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Christina Flower v. City of Chicago

March 22, 2012

CHRISTINA FLOWER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Christina Flower has sued her former employer, the City of Chicago, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. She alleges that the City subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her gender; retaliated against her for opposing gender discrimination; discriminated against her based on her gender; discriminated against her based on the fact that she was pregnant; and breached her contract of employment. The City has moved to dismiss certain of Flower's claims for failure to state a claim. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.

Background

The Court takes the following facts from Flower's complaint.

Flower was employed by the City as a project coordinator from August 16, 2001 until July 26, 2010. In April 2002, she made a complaint of sexual harassment against her supervisor, Steve Padgitt. While her complaint was being investigated, Flower transferred to a new department. As a result, she no longer worked with Padgitt.

In September 2009, Flower became pregnant. During her pregnancy, Flower's doctor wrote a letter to the City explaining that Flower was having physical problems with her pregnancy and that this would cause her to miss work. Flower gave this letter to her supervisors, who agreed upon a plan with Flower that gave her several options if she needed to miss work for reasons related to problems with the pregnancy. Additionally, the City had a written parental leave policy providing for six weeks of paid parental leave. Relying on this, Flower took vacation time prior to her maternity leave.

While she was pregnant, Flower was assigned extra duties as part of the Technical Assistance Group (TA Group). The TA Group consisted of Flower, three other City employees, and a consultant.

At the TA Group's first meeting on January 21, 2010, Flower learned that Padgitt was also a member of the group. After the meeting, Flower met with Loisteen Woods of the City's Human Resources Department to discuss her concerns about being in a small work group with Padgitt due to his previous harassment. Woods told Flower that she would contact the City's Sexual Harassment Compliance Office but that Flower should be prepared to work with Padgitt in the TA Group. Despite making an inquiry through the Compliance Office's website and following up with Woods, Flower heard nothing.

On March 30, 2010, Flower met with the Director of Human Resources to plan her maternity leave. The Director informed Flower that she was no longer entitled to any paid maternity leave and that she would have to take vacation time or unpaid leave. Because Flower had previously taken vacation time, she did not have enough left to cover her parental leave.

Flower went on maternity leave beginning May 10, 2010 and returned to work on July 13, 2010. When she returned, Flower met with Woods and learned that the Compliance Office had determined that she had to keep working with Padgitt in the TA Group. Flower resigned on July 26, 2010, the day before her next TA Group meeting.

Flower alleges that the City subjected her to a hostile work environment (Count 1); retaliated against her for making a claim of sexual harassment against Padgitt (Count 2); discriminated against her due to her gender in connection with the provision of paid parental leave (Count 3); discriminated against her due to her pregnancy (Count 4); and breached her employment contract by denying her paid parental leave ( Count 5). Counts 1 and 2 include allegations that the City constructively discharged Flower. The City has moved to dismiss Flower's claims of pregnancy-based discrimination (Counts 3 and 4) and her constructive discharge claims. The City contends these claims are beyond the scope of Flower's administrative charge filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The City also argues that Flower failed to allege that she received a right to sue letter from the EEOC and that she cannot recover punitive damages against the City. Flower has provided the EEOC right to sue letter with her response to the motion to dismiss, and she concedes that punitive damages cannot be awarded against the City. The Court therefore addresses only the City's first argument.

Discussion

On a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts the facts stated in the complaint as true and draws reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). A plaintiff has "stated a claim only if [she has] alleged enough facts to render the claim facially plausible, not just conceivable." Fednav Int'l Ltd. v. Cont'l Ins. Co., 624 F.3d 834, 837 (7th Cir. 2010). Federal courts follow a notice-pleading regime, and thus in responding to a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff is allowed to hypothesize facts not specifically alleged in the complaint, "so long as the hypotheses are consistent with the complaint." Bausch v. Stryker Corp., 630 F.3d 546, 559 (7th Cir. 2010).

As a general rule, a Title VII plaintiff cannot assert in a lawsuit claims that were not included in her EEOC charge. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 47 (1974). This rule serves the dual purpose of affording the EEOC and the employer an opportunity to settle the dispute and of giving the employer some warning of the conduct about which ...


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