United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ST. EVE, District Court Judge
December 30, 2016, Plaintiff Triano Williams brought the
present Complaint against American College of Education
(“ACE”), Shawntel Landry, Howard Rouse, and KK
Byland, collectively “Defendants, ” alleging
violations of Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, retaliation, and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
(R. 4, Compl.) Before the Court is Defendants' motion to
dismiss for improper venue, or in the alternative, to
transfer venue. (R. 12, Mot. to Dismiss.) For the following
reasons, the Court denies Defendants' motion.
Triano Williams is an African-African male who resides in
Riverdale, Illinois. (Compl. ¶ 1.) Defendant ACE is an
Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in
Indianapolis, Indiana. (Id. ¶ 2.) ACE provides
online graduate and professional programs for educators and
has 100 employees in total, 15 of whom work in Illinois.
(Id.) The individually named Defendants are all ACE
employees who supervised or managed Plaintiff. (Id.
began working at ACE in September 2007 when he was hired as a
Desktop Support employee in the Information Technology
(“IT”) Department. (Id. ¶ 7.)
Plaintiff alleges that throughout his term of employment at
ACE he was a model professional, was proficient in his work,
and was respected by his fellow employees. (Id.
¶ 8.) In 2012, Plaintiff moved to a position in
Integration Systems Support and in 2013, he became a Systems
Administrator, but Plaintiff alleges that he did not receive
a commensurate increase in salary when he moved to these new
positions. (Id. ¶ 9.) Although Plaintiff was
scheduled to work normal 8 hour shifts, he alleges he often
worked up to 60 hours a week and had to work on weekends and
holidays. (Id. ¶ 10.) Recently, Plaintiff
negotiated a written contract with ACE allowing him to work
remotely from his home in Illinois so he could abide by a
court ordered Joint Parenting Agreement requiring him to
participate in parenting his 7-year-old daughter.
(Id. ¶¶ 11-12.)
to Plaintiff, ACE hired Rick Gahering, a Caucasian male who
had less experience and education than Plaintiff, and paid
Gahering more than Plaintiff despite similar job
responsibilities. (Id. ¶ 13.) On or about
February 11, 2016, ACE promoted Gahering, and he became
Plaintiff's manager. (Id.) Plaintiff complained
about Gahering's promotion and other discriminatory
actions in a formal letter he sent to Defendants Landry and
Byland dated February 11, 2016. (Id. ¶ 14; Ex.
A, ACE Culture Letter.) Shortly after sending the letter,
Plaintiff was required to track all of his work actions in
15-minute increments. (Compl. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff alleges
that ACE only required that he and another African-American
employee track their time in this way. (Id.)
February 18, 2016, Defendant Byland, ACE's Human
Resources Manager, sent Plaintiff a letter informing him that
that he needed to relocate to ACE's Indianapolis
corporate office or ACE would terminate him. (Id.
¶ 16; Ex. C, Byland Letter.) The same day, Defendant
Rouse sent Plaintiff another letter explaining that since he
had decided not to relocate to Indianapolis, he would be
forced to separate from ACE. (Compl. ¶ 18; Ex. B, Rouse
Letter.) Plaintiff claims that ACE attempted to bully him
through the February 18 letters into voluntarily accepting a
separation from ACE with unacceptable financial conditions.
(Compl. ¶ 16.) The February 18 letter from Rouse stated
that Plaintiff had until February 24, 2016 to accept the
separation benefits and sign a general release.
(Id.) The separation agreement and release required
Plaintiff to release any claims against ACE and prohibited
him from providing testimony about the unfair treatment he
experienced or observed at ACE. (Id. ¶ 17.)
According to Plaintiff, the separation and release agreement
violated his contract with ACE allowing him to work remotely
and also violated his court ordered Joint Parenting
Agreement. (Id. ¶ 20.) Rouse sent Plaintiff
another letter on February 23, 2016 with the same release and
separation language that required him to accept the
separation by March 1, 2016. (Id. ¶ 19.) Julia
Moses, a Caucasian female, was allowed to work remotely from
Texas, while Plaintiff and another African-American employee,
Rommell Hynes, were terminated for refusing to relocate.
to Plaintiff, he is not the first ACE employee who ACE
treated unfairly due to his or her race, religion, or gender.
(Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff alleges that ACE
pressured Dr. Linetta Durand, a Seventh Day Adventist, into
working on a Saturday in violation of her religious beliefs.
(Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff believes Dr. Durand
reached a settlement with ACE in relation to this matter.
(Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Amber Ying also reached
a settlement with ACE in relation to a race discrimination
claim. (Id. ¶ 23.)
filed EEOC Charge 470-2016-01138 against ACE on February 25,
2016. (Id. ¶ 24.) On February 29, 2016,
Defendants Landry and Byland called Plaintiff and left him a
telephone message advising him that he should not report to
work, effective immediately. (Id. ¶ 25.) ACE
terminated Hynes the same day. (Id.) Plaintiff
alleges that ACE also restricted Plaintiff's access to
the ACE computer systems, forced Plaintiff to return his
ACE-issued laptop computer, and advised him to look for other
claims that, at the time of his termination, ACE maintained a
Google domain account, and Plaintiff had access to this
account as an administrator. (Id. ¶ 27.)
Because ACE had recently separated from its parent company
and also lost a number of administrators, Plaintiff was the
sole remaining administrator with access to ACE's Google
domain account. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff's
login ID and password were saved on his ACE laptop, and at
some point in June 2016, after ACE terminated Plaintiff, ACE
became aware that they could no longer access the Google
domain account. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30.) Several
ACE employees and administrators contacted Plaintiff and
requested that he help them access the account, but
Plaintiff, who was no longer an ACE employee, refused to
assist them. (Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff alleges that
ACE did not offer to pay Plaintiff for his assistance,
despite the fact that ACE had previously paid a Caucasian
employee, Eric Korb, a sizeable consultant fee to perform
services for ACE after he separated from the company.
(Id. ¶ 32.)
Plaintiff's refusal to assist ACE in accessing the Google
domain account, ACE filed a lawsuit against Plaintiff in
Indiana state court charging him with interference with a
contract, stealing trade secrets, conversion, breach of
fiduciary duty, and other violations of state law.
(Id. ¶¶ 33-34.) The Indiana lawsuit also
sought an injunction requiring Plaintiff to provide his login
information to the Google domain account. (Id.
¶ 35.) The Indiana state court entered a number of
orders against Plaintiff, including an August 3, 2016 order
to show cause for failure to comply with a temporary
restraining order, which threatened Plaintiff with
incarceration. (Id. ¶ 37.) ACE, through its
attorneys, the law firm Jackson Lewis, filed the lawsuit
against Plaintiff in Indiana, although Jackson Lewis has an
office in Chicago and Plaintiff is an Illinois resident who
has never lived in Indiana. (Id. ¶¶ 36,
38-39.) Plaintiff alleges that he has been unemployed since
April 2016 and cannot afford to defend himself in the Indiana
lawsuit. (Id. ¶ 40.) Plaintiff claims that the
Indiana state court action should be removed to this Court in
the interest of both justice and convenience to the parties.
(Id. ¶ 42.)
alleges that ACE subjected him to discriminatory treatment in
several ways, including:
• Paying Plaintiff less than Caucasian employees who
performed the same job
• Allowing Plaintiff to work as an Interim Manager when
the Department Manager was absent, but then promoting a
Caucasian employee with less experience to Department Manager
when the position became available
• Holding secret meetings to hide discriminatory
• Terminating Plaintiff due to his complaints about
discrimination and then fabricating a pretextual ...