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Brian Corcoran v. the City of Chicago

May 25, 2011

BRIAN CORCORAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF CHICAGO,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Brian Corcoran ("Corcoran") alleges that Defendant, the City of Chicago Police Department ("the City"), violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by retaliating against Corcoran for his complaints about racial slurs made by co-workers (Count I). In a second count of his complaint, Corcoran alleges that the City's intentional "severe and humiliating retaliatory actions" constitute the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). The City has moved to dismiss Count II on the grounds of preemption and failure to state a claim. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Brian Corcoran began working as a police officer at the City's 18th District Station in November 1993. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 6, 7.) Until 2009, Corcoran was assigned to work as a patrol officer but had no regular beat number or assigned partner. (Id. at ¶ 9.) In the first week of April 2009, Corcoran alleges that he overheard Sgt. Kelly Braithwaite ("Sgt. Braithwaite") call Officer Alvin Campbell a "fat lazy nigger." (Id. at ¶ 10.) Corcoran promptly told Campbell what he had heard, and Campbell reported the matter to Captain Randall Zawis ("Captain Zawis"). (Id. at ¶ 11.) Several days later, the Independent Police Review Authority ("IPRA") began an investigation concerning the slur. (Id.)

Corcoran alleges that beginning on April 11, 2009, the City, through its agents, took severe and humiliating retaliatory action against him.*fn1 (Id. at ¶ 12.) First, on April 11, 2009, Captain Ken Angarone, and Captain Zawis reassigned Corcoran and Officer Campbell to Beat 1822F--a fixed post between the 364 and 365 West Oak Street Buildings at Cabrini Green. (Id. at ¶¶ 13, 14.) Supervisors required Corcoran to request face-to-face relief in order to take lunch breaks or personal breaks, and barred him from leaving the post without another officer taking over for him--a requirement that was not imposed on Officers Wadell Hardy and James Martin, who had been assigned to the post before Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 15, 16.) Corcoran alleges that Beat 1822F is known as "the punishment car" among his fellow officers. (Id. at ¶¶ 18, 20.) In fact, when Corcoran asked Lieutenant Bialek, on or around May 6, 2009, why he had been assigned to Beat 1822F, Bialek "told the Plaintiff in sum and substance" that the Captain assigned officers to that Beat "as punishment for various infractions." (Id. at ¶ 19.)

In addition to the undesirable assignment, Corcoran alleges that the City retaliated against him by several "false write-ups," also known as SPARs (the parties do not explain this acronym). On May 15, 2009, Sgt. Braithwaite issued a SPAR to Corcoran for failing to appear at a "check-off" at the 18th District, although she knew that Corcoran was in fact present at that time. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Corcoran requested a review of these allegations, but Commander Steve Georgas affirmed Sgt. Braithwaite's decision. (Id. at ¶ 21.) When Corcoran sought review at the next level of command, however, Central Control Group Deputy James Keating dismissed the charges in the SPAR. (Id.)

Second, on or around June 3, 2009, at the direction of Commander Georgas, Sgt. Cindy Schuman issued another SPAR to Plaintiff for not being present at check-off two days earlier. (Id. at ¶ 22.) Corcoran does not allege that he was in fact present at that time, but he asserts that the SPAR was falsely issued because neither Sgt. Schuman herself nor any other sergeant was present at the check-off. (Id.) Corcoran requested a hearing with Commander Georgas to contest the SPAR, but was ultimately suspended for one day as a result of this incident. (Id.)

