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Gupta v. City of Chicago

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

June 20, 2017

RENU GUPTA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Gary Feinerman Judge.

         Renu Gupta brought this suit against her employer, the City of Chicago, alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Doc. 13. The City has moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. Doc. 14. The motion is granted, though Gupta will be given a chance to replead.

         Background

         In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court assumes the truth of the operative complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations, though not its legal conclusions. See Zahn v. N. Am. Power & Gas, LLC, 815 F.3d 1082, 1087 (7th Cir. 2016). The court must also consider “documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice, ” along with additional facts set forth in Gupta's brief opposing dismissal, so long as those additional facts “are consistent with the pleadings.” Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714 F.3d 1017, 1020 (7th Cir. 2013). The facts are set forth as favorably to Gupta as those materials allow. See Pierce v. Zoetis, 818 F.3d 274, 277 (7th Cir. 2016). In setting forth those facts at this stage, the court does not vouch for their accuracy. See Jay E. Hayden Found. v. First Neighbor Bank, N.A., 610 F.3d 382, 384 (7th Cir. 2010).

         Gupta, a Regional Nutritional Coordinator with the City's health department, manages seven of its thirteen health clinics. Doc. 13 at ¶¶ 7, 30. She has worked for the City for 28 years. Id. at ¶ 6. JoAnn Peso has been her supervisor since May 2013. Id. at ¶ 8. In November 2015, an African-American employee filed an internal complaint of discrimination against Peso. Id. at ¶ 9. Gupta provided the human resources department with several hours of testimony about the complaint. Id. at ¶¶ 9-10.

         Within a few weeks, in early December 2015, Peso emailed Gupta asking her to complete a self-evaluation form. Id. at ¶ 11. Gupta had never seen such a form, nor had Peso evaluated Gupta since becoming her supervisor. Id. at ¶¶ 11, 13. The City did, however, conduct occasional performance evaluations of its employees. Id. at ¶¶ 16, 26. Those evaluations could be taken into account when an employee was being considered for promotion or reassignment, and scoring below 2.5 (out of 5) triggers a “performance improvement plan” and, absent improvement, termination. Id. at ¶ 26; Doc. 19 at 3. Gupta's other supervisors consistently gave her 4's and 5's on her prior evaluations. Doc. 13 at ¶ 16.

         On December 17, Gupta attended a performance evaluation meeting with Peso and Kai Tao, a deputy commissioner of the health department. Id. at ¶¶ 12, 14. Peso gave Gupta an overall rating of 3, meaning “satisfactory.” Id. at ¶ 15. Gupta received sub-scores as low as 1.9 in the “core values” category, and the qualitative portion of the evaluation identified several performance deficiencies. Ibid. Gupta was shocked and humiliated by the negative aspects of her review; no one had ever before criticized her work for the City. Id. at ¶ 19. Peso had not previously voiced any of these concerns to Gupta, and Peso told Tao in the December 17 meeting that she had not done so out of fear that Gupta would retaliate. Id. at ¶¶ 15, 17.

         After the meeting, an upset Gupta sought out Reginald Green, an equal employment officer, to report the evaluation as retaliatory. Id. at ¶ 20. Green referred Gupta to the Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”), with whom she later met once. Id. at ¶¶ 20-21, 31. The complaint does not specify what action, if any, EAP took. Gupta also scheduled a second meeting with Peso and Tao to discuss her evaluation further. Id. at ¶¶ 22-23. At that meeting, on December 22, Gupta asked about several of Peso's specific criticisms that she felt were unfair, such as a complaint about Gupta's missing a meeting when one of her children was sick; Peso responded that she had high standards but refused to explain further. Id. at ¶ 24. Based on the meeting, Tao ordered Peso to change the 1.9 ratings in the “core values” section to 2.9, which brought Gupta's overall rating up to a 3.1. Id. at ¶ 25. The qualitative criticisms remained unchanged. Ibid.

         Gupta believes that the performance review was intended by Peso to “set her up for failure and/or discharge.” Id. at ¶ 27. Gupta does not, however, allege that she has in fact been fired-or demoted, for that matter-since the review. The complaint alleges that her emotional distress over the review caused crying spells and difficulty sleeping. Id. at ¶ 31.

         The complaint describes several other instances of arguably adverse treatment of Gupta by Peso and Tao. It alleges that Peso has regularly monthly meetings with Jaclyn Castellanet, who has the same title as Gupta and manages the City's other six health clinics, but that Peso holds no such meetings with Gupta. Id. at ¶ 30. It also alleges that, in June 2016, Tao called Gupta into a meeting to chastise her for yelling at subordinates, while refusing to describe specific instances of such conduct. Id. at ¶ 32. Finally, Gupta sought a meeting with Tao seeking clarification of her job duties and the standards under which she was being evaluated, but Tao refused to talk with her, citing a lawsuit that Gupta had brought against the City- presumably this one, as Gupta added this allegation when amending her complaint, though the complaint does not say. Id. at ¶ 29.

         Discussion

         To state a retaliation claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must allege facts showing that: “(1) [s]he engaged in protected activity; (2) [s]he suffered a materially adverse employment action; and (3) there was a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse action.” Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 918 (7th Cir. 2016); see also Bell v. EPA, 232 F.3d 546, 554 (7th Cir. 2000). The City focuses on the second element, contending that Gupta has failed to identify any action by Peso or Tao that qualifies as “materially adverse.” Doc. 16 at 4-5.

         “In the retaliation context, determining whether an action is materially adverse means inquiring whether it might well have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” Boss, 816 F.3d at 918. “To rise to the level of an adverse action, a change must be one that a reasonable employee would find to be materially adverse … .” Bagwe v. Sedgwick Claims Mgmt. Servs., Inc., 811 F.3d 866, 889 (7th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). Adverse actions for purposes of a retaliation claim may include:

(1) cases in which the employee's compensation, fringe benefits, or other financial terms of employment are diminished, including termination; (2) cases in which a nominally lateral transfer with no change in financial terms significantly reduces the employee's career prospects by preventing her from using her skills and experience, so that the skills are likely to atrophy and her career is likely to be stunted; and (3) cases in which the employee is not moved to a different job or the skill requirements of her present job altered, but the conditions in which she works are changed in ...

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