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Cole v. The Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

August 5, 2014

Jerome Cole, Plaintiff,
v.
The Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University, et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 927

For Jerome Cole, Plaintiff: Fabian J. Rosati, LEAD ATTORNEY, Fabian J. Rosati, Esq., Chicago, IL.

For Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University, Charlotte Marx, Steven Wilhelm, Tammie Pulak, Jefferey Daurer, Brian Hart, Sara Cliffe, Emily Murray, Jessie Perez, Bill Nicklas, Rhonda Richards, John Holmes, Defendants: Adam Garret Eisenstein, 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 [52] is granted in part and denied in part. Counts IV, V, and VI are dismissed.

STATEMENT

Plaintiff, Jerome Cole, has sued his current employer, the Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University (" NIU" ), and several of NIU's employees, Charlotte Marx, Tammie Pulak, Jeff Daurer, Sara Cliffe, Brian Hart, Emily Murray, Jesse Perez, John Holmes, Rhonda Richards, and Bill Nicklas (collectively the " individual defendants" ), alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title VII, the whistleblower provisions of the Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (" Ethics Act" ), the Illinois Whistleblower Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), claiming discrimination in his employment. Cole alleges he was demoted and subjected to a hostile work environment on account of his race and protected complaints. Currently pending before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, which seeks dismissal of all of Cole's claims. For the reasons which follow, that motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

According to plaintiff's complaint, during the relevant period of this lawsuit he worked as the only black male supervisor in the NIU Building Services Department, and no other black male had held such a position going back at least to 1980. In August 2012, Cole became aware that various departments at NIU were receiving commodity orders in his name without his authorization or knowledge. Cole reported that fact to defendant Hart, who was his supervisor and at the time the NIU superintendent of building services, and informed Hart that Cole had never placed orders without first receiving approval from Hart or defendant Wilhelm, a building services supervisor. Cole asked Hart to investigate the matter, but Hart told Cole " not to worry about it" and allegedly performed no investigation.

Shortly thereafter, Wilhelm presented Cole with a stack of paperwork, some of which included bills of lading which appeared to be signed by Cole for various commodity purchases. Cole informed Wilhelm that he had not signed the bills of lading or ordered any of the commodities and requested that Wilhelm perform an investigation into the falsely signed documents, which Wilhelm refused to do.

Cole took those bills of lading and other documents to NIU's HR department, specifically to defendants Perez (assistant director of labor relations and a HR officer), Cliffe (director of compliance), and Murray (affirmative action officer). Cole informed all three that he had not ordered the items in the documents. Thereafter, defendant Daurer (alleged to be both the superintendent of building services and the VP of capital budget and planning) told him that, despite the " misdealings" in the department, Cole should " be on his team" and to " let the past be the past . . . we need to move forward." Daurer also allegedly refused to conduct any investigation into Cole's claims. Daurer, Cliffe, and Murray have allegedly never provided Cole with an explanation of the bills of lading. Cole believes that Wilhelm, Perez, Cliffe, and Murray " used him as a straw man to cover-up" the bill of lading issues.

Beginning in August 2012, around the same time as Cole became aware of the fraudulent commodity orders, Cole filed a formal complaint with Cliffe and Murray that he believed that some building services

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workers (allegedly those with connections to management at NIU) were being paid for more hours than they had worked. Cole alleges that he was the only supervisor who was assigned workers with connections to management. Perez told Cole " not to worry about it" and Perez, ...


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