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Williams v. City of Chicago

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

July 26, 2017

ORALEAN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO and RICHARD ADAMS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Oralean Williams brings claims against Defendants the City of Chicago and Richard Adams for racial and gender discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983. Before the Court are the City’s motion to dismiss Counts I, II, and IV [12] and Adams’s motion to dismiss Count V [19]. For the reasons set forth below, the City’s motion to dismiss [12] is granted in part and denied in part, and Adams’s motion to dismiss [19] is granted in part and denied in part. The City’s request to extend the time in which the City has to answer Count III is granted. Plaintiff is given until August 25, 2017 to file an amended complaint consistent with this opinion, if Plaintiff believes that she can overcome the deficiencies identified below. This case is set for further status hearing on August 31, 2017 at 9:00 a.m.

         I. Background

         The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff’s complaint [1] and the attached exhibits. Plaintiff, an African American female, began working for the City as a Motor Truck Driver in the Department of Streets and Sanitation in approximately 2000. For much of her employment, Plaintiff drove a sanitation truck. From approximately 2008 to July 2015, Plaintiff was stationed at the yard located at 52nd Street and Oakley Avenue (“the yard”). [1, at ¶ 12.] In approximately May of 2014, Plaintiff was elevated to the position of “E-Person,” which Plaintiff alleges was a “prestigious office and administrative position in the yard.” Plaintiff alleges that at that time, she came under the “direct, daily supervision” of Defendant Adams. [Id., at ¶ 13.] Plaintiff alleges upon information and belief that at all relevant times, Adams possessed and was delegated final policymaking authority for personnel issues arising within the Department of Streets and Sanitation at the yard. [Id., at ¶ 14.]

         Plaintiff contends that during the course of her employment with the City, she performed all of her duties and responsibilities in a satisfactory manner. Plaintiff alleges that beginning almost immediately after her appointment to the E-Person position, and continuing through July 2015 when she was finally transferred to another position, she was “a victim of a pattern and practice of race and gender discrimination and harassment, disparate treatment as to the terms and conditions of employment based upon race and gender, and retaliation for complaining about discrimination and harassment.” [Id., at ¶ 16.]

         Specifically, Plaintiff makes the following allegations regarding harassment based on her gender: Plaintiff alleges that Adams subjected her to different and demeaning terms and conditions of employment “than her similarly situated male counterparts,” including prohibiting her from entering the “shop” at the yard to check on the sanitation trucks despite the fact that her job required her to do so, prohibiting Plaintiff from using her cell phone during work while allowing “all other similarly situated males” to do so, refusing to provide or arrange for appropriate E-Person job training, and forcing Plaintiff to log incoming trucks while standing outdoors, instead of in the office window, even in the harshest of weather conditions. [Id., at ¶ 17(a).] Plaintiff further alleges that Adams repeatedly “comment[ed] derogatorily to Plaintiff about the fact that she was a woman and as such, should not have the E-Person position and stating that ‘women should be at home.’” [Id., at ¶ 17(b).] According to Plaintiff, Adams repeatedly screamed and “adopt[ed] a demeaning tone toward Plaintiff” and repeatedly used the exclamation “Women!” when walking away from Plaintiff following discussions. [Id., at ¶¶ 17(c)–(d).] Adams allegedly made derogatory comments to Plaintiff such as, “You women are worthless” and stated that Plaintiff was “nothing a bullet won’t cure.” [Id., at ¶¶ 17(e)–(f).] Adams allegedly implied that Plaintiff would never be good at her job unless she learned to lie on the ground and twist wires, while never indicating that any similarly situated male E-Person was required to do so. Plaintiff contends that these were not isolated incidents and that Adams engaged in this type of behavior “continually and on a daily basis, commonly in the presence of multiple Streets and Sanitation employees.” [Id., at ¶¶ 17–18.]

