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Gaston v. Board of Eduction of City of Chicago

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

July 31, 2017



          Virginia M. Kendall Judge

         Plaintiff, Jocelyn Gaston (“Gaston”), a 57-year old African-American female and longtime Chicago Public School teacher, sued her employer, Defendant Board of Education of the City of Chicago (“the Board”), for various types of employment discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), including hostile work environment (Counts I, II), unequal terms and conditions of employment (Counts III, IV), retaliation (Counts V, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII), and adverse employment action (Count VI, VII). Gaston also brought a claim for the intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count XIII). Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Board moves to dismiss all of Gaston's claims except for those alleging unlawful retaliation. For the reasons stated below, the Board's Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.


         The Court takes the following allegations as true, as it is required to do at the motion to dismiss stage. See Firestone Fin. Corp. v. Meyer, 796 F.3d 822, 826 (7th Cir. 2015). Gaston, a 57-year-old African American teacher at Charles H. Wacker Elementary School, has been employed by the Board since 1986. (Dkt. 1 ¶¶ 4, 5, 8.) The Board oversees approximately 660 schools, including Wacker Elementary. (Id. ¶ 5.) Gaston alleges that between 2014 and 2016, Ekaterini Panagakis (“Panagakis”), Wacker's principal, harassed her in a variety of ways due to her age and race. She also alleges that Panagakis retaliated against her for filing various grievances.[1]

         Specifically, Gaston alleges that as a result of her age and race, Panagakis gave Gaston her first poor performance rating in more than 25 years. (Id. ¶ 10.) Due to the poor performance review, Gaston was required to participate in a Professional Development Plan (“PDP”) for one year and when she needed a performance score of 285 to move off of the PDP, Panagakis gave Gaston a score of 284.05 points. (Id. ¶¶ 10-13.) Gaston also alleges that Panagakis purposely heaped excessive amounts of assignments on her due to her race and age (id. ¶ 11), required that she take lunch at 10:00 am, when no Caucasian teacher at the school was directed to take lunch that early (id. at ¶¶ 17-18), and put a copy of Time Magazine with the headline “Rotten Apples: It's Nearly Impossible to Fire a Bad Teacher” inside Gaston's mailbox, an act that Gaston interpreted as intimidating and harassing. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) At a meeting with other school personnel present, Panagakis told Gaston she “failed” a student and refused to engage in the Response to Intervention Process for the student. (Id. ¶ 19.) Panagakis also allegedly harassed Gaston due to her age and race when she sent her an email about her jury duty summons, (id. at ¶ 20), and emailed Gaston requesting a meeting regarding a verbal confrontation with another employee, and then provided Gaston with a Pre-Meeting Notice regarding “VERBAL ABUSE.” (Id. at ¶¶ 21-23.) Gaston has also incorporated various IDHR complaints into her complaint, one of which alleged that Panagakis directed Gaston to lead literacy classes, for which she was not qualified. (Dkt. 1-1 at 2.)

         Lastly, on January 26, 2016, one of Gaston's students closed his finger in a door and had to be taken to the hospital. (Id. ¶ 37.) The following day, Gaston filed an incident report per school policy. Three days later, Panagakis issued Gaston a pre-meeting notice regarding “failure to file an incident report.” (Id. ¶ 39.) Upon receiving the notice, Gaston did not feel well and took a moment to collect herself in the classroom's closet. (Id. ¶ 40.) Panagakis followed her into the closet and demanded the pre-meeting notice back. (Id. ¶ 41.) After the incident, Gaston went to the doctor and was told that she might have had a small stroke, which resulted in constant ringing in her ear. (Id. ¶ 43.)


         When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construes all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Firestone Fin. Corp., 796 F.3d at 826. To properly state a valid claim, the complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff need not allege all facts involved in the claim and certainly does not need to include evidence. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008). However, in order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the claim must be supported by facts that, if taken as true, at least plausibly suggest that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). To determine whether a complaint meets this standard, the “reviewing court must draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). Conclusory statements and abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action, however, will not help a complaint survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 405 (7th Cir. 2010).


         I. Title VII and ADEA Claims

         Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful to discriminate against an employee based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. Similarly, the ADEA generally protects workers over the age of forty from age-based discrimination. 29 U.S.C. § 623.

         Due to their substantive similarities, when examining ADEA claims for discrimination and hostile work environment, courts frequently look to the law interpreting similar claims under Title VII. See Levin v. Madigan, 692 F.3d 607, 620 n.5 (7th Cir. 2012) (“Title VII is certainly useful in interpreting substantive provisions of the ADEA”); see, e.g., Bader v. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, 113 F.Supp.3d 990, 994 (N.D. Ill. 2015).

         The Board argues that Gaston's hostile work environment and discrimination claim related to being forced to eat lunch at 10 a.m. should be dismissed because they are conclusory and deficient, primarily because Plaintiff engaged in “shotgun pleading” by asserting forty factual allegations and then incorporating those facts into her various counts, without specifically identifying which facts relate to each count. (Dkt. 19 at 3.) The Board also argues that Gaston has failed to allege any adverse actions in relation to all of her non-retaliation discrimination claims.

         Although courts discourage shotgun pleading, if “there is “enough clarity to determine what Plaintiffs seek to hold, ” the court may decide the motion to dismiss on the basis of whether Plaintiffs have adequately stated a valid claim, rather than requiring them to re-plead their claims again. See, e.g., Chriswell v. Vill of Oak Lawn, No. 11 C 00547, 2013 WL 5903417, at ...

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