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Valdivia v. Township High School District 214

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

May 15, 2017




         Plaintiff, Noemi Valdivia, has filed a two-count First Amended Complaint ("complaint") against defendant Township High School District 214 ("District 214") seeking damages and injunctive relief on the grounds that defendant discriminated against her on the basis of race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII") and interfered with her right to take job-protected leave, in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. ("FMLA") (doc. # 29: Compl., at ¶¶ 49-58). Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss (doc. # 30), which is now fully briefed. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies defendant's motion.


         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, we construe plaintiffs complaint in the light most favorable to her. accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff. While v. Kcely, 814 F.3d 883. 887-88 (7th Cir. 2016). We summarize the relevant, well-pleaded facts below.

         Plaintiff worked for District 214 as a secretary at Elk Grove High School from May 2010 through June 2016: she states that she always performed her job satisfactorily (Compl. at ¶¶ 13, 14). Plaintiff contends that during her employment, her co-workers "regularly made derogatory remarks about Hispanic students and their families, " which increased in frequency beginning around September 2014 (Id., at ¶ 15). For example, one secretary made comments one to two times per month to the effect that Hispanic people come to America and want everything for free even though they have new cell phones and their nails done (Id., at ¶ 16). Another secretary told Ms. Valdivia not to speak Spanish at work because they were in "America" (Id., at ¶ 17). Plaintiff, who is Hispanic, found these comments degrading, hostile and offensive (Id., at ¶ 18).

         Ms. Valdivia complained about these comments to Elk Grove principal Paul Kelly "several times in 2015" and to assistant principal Val Norris in November 2015 (Compl. at ¶¶19-20). Ms. Norris and Mr. Kelly told her there was nothing they could do to address those comments because the secretaries' union was too strong (Id.).

         Ms. Valdivia became "distraught" about her work environment (Id., at ¶ 21). In or around March 2016, 'in an effort to remove herself from the racially hostile work environment at Elk Grove High School." plaintiff applied for and was offered a position as a secretary at Wheeling High School, another school within District 214 (Compl. at ¶ 22). Ms. Valdivia began working there in June 2016, and in July 2016. an associate principal told her that "those people" - referring to a Mexican family -- never pay their bills (Id., at ¶¶ 23-24). Afterward. Ms. Valdivia became "extremely distraught and began crying regularly and uncontrollably at work" (Id., atc25). While crying uncontrollably, she told her supervisor. Principal Angela Sisi (whom she had known since about 2012). that she was overwhelmed and afraid and she was unsure if she could continue working (Id., at ¶¶ 25-26). In August 2016, Ms. Valdivia called school counselor Ruby Aleman and I., atino Outreach Family Coordinator David Maya while crying uncontrollably and told them she did not know whether she could continue working for District 214 (Id. at ¶ 28). In July and/or August 2016, Ms. Valdivia asked Ms. Sisi to place her in a ten-month position to give her two months off each school year (Id., at ¶ 27).

         "In response to Valdivia's various concerns regarding her ability to work while in obvious distress." Ms. Sisi. Mr. Aleman and Mr. Maya told Ms. Valdivia that she had to decide between continuing or resigning her employment (Compl. at, : 29). On August 3. 2016, Ms. Valdivia again approached Ms. Sisi while crying uncontrollably and explained that she was confused and overwhelmed: Ms. Valdivia also told Ms. Sisi that she had not slept in weeks, had not been eating, and was losing weight (Id., at ¶¶ 30-31). Ms. Sisi again told plaintiff that she needed to decide whether to continue working or to resign (Id.). On August 4. 2016, Ms. Sisi texted Ms. Valdivia to ask for a decision about her job (Id., at ¶ 32). Ms. Sisi and Ms. Valdivia discussed Ms. Valdivia"s potential resignation, and Ms. Valdivia stated that she would resign "due to medical reasons" and feeling overwhelmed (Id., at ¶ 33). Ms. Sisi requested a written letter of resignation; Ms. Valdivia was hesitant to provide one, but she was unaware of any alternatives and she was unable to continue working at that time (Id., at ¶¶ 34. 36). Ms. Valdivia provided a letter of resignation on August 4, 2016. effective August 11. 2016 (Id., at ¶¶ 36).

         Also on August 4, 2016, District 214 posted a job vacancy seeking to fill Ms. Valdivia's position (Compl. at ¶ 37). On August 9, 2016. Ms. Valdivia went to Ms. Sisi's home and told her she wanted to rescind her resignation (Id., at ¶ 38). Shortly thereafter, Ms. Sisi told Ms. Valdivia that her replacement had been chosen and she could not return to her position (Id., at ¶¶ 39-40). Defendant's school board accepted plaintiff's resignation on August 11. 2016 (Id., at ¶ 41). Less than two weeks later, on August 23. 2016. Ms. Valdivia was hospitalized for four days and diagnosed, for the first time, with depression, anxiety disorder, panic disorder and insomnia: she was cleared for secretarial work by her physician after treatment (Id., at ¶¶ 42-43, 46).


         Defendant argues that plaintiffs complaint should be dismissed because plaintiff has "failed to plead any facts" in support of either her Title VII or FMLA claim (doc. ¶ 30; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, at ¶¶ 2-3). "To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."' Foiling v. Kurtz Paramedic Servs., Inc., 840 F.3d 378, 382 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Bell Atlantic 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.""" Veiling* 840 F.3d at 382 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662. 678 (2009)). When applying the plausibility test, it is important to remember that the requirement to plead enough factual material to show the plausibility of a claim is not intended to transform federal notice pleading into a regime of fact pleading. See Bausch v. Stryker Corp., 630 F.3d 546. 558 (7th Cir. 2010).


         In Count I. Ms. Valdivia alleges that defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her race in violation of Title VII because it knowingly and continually subjected her to a racially offensive and hostile work environment (Compl. at ¶¶ 51-52). Title VII prohibits "employers from requiring people to work in a discriminatorily hostile or abusive environment." Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910. 920 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Vance v. Ball Stale Univ., 133 S.Ct. 2434, 2440-41 (2013)). To state a Title VII hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff must allege that: "(1) she was subject to unwelcome harassment: (2) the harassment was based on her national origin or religion (or another reason forbidden by Title VII); (3) the harassment was severe or pervasive so as to alter the conditions of employment and create a hostile or abusive working environment; and (4) there is basis tor employer liability." Hurt v. Office of The Chief Judge of the Circuit Cowl of Cook Cty., 804 F.3d 826. 833-34 (7th Cir. 2015).

         The Seventh Circuit has "sometimes phrased the test differently, replacing the first nrong-that the employee was subject to unwelcome harassment-with the requirement that the work environment was "both subjectively and objectively offensive."" Cole v. Bd. of Trs. of N. III. Univ.,838 F.3d 888. 896 n.6 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Yancick v. Hanna Steel Corp.,653 F.3d 532. 544 (7th Cir. 2011)). The question of whether the work environment was both subjectively and objectively offensive may be "subsumed by the question whether the harassment was severe or pervasive enough to rise to the level of a ...

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