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Lanton v. City of Chicago

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

August 17, 2016

DENISE LANTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMY J. ST. EVE, District Court Judge.

         On April 8, 2016, Plaintiff Denise Lanton brought a ten-count First Amended Complaint alleging violations of the United States and Illinois Constitutions, as well as claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981, against her employer Defendant City of Chicago pursuant to the Court’s original and supplemental jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367. Before the Court is Defendant’s motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant’s motion. The Court grants Plaintiff leave to file a Second Amended Complaint in accordance with this ruling - keeping in mind counsel’s Rule 11 obligations - by no later than September 9, 2016.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the viability of a complaint by arguing that it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Camasta v. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc., 761 F.3d 732, 736 (7th Cir. 2014). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citation omitted). Under the federal notice pleading standards, a plaintiff’s “factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Put differently, a “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1397, 1949, 172 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). In determining the sufficiency of a complaint under the plausibility standard, courts must “accept all well-pleaded facts as true and draw reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs’ favor.” Roberts v. City of Chicago, 817 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir. 2016).

         BACKGROUND

         In her First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that she has been the City’s employee since 1988 starting as a paralegal in the City’s Law Department. (R. 12, First Am. Compl. ¶ 6.) In 1994, Plaintiff was promoted to Assistant to the Commissioner in the Department of Streets and Sanitation (hereinafter “Streets & Sanitation”). (Id. ¶ 7.) In 1999, Plaintiff was promoted to the position of Administrative Service Officer II - a position she still holds. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff alleges that the City classifies her position as a “Career Service” position and that this means she has greater rights and protections than an “at-will” employee as outlined in the City’s Personnel Rules. (Id. ¶ 9.) In her role as Administrative Service Officer II, Plaintiff works on labor relations matters, hiring practices disciplinary issues, grievances, arbitrations, and policy development within Streets & Sanitation. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         On February 17, 2014, the City’s Department of Human Resources posted a position for Labor Relations Supervisor in Streets & Sanitation, which would be a promotion for Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12.) Plaintiff applied for the position, and on May 8, 2014, the City interviewed her in accordance with the required hiring procedures. (Id. ¶ 13.) According to Plaintiff, the interview process for these types of positions in the City is very structured. (Id. ¶ 14.) More specifically, the City screens the candidates who are then reviewed by the Inspector General’s Office and ranked numerically. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         After her interview, the Streets & Sanitation’s Personnel Division informed Plaintiff that the result of the hiring panel’s consensus ranked her as the first alternate for the position of Labor Relations Supervisor - above all other candidates except the individual who they selected for the position. (Id. ¶ 16.) On May 19, 2014, the Director of Personnel, Maria Contreras, called Plaintiff to notify her that the first choice candidate for the Labor Relations Supervisor position had declined the City’s job offer. (Id. ¶ 17.) Because Plaintiff was the first alternate choice, Contreras offered Plaintiff the job, and Plaintiff accepted that same day. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that she was scheduled to start as the Labor Relations Supervisor on June 1, 2014. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         On May 21, 2014, Noelle Brennan, the federal court-appointed monitor of the Shakman Consent Decree, filed her “Corrected May 21, 2014 Report on Substantial Compliance.” (Id. ¶ 19.) Brennan was responsible for monitoring how the City complied with the Shakman Decree, which prevented the City from basing its hiring decisions on an applicant’s political affiliation. (Id.) In her May 2014 report, Brennan recommended that the federal court no longer needed to actively monitor the City’s hiring practices. (Id. ¶ 20.) Brennan, however, recommended that certain individual employees needed “further investigation.” (Id.) Plaintiff was one of the individuals who Brennan had identified as needing “further investigation.” (Id. ¶ 22.)

         In addition, Plaintiff alleges that on May 22, 2014, the Commissioner of the Department of Human Resources, Soo Choi, spoke with Brennan regarding Plaintiff’s hiring to the position of Labor Relations Supervisor. (Id. ¶ 23.) Brennan gave her opinion that the City should not hire Plaintiff in this role because the job was connected to the hiring process. (Id.) Nevertheless, on May 27, 2014, Plaintiff met with Contreras to complete the hiring paperwork. (Id. ¶ 24.) At this meeting, the Commissioner of Streets & Sanitation, Charles Williams, told Plaintiff that there was a problem with Human Resources, but that he would work on it. (Id.) Commissioner Williams directed Contreras to proceed with finalizing Plaintiff’s hiring paperwork. (Id.) Meanwhile, on May 29, 2014, Christina Batorski, Deputy Commissioner in Human Resources, sent an email to Human Resources staff and recruiters with a list of employees to exclude from job positions that involved duties relating to the hiring process. (Id. ¶ 25.)

