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Moses v. Sloan Valve Co.

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

September 1, 2017




         In this suit against their former employer, Sloan Valve Company, Derrick Moses and Dodd Davis allege disparate treatment and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and Moses alleges breach of contract. Doc. 13. Sloan moves under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the hostile work environment and contract claims. Doc. 19. The motion is denied as to the hostile work environment claim and granted as to the contract claim.


         On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept the operative complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations, with all reasonable inferences drawn in Plaintiffs' favor, but not its legal conclusions. See Smoke Shop, LLC v. United States, 761 F.3d 779, 785 (7th Cir. 2014). 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 Plaintiffs' 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) (internal quotation marks omitted). The facts are set forth as favorably to Plaintiffs as those materials permit. See Meade v. Moraine Valley Cmty. Coll., 770 F.3d 680, 682 (7th Cir. 2014). In setting forth those facts at the pleading 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).

         Moses and Davis joined Sloan in the late 1980s. Doc. 13 at ¶¶ 10, 12. Both men are African-American and at all relevant times were members in good standing of Local 7999 of the United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy Allied Industrial & Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO. Id. at ¶¶ 1, 11, 13.

         On or about February 24, 2012, a Sloan manager found an anonymous note suggesting that he review “receiving cameras on feb. 09 around 11 a” because they showed three African-American employees, including Moses, “stealing drums of rod ends.” Id. at ¶ 14; Doc. 13-1 at 5. Rod ends, the remnants of brass rods used by Sloan to manufacture many of its products, are typically stored in large barrels, called “drums, ” before they are recycled or sold to a scrap metal dealer. Doc. 13 at ¶ 9; Doc. 13-1 at 4. On or about March 1, 2012, after conducting an investigation, Sloan fired Moses and the two other African-American employees named in the note, and asked Franklin Park police to arrest them. Doc. 13 at ¶ 16. Moses ultimately was acquitted of all charges. Id. at ¶ 17.

         The Union grieved Moses's termination. In September 2013, an arbitrator ruled that Sloan had failed to “demonstrate by a clear and convincing preponderance of the evidence that Moses stole anything from his employer, ” and ordered that Moses be reinstated “to his previous position.” Doc. 13-1 at 29-30. The Union filed suit to enforce the arbitration award; the suit was resolved by a “Settlement Agreement and Release, ” and Moses resumed his position at Sloan in May 2014. Doc. 13 at ¶¶ 23-25. The agreement provided, in relevant part, that the parties “fully release[d] and discharge[d] each other … from any and all claims and liabilities, whether known or unknown at this time, arising out of the arbitration award, occurrences and transactions that were the subject of the Lawsuit in this case.” Doc. 13-2 at 3.

         In July 2016, the manager who received the anonymous note back in February 2012 resumed his investigation into the thefts. During an interview with a Sloan employee, the manager “stat[ed] that he had questioned 40 other people [regarding the thefts] and demanded to know what Moses had told [the employee] about the alleged thefts.” Doc. 13 at ¶ 28.

         On or about August 8, 2016, the manager, accompanied by a Sloan lawyer and an “unknown investigator, ” met with Davis. Id. at ¶ 29. The manager told Davis that he “had been told by unknown parties that [Davis] was ‘the lookout guy'” and advised Davis that it would be “in his ‘best interests' to cooperate” and explain “how the thefts were perpetrated.” Id. at ¶¶ 29-30. The manager, lawyer, and investigator repeatedly called Davis “a fucking liar” during the meeting and, at its conclusion, the manager told Davis that he was suspended. Id. at ¶¶ 30-31.

         The following day, the manager, a Sloan lawyer, and an “unknown law enforcement representative” asked Moses if he “had ever stolen anything from the Company.” Id. at ¶ 32. When Moses refused to respond, the manager told him that he was fired because he had “‘new evidence' regarding the 2012 thefts, in the form of affidavits and statements.” Id. at ¶¶ 34-35. After Moses reminded the manager of the arbitration award that had resulted in his reinstatement, the manager told Moses that he was suspended. Id. at ¶ 36. Sloan did not provide Moses or Davis with any of this “new evidence” and, on October 20, 2016, it notified them both that they were terminated. Id. at ¶¶ 38-39.


         I. Plaintiffs' Title VII Hostile Work Environment Claim

         Plaintiffs allege that they were subjected to a hostile work environment. Doc. 13 at ¶¶ 57-68. Sloan seeks dismissal on the ground that the complaint fails to allege facts sufficient to state such a claim. Doc. 21 at 5-8. (Sloan initially sought dismissal on exhaustion grounds as well, id. at 4-5, but it withdrew that argument in open court, Doc. 38, in light of Plaintiffs' supplemental filing, Doc. 30.)

         Title VII prohibits discrimination “against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). “This prohibition encompasses the creation of a hostile work environment that is severe or pervasive enough to affect the terms and conditions of employment.” Lord v. High Voltage Software, Inc., 839 F.3d 556, 561 (7th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). For Plaintiffs' hostile work environment claim to survive dismissal, they must allege: “(i) that [their] work environment was objectively and subjectively offensive; (ii) that the harassment was based on [their] race; (iii) that the harassment was pervasive or severe; and (iv) that a ...

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