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Kenney B. Smith v. Northwestern Memorial Hospital

October 17, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:


Kenney B. Smith has sued his former employer, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He asserts claims of retaliation and race- and age-based discrimination. Northwestern has moved to dismiss Smith's complaint. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Northwestern's motion.


Smith is an African American and an Illinois resident. Compl. ¶ 3. Northwestern is a non-profit Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in Chicago, Illinois. Id. ¶ 5. The factual allegations underlying Smith's claims are contained in three administrative complaints Smith filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) in 2005. See Compl., Exs. A-C.

Smith filed his first administrative charge against Northwestern on July 28, 2005. See id., Ex. A. He alleged that his supervisor at Northwestern, Michael Manka, denied him a promotion from senior radiographer to resource coordinator. Id. at 1. Manka told Smith that he chose to promote Raul Sanchez, a younger, non-African American employee, because he felt that Sanchez would excel in the position. Id. According to Smith, Sanchez was "substantially less qualified" for the position than Smith in light of Sanchez's work attendance and performance. Id. at 2. Smith also alleged that Manka denied the promotion to Smith because approximately one month earlier, Smith had complained to Manka that Sanchez was sexually harassing an unnamed Northwestern employee. Id.

On September 6, 2005, Smith filed a second administrative charge. See id., Ex.

B. He alleged that Manka gave him a negative performance evaluation on August 24, 2005 and placed him on indefinite suspension on September 2, 2005. Id. at 2-3. According to Smith, the negative evaluation was "based on false information" and ignored the fact that Smith's job performance was "comparable to a similarly situated employee, Raul Sanchez (20's, non-black)." Id. Smith also asserted that Manka's alleged actions were in retaliation for Smith's first charge against Northwestern.

Smith filed a third administrative charge on September 27, 2005. See id., Ex. C. He alleged that on September 23, 2005, Manka discharged him from his position at Northwestern. Id. at 2. Although the discharge was purportedly based upon Smith's misuse of confidential information, Smith asserted that the true reasons were his race, his age, and his previous administrative charges. Id.

In 2006, Smith filed documents with the IDHR and the EEOC withdrawing certain of his claims. Specifically, Smith requested that the IDHR and EEOC not make findings on the portions of his charge relating to the following claims: "Failure to promote, in retaliation for opposing unlawful discrimination; poor performance evaluation, indefinite suspension, and discharge in retaliation for opposing sexual harassment." Def.'s Mem., Ex. F. The IDHR granted Smith's request and "administratively closed" these claims on July 19, 2006. Id. The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter to Smith for his remaining claims on May 17, 2010. See Compl., Ex. D. Smith filed his complaint on August 23, 2010.


In addressing Northwestern's motion to dismiss, the Court accepts Smith's allegations as true and draws reasonable inferences in his favor. Parish v. City of Elkhart, 614 F.3d 677, 679 (7th Cir. 2010); Johnson v. Apna Ghar, Inc., 330 F.3d 999, 1001 (7th Cir. 2003). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require Smith to provide "a short and plain statement" showing that he is entitled to relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Though his complaint need not contain "detailed factual allegations, . . . a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, Smith must provide "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. A complaint fails to state a plausible claim "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

1. Timeliness

Northwestern first argues that Smith's complaint must be dismissed in its entirety because Smith filed the complaint ninety-six days after an employee of his attorney, L. Steven Platt, received the EEOC's right-to-sue letter. See Def.'s Mem. at 2-4. It is undisputed that Platt appeared on Smith's behalf as counsel during the EEOC / IDHR proceedings.

"A civil action alleging a Title VII violation must be filed within [ninety] days of receiving a right-to-sue notice from the EEOC." Threadgill v. Moore U.S.A., Inc., 269 F.3d 848, 849-50 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1)). In the Seventh Circuit, the law is "unambiguous" that "'[t]he [ninety]-day period of limitations set forth in [section] 2000e-5(f)(1) begins to run on the date that the EEOC right-to-sue notice is actually received either by the claimant or by the attorney representing him in the Title VII action.'" Id. at 850 (quoting Jones v. Madison Serv. Corp., 744 F.2d 1309, 1312 (7th Cir. 1984)) (emphasis in original). Receipt of the notice by the office of the claimant's attorney qualifies as receipt by the claimant himself. See Irwin v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 93 (1990); see also Ringgold v. Nat'l Maint. Corp., 796 F.2d 769, 770 (5th Cir. ...

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