United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L.ELLIS, United States District Judge
Suzette Robinson, the former Director of Public Works for the
City of Evanston (the “City”), brings claims
against Defendant Walter Bobkiewicz, the Evanston City
Manager, and Defendants Grant Farrar and Jennifer Lin, both
City employees, for their roles in discriminating and
retaliating against her during her employment with the City.
Robinson alleges that Farrar and Lin violated 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981 when they retaliated against her for filing
discrimination complaints. Farrar and Lin move to dismiss the
sole count against them in Robinson's second amended
complaint, Count V, for failure to state a claim under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Previously, in her
first amended complaint , Robinson alleged that Farrar
and Lin violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the Illinois Human
Rights Act, 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/6-101. The Court dismissed
those counts for failure to state a claim . Because
Robinson's second amended complaint sufficiently alleges
all elements required to state a claim for § 1981
retaliation, the Court denies Farrar and Lin's motion to
dismiss Count V .
an African American woman, was the Director of Public Works
for the City from March 2010 until August 21, 2015. While in
this position, she oversaw five divisions, which employed
more than 100 people, and she reported directly to
Bobkiewicz, the City Manager. In May 2014, Robinson completed
a performance evaluation of Bobkiewicz, and she noted her
belief that Bobkiewicz treats members of the City's
African American community and its African American employees
poorly. Bobkiewicz learned of Robinson's comments in
fall of 2014, Bobkiewicz reprimanded Robinson publicly in
front of other department employees and falsely told at least
two of Robinson's subordinates that Robinson was seeking
to leave her position in order to undermine her authority. In
response, Robinson filed a Healthy Work Environment Complaint
(“HWE Complaint”) against Bobkiewicz. Marty
Lyons, Assistant City Manager, investigated the HWE Complaint
and sustained three of the five complaints against
Bobkiewicz. The City's Mayor subsequently issued a
written reprimand to Bobkiewicz. After Robinson filed the HWE
Complaint, Bobkiewicz reassigned some of Robinson's
duties to other members of the staff.
a January 2015 meeting, Bobkiewicz solicited negative
comments about one of the City's African American
aldermen, but did not allow Robinson to discuss issues
regarding non-African American aldermen. Also in January
2015, Bobkiewicz repeated a phrase he had used previously:
“we are going to make sure we have the right people in
the right seats on the bus.” Doc. 37 ¶ 27.
Robinson believed her concerns regarding Bobkiewicz's
discriminatory and retaliatory conduct were not resolved and,
on March 4, 2015, she sent a written demand letter to the
City describing her concerns about Bobkiewicz's disparate
treatment of African American employees. Farrar, Corporation
Counsel/City Attorney, responded and asked Robinson to submit
a detailed settlement demand, which she did on March 30,
2015. In this demand letter, Robinson stated that if her
demands were not satisfied, she would file a discrimination
charge against the City. On April 14, 2015, Farrar responded
on behalf of the City stating that the City would not resolve
her demands unless she left her job with the City. He noted
in the letter that Robinson was the subject of numerous HWE
Complaints herself and threatened to try the case in the
press if Robinson filed a charge. A little over a week later
on April 23, 2015, Robinson, through her attorney, responded
to the letter stating that she would proceed with filing her
discrimination charge, and she filed a charge on April 30,
2015 with the IDHR, alleging retaliation and discrimination.
Robinson notified Farrar that she would be filing a charge,
Farrar and Lin, the Human Resources Division Manager for the
City, set out to fabricate HWE Complaints against Robinson.
Farrar directed Lin to conduct interviews with City employees
to uncover unfavorable information about Robinson. Lin
conducted these interviews between April 27 and May 5, 2015.
During the interviews, Lin sought only negative information
about Robinson and dismissed any positive information
received regarding Robinson. The interviews undermined
Robinson's authority over employees who reported to her
and damaged her professional reputation as a senior manager
and director. Lin documented the interviews in a memorandum
to Lyons and Farrar on May 8, 2015, concluding that Robinson
created an unhealthy work environment. Lin's memorandum
recommended that “immediate action be taken to remedy
these issues.” Doc. 37 ¶ 39.
12, 2015, Bobkiewicz announced that Lyons and another white
male city employee would conduct an examination of the Public
Works and Utilities Departments and he expected that this
examination would lead to the elimination of both
departments. As part of this examination, Bobkiewicz changed
Robinson's reporting structure and directed her to report
directly to Lyons. Lyons removed Robinson's
decision-making authority and ordered the employees who
directly reported to Robinson to instead report to him.
August 21, 2015, Lyons informed Robinson that her employment
was terminated but did not provide her a reason for the
termination. The same day, Robinson received a letter from
Bobkiewicz stating that the City planned to combine the
Public Works and Utilities Departments into one department
named the Public Works Agency. As a result of this
combination, Bobkiewicz stated that the City was eliminating
Robinson's position from the City's Fiscal Year 2016
budget and terminated her employment, effective immediately.
Bobkiewicz considered the information gathered during the
investigation by Lin and Farrar when deciding to terminate
August 27, 2015, Lyons sent a memorandum to the City Council
describing the proposed organizational changes to the Public
Works and Utilities Departments, which was the City Council
approved on September 23, 2015. Lyons and others who
conducted the examination of the departments used Lin's
May 2015 memorandum as a basis for ultimately recommending
that Robinson not remain as an employee in the new agency.
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the
sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6); Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510,
1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion
to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts
in the plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable
inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor.
AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer, 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th
Cir. 2011). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint
must not only provide the defendant with fair notice of a
claim's basis but must also be facially plausible.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct.
1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d
929 (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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
alleges that Farrar and Lin violated § 1981 by
fabricating HWE Complaints against her in retaliation for her
complaints of race discrimination. To state a claim for
§ 1981 retaliation, Robinson must allege that she
suffered a materially adverse action because she engaged in
protected activity. Shott v. Katz, 829 F.3d 494, 497
(7th Cir. 2016) (citing Davis v. Time Warner Cable of Se.
Wis., L.P., 651 F.3d 664, 674 (7th Cir. 2011);
Silverman v. Bd. ofEduc. of the City of
Chicago, 637 F.3d 729, 740-42 (7th Cir. 2011)) cert.
denied, No. 16-442, 2016 WL 5816674 (U.S. Nov. 28,
2016). Farrar and Lin argue that Robinson fails to
sufficiently allege a protected activity, an adverse action,
and causation. They further assert that Robinson has failed
to allege ...