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Brownlee v. Catholic Charities of Archdiocese of Chicago

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

February 28, 2017



          Joan B. Gottschall United States District Judge

         The three plaintiffs, Esther Brownlee (“Brownlee”), Jackie Tate (“Tate”), and Joanie Fleming (“Fleming”), worked[1] as mobile outreach workers for the defendant, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago (“Catholic Charities”). (See Ans. & Aff. Defenses ¶¶ 20-22 [hereinafter “Ans.”], ECF No. 16.) All three plaintiffs are female. (Ans. ¶¶ 17-19.) The first nine counts of the plaintiffs' first amended complaint[2] (ECF No. 8) (referred to for simplicity's sake as “the complaint”) arise under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Each count concerns only one of the plaintiffs and a single Title VII theory: “sexual harassment” as to each plaintiff (Counts One, Two, and Three); “sex discrimination” as to each plaintiff (Counts Four, Five, and Six); retaliation as to Brownlee and Fleming (Counts Seven and Eight), and a “constructive discharge” count brought by Tate in Count Nine. In the complaint's final two counts (Ten and Eleven), Brownlee brings claims under Illinois law respectively for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). Before the court is Catholic Charities' motion to dismiss six counts of the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         For purposes of deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court assumes that all of the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are true and draws all reasonable inferences in the Plaintiff's favor. Manistee Apts., LLC v. City of Chi., 844 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2016). In addition, the court notes the allegations Catholic Charities has admitted in its answer (ECF No. 16).

         The plaintiffs' duties as mobile outreach workers included driving with a partner to deliver meals and services to people in the community. (Ans. ¶¶ 26, 28, 30.) Duane Washington “Washington”), a male mobile outreach worker during the relevant time periods, figures prominently in all three plaintiffs' claims.

         A. Brownlee

         Brownlee and Washington drove as partners from approximately May 18-June 16, 2015. During that time, Washington sexually harassed her verbally and physically. (See Compl. ¶ 33- 34.) For example, Washington told Brownlee more than once that she looked good (¶ 35), “I know Ray would like to fuck you” (¶ 38), and “[i]f I was your man, you wouldn't talk unless I told you to” (¶ 42). Washington also “rubbed Brownlee's shoulders and thighs on at least five occasions.” (Compl. ¶ 44.) Brownlee pushed Washington's hand away each time and told him to stop. (Compl. ¶ 45.) She complained to her supervisor, Ray Lee (“Lee”), and said that she did not want to work with Washington anymore. (Compl. ¶¶ 46-47.) Lee responded “[W]e put you with him because you can handle him.” (Compl. ¶ 48.) Catholic Charities did not investigate Washington's conduct or adequately discipline him. (Compl. ¶¶ 50-51.)

         On June 16, 2015, Washington yelled and cursed at Brownlee while the two were delivering a meal. The client to whom they were delivering the meal refused to open the door for them as a result, and Lee ordered the pair to return to the office to discuss what happened. (See Compl. ¶¶ 123-25.) During the drive back to the office, Washington struck Brownlee on her arm with the back of his hand. (Compl. ¶¶ 126, 274.) He also threatened Brownlee, saying “I'll have someone meet you at 10 S. Kedzie and hurt you.” (Compl. ¶ 127.)

         The pair met with management when they arrived at the office. Washington admitted to striking Brownlee, and though Lee said at one point that he could not “have [the] two working together anymore, ” (Compl. ¶ 214) Renee Rouse (“Rouse”), another supervisor, later told Brownlee that she could not be reassigned despite Washington's conduct (Compl. ¶ 215). Brownlee was told to leave a meeting so that Lee and a third supervisor could speak with Washington alone. (See Compl. ¶¶ 216-17.) After the three met in private, Lee warned Brownlee that she would be written up if she missed four more days of work. (Compl. ¶ 217.)

         Rouse assigned Brownlee and Washington to again work together on June 18, 2015. (Compl. ¶ 220.) That same day, Brownlee called Cynthia Guerrero to report that she was subjected to a hostile work environment. (Compl. ¶ 219.) Brownlee also told Lee that she was afraid to work with Washington after he struck her, and Lee assigned her to work with another employee. (Compl. ¶ 221.)

         On June 23, 2015, Brownlee filed a police report regarding Washington's conduct and attempted to obtain a restraining order. (Compl. ¶ 223.) Two days later, Catholic Charities' Executive Director terminated Brownlee's employment “due to unprofessional behavior related to the June 16, 2015 incident.” (Compl. ¶ 225.)

         B. Tate

         Washington made harassing comments similar to those he made to Brownlee to Tate on a daily basis between October 2012 and October 2014. (See Compl. ¶¶ 60-64.) He also made homophobic comments Tate overheard. (Compl. ¶ 65.) Tate reported Washington's conduct to three supervisors, including Lee, but Washington was not adequately disciplined. (Compl. ¶¶ 66-68.) Sometime in the fall or winter of 2013, Washington showed Tate a pornographic video, which she found offensive. (Compl. ¶¶ 69-70.) She immediately reported the incident to Lee, who responded “[Y]ou know how he is.” (Compl. ¶ 72.)

         Tate resigned on October 31, 2014. (Compl. ¶ 269.) She pleads that the ongoing harassment and discrimination caused her to resign. (See Compl. ¶¶ 268-69.)

         C. ...

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