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Courtney Hayes v. Elementary School District No. 159 et al

March 21, 2011

COURTNEY HAYES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 159 ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendants' partial motion to dismiss and motion to strike. For the reasons stated below, the court denies the partial motion to dismiss and grants the motion to strike.

BACKGROUND

In July 2008, Plaintiff Courtney Hayes (Hayes) was allegedly hired by Defendant Elementary School District No. 159 (District) as its Business Manager. Hayes allegedly entered into a one-year contract with the District. In April 2009, the District allegedly entered into a three-year contract with Hayes (2009 Contract). Hayes took leave due to a pregnancy, and on September 9, 2009, Ronald Wynn (Wynn), the District Superintendent, allegedly received a letter from Hayes' physician (First Physician Letter), stating that Hayes could not return to work until September 21, 2009 due to medical complications. Upon receiving the First Physician Letter, Wynn allegedly obtained from Hayes the phone number of another person who had applied for the Business Manager position. On September 12, 2009, the members of Defendant Board of Education of Elementary School District No. 159 (Board) were informed of the contents of the First Physician Letter. Two days later, Wynn allegedly hired someone to replace Hayes as the District's Business Manager during her absence. On or about September 22, 2009, Wynn and the Board allegedly received another letter from Hayes' physician (Second Physician Letter), stating that Hayes could not return to work until after she had given birth because of pregnancy complications. Hayes also allegedly sent a letter to the District, requesting as an accommodation that her leave allowed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., run after her disability leave, rather than concurrently. (Compl. Ex. 7). In response to the First Physician Letter, Second Physician Letter, and Hayes' request for accommodations, the District allegedly gave Hayes the paperwork for requesting leave under the FMLA. Hayes contends that she completed the FMLA paperwork and signed it on October 2, 2009. On October 13, 2009, the District allegedly notified Hayes that her FMLA leave request was approved and that her FMLA leave would run concurrently with her accumulated paid leave beginning September 21, 2009. In late October or early November, the District also allegedly requested that Hayes propose reasonable accommodations that would allow her to return to work.

In early November 2009, Hayes allegedly submitted to the Board a proposal of reasonable accommodations for her return to work, including that she be allowed to work three days per week from the office and two days per week from home. Shortly thereafter, the District allegedly denied the requested accommodations, informed Hayes that she did not have a current employment contract with the District, and stated that Hayes therefore did not have a right to disability leave. Hayes claims that although she informed the District about her medical condition and need for accommodations, the District allegedly sent Hayes a letter on December 17, 2009, claiming that she had not provided the District with the requested information relating to her accommodations. The District also allegedly informed Hayes that her FMLA leave expired on December 14, 2009, and that she would be fired immediately if she did not return to work on that date. On or about January 4, 2010, the District allegedly received notice that Hayes had filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC Charge), and on January 15, 2010, the District allegedly terminated Hayes' employment.

Hayes includes in her complaint a claim alleging discrimination because of her pregnancy in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count I), a Title VII retaliation claim (Count II), a claim alleging discrimination because of her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12111 et seq. (Count III), an ADA retaliation claim (Count IV), a FMLAretaliation claim (Count V), a FMLA interference claim (Count VI), and a breach of contract claim (Count VII). Defendants move to dismiss counts II, III, IV, VI, and VII and move to strike the requests for exemplary damages in Counts I-IV.

LEGAL STANDARD

In ruling on a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Rule 12(b)(6)), a court must "accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint" and make reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)(stating that the tenet is "inapplicable to legal conclusions"); Thompson v. Ill. Dep't of Prof'l Regulation, 300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002). To defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (internal quotations omitted)(quoting in part Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint that contains factual allegations that are "merely consistent with a defendant's liability . . . stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (internal quotations omitted).

DISCUSSION

I. Title VII Retaliation Claim (Count II)

Defendants argue that Hayes has not shown that her termination was caused by her filing of the EEOC Charge. Defendants argue that for a Title VII retaliation claim, one of the elements that must be pled in order to state a cause of action is a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse job action. However, a plaintiff is not required, as Defendants contend, to provide at the pleadings stage "evidence of causality." (Mot. 4). The caselaw upon which Defendants rely for such a proposition is caselaw addressing the standard for reviewing a motion for summary judgment filed by a defendant. See, e.g., Miller v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 997, 1007 (7th Cir. 2000)(stating that a "causal link" was part of the prima facie case for proceeding under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting method). Defendants incorrectly assert that the cases cited by them set forth a pleading standard for a Title VII retaliation claim. In support of their causation arguments, Defendants cite, for example, Clark County School Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268 (2001), Cichon v. Exelon Generation Co., L.L.C., 401 F.3d 803 (7th Cir. 2005), Miller v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 997 (7th Cir. 2000), and Gleason v. Mesirow Financial, Inc., 118 F.3d 1134 (7th Cir. 1997), all of which involved a district court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment, rather than on a motion to dismiss. Clark, 532 U.S. at 269; Cichon, 401 F.3d at 805; Miller, 203 F.3d at 1000, 1007; Gleason, 118 F.3d at 1136-37. The elements for establishing a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting method are not applicable at the motion to dismiss stage. See, e.g., Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569 (2007)(indicating that "a complaint in an employment discrimination lawsuit [need] not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp")(internal quotations omitted)(quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 (2002)).

In the instant action, Hayes contends that on January 4, 2010, she filed the EEOC Charge and that on January 15, 2010, eleven days later, Defendants terminated her employment. Based upon the allegations, it is plausible that Hayes' protected activity led to her termination. Defendants argue that they had indicated in December 2009 that Hayes would be terminated if she did not return to work and that they thus terminated her employment based on a decision made prior to the filing of the EEOC Charge. Defendants assert that "[w]hen [Hayes] did not return to work at the end of her FMLA leave, she was discharged in accordance with the contemplated action of the District prior to her engaging in any protected activity." (Reply 7). However, Hayes alleges that Defendants informed Hayes in December 2009 that her employment would be "immediately" terminated unless she returned to work. (Compl. Par. 25). Hayes also alleges that Defendants did not terminate Hayes' employment immediately and instead waited more than a month after Hayes' FMLA leave expired to terminate Hayes' employment, which was after she filed the EEOC Charge. (Compl. Par. 27). Whether Defendants made the decision to terminate Hayes' employment prior to the filing of the EEOC Charge or whether the EEOC Charge was a factor in the decision to terminate Hayes' employment is a factual determination that cannot be made based upon the allegations in the pleadings. Therefore, the court denies the motion to dismiss Count II.

II. ADA Claims (Counts III and IV)

Defendants argue that Hayes cannot show that she was a qualified individual under the ADA. For an ADA failure to accommodate claim, a plaintiff must establish that: "(1) she is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) the defendant was aware of her disability; and (3) the defendant failed to reasonably accommodate her disability." Gratzl v. Office of Chief Judges of 12th, 18th, 19th, and 22nd Judicial Circuits, 601 F.3d 674, 678 (7th Cir. 2010)(internal quotations omitted)(quoting in part EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 417 F.3d 789, 797 (7th Cir. 2005)). A "qualified individual" is defined under the ADA as "an individual who, with or ...


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