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Choi v. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois

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

August 2, 2017

BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, EVAN MCKENZIE, individually, DENNIS JUDD, individually, and DICK SIMPSON, individually, Defendants.


          SARA L. ELLIS United States District Judge.

         Professor Seung-Whan Choi, who was reinstated to his post at the University of Illinois after filing an EEOC claim, asserts that the retaliatory actions taken after his reinstatement have negatively affected his career and personal life and brings this lawsuit against the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (the “Trustees”) and his supervisors, Evan McKenzie, Dennis Judd, and Dick Simpson (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging that they discriminated against him on the basis of his race and national origin. Choi alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Illinois common law. The Defendants move to dismiss Choi's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) against all defendants and his § 1981 claims against Simpson under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). They also move to strike various allegations in Choi's second amended complaint under Rule 12(f). Because Choi's IIED claim is preempted, the Court grants Defendants' motion to dismiss that claim. The Court denies Defendants' motion to dismiss the § 1981 claims against Simpson because Choi has sufficiently pleaded these claims. Furthermore, because Choi's second amended complaint does not contain allegations that are redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous, the Court denies Defendants' motion to strike.


         The Trustees maintain and control a public university (the “University”) located in Chicago, Illinois. Choi, who is Korean and a resident of Illinois, began working for the Trustees in the fall of 2004. McKenzie, Judd, and Simpson are also employees of the Trustees and have served as Choi's supervisors in the Department of Political Science (the “Department”).

         In May 2010, the Trustees fired Choi from his tenure-track position at the University. Choi then brought an EEOC charge of discrimination against the Trustees in February 2011, alleging race and national origin discrimination, which he subsequently settled through mediation. As a result of the settlement, on August 16, 2011, Choi was reinstated with tenure and a promotion to associate professor for the University. As part of Choi's reinstatement, he was assured that any and all of his privileges as faculty would not be limited or violated. However, after his reinstatement, Choi faced a discriminatory work environment due to resentment from his colleagues and the Department leaders concerning his EEOC complaint. He also faced continuous and persistent discrimination based on his race and national origin.

         Throughout his employment, Choi performed his assigned duties in a satisfactory manner, consistent with Defendants' standards, and his job performance met Defendants' legitimate expectations. Choi has a higher H-index[2] than those of his colleagues that are publically available. In addition, he has received highly favorable teaching evaluations from undergraduate students and his graduate teaching record has met or exceeded those of his similarly-situated colleagues. Despite his performance, because of his race and his national origin, Choi has been wrongfully accused of lacking in academic and service contributions. Furthermore, he has been delayed promotions and has not received adequate raises. Choi's merit-based salary increase over the past five years is among the lowest as compared to other faculty members, whose academic performances Choi has exceeded.

         In the spring of 2013, Simpson, who was then head of the Department, refused to take any action in response to Choi's request that Simpson consider hiring Choi's wife under the University's “partner accommodation policy.” However, Choi's similarly-situated colleague in the Department received an appointment as a spouse through the accommodation policy. In the fall of 2014, McKenzie failed to provide Choi with information about paternity leave. McKenzie also removed crucial teaching information from Choi's promotion dossier.

         Simpson required Choi, whose specialty is International Relations, to teach certain courses for which he was not trained or qualified to teach. Simpson mandated that Choi teach statistics courses, supposedly because Koreans are good at mathematics. Yet, no other tenured or tenure-track professors were forced to teach statistics. Choi was also required, at the direction of Simpson, Judd, and McKenzie, to teach a course in Korean Politics, but similarly-situated U.S.-born professors were not required to teach American Politics if such a course was outside of their specialty.

         In January 2015, Judd, who was then the head of the Department, changed the grade of one of Choi's students without consulting Choi or performing a due diligence investigation, and despite the fact that the student filed her complaint after the grade appeal deadline. Choi confronted Judd about the change and Judd told Choi that “as a foreigner, [Choi] has to keep in mind who he is dealing with and what he is wishing for.” Doc. 9 ¶ 65. Judd also stated that “many Koreans are stubborn and do not understand American culture of compromise when dealing with their boss.” Id.

         Choi has been denied appointment to any service or administrative positions and has not been asked to supervise dissertations. The Department stopped admitting doctoral students into International Relations, Choi's area of specialty, and has eliminated International Relations from the core sub-fields of graduate student degree requirements. Choi has been denied access to: input on hiring, Department meetings, research assistants, competitive counter-offers, and university programs such as paternity leave, sabbatical leave, and partner accommodation.

         In January 2016, Judd told Choi that his request for promotion to full professor would be unlikely to succeed because others were not happy that he had been reinstated through the outside intervention of the EEOC. In October 2016, Choi filed another charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, and retaliation. Later that month, Choi received a Right to Sue notice from the EEOC regarding his charge.


         A 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 ...

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