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Ento v. Chicago Transit Authority

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 6, 2014

VANESSA C. ENTO, Plaintiff,
v.
CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY and AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION, LOCAL 241, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL, District Judge.

Vanessa Ento filed a pro se complaint against her former employer, the Chicago Transit Authority ("CTA"), and her union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241 (the "Union"), alleging unlawful termination, retaliation, and a failure to accommodate her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (the "ADA"), and discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, in violation of 28 U.S.C. § 1983. Both the CTA and the Union have filed motions to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, the CTA's motion is granted in part and denied in part, and the Union's motion is granted.

I. FACTS

The court assumes the truth of Ento's factual allegations in the complaint. See Munson v. Gaetz, 673 F.3d 630, 632 (7th Cir. 2012). Ento suffers from two medical conditions affecting her spine known as spinal stenosis and Spondylolisthesis. Around April 7, 2008, she began working for the CTA as a bus operator. Because of her spinal conditions, Ento was required to take time off from work. Ento alleges that, while she was away from work, the CTA canceled her health benefits. When she returned, she requested to be given a light duty assignment because of her disability, but the CTA refused that request.

On November 13, 2012, Ento filed two charges of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against the CTA and the Union. Her charge against the CTA alleged discrimination based on disability. The charge claimed that the CTA was aware of Ento's disability, denied her a reasonable accommodation for that disability, and gave her a "discharge date." The charge against the Union alleged discrimination based on disability and retaliation, claiming that the Union failed to appropriately represent her. Ento received a right-to-sue letter on November 30, 2012, and filed suit in this court on March 5, 2013.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A motion to dismiss should be granted if the plaintiff fails to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The factual allegations in a complaint must "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010) ("[P]laintiff must give enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together."). For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the court takes all facts alleged in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, although conclusory allegations that merely recite the elements of a claim are not entitled to this presumption of truth. Virnich v. Vorwald, 664 F.3d 206, 212 (7th Cir. 2011). As Ento is pro se, the court construes her allegations liberally. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

III. ANALYSIS

A. The CTA's Motion to Dismiss

1. Scope of the EEOC Charge

The CTA argues that Ento's termination claim must be dismissed because it is beyond the scope of the EEOC charge. Ento's EEOC charge alleged only that she had been given a "discharge date, " not that she was terminated. The complaint seeks relief based on the fact that, after she filed her EEOC charge, Ento was terminated. Therefore, the CTA argues, Ento's termination claim is outside the scope of the EEOC charge.

As a general matter, it is true that a plaintiff cannot bring a claim that is outside the scope of the EEOC charge. See Cheek v. Peabody Coal Co., 31 F.3d 497, 500 (7th Cir. 1994). This rule serves two purposes. First, it permits the EEOC to investigate claims so that there will be an opportunity, before the plaintiff files suit, "to settle the dispute through conference, conciliation, and persuasion." Id. Second, it gives the employer notice of the kind of conduct being charged. Id. Nevertheless, this scope requirement is not jurisdictional; it is a condition precedent and subject to equitable considerations. Babrocky v. Jewel Food Co., 773 F.2d 857, 863 (7th Cir. 1985).

To determine whether a complaint is within the scope of the EEOC charge, a court must determine whether the complaint is "like or reasonably related to the allegations of the charge and growing out of such allegations.'" Cheek, 31 F.3d at 500 (quoting Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mut. Hosp. Ins., Inc., 538 F.2d 164, 167 (7th Cir. 1976)). This test is satisfied if there is a "reasonable relationship between the allegations in the charge and the claims in the complaint, and the claim in the complaint can reasonably be expected to grow out of an EEOC investigation of the allegations in the charge." Id. at 501. While a plaintiff must specifically describe the offending conduct to the EEOC, courts do not impose strict technical standard on EEOC charges filed by non-lawyers. Id. at 502.

In Freeman v. Chicago Park District, 1997 WL 371098 (N.D. Ill. June 27, 1997), the plaintiff, an African-American employee of the Chicago Park District, filed an EEOC charge of race discrimination under Title VII. Id. at *1. The plaintiff's charge alleged that her employer discriminated against her and that "a request for [her] discharge was filed by [her] immediate supervisor." Id. The plaintiff received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC, filed suit in federal court, and then subsequently was terminated from her job. Id. at *3. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff improperly based her unlawful discharge claim on an EEOC charge that pre-dated the termination. Id. at *3. The court rejected this argument, noting that, although plaintiff's EEOC charge pre-dated her discharge date by nearly six months, her claim was still "like or reasonably' ...


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