to paragraph 3a of her Amended Complaint which states "Defendant interfered with Plaintiff's right to contract by subjecting Plaintiff to different terms and conditions not imposed on similarly situated white employees." (Doc. 13) (emphasis added). This sparsely pleaded allegation does not plead even one specific fact in support of its bald conclusion. Yet, incredibly, Flowers argues that somehow this paragraph asserts a properly pleaded claim of disparate treatment. When placed in the context of Count One, this is simply another allegation in support of Flowers' claim that she was discriminated against "in terms of making and enforcement of employment contracts"; namely, failing to be hired for the curriculum coordinator position.

This alleged discriminatory action took place in either May or June of 2007. And Flowers, by her own admission, was aware that she had not been hired for the position by August of 2007, at the latest. Flowers' however did not file her original Complaint until October 6, 2009. Therefore, Flowers' discrimination claim in Count One-based on the District's failure to hire her for the ...


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