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Thomas v. Coach Outlet Store

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

January 27, 2017

MICHELLE THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
COACH OUTLET STORE, UNKNOWN COACH OUTLET STORE MANAGER, and COACH, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John Z. Lee United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Michelle Thomas has sued Coach Outlet Store, an unknown Coach Outlet Store Manager, and Coach, Inc. (collectively, “Defendants”). She alleges race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count I) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count II), and she also brings state law claims for negligent supervision (Count III) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV). Defendant Coach Inc. (“Coach”) has moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6).[1]For the reasons stated herein, Coach's motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff Michelle Thomas is an African American woman who resides in Illinois. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 9, ECF No. 1. In 2014, she was employed as a security guard by SOS Security. Id. ¶ 9. SOS Security entered a contract with the Coach Outlet Store in Aurora, Illinois, to provide an overnight security guard at the store while the store was in the process of being remodeled. Id. ¶ 10. In connection with this contract, Thomas was assigned to work as the overnight security guard at the Coach Outlet Store for three nights, beginning the night of May 1, 2014. Id. ¶¶ 11-12.

         Thomas's claims arise from an incident that took place on the second night of her assignment. On May 2, 2014, a Coach Outlet Store manager arrived at the store where Thomas was working. Id. ¶ 15. According to Thomas, the manager proceeded to immediately-and falsely-accuse Thomas of stealing items from the store. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. The manager then physically patted down Thomas and “roughly searched” through her belongings, “holding up [Thomas's] intimate apparel and other items in front of people in the store.” Id. ¶¶ 18-19.

         The manager's search did not reveal any stolen items. Id. ¶ 20. Nevertheless, the manager e-mailed various individuals after the incident, including Thomas's supervisor at SOS Security, and told them Thomas had stolen something from the store. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24. The manager then terminated Thomas from the remainder of her assignment. Id. ¶¶ 23, 25. Thomas alleges that she was falsely accused of theft and terminated from her employment at the Coach Outlet Store on account of her race. Id. ¶¶ 25, 30, 35, 37.

         Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint “need only provide a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, sufficient to provide the defendant with fair notice of the claim and its basis.” Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and must draw inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1081.

         Analysis

         Coach has moved to dismiss all four counts of Thomas's complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant under Rule 12(b)(6). First, Coach contends that Thomas's § 1981 and Title VII claims should be dismissed because Thomas has not sufficiently alleged the existence of an employment contract or employment relationship with Coach. Next, it seeks dismissal of Thomas's negligent supervision claim because Thomas has not alleged that Coach knew or should have known the Coach Store Outlet manager posed a danger to Thomas. Coach also argues that Thomas's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress should be dismissed on the ground that Thomas has not sufficiently alleged extreme and outrageous conduct to support her claim. The Court will address each of these arguments below.

         I. Count I: Race Discrimination Under 42 U.S.C. § 1981

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, all persons, regardless of race, are guaranteed “the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). This guarantee protects the rights to enter, perform, modify, and terminate contracts, as well as to enjoy “all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship.” Id. § 1981(b). Section 1981 therefore offers a basis for relief “when racial discrimination impairs an existing contractual relationship, so long as the plaintiff has or would have rights under the existing . . . contractual relationship.” Domino's Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470, 476 (2006).

         Coach argues that Thomas has failed to state a claim under § 1981 on the ground that Thomas has not alleged the existence of a contractual relationship between Thomas and Coach. Def.'s Mem. Supp. at 3. The Seventh Circuit, however, has made clear that a defendant “can be liable under § 1981 for interfering with the plaintiff's relationship with his employer, ” even when the plaintiff has no direct contractual relationship with the defendant itself. Sklyarsky v. Means-Knaus Partners, L.P., 777 F.3d 892, 896 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Muhammad v. Oliver, 547 F.3d 874, 878 (7th Cir. 2008); Thanongsinh v. Bd. of Educ., 462 F.3d 762, 782-83 (7th Cir. 2006)). In other words, a defendant's “tortious interference with [the plaintiff's] contract rights violates section 1981 when the motivation for the interference is racial, ” regardless of whether the defendant itself was a party to the contract at issue. Muhammad, 547 F.3d at 878. The lack of an employment relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant thus does not preclude the plaintiff from prevailing on a § 1981 claim. See id; Deets v. Massman Const. Co., 811 F.3d 978, 984 (7th Cir. 2016).

         Here, Thomas has alleged that she had an employment relationship with SOS Security. Compl. ¶¶ 9, 11. She further alleges that Defendants interfered with this employment relationship by terminating Thomas's assignment to work at the Coach Outlet Store and by falsely reporting to Thomas's supervisor at SOS Security that Thomas had stolen items from the store. Id. ¶¶ 22-25. Because these allegations amount to a claim that Defendants interfered with Thomas's employment relationship with SOS Security, and because Thomas attributes this interference to racial motivation, see Id. ΒΆΒΆ 28-31, Thomas has sufficiently ...


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