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Williams v. American College of Education, Inc.

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

June 5, 2017



          AMY J. ST. EVE, District Court Judge

         On 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.


         Plaintiff 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. ¶ 3.)

         Plaintiff 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.)

         According 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.)

         On 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. (Id.)

         According 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.)

         Plaintiff 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 employment. (Id.)

         Plaintiff 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.)

         Following 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.)

         Plaintiff 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 promotion plans
• Terminating Plaintiff due to his complaints about discrimination and then fabricating a pretextual ...

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