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Gomez v. City of Chicago, Fire Department

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

January 13, 2017

Ricardo Gomez, Plaintiff,
v.
City Of Chicago, Fire Department, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Thomas M. Durkin, Judge

         Plaintiff Ricardo Gomez brings this lawsuit alleging employment discrimination and a hostile work environment under federal and state law. The Defendant City of Chicago moves to dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         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

         Plaintiff is from Puerto Rico and identifies as Hispanic. He is a firefighter, and has been employed by the City of Chicago in that capacity since 2005. He has worked at multiple fire stations in the course of his career. In this lawsuit, he alleges that at the stations at Peterson and Pulaski and Foster and Claremont, he was subjected to a hostile work environment on account of his ethnicity and national origin. He does not allege the dates he worked at these locations, but from a review of his complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), it appears to have been some time in 2014.

         In support of his claims, Plaintiff alleges that he was harassed by superiors for wearing casual clothes around the fire station, while non-Hispanic firefighters were not. He alleges to have been “treated like a rookie” despite his experience on the job, subjected to pranks (including the theft of his paycheck), and excluded from jokes targeted at Hispanics, left a note in his locker that contained “a derogatory term for people of Hispanic origin and/or ethnicity, ” and placed a note with his gear that said “Get out and swim back to your s*** hole, ” which he understood to refer to his country of origin, Puerto Rico.

         Plaintiff furthermore alleges that he was targeted on account of his ethnicity in a manner that threatened his life and physical wellbeing. For example, he alleges that his colleagues “sabotaged” his safety gear by smearing dirt on the visor attached to his helmet, removing the coverings from the helmet intended to protect his ears, placing a nail in his boot with the sharp end toward his foot, and removing his mask from its designated pouch. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that another firefighter moved toward him in a threatening manner while holding a knife. He states that the hostility he faced in the workplace caused him severe anxiety, elevated blood pressure requiring emergency medical treatment, and ultimately required him to take medical leave from the fire department (for an unspecified period of time).

         Plaintiff alleges that he reported these acts of discrimination internally to several of his superiors: Lieutenant Peters, Battalion Chief Santucci, Lieutenant Ted Maj, and Assistant Deputy Fire Commissioner Mark Nielsen. He alleges that he was informed (though he does not allege by whom) that the Fire Department's Internal Affairs division would conduct an investigation of his allegations. However, he was never advised of any investigation or action taken in the matter. He was transferred to another fire station.[1]

         Plaintiff also alleges that on or about June 20, 2014, he filed a complaint with the Department of Human Resources of the City of Chicago. To date, he has not been advised whether the department concluded its investigation. To his knowledge, no action has been taken to punish past discrimination or to prevent ongoing discrimination.

         On October 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed a written complaint of discrimination with the EEOC. The EEOC complaint contains a catalogue of alleged discriminatory acts similar to the ones set forth in the complaint. On May 12, 2016, the EEOC issued Plaintiff a Right to Sue letter. He then filed this action within the 90-day deadline set forth in the letter.

         Discussion

         In the first sentence of his lawsuit, Plaintiff generally alleges civil rights violations under Title VII, § 1981, and § 1983, and state law. Title VII permits hostile work environment claims against employers, as does Section 1981 when those claims are made on the basis of race, and Section 1983 when the defendant employer is a municipal body. Plaintiff never identifies in his complaint any Illinois statute or common law claim as a basis for recovery, and neither party addresses whether the factual allegations plausibly state a claim for relief under Illinois law.

         While “[a] plaintiff need not plead legal theories nor allege all the facts necessary to establish the essential elements of a legal theory, ” he must nevertheless put the defendant “on notice of the claims and the grounds they rest upon.” Pierce v. Ill. Dep't of Human Serv., 128 Fed.Appx. 534, 536-37 (7th Cir. 2005). Without even a reference to a state law cause of action, the Court does not consider Plaintiff to have put Defendant on notice of any claim under Illinois law. The ...


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