On June 25, 2009, Sgt. Brian Byrne arrived at Plaintiff's post and demanded that Plaintiff and Officer Campbell complete a memorandum explaining why they remained in their vehicle at their fixed post. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Until that date, Plaintiff had not "received any order stating that Beat 1822F was a foot post," but he nevertheless completed the report as instructed. (Id.) Several days later, Sgt. Bryne issued a SPAR charging Plaintiff with failure to perform an assigned task, based on a report that Commander Georgas had observed Plaintiff seated in a squad car "'after being instructed . . . to . . . stand in the lobby at 364-465 W. Oak.'" (Id. at ¶ 24.) Plaintiff requested a hearing to review this discipline, and the Acting Commander dismissed the charges. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that after June 25, 2009, his assignment to work "a fix post patrol car" was converted to a foot post in the building lobby, but in January 2010, the assignment "changed back to a patrol car at a fixed post" between two Cabrini Green Housing Development buildings. (Id. at ¶¶ 25, 27.)

A few days later, on January 18, 2010, Sgt. Braithwaite announced that Plaintiff Corcoran and Officer Campbell "could not get gas or a car wash for their vehicle from that date forward." (Id. at ¶ 28.) Sgt. Braithwaite offered no reason for this prohibition but described it as a decision made in a meeting with other lieutenants and sergeants. (Id.) Plaintiff spoke with Sergeant Byrne, who confirmed Braithwaite's order. (Id. at ¶ 29.) Prior to that date, Corcoran, like all other officers in the 18th District, was permitted to get gas or a car wash without seeking permission from a supervisor. (Id. at ¶¶ 28, 30.) On January 23, 2010, Sgt. Braithwaite issued Corcoran a counseling form for being approximately ten minutes late for a roll call--a form Plaintiff believes is false because Sgt. Braithwaite never conducted a formal roll call on that date. (Id. at ¶ 31.)

On March 18 and 19, 2010, Lieutenant Mack conveyed a direction from Captain Zavis that Plaintiff was expected to perform additional responsibilities--specifically, hourly "'walk downs' in the buildings located at Cabrini Green," to check for suspicious activity in the stairwells. (Id. at ¶ 32.)

Braithwaite explained that "'everyone is hot and heavy about your [Plaintiff's] Beat,'" a statement Corcoran understood to mean that he was expected to "meet certain quotas for activity." (Id. at ¶ 33.) At some point in March 2010, Officer Campbell took medical leave and was replaced by Officer Luckett. (Id. at ¶ 34.) Sgt. Joyce offered to change Luckett's assignment at Luckett's request, though Plaintiff's own repeated requests for such a change (one written request and numerous verbal requests) had all been denied. (Id. at ¶ ¶ 34, 35.)

On March 26, 2010, Corcoran filed an EEOC charge against the City, alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Three weeks later, on April 17, 2010, Corcoran filed a grievance with the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police ("FOP"), citing retaliation as his complaint. (Id. at ¶ 38.) After making these complaints, Plaintiff was subjected to further retaliation: On May 12, 2010, while Plaintiff was working inside a Cabrini Green building with a new partner, Officer Parrish Sevier, Captain Zawis drove past their patrol car parked outside. (Id. at ¶ 39.) Zavis issued a "counseling session report" in which he charged Plaintiff with having reading material and a laptop in his vehicle. The report was false; there was no reading material in the vehicle, and the only laptop in the car belonged to Officer Sevier and was in its case, as required. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that on that same day or the following day, Captain Zavis directed Officer Sevier to make a written statement "saying that he did not want to work with Plaintiff" but Sevier refused to do so. (Id. at ¶ 40.) On May 16, 2010, Plaintiff was reassigned to the 14th District. (Id. at ¶ 41.) He contends in this lawsuit that the assignment to Beat 1822F and the improper discipline constitutes retaliation for his protected activity (the complaint he made about a racial slur) and the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

DISCUSSION

The City moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress for failure to state a claim and as preempted by the Illinois Worker's Compensation Act or the Illinois Human Rights Act. For purposes of this ruling, the court assumes that Plaintiff has met the relatively low standard for stating a claim for relief under FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a): To meet the Rule 8(a) standard, the claim need only be "plausible," meaning that the complaint must set forth enough facts "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence' supporting the plaintiff's allegations." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell ...


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