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Wojciech Czarniecki v. City of Chicago

January 21, 2011

WOJCIECH CZARNIECKI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. Nos. 07 C 5316 & 09 C 2730-Amy J. St. Eve, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hamilton, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED SEPTEMBER 14, 2010

Before BAUER, FLAUM, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

Plaintiff Wojciech Czarniecki was a probationary police officer of the Chicago Police Department from November 2006 until he was dismissed in February 2007. In two federal lawsuits, Czarniecki has alleged that he was improperly dismissed because of his Polish national origin. In September 2007, Czarniecki filed the first suit against the City of Chicago and the Assistant Deputy Superintendent of the Police Academy, Matthew Tobias, under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging national origin discrimination in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court first granted summary judgment in favor of the City on the § 1983 claim. Shortly before a trial on the claim against Tobias, the court granted Czarniecki's motion to dismiss his claim against Tobias without prejudice under Rule 41(a).

In May 2009, Czarniecki filed the second lawsuit alleging that the City intentionally discriminated against him based on his national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. The district court ruled that the Title VII lawsuit was barred by claim preclusion (res judicata) because it arose out of the same set of operative facts as the earlier § 1983 case in which there was a final resolution in favor of the City. We agree and affirm the district court's decision. We also dismiss as moot Czarniecki's two other related appeals.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

A. Czarniecki's National Origin Discrimination Claim Under 42 U.S.C. 1983

In September 2007, Wojciech Czarniecki brought a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Chicago and Tobias. The complaint alleged that Tobias terminated Czarniecki's employment based on national origin discrimination that violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. For purposes of this appeal, we will treat Czarniecki's allegations as true. Tobias allegedly called Czarniecki into his office to discuss Czarniecki's use of exam study guides, and then asked him a series of questions about where he was born (Poland), where his parents were born (Poland), and what language he spoke at home (Polish). Tobias then allegedly said to Czarniecki: "We don't need people like you." When Czarniecki asked Tobias what his Polish heritage had to do with the exam study guides, Tobias told Czarniecki "you have no rights" and said that he could fire Czarniecki for "anything." Shortly thereafter, Czarniecki was dismissed from the Police Academy.

Czarniecki asserted that he was dismissed on the basis of national origin discrimination and that Tobias's comments were direct evidence of that discrimination. The City of Chicago maintained that it terminated Czarniecki's at-will, probationary employment based on his lack of honesty concerning his test-taking and his failure to follow his supervisor's direct order not to discuss with other recruits an investigation of misuse of study guides for examinations. Czarniecki has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

Czarniecki further alleged in the § 1983 case that his termination was part of an ongoing pattern of discrimination and anti-Polish bias at the Police Academy. Czarniecki alleged that his dismissal occurred a mere six days after the termination of another Polish recruit, Peter Palka, who was allegedly terminated by Tobias on the pretext of not having read the Police Academy's firearm manual. Tobias allegedly called Palka into his office, asked questions about his Polish heritage, and told Palka that they "didn't need people" like him in the Academy. Czarniecki alleged in his complaint that his*fn1 pretextual termination was part of a pattern in which Hispanic, non-white males at the Police Academy are favored over other ethnicities, races, and colors. He also alleged that Tobias had engaged in discriminatory treatment towards African-Americans, Asians, and women, and had been the subject of numerous federal discrimination lawsuits.

In September 2008, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City on the § 1983 claim. At the same time, the district court denied summary judgment on the individual claim against Tobias, rejecting Tobias's defense of qualified immunity under § 1983. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Czarniecki, Tobias's remarks were direct evidence of national origin discrimination, which is clearly unlawful, and Czarniecki had thus offered evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact for trial.

Two months before the scheduled trial, however, Czarniecki moved to dismiss his claim against Tobias without prejudice under Rule 41(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Czarniecki asserts that he moved to dismiss because the district court had granted a motion that would have prevented him from being rein-stated as a probationary officer and recovering back pay and punitive damages. In January 2009, the district judge granted Czarniecki's motion to dismiss under Rule 41(a)(2). Exercising her discretion to impose terms on a Rule 41(a)(2) dismissal, she also ordered that if the plaintiff wanted to refile the action, he would have to seek her permission to do so.

B. Czarniecki's National Origin Discrimination Claim Under Title VII

Czarniecki filed his second federal action in May 2009, alleging that the City intentionally discriminated against him in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., based on his national origin. Under the district court's supplemental jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), Czarniecki also alleged state-law claims of intentional ...


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