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Vega v. Chicago Park Dist.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

July 25, 2013

LYDIA E. VEGA, Plaintiff,

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For Lydia E. Vega, Plaintiff: Catherine Simmons-Gill, Offices of Catherine Simmons-Gill, LLC, Chicago, IL.

For Chicago Park District, Defendant: Rebecca L Reierson, Chicago Park District, LEAD ATTORNEY, Nelson A. Brown, Jr., Chicago Park District, Chicago, IL.

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James B. Zagel, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff, Lydia E. Vega (" Vega" ), brings seven counts against the defendant, Chicago Park District (" Park" ), alleging unlawful employment discrimination. Count I claims discrimination on the basis of national origin in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (" § 1981" ). Counts II and V claim retaliatory action in violation of § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e et seq. , as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (" Title VII" ). Count III alleges discrimination based on national origin and gender in violation of Title VII. Count IV alleges a violation of Title VII based on gender discrimination

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for sex stereotyping. Lastly, Vega seeks redress based on state law claims for intrusion upon seclusion in Count VI and violation of the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, 720 ILCS 5/14-1 et seq. , in Count VII. I granted summary judgment for defendants on Count VII, so only Counts I through VI remain. For the following reasons, Park's motion to dismiss is denied in part and granted in part.

I. Background

Vega is an openly gay Hispanic female who worked for Park for twenty-two years before her termination on September 10, 2012, for allegedly falsifying work hours on her timesheet. Park divides its facilities into areas and further divides the areas into regions. Each park within an area that contains a Class A or Class B facility has a supervisor, and all supervisors report to the same manager. Bessemer Park (" Bessemer" ) is located in the South Region of Area 6. In 2003, Park appointed Vega as a Class A park supervisor at Bessemer and she held that position until her employment ended. Throughout her career with Park, Vega received satisfactory or better performance reviews and, prior to the acts complained of herein, was never disciplined.

A central component to this case is the alleged Park timesheet practice. Vega describes the practice as a " one sheet only" paper system that requires employees to manually fill out their timesheets. The system uses one timesheet per employee, and the timesheet is permanently located at the employee's assigned park for each pay period. This practice, Vega claims, sometimes requires employees to fill out their timesheets prior to the end of the pay period, thus anticipating their work hours for the remainder of the pay period. Vega alleges that all of the Class A and B park supervisors in her region followed this timesheet practice.

At some point during Vega's employment, Shereece Childs (" Childs" ), an African American Park employee, called Park's hotline and complained that Vega was often absent from work. Childs was allegedly performing poorly at the time of the complaint and a subordinate of Vega. Kenneth Teal, a friend of Childs, made another complaint when he expressed concern about African American children's access to park facilities used by a Hispanic organization. Later, in July of 2012, another subordinate African American employee reported a " false" complaint, stating Vega's park was unorganized and a child had been lost at the park's day camp. A fourth complaint was made in early September 2012 to report Vega's park was not open an hour after scheduled. Vega alleges she was at the park entrance when the call was made. According to Vega, all the complaints made against her came from racially-motivated African Americans.

In or around September 2011, Park assigned Michael Hester (" Hester" ) and Leroi Catlin (" Catlin" ), both African American, to investigate Vega for her alleged failure to be present during claimed work hours at Bessemer. As part of the investigation, Hester and Catlin conducted surveillance on Vega, which involved following her vehicle (or vehicles thought to be owned by her) and using audio and video recording devices. At some point in the investigation, the device recorded an investigator saying Vega " looks like a guy."

Vega accuses the investigators of intrusive behavior, including " peering through the windows" of her home, asking invasive questions regarding family and friends, pulling her out of a scheduled training session, and telling other Park employees that Vega was not working all the hours she claimed. Vega states the manner in which she was investigated caused her to experience severe health problems. On

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one particular occasion, Vega claims she met with her manager and Hester at Bessemer and Hester said, " Well, I got you, I got you. So do you want to say something before I leave, because after I leave, I am closing the case and that's it."

Shortly after that encounter, Hester and Catlin interviewed Vega at Park headquarters, where she states she provided documentation of her whereabouts for most dates in question. Vega alleges the investigation was done in bad faith and caused her to experience severe health repercussions.