         On June 2, 2014, Brennan amended her report regarding Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 26.) More specifically, Brennan renewed her request to “exclude [Plaintiff] from the hiring process in its entirety and to exclude her from positions wherein she would exercise significant control and discretion over other similar employment actions.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Brennan based her findings on an interview Brennan had conducted with Plaintiff in November 2012 regarding the hiring process for a Traffic Maintenance Supervisor position that took place in 2001. (Id. ¶ 27.)

         According to Plaintiff, the City never conducted an investigation into Brennan’s recommendation for “further investigation, ” although the City notified Brennan that it had disciplined Plaintiff by barring her from participating in any aspect of the hiring process. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff alleges that the City never gave her an opportunity to defend herself against Brennan’s allegations of wrongdoing - such as notice of the allegations, a hearing, or an opportunity to be heard, despite her written requests to the Streets & Sanitation’s Commissioner. (Id.)

         At some point in June 2014, Plaintiff was told that she would not be able to take the position as the Labor Relations Supervisor. (Id. ¶ 29.) On June 24, 2014, Plaintiff sent a letter to Commissioner Williams requesting the documents underlying the decision to revoke her job offer and an opportunity to respond to Brennan’s allegations. (Id. ¶ 30.) In that letter, Plaintiff explained that Brennan based her report on innuendoes of participants in a past hiring fraud scheme. (Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff further stated in the letter that there was no direct evidence of her involvement in any hiring fraud. (Id. ¶ 31.) Thereafter, throughout the remainder of 2014 and 2015, Plaintiff asked her immediate supervisor, Deputy Commissioner Steve Sorfleet, as well as Deputy of Administration James Crocker, if they had received Brennan’s allegations of misconduct against her. (Id. ¶ 32.)

         Also throughout the remainder of 2014 and 2015, Plaintiff continued to receive emails for promotional positions. (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff applied to seven of these positions, but was never selected for an interview. (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff further alleges that in response to Brennan’s recommendation, she was stripped of any responsibility involved in the hiring process at Streets & Sanitation. (Id. ¶ 35.) Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that despite her letters to Commissioner Williams seeking the documentation underlying the revocation of her job offer, she never received an answer to her requests. (Id. ¶ 36.) It was not until Plaintiff filed her charge with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that she saw some of the documentation that she had repeatedly requested.[1] (Id. ¶ 37.)

         On January 7, 2016, the Chicago Fire Department (“CFD”) contacted Plaintiff via email asking her to interview for a Labor Relations Supervisor position with the CFD. (Id. ¶ 38.) This position was the same position Plaintiff could not take due to Brennan’s recommendation in June 2014. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, in order for CFD to contact her to set up an interview, the City’s Inspector General would have had to have approved her inclusion on the CFD’s referral list. (Id.) The next day, Plaintiff accepted the CFD’s request to interview. (Id. ¶ 39.) On January 12, 2016, Joann McNeil, Supervisor of Personnel Services for the CFD, told Plaintiff that the CFD had to cancel her interview at the behest of the City’s Human Resources Department. (Id. ¶ 40.) In response, Plaintiff emailed McNeil asking her why the CFD cancelled her interview. (Id. ¶ 41.) McNeil stated that she did not know why and gave Plaintiff the contact information of Deputy Commissioner Batorski from the City’s Human Resources Department. (Id.) Batorski responded to Plaintiff on February 3, 2016 via email stating that Plaintiff was unable to participate in the hiring process because of Brennan’s finding, namely, that Plaintiff was not eligible for the CFD position, and that Plaintiff’s inclusion on the referral list was in error. (Id. ¶¶ 42, 43.)

         On March 11, 2016, Plaintiff learned that an individual named Christopher Suave was promoted to a Deputy Commissioner position with Streets & Sanitation in February 2016. (Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff alleges that she is an African-American female who is 59-years-old and that Suave is Caucasian male who is younger. (Id. ¶¶ 45, 46.) Further, Plaintiff alleges, upon information and belief, that Suave was recommended for and received harsher discipline from the Federal Monitor than she did. (Id. ¶ 47.) Specifically, Plaintiff maintains that the City suspended Suave for a period of time due to the Federal Monitor’s findings and that despite this discipline, Suave’s ability to be promoted to Deputy Commissioner was not hindered. (Id. ¶ 49.) To date, Plaintiff remains barred from promotion due to the Federal Monitor’s recommendations. (Id. ¶ 50.)

         Based on these facts, Plaintiff brings the following claims against the City of Chicago: (1) a Fourteenth Amendment due process property deprivation claim (Count I); (2) a Fourteenth Amendment due process liberty deprivation claim (Count II); (3) a deprivation of property claim under the due process clause of the Illinois Constitution (Count III); (4) a deprivation of liberty claim under the due process clause of the Illinois Constitution (Count IV); (5) a race discrimination and hostile work environment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count V); (6) a failure to promote claim based on race discrimination under § 1981 (Count VI); (7) a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim based on race (Count VII); (8) a denial of equal protection claim under the due process clause of the Illinois Constitution based on ...


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