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Phillips v. Baxter

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

May 24, 2017

PHYLLIS BAXTER, et al., Defendants.


          CHARLES P. KOCORAS, District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendants' Illinois Department of Human Services (“IDHS”) and individual state employees Phyllis Baxter (“Baxter”), William Willis (“Willis”), Rosemary Norris (“Norris”), and Gayle Stricklin (“Stricklin”) (collectively, “Defendants”) motion to dismiss Plaintiff Garfield Phillips' (“Phillips”) verified complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' motion.


         The following facts are taken from Phillips' verified complaint and are assumed to be true for purposes of this motion. See Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995). The Court draws all reasonable inferences in favor of Phillips. See Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008).

         IDHS employed Phillips as a Human Service Caseworker Manager until March 7, 2016, when he voluntarily terminated his employment. Phillips alleges that in March 2015, he criticized Baxter's management style, the IDHS Region 2 SNAP Accuracy Liaison/Acting Local Office Administrator, by questioning Baxter's assignment of caseworkers. In April 2015, Phillips informed union leadership that Baxter, along with other managers, routinely reported to work late and submitted improper time cards. Due to his statements, Phillips claims that Baxter took retaliatory actions against him, including: restricting Phillips' phone to permit only local calls, limiting Phillips' security profile to prevent him from creating and assigning office tags to front line staff, and barring Phillips from assigning new cases to frontline staff.

         On August 20, 2015, Phillips interviewed for a position as Public Service Administrator at IDHS' local office in Kankakee (the “Local Office”). Norris was awarded the position. Phillips claims that he had more training and experience to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of a Public Service Administrator than Norris did. On December 3, 2015, Phillips interviewed for the position of Region 2 SNAP Accuracy-Liaison. Baxter was awarded the position.

         In January 2016, Phillips alleges that he was instructed to begin processing Spanish applications and to assist frontline staff with non-managerial “common casework.” Phillips maintains that other similarly situated employees were not required to perform these tasks. In February 2016, Phillips claims that Baxter, Stricklin, Willis, and Norris discussed an inter-office transfer of Phillips from the Region 2 Processing Hub to the Local Office without his consultation. Subsequently, Phillips contends that he accidentally walked into a meeting between Willis and Norris, at which time Willis stated, “we need your help at the Kankakee Local Office.” On February 19, 2016, Baxter notified Phillips, that on February 22, 2016, he was going to be transferred. Phillips told Baxter that he would not consent to a transfer. Phillis alleges that he was informed that if he did not accept the transfer, he would be disciplined for insubordination and subject to discharge.

         Phillips claims that on February 22, 2016, at 9:00 a.m., Baxter entered Phillips' office and told him to pack up and leave. When Phillips told Baxter that she did not have the authority to transfer him, Phillips claims that Baxter became enraged. Specifically, Phillips contends that Baxter told him to “leave before something bad happens to you, ” and that Baxter would “call the cops” on Phillips if necessary. Furthermore, Phillips claims that Baxter told union representatives at the Local Office to “come and get him . . . before something bad happens to him!” Phillips also received an email from Stricklin informing him to leave the building by noon. Phillips contends that he left the office in fear that he was in danger. Moreover, a union representative allegedly informed Phillips that he was no longer allowed to access the Region 2 Processing Hub and that he should report to the Kankakee Family Resource Center because his work experience was needed to improve the performance of that office.

         On March 7, 2016, Phillips voluntarily terminated his employment with IDHS. Since resigning, Phillips claims that he has been eliminated from consideration for post-employment contractual work with IDHS, which is usually offered to former employees who are in good standing.


         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) “tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case.” McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 694 F.3d 873, 878 (7th Cir. 2012). The allegations in a complaint must set forth a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff need not provide detailed factual allegations, but must provide enough factual support to raise his right to relief above a speculative level. Bell Atlantic. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A claim must be facially plausible, meaning that the pleadings must “allow . . . 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). The claim must be described “in sufficient detail to give the defendant ‘fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are insufficient to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.


         Phillips sues IDHS and individual state employees Baxter, Willis, Norris, and Stricklin for conspiracy to interfere with rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (Count I), retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count II), state-law intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) (Count III), and state-law negligence (Count IV).

         I. 42 U.S.C. ...

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