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Robinson v. City of Evanston

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

January 18, 2017

SUZETTE ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF EVANSTON, a municipal corporation, WALTER BOBKIEWICZ, GRANT FARRAR, and JENNIFER LIN, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SARA L. ELLIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Suzette Robinson, the former Director of Public Works for the City of Evanston (the “City”), claims that Defendant Walter Bobkiewicz, the City Manager for the City, discriminated against her on the basis of her race and that Bobkiewicz and Defendants Jennifer Lin and Grant Farrar retaliated against her under 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1] in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/6-101, for filing complaints about racial discrimination. Bobkiewicz moves to dismiss [17] Robinson's suit, as do Farrar and Lin [21]. Because Robinson has failed to allege sufficient facts to state a claim for retaliation against Lin and Farrar the Court grants their motion to dismiss Count V. The Court also grants their motion to dismiss Count X because the IHRA does not provide for individual liability in retaliation cases. The Court denies Bobkiewicz's motion to dismiss Counts III and IV because he has failed to show that his decision to terminate Robinson before the City Council eliminated her position was legislative in nature. However, because the IHRA does not allow for individual liability for retaliation claims, the Court dismisses Count IX.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         Robinson, an African American woman, was the Director of Public Works for the City from March 2010 until August 21, 2015. While in this position, she reported directly to Bobkiewicz, the City Manager. In her role as Director of Public Works, Robinson oversaw five divisions, which employed over 100 people. In May 2014, Robinson completed a performance evaluation of Bobkiewicz, and she noted her belief that Bobkiewicz treats members of the City's African America community and its African American employees poorly. Bobkiewicz learned of Robinson's comments in August 2014.

         On November 7, 2014, Bobkiewicz reprimanded Robinson publicly in front of her assistant directors and other employees of the Public Works Department. Bobkiewicz also falsely told at least two of Robinson's subordinates that Robinson was seeking to leave her position in order to undermine her authority. In response, Robinson filed a Healthy Work Environment Complaint (“HWE Complaint”) against Bobkiewicz. Marty Lyons, Assistant City Manager, investigated the HWE Complaint and sustained three of the five complaints against Bobkiewicz. Elizabeth Tisdahl, the City's Mayor, issued a written reprimand to Bobkiewicz. After Robinson filed the HWE Complaint, Bobkiewicz reassigned some of her duties to other members of the staff.

         Robinson, believing that her concerns regarding Bobkiewicz remained unresolved, sent a written demand letter to the City describing her concerns about Bobkiewicz's disparate treatment of African American employees on March 4, 2015. Farrar, Corporation Counsel/City Attorney, responded and asked Robinson to submit a detailed settlement demand, which she did on March 30, 2015. In this demand letter Robinson stated that if her demands were not satisfied she would file a discrimination charge against the City. On April 14, 2015, Farrar responded on behalf of the City stating that the City would not resolve her demands unless she left employment with the City. He also noted in the letter that Robinson was the subject of numerous HWE Complaints herself. On April 23, 2015, Robinson, through her attorney, responded to the letter stating that she would proceed with filing her discrimination charge, and she filed a charge on April 30, 2015 with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”), alleging retaliation and discrimination.

         On April 27, 2015, Farrar directed Lin, Human Resources Division Manager for the City, to conduct interviews with City employees to uncover unfavorable information about Robinson. Lin conducted these interviews between April 27 and May 5, 2015. Lin documented these interviews in a memorandum she wrote to Lyons and Farrar on May 8, 2015, concluding that Robinson created an unhealthy work environment.

         On May 12, 2015, Bobkiewicz announced that Lyons and another city employee, Ricky Voss, would conduct an examination of the Public Works and Utilities Departments and he expected that this examination would lead to the elimination of both departments. As part of this examination, Bobkiewicz changed Robinson's reporting structure and directed her to report directly to Lyons. Lyons removed Robinson's decision-making authority and ordered the employees who directly reported to Robinson to instead report to him.

         On August 21, 2015, Lyons informed Robinson that her employment was terminated but did not provide her a reason for the termination. The same day, Robinson received a letter from Bobkiewicz stating that the City planned to combine Public Works and Utilities into one department named the Public Works Agency. As a result of this combination, Bobkiewicz stated that the City was eliminating Robinson's position from the City's Fiscal Year 2016 budget and terminated her employment, effective immediately.

         On August 27, 2015, Lyons sent a memorandum to the City Council describing the proposed organizational changes to the Public Works and Utilities Departments. The memorandum stated that appointment of the head of the new combined agency would occur around mid-October 2015. The City Council approved the proposed reorganization on September 23, 2015.[3]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor. AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer, 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must not only provide the defendant with fair notice of a claim's basis but must also be facially plausible. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Claims ...


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