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Adam v. Obama for America

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

September 28, 2016

Marisa Belle Adam, Plaintiff,
v.
Obama for America, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS M. DURKIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Marisa Adam, who is African-American, alleges she was discriminated and retaliated against on account of her race when she worked for Obama for America (“OFA”), in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and in breach of an alleged contract between Adam and OFA. R. 52. OFA has moved to dismiss Adam's claims for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). R. 56. For the following reasons, OFA's motion is granted.

         Legal Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the sufficiency of the complaint. See, e.g., Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). A complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), sufficient to provide defendant with “fair notice” of the claim and the basis for it. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While “detailed factual allegations” are not required, “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “‘A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Mann v. Vogel, 707 F.3d 872, 877 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In applying this standard, the Court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Mann, 707 F.3d at 877.

         Background

         On September 2, 2011, Adam received an email offering her a fulltime internship position in OFA's political department in Chicago. R. 52 at 1, 13. The online application notes that internship positions at OFA “are unpaid, volunteer positions, ” and that interns “will not receive financial compensation from any person or entity, including any corporation, for any services [interns] provide to the campaign.” Id. at 18. Adam began work on September 19, 2011 by participating in a new hire orientation. Id. at 1. Adam was also given a laptop to use on her first day and told about OFA's policy regarding its use. Id. Adam also received a key card. Id. at 3.

         Adam was the only African-American in the political department. Id. at 3. On September 25, 2011, six days into her internship, Adam sent an email to the Intern Coordinator, Kate Cummings, asking to have a meeting because although she was “having a blast and really happy, ” she was “not necessarily comfortable working with some of the interns in the political department.” Id. at 17. At their meeting the next day, Adam told Cummings that she felt uncomfortable as the only African-American in the department and that she “wanted to switch groups after being left out of meetings and being treated rudely.” Id. at 3. Adam does not describe Cummings's response or the immediate outcome of their meeting. Adam alleges that Cummings told Abigail Witt (the “Political Director of Operations” and supervisor of the interns in the political department) about their meeting on October 4, 2011. Id.

         Adam alleges that other interns were disrespectful to her and excluded her from group activities. Id. at 3. She alleges that Cummings and other interns laughed at Adam's expense and gave her dirty looks. Id. Adam alleges two additional incidents with Cummings in October 2011. On one occasion, Cummings allegedly “pulled Adam's hair, inspected her scalp, and told her how to wear it.” Id. at 4. On a separate occasion, “while passing in the hall, Cummings touched [Adam's] skin and said, ‘ooh.'” Id.

         Despite these events, Adam wanted to continue to work for OFA. In November 2011, Adam informed both Cummings and Witt that she wanted to stay on “after December 16” and after “January 9, 2012.” Id. at 4. Adam alleges that Cummings and Witt “solely presented [the] African American Leadership Council as an option for her to switch to after December 16, 2011.” Id. Adam had a meeting with the finance department and learned that there might be an opportunity for her there. Id.

         On December 1, 2011, Adam met with Sheena Patton, OFA's Director of Human Resources, and told her that Cummings and Witt were mistreating her because she was African-American. Id. at 4. Patton told Adam that she had the option to file a complaint. Id. Adam noticed that Witt witnessed Adam leave Patton's office, so Adam returned to Patton's office to tell her that she was scared that Witt had seen them talking. Id. Witt later screamed at Adam that she had “to leave the campaign.” Id. According to Adam, Witt told her “that if the President loses she was sure he had something else planned and Adam could look into those options after the campaign.” Id. Witt again suggested that Adam look into working with the African American Leadership Council “because it was good for her.” Id. at 5. Witt also “told Adam that she saw that Adam worked hard and was dedicated to the campaign.” Id.

         After this conversation with Witt, Adam told Human Resources she wanted to transfer out of the political department for the time being until she started with the finance department. Id. at 5. Later, Witt again screamed at Adam and “told her to pack her things up and leave” because “it was Adam's last day.” Id. In response, Adam told Witt that she was transferring to the finance department. Id.

         The next day, Adam sent an email to Human Resources explaining that she was being mistreated and was interested in filing a complaint. Id. Two days after that, Adam met with Patton and two other Human Resources employees. Id. Adam recounted how Cummings, Witt, and the interns in the political department had been mistreating her. Id. at 5-6. Patton explained that Cummings and Witt had “provided conflicting information from what Adam was telling her.” Id. at 6.

         Adam alleges that “[a]s a result of her complaints to Human Resources against two White supervisors [i.e., Cummings and Witt]” Patton demoted Adam from “intern” to “volunteer.” Id. This meant that Adam had to return the laptop she was issued and instead use her personal laptop. Adam alleges that this also meant that “she would no longer be helped by Human Resources with obtaining a paid position.” Id. at 8, 10. She also alleges that as a “volunteer” she did not have the “sessions with senior campaign staff, networking opportunities, and interviews” that “interns” had. Id. at 10.

         At some point thereafter, Adam began working with Lora Whitticker in the finance department. See Id. at 26; R. 62 at 11. On January 16, 2012, however, Adam sent Whitticker an email stating that she needed to “take a leave of absence . . . due to everything that happened over the past few months.” R. 52 at 26. Adam alleges that other OFA interns who were white and had lesser credentials went on to paid positions associated with the President and the Democratic Party. Id. at 9-10. Adam alleges that she suffered “psychological and professional damage, ” and that she “remembers not eating or going to the bathroom because she was anxious and scared of interns, Cummings, and Witt.” Id. at 11. She also alleges that she suffered from “anxiety, depressions, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, low ...


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