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Butler v. East Central Community Action Agency

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Urbana Division

July 28, 2014

PHEARN M. BUTLER, Plaintiff,


DAVID G. BERNTHAL, Magistrate Judge.

On February 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (#9), in which she makes various allegations of discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. Jurisdiction is proper because Plaintiff's claim raises a federal question. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 1331.

On February 20, 2014, Defendant moved to dismiss or strike Counts II and III and portions of Count I of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (#11). Plaintiff responded (#18) on March 14, 2014, and Defendant was granted leave to reply, and did so (#20) on April 8, 2014. On June 3, 2014, Plaintiff was granted leave to amend her response, and an Amended Response (#24) was filed. As further explained below, the Court has carefully considered the parties' arguments and recommends that Defendant's Motion (#11) be DENIED.

I. Background

The Court takes the following background from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and the documents she attaches in support, accepting all well-pleaded factual allegations as true. See AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer , 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011). In January 2013, Plaintiff was put in charge at her workplace (Defendant, the "Agency") by the CEO, who was taking medical leave. In February 2013, while she was still in charge, Plaintiff was made aware of an allegation of fraud within the Agency. Plaintiff promptly informed the CEO of the allegation, and was told that he would attend to the issue upon his return to work. In March 2013, the Agency's Board of Directors (the "Board"), was made aware of the allegations of fraud. Also in March 2013, Plaintiff's salary was reduced due to budget constraints, while her male peer's salary was not reduced. She also notified the Board Chairman of certain concerns she had about harassment from this male peer.

On April 26, 2013, Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave for allegedly violating Agency policy. On March 9, 2013, Plaintiff was informed that she would be allowed to work until May 31, 2013, after which time she would be terminated. Plaintiff retired prematurely in May 2013. In response to these events, Plaintiff filed a timely charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC"). Plaintiff received a right to sue letter on July 5, 2013, and followed the instant suit in this Court in October 2013.

The Amended Complaint alleges discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. In Count I, Plaintiff alleges sex discrimination, including 1) a reduction in pay, not matched by a similar reduction to a male colleague's salary, 2) accusations that she violated an Agency policy, 3) placement on administrative leave for the alleged violation, and 4) discharge due to being "forced" to retire involuntarily. In Count II, she alleges that she was discriminated against when her employment was terminated because of her age, as she was sixty-two at the time. In Count III, Plaintiff alleges that the termination of her employment constituted retaliatory discharge, in violation of Illinois tort law.

II. Legal Standard

Defendant seeks dismissal of portions of Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim serves to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not to decide the merits of the case. See AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer , 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011); Gibson v. City of Chicago , 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint need only contain sufficient factual allegations to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). To meet this standard, the allegations in the complaint must, one, be detailed enough to "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, '" and, two, "plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a speculative level.'" E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc. , 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 554, 555) (alteration omitted).

In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court is limited to the allegations in the pleadings. See Citadel Grp. Ltd. v. Wash. Reg'l Med. Ctr. , 692 F.3d 580, 591 (7th Cir. 2012). The Court must evaluate the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. AnchorBank , 649 F.3d at 614. Importantly, however, the Court does not accept as true mere legal conclusions, unsupported by factual allegations, or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678.

III. Analysis

Defendant moves to dismiss Count II, age discrimination, and to strike portions of Count I, sex discrimination, because the EEOC charge filed against Defendant was significantly narrower than the allegations in the Complaint. Defendant moves to dismiss Count III, common law retaliatory discharge, because Plaintiff submitted her notice of retirement prior to the recommendation that she be terminated made by the Agency's Board of Directors and because she fails to identify a clearly-stated public policy that was violated by the alleged discharge.

EEOC Charge

As a rule, a plaintiff may not advance a Title VII claim in court unless she included the claim in her EEOC charge. Moore v. Vital Prods., Inc. , 641 F.3d 253, 256-57 (7th Cir. 2011); see also Conner v. Ill. Dep't of Natural Res. , 413 F.3d 675, 680 (7th Cir. 2005) ("[A]n aggrieved employee may not complain to the EEOC of only certain instances of discrimination, and then seek judicial relief for different instances of discrimination." (internal quotation marks omitted)). The charge requirement "serves the dual purpose of affording the EEOC and the employer an opportunity to settle the dispute through conference, conciliation, and persuasion, and of giving the employer some warning of the conduct about which the employee is aggrieved." Cheek v. W. & S. Life Ins. Co. , 31 F.3d 497, 500 (7th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). Nevertheless, a significant exception to this rule exists: a plaintiff may bring claims not included in her EEOC charge if they are "like or reasonably related to the allegations of the [EEOC] charge and growing out of such allegations.'" Moore , 641 F.3d at 256 (quoting Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mut. Hosp. Ins., Inc. , 538 F.2d 164, 167 (7th Cir. 1976) (en banc)). "To be like or reasonably related, ' the relevant claim and the EEOC charge must, at minimum, describe the same conduct and implicate the same individuals.'" Moore , 641 F.3d at 257 (quoting Cheek , 31 F.3d at 501). The "like or reasonably related" standard is intended to be "a liberal one in order to effectuate the remedial purposes of Title VII, which ...

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