United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
DAVID ROGERS, ALTHEA DEMPS, RUSSELL SPALDING, MARK FRANKLIN, and CARLINE DUNLAP, Plaintiffs,
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL, District Judge.
Plaintiffs Carline Dunlap, David Rogers, Althea Demps, Russell Spalding, and Mark Franklin contend that their employer, Ford Motor Company, discriminated against them based on their race (African American) and retaliated against them after Dunlap filed an EEOC charge on behalf of herself and "a class of Black employees." (Am. Compl., Ex. 1 (EEOC Charge), Dkt. 27-1.) Ford seeks judgment on the pleadings as to the claims brought by Dunlap and Spalding, arguing that under the doctrine of judicial estoppel, Dunlap and Spalding's failure to disclose administrative proceedings relating to their claims against Ford in their respective bankruptcy cases bars them from proceeding with those claims in federal court. For the following reasons, Ford's motion is denied in its entirety.
I. LEGAL STANDARD
The court begins with the legal standard, as this governs whether it is proper to consider all of the materials submitted by the parties in support of or in opposition to the defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. In ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c), when the movant seeks "to dispose of the case on the basis of the underlying substantive merits.... the appropriate standard is that applicable to summary judgment, except that the court may consider only the contents of the pleadings.'" Alexander v. City of Chi., 994 F.2d 333, 336 (7th Cir. 1993). The pleadings include the complaint, the answer, and any documents attached as exhibits, such as affidavits, letters, and contracts. N. Ind. Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of S. Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 452-53 (7th Cir. 1998). The court may also take judicial notice of "documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it." Geinosky v. City of Chi., 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012). The court should grant a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings only if "no genuine issues of material fact remain to be resolved" and the movant "is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Alexander, 994 F.2d at 336.
1. EEOC Charge
Rogers, Demps, Spalding, Franklin, and Dunlap are African-American employees and have worked at Ford since at least 2008. On August 28, 2008, Dunlap filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") on behalf of herself and "a class of Black employees, " asserting race discrimination by Ford. The IDHR dismissed the charge for lack of jurisdiction based on Ford's collective bargaining agreement and transferred the charge to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The court previously denied Ford's motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust based on its conclusion that the four original plaintiffs in this case (Rogers, Demps, Spalding, and Franklin, none of whom filed their own administrative charge) were entitled to piggyback on Dunlap's IDHR/EEOC charge. (Dkt. 38.) In this federal lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that Ford management personnel were aware of the EEOC charge and that following the filing of the charge, the plaintiffs experienced retaliation and a hostile work environment, including the hanging of a noose at their work station.
2. 2010 Bankruptcy Case
On August 30, 2010, Dunlap - through attorney Scott Pyle of the UAW Legal Services Plan - filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. In re Dunlap, No. 10-24049-jpk (N.D. Ind.). The "Statement of Financial Affairs" section of her bankruptcy petition required Dunlap to "list all suits and administrative proceedings to which the debtor is or was a party within one year immediately preceding the filing of this bankruptcy case." (Dkt. 93-1 at PageID # 372.) Dunlap did not disclose her IDHR/EEOC charge. On June 13, 2011, the bankruptcy court dismissed Dunlap's petition due to her failure to comply with the payment plan.
3. Dunlap's Involvement in This Case
The original complaint named David Rogers, Russell Spalding, Mark Franklin and Althea Demps as plaintiffs. On December 13, 2013, the plaintiffs filed a motion seeking leave to file an amended complaint that, among other things, added Dunlap as a plaintiff. The court granted this motion and on December 19, 2012, an amended complaint was filed that included Dunlap as a plaintiff. The first amended complaint referred to Dunlap's EEOC Charge: "[Plaintiffs] participated in the filing of a charge with the EEOC as a class (Exhibit A [the EEOC charge]), with Plaintiff Dunlap as the class representative/charging party." (Dkt. 27 at ¶ 10.)
4. 2013 Bankruptcy Case
On October 18, 2013, Dunlap filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, again through attorney Scott Pyle of the UAW Legal Services Plan. In re Dunlap, No. 13-23710-jpk (N.D. Ind.). In the "Statement of Financial Affairs, " Dunlap listed two collection actions and an eviction action that had been filed against her, as well as an arbitration that she had filed against H&R Block, but did not disclose that an amended complaint filed in this case on December 19, 2012, added her as a named plaintiff. In addition, "Schedule B - Personal Property" of Dunlap's Chapter 13 petition required disclosure of "[o]ther contingent and unliquidated claims of every nature, including tax refunds, ...