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Hoppe v. Lewis University

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

January 3, 2017

ELIZABETH HOPPE, Plaintiff,
v.
LEWIS UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff Elizabeth Hoppe (“Plaintiff”) brings suit against her former employer, Lewis University (“Defendant”) alleging employment discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII. Currently before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim [10]. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion [10] is granted in part and denied in part. The Court grants Defendant's motion to dismiss (1) Plaintiff's claim for gender discrimination; and (2) Plaintiff's claims for sex and disability discrimination to the extent that they are based on her removal as Philosophy Chair, the reduction of her role as thesis advisor, or Defendant's request that Plaintiff submit a medical evaluation. The Court denies Defendant's motion to dismiss (1) Plaintiff's claim for retaliation; and (2) Plaintiff's claims for sex and disability discrimination and retaliation to the extent that they are based on Plaintiff's termination. This case is set for further status hearing on January 25, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. The parties are directed to confer and to submit a joint status report by January 20, 2017 that includes a discovery plan and a statement of whether they wish to schedule a settlement conference prior to engaging in discovery.

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff began working for Defendant in August 1999 as an Associate Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. In December 2011, Defendant began termination proceedings against Plaintiff because of a ruling that Judge Chang of this district issued on a separate EEOC charge. In 2012, Defendant halted termination proceedings.

         According to the complaint, beginning on approximately August 28, 2013, Defendant began discriminating against Plaintiff based on her age (currently 53), gender (female) and disability (an anxiety disorder). In September 2013, Plaintiff had a panic attack at work.

         On October 2, 2013, Plaintiff filed charges of age, gender, and disability discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Plaintiff cited the following facts as evidence of all three types of discrimination: she was removed as the Philosophy Conference Director; her role as thesis advisor was diminished; she was accused of being disruptive and unable to adequately perform her job duties; and she was instructed to submit another medical evaluation in order for Defendant to determine if she was fit to satisfactorily perform the essential duties of her job. Plaintiff alleged in her age and gender discrimination charges that other associate professors, who are either younger than age 40 or significantly younger than Plaintiff, or male, have been treated differently than Plaintiff under similar circumstances. Plaintiff alleged in her disability discrimination charge that her disability does not affect her ability to perform the essential duties of her job, with reasonable accommodation.

         On July 16, 2014, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment. On November 18, 2015, the EEOC closed its file on Plaintiff's charges, finding that it was “unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes.” [1] at 7.

         In this lawsuit, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against her on the basis of age, disability, and gender and retaliated against her for engaging in protected activity by removing her as Philosophy Conference Director; diminishing her role as thesis advisor; labeling the symptoms of her anxiety disorder disruptive and requiring her to submit a medical clearance; and ultimately terminating her. See [15] at 2-4.

         II. Legal Standard

         Defendant seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which challenges the legal sufficiency of the complaint. For purposes of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “the court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and construes all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.” Mutter, 17 F.Supp.3d at 756. To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff's complaint must allege facts which, when taken as true, “‘plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a speculative level.'” Cochran v. Illinois State Toll Highway Auth., 828 F.3d 597, 599 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007)). The Court reads the complaint and assesses its plausibility as a whole. See Atkins v. City of Chicago, 631 F.3d 823, 832 (7th Cir. 2011).

         In this case, Plaintiff is proceeding pro se. “The pleading standards for pro se plaintiffs are considerably relaxed.” Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1027-28 (7th Cir. 2013). A pro se Plaintiff's complaint must simply “give enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together.” Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010).

         III. Analysis

         A. Claims for Harassment and Discrimination Based on Failure to Promote

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claims for harassment and discrimination based on failure to promote should be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies and because these claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The Court grants Defendant's motion as to Plaintiff's claims for harassment and discrimination based on failure ...


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