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Johnson v. City of Chicago

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

March 31, 2017



          Andrea R. Wood, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Harold L. Johnson, proceeding pro se, is an employee of Defendant City of Chicago (“City”). Johnson alleges that the City discriminated against him on the basis of a shoulder injury and his impaired vision, both of which Johnson characterizes as disabilities. Johnson also alleges that the City retaliated against him for seeking an accommodation for those alleged disabilities. Consequently, Johnson brings claims for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12132 et seq., the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 794 et seq., and the United States Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Second Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 68.) Before the Court is the City's motion to dismiss Johnson's Second Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. No. 69.)[1] For the reasons explained below, the Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.


         This lawsuit is not the first time Johnson has appeared in court to complain about the City's treatment of him and his injuries. According to a prior lawsuit, the City and Johnson's local of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (“Union”) began to discriminate against him on or about August 10, 2006. As a precursor to that prior lawsuit, Johnson filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against the Union on May 9, 2007 and, on August 18, 2008, he filed a charge with the EEOC against the City. On August 26, 2009, Johnson received from the EEOC two notices of his right to sue. On November 17, 2009, Johnson filed a complaint against, inter alia, the City and the Union. (Compl., Johnson v. City of Chicago, et al., Case No. 09-cv-07224 (N.D. Ill.), Dkt. No. 1.) Johnson claimed that the City and the Union failed to accommodate reasonably Johnson's disabilities-specifically, his vision loss, his heart condition, and his problems with his shoulder and back-and that the City retaliated against Johnson because he asserted his rights protected by the ADA. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 13, Johnson v. City of Chicago, et al., Case No. 09-cv-07224 (N.D. Ill.), Dkt. No. 51.) On January 5, 2011, Johnson, the City, and the Union agreed to settle the case. (Order, Johnson v. City of Chicago, et al., Case No. 09-cv-07224 (N.D. Ill.), Dkt. No. 83.)

         Meanwhile, in May 2010, during the pendency of this earlier case, Johnson injured his shoulder at work. (Second Am. Compl. at 5 of 16, Dkt. No. 68.) As a result, he did not work between May 2010 and March 2011. (Id.) Upon his return, he was assigned to light duty with no heavy lifting. (Am. Compl. at 6 of 9, Dkt. No. 47.)[2] Thereafter, Johnson's manager harassed him. (Id.) On September 1, 2011, Johnson was sent to a duty doctor. The doctor checked his shoulder and vision and determined that Johnson was unfit for duty. In retaliation for settling the earlier case, the City forced Johnson to take a leave of absence. (Id.).

         Johnson filed his initial Complaint in this matter on June 3, 2013. (Dkt. No. 1.) The Court dismissed the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), citing his failure to plead any factual allegations to support his claims. (Memo. Op. & Order at 3, Dkt. No. 43.) Johnson then filed his first Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 47.) That complaint was subsequently dismissed as well. Johnson's first Amended Complaint was based on claims in his EEOC charge filed on January 17, 2013. (Second Am. Compl. at 7 of 16, Dkt. No. 68.) To bring a claim under the ADA, a plaintiff must first file a charge alleging the unlawful employment practice with the EEOC and receive a notice of right to sue. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e), (f). Because Illinois is a state with an equal opportunity agency, Johnson's charge had to be filed with that agency within 300 days of the employment action of which he complains. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e); Doe v. Oberweis Dairy, 456 F.3d 704, 708 (7th Cir. 2006). Since Johnson filed his EEOC Charge on January 17, 2013, his Complaint had to be based on claims occurring after March 23, 2012. But Johnson's first Amended Complaint alleged no events after September 2011. Thus, the Court dismissed Johnson's first Amended Complaint but granted him leave to replead once more. (Memo. Op. & Order at 8-9, Dkt. No. 61.)

         The Second Amended Complaint alleges that Johnson requested a reasonable accommodation in April 2012, and the City denied that request in April 2012 and again in March 2013. (Second Am. Compl. at 5 of 16, Dkt. No. 68.) It further alleges that the City refused to rehire Johnson until Johnson's “doctor found his shoulder healed and rel[e]ased him to work, ” and even though that release occurred in November 2013, the City denied Johnson's application until December 2013. (Id.) This alleged discrimination resulted in Johnson's loss of two years of income and seniority. (Id.)


         I. Statute of Limitations

         As an initial matter, Johnson's Second Amended Complaint has remedied the statute of limitations problem identified in the Court's prior ruling dismissing the first Amended Complaint, as he has alleged that the City engaged in unlawful employment practices during the required time period-i.e., after March 23, 2012. For example, Johnson alleges that he was denied requests for reasonable accommodation of his shoulder injury in April 2012 and March 2013. Thereafter, according to Johnson, the City repeatedly refused to rehire him until his shoulder had completely healed and even then unreasonably delayed his rehire. (Second Am. Compl. at 5 of 16, Dkt. No. 68.) As this all occurred during the requisite time period, Johnson's claims based on these alleged violations by the City are not barred by the statute of limitations.

         II. Merits

         The Court next turns to the City's argument that Johnson has not stated claims for which he is entitled to relief. A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). To survive a motion to dismiss under 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, 547 (2007). While the complaint need not include detailed factual allegations, there “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555. The plaintiff must “‘plead[ ] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 694 F.3d 873, 885 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)). The Court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in Johnson's complaint as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. See Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nev., N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007). That said, while a pro se complaint “is to be construed liberally and held to less stringent standards, . . . courts are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Yates v. John Marshall Sch., 2009 WL 1309516, at *2 (N.D. Ill. May 11, 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Papsan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         A. Discrimination Claims under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act

         To plead a claim for discrimination under either the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act, Johnson must adequately allege: (1) he has a disability within the meaning of the statute; (2) he is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) his employer took adverse job actions against him because of the disability or failed to make reasonable accommodations. E.E.O.C. v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 2010 WL 3700704, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 10, 2010) (setting forth ...

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