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Demetria Brown v. Cook County

December 6, 2012

DEMETRIA BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, STATE OF ILLINOIS, EARL DUNLAP, AND OFFICE OF THE CHIEF JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, Chief Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Demetria Brown ("Brown"), a former employee of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center ("JTDC"), has filed an eight-count Second Amended Complaint seeking injunctive relief and damages for an alleged interference with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq, and for related unlawful retaliation. (Dkt. No. 36 ("2d Am. Compl.").) Unsure of the appropriate defendant, as explained below, Brown has brought her claims against Cook County (Counts I and II), the State of Illinois (Counts III and IV), the JTDC's Transitional Administrator, Earl Dunlap, (Counts V and VI), and the Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County (Counts VII and VIII).

On October 2, 2012, the Transitional Administrator of the JTDC, Earl Dunlap ("Dunlap"), filed his Answer to Brown's Second Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 69.) The State of Illinois has not yet filed an appearance in this lawsuit. Pending before the court is "Defendants Cook County and Office of the Chief Judge's Renewed Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint." (Dkt. No. 71.) For the reasons set forth below, Cook County and the Office of the Chief Judge's motion is granted. Counts I, II, VII, and VIII are dismissed with prejudice, and Cook County and the Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County are dismissed as defendants in this lawsuit.

BACKGROUND

At this stage of the litigation, the court accepts as true the factual allegations set forth in Brown's Second Amended Complaint. Faulkenberg v. CB Tax Franchise Sys., LP, 637 F.3d 801, 806 (7th Cir. 2011). Brown's basic allegations of wrongdoing are simple and relatively straightforward in this case.

Brown began her employment with the JTDC on November 10, 2008, where she served as Business Manager. (2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7-8.) Dunlap, who was appointed to the position of Transitional Administrator in 2007, was Brown's supervisor. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 9; see also 09 C 3945, Dkt. No. 330 ("Appointment Order").)

On December 8, 2009, during a regularly scheduled meeting with Dunlap, Brown informed Dunlap that she needed to take FMLA leave. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 9.) Brown was under a physician's care for a serious health condition, and she also needed to care for her minor son who was likewise under a physician's care for a serious health condition. (Id. ¶ 13.) The next day, on December 9, 2009, Dunlap informed Brown that, based upon their conversation during the meeting on December 8, 2009, Brown was being terminated. (Id. ¶ 10.) Brown was then handed a letter backdated to December 7, 2009, terminating her employment at the JTDC. (Id.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires complaints to include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). In other words, the complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). To survive a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 694 F.3d 873, 885 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

ANALYSIS

Under the FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to twelve weeks of leave per year "[b]ecause of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee" or "to care for . . . a son, daughter, or parent [with] a serious health condition." 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(C) and (D). It is "unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise" an employee's FMLA rights. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). Section 2617(a) of the FMLA provides for a private right of enforcement against employers who violate § 2615. Moldenhauer v. Tazewell-Pekin Consol. Commc'n Cntr., 536 F.3d 640, 643 (7th Cir. 2008). The Seventh Circuit has also construed the FMLA to include a cause of action for retaliation. Nicholson v. Pulte Homes Corp., 690 F.3d 819, 825 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2) and (b)).

Cook County and the Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County argue that neither entity can be liable under the FMLA, because they were not Brown's employer and because Dunlap did not act as their agent when he terminated Brown's employment.

The FMLA defines an "employer" as "any person engaged in commerce or in any industry or activity affecting commerce who employs 50 or more employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year," including "any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer to any of the employees of such employer." 29 U.S.C. § 2611(4). Additionally, regulations issued by the United States Department of Labor explicitly contemplate that "two or more businesses . . . may be joint employers under the FMLA." 29 C.F.R. § 825.106(a).

The parties vigorously contest whether Cook County and the Office of the Transitional Administrator should be considered Brown's joint employers for purposes of FMLA liability. This argument generally misses the mark, as explained below. More important in this case is the fact that no Cook County*fn1 employee is ...


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