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Meanith Huon v. Johnson & Bell

May 23, 2012

MEANITH HUON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHNSON & BELL, LTD., ET. AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Blanche M. Manning

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Meanith Huon worked as an attorney for the defendant law firm, Johnson & Bell, Ltd. He alleges that during his time at Johnson & Bell, he was treated less favorably than white employees and was ultimately fired because of his race and national origin, and in retaliation for reporting the discriminatory treatment. He has sued Johnson & Bell and three of its partners, defendants William V. Johnson, William G. Beatty, and Scott W. Hoyne, for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, as well as for a state law claim of tortious interference with a prospective business expectancy.

Before the court are two motions filed by Huon. In the first, he seeks leave to file an amended complaint. In the second, he asks the court to strike the affirmative defense alleged in the defendants' answer to his original complaint. For the reasons that follow, (1) the motion for leave to file an amended complaint is granted to the extent specified below, and (2) the motion to strike the defendants' affirmative defense is denied as moot.

BACKGROUND

On July 8, 2008, the plaintiff cross-filed three charges of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the EEOC, naming Johnson & Bell as a respondent, along with Johnson, Beatty, and another partner, Charles Rantis. (Because the charges are virtually identical and for convenience, the court will treat them collectively as a single charge of discrimination filed with the EEOC). In the charge, Huon alleged that beginning on July 1, 2007, he was treated less favorably because of his race (Asian), national origin (Cambodian), color (brown), and age (37), culminating with his termination on January 9, 2008. He further alleged that his termination was also in retaliation for complaining about the discriminatory treatment to a supervisor.

The EEOC issued Huon a right-to-sue letter on September 22, 2009, and Huon filed the instant suit on December 21, 2009, within the 90 days allowed under Title VII. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e--5(f)(1). In Count I of his complaint, he alleges a claim of unlawful discrimination based on race and/or national origin in violation of Title VII, as well as a claim of unlawful discrimination based on race in the making and/or performance of a contract in violation of § 1981. In Count II, Huon alleges a claim of intentional interference with prospective economic advantage under Illinois law.

This court granted the defendants' motion to stay this case while a lawsuit Huon previously filed against Johnson & Bell, Rantis, and Beatty for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress proceeded in state court. However, the Seventh Circuit reversed the stay order. On remand, the defendants filed an answer to Huon's complaint along with an affirmative defense based on res judicata. Huon then filed a motion to strike the affirmative defense and a motion for leave to file a proposed First Amended Complaint. The court addresses each motion in turn.

I. MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE AN AMENDED COMPLAINT [63-1]

The proposed First Amended Complaint consists of the same two counts that are in the original complaint-race and/or national origin discrimination (Count I) and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage (Count II)-but adds new factual allegations. The new factual allegations fall into two categories: (1) allegations regarding his hiring, and (2) allegations about the terms and conditions of his employment leading up to his termination.

The allegations regarding his hiring are found in paragraphs 24-40. In paragraphs 24-33, Huon alleges that he was hired in 2003 "to create the perception of a diverse workplace" during the years that one of the firm's partners, H. Patrick Morris, served as the chairperson of the National Diversity Committee of the Defense Research Institute. Proposed First Amended Complaint (attached as Exhibit 1 to Motion for Leave [63-1]) ¶ 25. However, Huon alleges that the firm "had no intention of retaining these attorneys" and that the firm merely listed them "as second chair or third chair on files without actually assigning the attorneys any substantive work." Id. ¶ 30.

In paragraphs 34-40, Huon alleges that when he interviewed for his position in 2003, he met with the head of the business litigation department, but because of his race was instead hired by a different department where he was "relegated to . . . litigating premises liability and automobile accidents." Id. ¶ 40.

The new allegations regarding the terms of conditions of his employment are found in paragraphs 51-56. In those paragraphs, Huon alleges that after defendant Hoyne falsely told other partners that Huon had worked for Hoyne and was "incompetent," Huon was terminated before being given a chance to respond to Hoyne's remarks. In contrast, Huon alleges, non-minority employees were given multiple opportunities to improve their performance before being terminated. Indeed, he alleges that two non-minority partners-one who engaged in "inappropriate behavior" with female associates, and another partner found to have "engaged in misconduct"-were never even disciplined for their alleged transgressions.

The defendants argue that Huon's motion for leave to amend should be denied because his proposed amendments are futile in several ways. First, they contend that Huon's proposed amendments which add details about his hiring are futile because (1) they fall outside the scope of the allegations in his EEOC charge, which they contend concern only an unlawful termination, and (2) they involve conduct that allegedly occurred (a) more than 300 days prior to the filing of his charge of discrimination with the EEOC, (b) more than 4 years before he filed his claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and (c) before the earliest date of discrimination identified in his EEOC charge and are therefore outside the scope of the charge. Second, they argue that Huon's allegations that he was terminated without being given the chance to improve his performance also fall outside the scope of the allegations in his EEOC charge. Finally, they argue that the claims in the proposed First Amended Complaint against the individual defendants are futile because (1) Title VII claims may not be brought against individuals, and (2) Huon has failed to state a claim against them under § 1981.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), leave to amend a pleading shall be given freely "when justice so requires." Leave need not be granted in every case, however. See Park v. City of Chicago, 297 F.3d 606, 612 (7th Cir. 2002). Reasons to deny leave include "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party ...


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