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Rippley v. Teamsters Local 525

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 19, 2017



          Michael J. Reagan, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         On July 26, 2016, Plaintiff Glenn Rippley filed an employment discrimination claim against the Teamsters Local 525 (the “Teamsters”), Precision Pipeline LLC (“Precision”), and the National Labor Relations Board Region #14 (“NLRB”) (Doc. 2). The Court conducted an initial screening of the complaint, dismissed the complaint with leave to amend, and subsequently conducted a second initial screening on the First Amended Complaint (Docs. 2, 5, 6, 8). After reviewing the First Amended Complaint, the Court determined that it still lacked sufficient factual or legal grounds to proceed beyond screening (Doc. 8). The Court dismissed the First Amended Complaint and allowed Plaintiff Rippley an additional 35 days to file an amendment, which he did in a timely fashion (Doc. 9). The Second Amended Complaint is now before the Court for screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) because Rippley seeks to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 9).

         In his Second Amended Complaint, filed using four copies of this Court's standard employment discrimination complaint form, Plaintiff Rippley claims that he was discriminated against based upon: his race, pursuant to Title VII, or 42 U.S.C. § 1981; his age, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 621; and his religion, pursuant to Title VII; and, that he was retaliated against for acting as a whistleblower (Doc. 9 at 2, 10, 14). He also alleges that his due process rights were violated because he was terminated without any warning or opportunity to defend himself (Id. at 6). In connection with his claims, he names Teamsters and Precision (Id. at 1-16).[1] He seeks compensation for lost wages, reinstatement, and monetary damages (Id. at 4, 8, 12, 16).

         In addition to his written complaint, Rippley has resubmitted 39 pages of exhibits, which are comprised of various documents he previously submitted to the EEOC and the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) (Doc 9 at 17-55). The exhibits include “witness affidavits” containing his own statements about claims he made with various agencies in relation to his employment (Id.).

         The Second Amended Complaint, and the attached exhibits, are now before the Court for screening pursuant to § 1915A because Rippley seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. Section 1915(e)(2) requires a court to dismiss any complaint if (a) the allegation of poverty is untrue; (b) the action is frivolous or malicious, (c) the action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or, (d) the action seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Rippley's previous two complaints have been dismissed pursuant to § 1915(e)(2) because the Court has determined that he has failed to state a claim (Docs. 5, 8). After screening Rippley's Second Amended Complaint, the Court finds that Rippley has still failed to state a claim for the reasons set forth below.[2]

         II. Legal Analysis

         As a part of the § 1915(e)(2) screening, the Court is required to determine if the complaint presents any potentially meritorious factual and legal grounds. The standards for deciding whether to dismiss a case for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) are the same as those for reviewing claims under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Dewalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 611-12 (7th Cir. 2000). The complaint must contain allegations that go beyond a merely speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint “that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Pro se plaintiffs' allegations are given particular lenience, and they need not be artfully pled, so long as they present a basic story that holds together. See e.g. Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010). However, if the lack of organization or coherence is too confusing to determine which facts allegedly constitute wrongful conduct, dismissal is appropriate. Stanard v. Nygren, 658 F.3d 792, 798 (7th Cir. 2011) (finding that a second amended complaint was too verbose and convoluted to justify allowing it to proceed beyond screening even if it did present potentially meritorious claims buried as a needle amongst a haystack).

         Race Discrimination:

         As the Court previously stated, to establish a prima facie case of discrimination via indirect evidence, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: “(1) he belongs to a protected class; (2) he performed his job satisfactorily; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) his employer treated similarly situated employees outside of his protected class more favorably.” Contreras v. Suncast Corp., 237 F.3d 756, 759 (7th Cir. 2001). Here, Rippley alleges that as a black man he is a member of a protected class, that he performed his job satisfactorily, that he was terminated, and that other white males were not terminated. In support of his allegation that there was differential treatment, Rippley alleged that white males “were catered to with smoking breaks lunch breaks where plaintiff received none as a Black male. Plaintiff was not allowed to congregate with other (Black males)” (Doc. 9 at 3). Rippley also contends that there was a pattern of harassment and racial actions which “caused all protected classes to discontinue participation and union activities, left union membership” (Id. at 11).

         Rippley's newest allegations in his Second Amended Complaint come closer to stating a claim than his previous assertions in the sense that he attempts to set forth the clearly defined elements-that he is a protected class member, that he performed his work satisfactorily, that he was terminated, and that others were not. However, Rippley still fails to state a claim because he has not indicated how there is any connection between the alleged differential treatment (smoke breaks for others, or ‘racial actions'), his job performance, his protected status, and his termination. For example, it is not as if he contends that he performed poorly and was terminated because he never got a smoke break or lunch break. Plaintiff fails to weave these bare assertions into any sort of story that holds together.

         Additionally, Rippley fails to provide any specifics about the job duties of the white employees, so it is not clear that other employees performing comparable job duties were treated differently than him. See Alexander v. Casino Queen, Inc., 739 F.3d 972, 981 (7th Cir. 2014) (noting that plaintiffs satisfied the similarly situated employee prong by comparing their treatment to the preferential treatment of other cocktail waitresses who were given more preferable floor assignments despite holding the same position and possessing the same capabilities of plaintiffs). It is not enough to state a claim to merely identify facts that could be consistent with racial discrimination practices, which is exactly what Plaintiff has done here. Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (“'naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement'” are not sufficient to state a claim). He has identified factual components that match the basic tenants of a race discrimination claim, but he has not provided any story as to how these factual elements come together to constitute actual discrimination. Given these ambiguities, the Court finds that Rippley still has not stated a proper prima facie case of race discrimination. Accordingly, this claim is dismissed.

         Age Discrimination:

         Rippley's age discrimination claim was initially dismissed because he failed to meet a technical filing requirement involving the EEOC. His First Amended Complaint surmounted this problem with the mere passage of time, but in that Complaint, Rippley still failed to make out the components of an age discrimination claim, omitting critical information, such as his own age. Here, Rippley primarily adds his own age to his age discrimination claim, alleging that he is 58 years old, that he performed his work satisfactorily, and that younger white employees were allowed to continue their employment. Plaintiff alleges that these facts support finding a violation of his rights under the age discrimination act. However, these allegations suffer from the same infirmity as his race discrimination claims because he fails to present a plausible story as to how or why his age was held against him in a ...

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