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Richardson v. Metropolitan Family Services

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

December 18, 2014

CYNTHIA RICHARDSON, Plaintiff(s),
v.
METROPOLITAN FAMILY SERVICES; CHARLENE WASHINGTON; LEAH SULLIVAN; and KATHRYN SUMMERS-KELLEY, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN Z. LEE, District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiff Cynthia Richardson brings claims of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against Defendants Metropolitan Family Services, Charlene Washington, Leah Sullivan, and Kathryn Summers-Kelley.[1] Defendant Metropolitan Family Services moves to dismiss, arguing Plaintiff's suit is untimely, Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies, and Plaintiff fails to state viable claims for retaliation and defamation. Plaintiff has filed a response to Defendant's motion. In her response, Plaintiff cites no legal authorities. Instead, she reasserts and highlights many factual allegations contained in her Amended Complaint and attaches extensive additional documentation. For the reasons provided herein, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant's motion.

I. Factual Background[2]

Plaintiff Cynthia Richards brings the action pro se for employment discrimination. Am Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiff alleges discrimination beginning on or about May 30, 2013. Id. ¶ 6. She filed her principal charges of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on March 1, 2013, and the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") on or about June 18, 2013. Id. ¶ 7.1 (i)-(ii). The EEOC issued a notice of the right to sue on March 4, 2014. Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff alleges discrimination based on age, race, religion, and sex. Id. ¶ 9. In particular, Plaintiff alleges Defendant terminated her employment, failed to promote her, failed to reasonably accommodate her religion, failed to stop harassment, and retaliated against her.

Plaintiff's discrimination charges germinated from disputes at the workplace. In 2009, Plaintiff made a verbal complaint against Program Supervisor Ellen Singletary for harassment and abuse in front of other coworkers. See Am. Compl. ¶ 13(a). This harassment, in part, stemmed from Singleton's critical view of Plaintiff's attendance of a Bible college. See id. Later that year, on November 6, 2009, the new Program Manager Carrie Pullie and the new Program Supervisor Tonia Garnett-Butler made allegedly false accusations against Plaintiff in a Corrective Action Plan, citing Plaintiff for deficiencies in her treatment of clients and for forcing her religious views upon clients. Id. ¶ 13(b). Plaintiff responded to the Corrective Action Plan with a detailed refutation, correcting misperceptions concerning her treatment of several clients. See id. Notwithstanding Plaintiff's refutation, on January 1, 2010, Pullie and Garnett-Butler appended the Corrective Action Plan to Plaintiff's Performance Appraisal. See id. ¶ 13(c). Plaintiff refused to sign the appraisal, believing the Corrective Application Plan to be false and the Performance Appraisal more generally to be in conflict with several "exceeds expectations" ratings she previously received. See id. Between early 2010 and 2012 several other incidents occurred at work, including a conflict with Garnett-Butler over an internal file audit and workflow, and a debate with Garnett-Butler's replacement, Stefan Bell, over referrals for clients who requested housing splits. See id. ¶ 13(d)-(f).

Pullie included the latter incident with Bell in Plaintiff's January 1, 2012, Performance Appraisal. See id. ¶ 13(g). Pullie admonished Plaintiff to improve by notifying her immediate supervisor about problems with clients who reached self-sufficiency. See id. Plaintiff alleges Pullie added this criticism to Plaintiff's Performance Appraisal solely to discredit her. See id. Bell allegedly confirmed Pullie's improper motive. See id. Soon after, more trouble ensued: Pullie became angry with Plaintiff for responding to an internal job posting for a Case Manager II position. See id. ¶ 13(h). Pullie instructed Bell to coach Plaintiff regarding the policies and procedures for responding to internal job postings. See id. Plaintiff then interviewed for the Case Manager II position but allegedly encountered unprofessional behavior during her interview, including Garnett-Butler whispering to the Hiring Manager during the interview. See id. ¶ 13(i).