         Plaintiff further alleges that Adams, whom Plaintiff describes as “not African-American,” engaged in racially discriminatory and harassing behavior in the workplace on a daily basis. [Id., at ¶ 20.] Specifically, Plaintiff contends that Adams repeatedly made reference to African American employees as “you black people” in a derogatory manner, repeatedly used the term “nigga,” and permitted employees to use the word “nigger” if they put five dollars into the office “swear jar.” [See id., at ¶¶ 20(a), (b), (e) (f).] Plaintiff further contends that Adams ordered Plaintiff to “get a mop and start mopping” because “black people are good for mopping.” [Id., at ¶ 20(c).] Adams allegedly told Plaintiff that she knew how to “handle [her] people,” which Plaintiff interpreted to mean black employees, and allegedly stated that black people should not have the E-Person position, referring to Plaintiff and another African American E-Person. [Id., at ¶¶ 20(d), 20(g).] Plaintiff alleges that Adams told Plaintiff that black women are worthless and allowed “at least one” co-worker to refer to Plaintiff as the “Black E-Woman” without repercussion. [Id., at ¶¶ 20(j), (k).] Plaintiff also alleges that Adams stated out loud in Plaintiff’s presence that he did not want his daughter to date a black man. [Id., at ¶¶ 20(i), (j).] Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that Adams subjected her to different and demeaning terms and conditions of employment “than her similarly situated non-African-American counterparts,” including prohibiting her from entering the “shop” at the yard to check on the sanitation trucks despite the fact that her job required her to do so, prohibiting Plaintiff from using her cell phone during work while allowing “all other similarly situated non-African American employees” to do so, refusing to provide or arrange for appropriate E-Person job training, and forcing Plaintiff to log incoming trucks while standing outdoors, instead of in the office window, even in the harshest of weather conditions. [Id., at ¶ 20(h).] Plaintiff alleges that these actions by Adams created a racially hostile work environment.

         Plaintiff contends that she complained about Adams’s conduct to “an individual supervisor at the downtown Chicago office of the Department of Street and Sanitation” on several occasions during the early half of 2015. [Id., at ¶ 23.] Plaintiff refers to this individual as “Jay” and alleges upon information and belief that his last name is Keag. [Id., at ¶ 23 n.1.] Plaintiff asserts that Jay said he would talk to Adams but that Plaintiff noticed no difference in Adams’s behavior and that no effective disciplinary action was taken. [Id., at ¶ 23.] Plaintiff alleges that she further reported Adams’s behavior to “several other supervisors on site,” as well as the 16th Ward Superintendent, Nate Wilson. [Id., at ¶ 24.] Additionally, Plaintiff allegedly prepared a written complaint and provided it to disciplinary officer Katrika Scott. [Id.] However, Plaintiff contends that no immediate or effective action was taken. Plaintiff alleges that she was told to report the misconduct to Janet Gay, Administrative Supervisor in the downtown office of the Department of Streets and Sanitation, and that she eventually did so. [Id.]

         According to Plaintiff, after her reports of discrimination, Defendants began a course of retaliation against Plaintiff that adversely affected the terms and conditions of her employment. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Adams responded to her complaints by falsely disciplining Plaintiff for “disrupting his yard.” [Id., at ¶ 25.] Plaintiff contends that she was later called into a meeting downtown with Streets and Sanitation supervisory personnel including Gay, Deputy Director Josie Cruz, and another person that Plaintiff refers to as “Ray.” Plaintiff alleges that she was relieved of her duties as an E-Person and reassigned to another yard, where she was sent back to the motor pool to drive a sanitation truck instead of having an administrative position. [Id., at ¶ 26.] Plaintiff asserts that she was not given the option of staying at her “more desirable and prestigious position of E-Person” and instead Adams reassigned her to another yard. [Id.]

         Plaintiff alleges that at all relevant times, Gay, Cruz, Jay, and Ray were agents, servants, or employees of the City, and she alleges upon information and belief that each possessed and was delegated final policymaking authority for personnel issues arising within the Department of Streets and Sanitation. [Id., at ¶ 27.] Plaintiff alleges that Gay, Cruz, Jay, Ray, and Adams never adequately responded to her complaints “and thereby approved, condoned, and/or turned a blind eye to the discrimination and harassment” by Adams. [Id., at ¶ 28.]

         Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination based on race and gender with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and received a right to sue letter from the EEOC. [Id., at ¶ 9.] Plaintiff then brought this lawsuit on August 23, 2016. [1.] Count I alleges race discrimination and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII; Count II alleges gender discrimination and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII; Count III alleges retaliation in violation of Title VII; Count IV alleges a Monell claim against the City pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983; and Count V alleges an individual liability claim against Adams for discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. On October 25, 2016 the City filed a motion to dismiss Counts I, II, and IV [12], and on November 11, 2016, Adams filed a motion to dismiss Count V [19].

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), such that the defendant is given “fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)) (alteration in original). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the “speculative level.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions’ or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558. In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all of Plaintiff’s well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff’s favor. Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007). The Court reads the complaint and assesses its plausibility as a whole. See Atkins v. City of Chi., 631 F.3d 823, 832 (7th Cir. 2011).

