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Shirley B. Woods v. Wickes Furniture Co.

July 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Young B. Kim


Pro se plaintiff Shirley Woods has sued the now-defunct Wickes Furniture Company, Inc. ("Wickes"), and several of its former corporate officers and managers, including John Disa (Wickes's former President), Suzanne Forsythe (Wickes's former Vice President of Human Resources), and Ken Bretwisch (Woods's former manager). Woods alleges that she was fired from her sales consultant position in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and other unidentified federal and Illinois laws. Forsythe and Disa have moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the claims against them. This court allowed Bretwisch to join in their motion. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss is granted:

Procedural History

In April 2006 Woods filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), checking boxes to indicate that Wickes had discriminated against her based on race and disability. (R. 1, Compl. at 9.) Eighteen months later, on October 22, 2008, the EEOC issued to Woods a dismissal and notice of rights stating that it had "ceased processing" her charge. (R. 1, Compl. at 6.) Woods filed the current lawsuit on January 16, 2009. (Id.) Two weeks later Wickes filed a suggestion of bankruptcy informing the district court that it was involved in chapter 11 proceedings in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. (R. 6.) Accordingly, the district court noted that this case was subject to an automatic stay, see 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(1), and placed the case on its suspense docket. (R. 8.) Wickes emerged from bankruptcy in May 2009 and the district court reopened this case on July 22, 2009. (R. 19.) According to the defendants, Wickes now exists in name only. (R. 116, Mem. at 1.)

In May 2010 this case was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge to oversee discovery, settlement, and nondispositive motions. (R. 60.) Over the summer of 2010 the parties discussed settlement. After they came close to reaching an agreement, they consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned judge for all future proceedings in this matter. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); (R. 69). At some point thereafter, the parties reached a verbal agreement to settle the case. But when it came time to execute the written settlement agreement, Woods refused to sign. Defendants moved to enforce the settlement agreement, but in April 2011 this court denied the motion, finding that the parties did not intend to be bound by the agreement until the written version was fully executed. (R. 103.)

On May 2, 2011, Woods filed what she captioned as a "Second Amended Complaint," (R. 110), but because it was her first attempt to amend, this court entered an order stating that the complaint would be treated simply as an amended complaint, (R. 111). In counts one through three of her amended complaint Woods alleges that the defendants engaged in unlawful employment practices, including sexual harassment and retaliation, in violation of Title VII. (R. 110, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 88-102.) In counts four and five she alleges that the defendants wrongfully terminated her and conspired to wrongfully terminate her, in violation of state or federal law. (Id. ¶ ¶ 103-137.) In count six Woods alleges that Bretwisch fraudulently altered company records. (Id. ¶¶ 138-141.) In count seven, which is titled "Cause of Action to Establish Liability of Corporate Director or Officer for Corporate Wrongful Conduct," Woods asserts that the acts of those who engaged in wrongful conduct should be imputed to Wickes's officers, directors, and managers. (Id. ¶¶ 142-146.) Finally, in count eight she alleges that the defendants deprived her of her 14th Amendment right to due process by intentionally delaying her employment discrimination case. (Id. ¶¶ 147-51.)

Three weeks after Woods filed the amended complaint, Forsythe and Disa filed the current motion to dismiss. (R. 114.) On July 5, 2011, this court granted Bretwisch's one-sentence request to join in the motion. (R. 123.) The court entered an order granting Woods until July 19, 2011, to respond to the motion to dismiss as it pertains to Bretwisch, (id.), but she did not file a supplemental response.


Woods's amended complaint consists of 151 paragraphs and 115 pages of accompanying documentation describing the events leading up to and following her March 2007 termination. Despite the length of the amended complaint, the details regarding the claims at issue are fairly sketchy, making it difficult to identify the specific allegations that support her eight distinct claims. Nonetheless, for purposes of the current motion this court must accept the allegations as true, see Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008), and what follows below is the relevant background viewed in the light most favorable to Woods.

In March 2000 Wickes hired Woods to work as a sales consultant. (R. 110, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12-14.) When she reported to work, Woods signed Wickes's code of ethics. (Id. ¶ 14.) Woods was a strong performer, consistently placing in Wickes's "Top 5 Sales Consultants" ranking. (Id. ¶ 19.) In March 2005 Disa sent Woods a letter acknowledging her five years of hard work. (Id. ¶ 20.) The next month she was asked to sign Wickes's employee handbook, which included the code of ethics. (Id. ¶ 21.) Rather than sign the handbook, Woods initialed it, "thus acknowledging the Code of Ethics." (Id.)

On June 7, 2005, Woods was involved in a car accident and sustained injuries to her back and left foot. (R. 110, Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) Woods took a period of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act while she recovered from her injuries. (Id.) Her release from work expired on October 16, 2005, but when Woods did not return to work on that day, Wickes fired her. (Id. ¶ 25, Ex. G1.) On October 23, 2005, Woods called Disa and questioned the termination. (Id. ¶ 26.) Disa then contacted a local manager and had her reinstated as a sales consultant. (Id.) Wickes allowed Woods to return to work in December 2005, but in the meantime, according to Woods, store managers manipulated records of her sales figures and did not allow her to "draw pay" to which she was entitled under Wickes's payroll policy. (Id. ¶¶ 30-32.)

On March 26, 2006, a fellow employee named Dominick Sharlac "maliciously threatened" and made "derogatory remarks" to Woods over a sales dispute. (R. 110, Am. Compl. ¶ 34.) Woods reported the incident to management, and on April 13, 2006, she filed a charge of discrimination with the IDHR and the EEOC. (Id. ¶¶ 34, 35 & Ex. K.) In that charge, Woods alleged discrimination based on race and disability and provided the following explanation in the section for particulars:

Since on or about October 7, 2005 I have been subjected to harassment and different terms and conditions of employment in that I have been wrongly discharged; then reinstated, but I had already suffered a financial banking loss caused by my discharge for which I was not reimbursed; I was denied six weeks wages which I was entitled to in December, 2005, upon my return from medical leave; and I have been denied my sales award prize from March, 2005. On March 26, 2006 I was verbally harassed by a non-Black co-worker and I was threatened with being sent home for responding to his allegations. That same day this same co-worker called me a derogatory name that I reported to the manager and no action was taken. I believe I have been discriminated against because of my race, Black, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and a disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).

(Id. Ex. K.) From April 2006 through July 2006, Woods called Disa at least four times to attempt "to inform him of the situation regarding the harassing behaviors in the store and lack of response from the managers." (Id. ΒΆ 38.) Woods did not speak to Disa directly, but left ...

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