Senior Human Resources Director Terrence Cohoon later represented to Plaintiff that Defendant's filling of the Case Manager II position by increasing the workload of an existing Case Manager I employee was purely a business decision. See id. ¶ 13(i). Plaintiff believes that Pullie's promotion of an inexperienced coworker without the initial proper license who was 10 years younger and of a different race than Plaintiff to another Case Manager II position was retaliation for Plaintiff's initial complaints against Singletary. See id. ¶ 13(k). In July 2012, Pullie sent more harassing emails concerning Plaintiff's referral of clients to a transitional job program and Plaintiff's scanning of scholarship documentation for a job interview with the Chicago Housing Authority. See id. ¶¶ 13(l)-(m).

On August 14, 2012, Pullie gave Plaintiff a Written Warning for Performance that allegedly falsely accused Plaintiff of calling a coworker an atheist and admonishing this coworker that they were going to hell. Id. ¶ 13(n). Plaintiff believes she was the only person in the office that could not discuss her religious beliefs, as other coworkers, who were Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists, appeared free to do so. Id. Bell confidentially admitted to Plaintiff that Pullie assigned two other coworkers to spy on her. Id. Pullie assigned Bell to complete coaching logs with Plaintiff related to the Written Warning for Performance. See id. ¶13(o). During this time Bell allegedly made sexually inappropriate advances and remarks to Plaintiff. See id. Finally, on August 28, 2012, Plaintiff filed a grievance against Pullie and others for false allegations in the Written Warning for Performance. See id. ¶ 13(p). On September 7, 2012, Cohoon responded to the grievance, stating that Defendant had investigated the accusations and initially found that there had been "just cause" for Pullie to issue the Written Warning for Performance. Id. ¶ 13(q). Soon thereafter, Cohoon indicated Defendant had completed its internal investigation and had concluded that inappropriate comments had been made regarding religion and religious practices justifying the Written Warning for Performance. See id. ¶ 13(r).[3]

Problems at work continued. On October 4, 2012, Pullie sent Plaintiff a harassing email concerning client home visits and client engagement. See id. ¶ 13(s). That same month, Plaintiff interviewed twice for a position at Defendant's Jane Addams Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program but was denied employment. See id. ¶ 13(t). Plaintiff also was denied a school loan to pay for World Bible College online classes; allegedly, the denial was due to her Written Warning for Performance. See id. ¶ 13(u). But on January 30, 2013, in a Performance Appraisal given by Bell, Plaintiff received an "Exceeds Expectations" rating. See id. ¶ 13(v).

Notwithstanding this positive appraisal, Plaintiff filed the March 1, 2013, employment discrimination charge with the EEOC. See id. ¶ 13(w). On May 30, 2013, Defendant terminated Plaintiff. See id. ¶ 13(y). On May 31, 2013, Pullie terminated Plaintiff's medical benefits. See id. ¶13(z). Somewhat confusingly, based on Plaintiff's allegations, Defendant sent a letter dated June 4, 2013, to Plaintiff stating that she must call in to the supervisor daily and warning that three days of missed calls would constitute job abandonment. See id. ¶ 13(aa). On June 14, 2013, Plaintiff went to the office to complete a travel expense report, turn in May 2013 paperwork, and return petty cash. See id. ¶ 13(bb). Four days later, on June 18, 2013, Plaintiff reported to work without secure transportation, and Pullie informed Plaintiff that her employment was terminated and she must leave the premises. See id. ¶ 13(cc). On June 18, 2013, Plaintiff filed her charges with the IDHR. See id. ¶ 13(dd).

Since her termination, Plaintiff has been treated for stress-related conditions, including high blood pressure, depression, dysphonia, chronic muscle tightness, and fibromyalgia. See id. ¶ 13(ii). An emergency visit to the Cook County Hospital on March 2, 2014, resulted in prescription of high-blood pressure medication. See id. ¶ 13(kk). Plaintiff has been living in a homeless shelter since February 2014, and obtained only temporary employment from March 27, 2014, to June 9, 2014. See id. ¶¶ 13(jj), 13(ll).

II. Legal Standard

To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must "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)). The factual allegations in the complaint must at least "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In reviewing the United States' motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and draw all possible inferences in the plaintiff's ...


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