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Stone v. The Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

August 5, 2014

Ruth Stone, Plaintiff,
v.
The Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University, et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Ruth Stone, Plaintiff: Fabian J. Rosati, LEAD ATTORNEY, Fabian J. Rosati, Esq., Chicago, IL.

For The Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University, Steven Wilhelm, Tammie Pulak, Bill Nicklas, Brian Hart, Sara Cliffe, M Eugene Massey, Jeff Daurer, Steven D Cunningham, Defendants: Adam Garret Eisenstein, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office Of The Illinois Attorney General, Chicago, IL; John R. Hayes, Illinois Attorney General, Chicago, IL.

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ORDER

FREDERICK J. KAPALA, United States District Judge.

Defendants' motion to dismiss [38] is granted in part and denied in part. The official capacity claims are all dismissed. Counts I and II are dismissed against the individual defendants. Counts I and II are dismissed against NIU as to the hostile work environment claims. Count III is dismissed against defendants Hart, Cliffe, and Cunningham. Counts IV-VIII are dismissed entirely. Defendants Hart, Cliffe, and Cunningham are dismissed from the suit.

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STATEMENT

Plaintiff, Ruth Stone, has sued her current employer, the Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University (" NIU" ), and several of NIU's employees, Steven Willhelm, Tammie Pulak, Jeff Daurer, Sara Cliffe, Brian Hart, M. Eugene Massey, Steven Cunningham, and Bill Nicklas (collectively the " individual defendants" ), alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (" ADEA" ), the whistleblower provisions of the Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (" Ethics Act" ), the Illinois Whistleblower Act, and various Illinois tort law theories, all of which claim discrimination in her employment. In short, Stone was demoted, and not promoted, as part of her employment, which she alleges was a result of her age, gender, or protected activities. Currently pending before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, which seeks dismissal of many, but not all, of Stone's theories. For the reasons which follow, that motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

In March 2009, Stone's pay was increased from that of a building services worker to that of a building services sub-foreman and she took on a number of responsibilities included in foreman work. However, her job title was never changed. In August 2011, her pay again increased from the sub-foreman level to the foreman level and she continued to do foreman-level responsibilities. However, again, her title was not changed. She was assured, though, by Nicklas, NIU's VP of institutional planning and sustainability; Hart, NIU's former superintendent of building services; and Wilhelm, a building services supervisor, that she would " soon" receive the official foreman title.

A year later, in August 2012, Stone complained to Nicklas, Wilhelm, and Pulak (another building services supervisor) concerning " mis-dealings" in the building services department revolving around several foremen who were allowing relatives to receive payment in excess of hours worked and about something to do with a sale of floor wax. In September 2012, Nicklas informed Stone that she would be taking a pay cut, which took effect in November 2012, and she never received the promised title increase to foreman. Stone complained to Nicklas, Pulak, and Massey (an HR coordinator at NIU) that she was never given an explanation for her reduction in pay. They did not provide an explanation, but instead advised her that she would either accept the reduction in pay or be demoted even further in both title and pay.

In January 2013, Stone filed a formal grievance to defendant Cliffe, NIU's compliance administration director, against Nicklas and Daurer (another, apparently uninvolved until this point, VP of over capital budget and planning) alleging that she had been demoted as a result of discrimination. Nicklas responded to the grievance, alleging that Stone had been " arbitrarily promoted" years earlier. Neither Nicklas nor Daurer mentioned that Stone had been threatened with further demotion if she had not accepted the pay cut.

Cliffe permitted Cunningham, a VP of business and finance and NIU's chief of operations, three extensions of time to respond to the grievance. It is unclear from the complaint what Cunningham had to do with the process, why he would need an extension, or how Cliffe had authority over the chief of operations to allow or disallow such an extension. Nevertheless, it appears he was involved in the final decision. Cliffe and Cunningham determined that

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Nicklas and Daurer complied with protocol in ...


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