         III. Analysis

         A. Race and Gender Discrimination: Disparate Treatment

         Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual “because of such individual’s race [ ] or sex.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(a)(1). To state a Title VII discrimination claim under a disparate treatment theory, a plaintiff must adequately allege that she suffered an adverse employment action that was motivated by discriminatory animus. See Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 916 (7th Cir. 2016); Porter v. City of Chicago, 700 F.3d 944, 954 (7th Cir. 2012). “[A] materially adverse employment action is one which visits upon a plaintiff “a significant change in employment status.” Id. at 917. Such changes can involve the employee’s current wealth, career prospects, or unbearable changes to job conditions that amount to constructive discharge.[1] See id; Alexander v. Casino Queen, Inc., 739 F.3d 972, 980 (7th Cir. 2014); Bell v. E.P.A., 232 F.3d 546, 555 (7th Cir. 2000) (“For an employment action to be actionable, it must be a ‘significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.’” (citation omitted)). The Seventh Circuit has defined adverse employment actions “quite broadly” but has explained that the action must be “more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities.” Porter, 700 F.3d at 954 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “[N]ot everything that makes an employee unhappy is an actionable adverse action. Otherwise, minor and even trivial employment actions that an employee did not like would form the basis of a discrimination suit.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Thompson v. Mem’l Hosp. of Carbondale, 625 F.3d 394, 406 (7th Cir. 2010) (“The idea behind requiring proof of an adverse employment action is simply that a statute which forbids employment discrimination is not intended to reach every bigoted act or gesture that a worker might encounter in the workplace.” (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         The City argues that Plaintiff’s claims of disparate treatment should be dismissed for failure to allege a materially adverse employment action. According to the City, Plaintiff’s allegations that Adams prohibited her from entering the “shop” area, prohibited her from using her cell phone, failed to provide E-Person training, and required her to log incoming trucks from outside the office are “gripes and inconveniences” that are insufficient to constitute a materially adverse employment action. Plaintiff argues that her allegations of a “daily barrage of racial epithets and gender-based slurs,” along with the denial of training and diminished responsibilities, created a workplace that was humiliating, degrading, unsafe, and unhealthy, thus rising to the level of an adverse employment action.

         Although the Court in no way condones Adams’s alleged behavior, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged a materially adverse employment action to support her disparate treatment claims based on gender and race discrimination. Plaintiff has not alleged any “significant changes” to her employment status that would affect her wealth or career prospects, such as a transfer, demotion, termination, or denial of a wage or employee benefit increase. See Haugerud, 259 F.3d at 691 (no adverse employment action where plaintiff “has not been disciplined, demoted, or terminated; [and] has not been denied wage or employee benefit increases”). Adams’s alleged behavior, although humiliating and degrading, does not rise to the level that is necessary to demonstrate a “significant negative alteration in the workplace.” Adam v. Obama for Am., 210 F.Supp.3d 979, 988 (N.D. Ill. 2016) (granting motion to dismiss on discrimination claim and explaining that allegations that supervisors grabbed plaintiff’s hair and touched her skin, screamed at her, and suggested she apply for the African American Leadership Council to the exclusion of other opportunities could be characterized as “humiliating” or “degrading,” yet failed to rise to the level of a “significant negative alteration in the workplace”); Hilt-Dyson v. City Of Chicago, 282 F.3d 456, 466 (7th Cir. 2002) (harassment or humiliation suffered by plaintiff during uniform inspection was not severe enough to constitute an adverse employment action); Malozienc v. Pac. Rail Servs., 606 F. Supp. 2d 837, 863 (N.D. Ill. 2009) (Plaintiff’s allegations that he was told to worry about his “own kind,” told that he should quit, followed to the washroom by “non-white manager,” and “ridiculed by non-white employees who were never disciplined” did not rise to the level of adverse employment action).

         Further, Plaintiff’s allegations that Adams denied her training and intentionally interfered with the performance of her work duties do not rise to the level of an adverse employment action. See Brown v. Advocate S. Suburban Hosp., at *6 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 20, 2011), aff’d, 700 F.3d 1101 (7th Cir. 2012) (denial of training opportunities would not constitute an adverse employment action); Haugerud, 259 F.3d at 691 (holding that plaintiff suffered no adverse employment action where she alleges that her employer tried to force her to give up her custodial position, told the male night custodians not to help the female day custodians, gave her additional responsibilities ...


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