Following the investigation, Corrective Action Meetings were held on July 26, 2012, and August 23, 2012, to address Vega's purported failure to be at her assigned park during work hours on fifteen dates from October 11, 2011, to January 31, 2012. Vega claims she provided written documentation verifying her work hours, including names of witnesses. She believes her verification documents were discounted and dismissed by Park. On September 10, 2012, Park issued a Corrective Action Meeting Disposition letter that terminated Vega's employment. Vega alleges the reasons given for her termination were pretextual, discriminatory, and not supported by the investigation results. [1] She further claims that, at a post-termination appeal hearing, Park attorneys asked questions about the length and style of her hair and style of her dress.

During the investigation, Vega's attorney contacted Park's legal counsel to " inquire about what appeared to be unprofessional and prejudicial behavior of [Hester and Catlin] and to state that [Vega] felt she was experiencing discriminatory treatment." After the second Corrective Action Meeting, and six days before her termination notice, Vega sent a letter to Park's Director of Human Resources explaining she felt discriminated against based on her national origin and because African Americans investigated her after other African Americans made complaints. She claims the basis for the investigative findings that she was not at Bessemer during work hours was that Hester and Catlin could not locate her car at the park. Vega contends her responsibilities had actually taken her elsewhere. She states that no Caucasian or African American Class A or B park supervisor has been " investigated or terminated for failure to be as [sic] their assigned park while performing Park responsibilities at other locations or because their vehicles were not in the parking lot of the park at which they worked."

Vega provides the following statistics and examples to support her claims: From January 2008 to the present, Park has employed approximately seventy-six Class A park supervisors and twenty-eight Class B park supervisors. [2] In 2008, Hispanic female supervisor Maria Ortiz (" Ortiz" ) was investigated and terminated by Park and is currently contesting that termination. During 2010, Park employed seven Class A and B park supervisors who were Hispanic females. From 2010 to September 2012, Park investigated and terminated Nereida Avile (" Avile" ), a Hispanic female supervisor. Martha Ramirez (" Ramirez" ), a Hispanic female supervisor, retired in 2011 while under investigation.

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Ramirez experienced " severe health issues" resulting from her investigation that forced her into retirement, Vega alleges. Of the preceding supervisors, none were replaced by a Hispanic female and, since 2008, Park has not appointed a Hispanic female to a Class A or B park supervisor position.

During the time of the acts of which Vega complains, Park employed four Class A and six Class B park supervisors in South Region, Area 6. Of the ten supervisors, two were Hispanic females (Vega and Ramirez). Vega argues that other Class A and B park supervisors in her region worked away from their assigned parks and followed the timesheet practice, but the only supervisors investigated by Park for inaccurate timesheets were Vega and Ramirez. She claims that, although Park could have terminated all Class A and B park supervisors in her region for her alleged infractions, no such supervisor has even been investigated in the past five years.

Vega filed charges against Park with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) on or around October 12, 2012, alleging acts of discrimination based on gender, age, and national origin. The EEOC issued Vega a Right to Sue letter, which she received on October 24, 2012. Vega filed a second charge against Park with the EEOC on or around November 21, 2012, alleging Park engaged in retaliatory action. Vega received a Right to Sue letter on her retaliation charge dated December 21, 2012. Vega filed this complaint on January 18, 2013.

II. Standard of Review

A party may motion the court to dismiss a complaint for " failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In reviewing a complaint for dismissal, the allegations are viewed " in the light most favorable to the plaintiff" with " all possible inferences" drawn in the plaintiff's favor. Tamayo v. Blagojevich , 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008). The complaint must contain " a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This requirement seeks to provide the defendant with " fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). Additionally, factual allegations must only " state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face" and " above the speculative level." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 570. A claim is facially plausible " when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

The Seventh Circuit has interpreted the " fair notice" and plausibility requirements as " two easy-to-clear hurdles" in the pleadings stage. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc. , 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007); Tamayo , 526 F.3d at 1084 (discussing the " minimal pleading standard for simple claims of race or sex discrimination" ). Pleading " a short and plain statement of the claim" requires only " ...

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