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McDade v. YRC Worldwide, Inc.

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

September 13, 2017

GERRY MCDADE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
YRC WORLDWIDE, INC. a.k.a. YRC, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Susan E. Cox, Magistrate Judge

         For the reasons discussed herein, Defendant's Motion to Sever Plaintiffs' Claims [71] is denied. A status conference to set this matter for trial is set for 9/18/17 at 9:30 a.m.

         I. Factual Background

         These consolidated cases allege racial discrimination that occurred at the Bolingbrook, Illinois terminal operated by Defendant YRC Worldwide, Inc. (“YRC” or “Defendant”).[1] A comprehensive factual background of this case is discussed in this Court's memorandum opinion and order on Defendant's motion for summary judgment, which is being entered contemporaneously with the instant opinion; for the purposes of the motion before the Court, the background discussion is limited to those facts pertinent to this decision. Generally, the Plaintiffs -- a group of African American and Hispanic truck drivers employed by Defendant in the Bolingbrook terminal -- allege that they were subjected to a racially discriminatory system of assigning work; minority drivers were given harder and more dangerous loads and routes, whereas white drivers were given easier jobs. The Plaintiffs also allege that they were given substandard equipment, were disciplined more harshly than their white counterparts, and were subjected to a hostile work environment. The two cases currently before the Court were consolidated on the Plaintiffs' motion, with YRC's consent, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42 and Local Rule 40.4. (Dkt. 23.) However, this case is not a class action; each of the named Plaintiffs brings his claim in his individual capacity. As such, each Plaintiff has the burden of proving the allegations outlined above in order to prevail on his claims. Following the Court's decision on summary judgment, there are eight plaintiffs remaining in the case.[2]

         Although this case has been pending for three years, Defendants have now moved pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 21 and 42, seek that the Court “sever or separate Plaintiffs' claims for trial because Plaintiffs' claims are not properly joined under Rule 20 and because failing to sever or separate Plaintiffs' claims for trial will create judicial inferences and result in unfair prejudice to [Defendant].” (Dkt. 72 at 1.) For the reasons discussed more fully herein, the Court rejects Defendant's arguments and denies Defendant's motion.

         II. Discussion

         A. Joinder Pursuant to Rule 20 and Rule 21

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 allows the Court to sever any claim against a party. Whether joinder is proper turns on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(1), which requires that: 1) the plaintiffs' claims arise out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences, and 2) any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action. Federal policy favors joinder, and district courts enjoy wide discretion in deciding whether joinder is proper. Hawkins v. Groot Industries, Inc., 210 F.R.D. 226, 230 (N.D. Ill. 2002).

         Regarding the first prong of the test (i.e., the transaction or occurrence issue), the Seventh Circuit has not provided a definite standard for making the determination. McDowell v. Morgan Stanley & Co., Inc., 645 F.Supp.2d 690, 694 (N.D. Ill. 2009). Instead, district courts take a case-by-case approach, taking into consideration the following factors: 1) the period during which the alleged acts occurred, 2) whether there are differing types of adverse employment actions, 3) whether more than one type of discrimination is alleged; 4) whether the same supervisors were involved; 5) whether the employees worked in the same department; 6) whether the employees were at different geographical locations; and 7) whether a company-wide policy is alleged. Id. (quoting Berry v. Illinois Dept. of Human Servs., 2011 WL 111035, at *17 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 2, 2001)).

         Most of these factors cut in favor of a finding that Plaintiffs' allegations arise from the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences. All of the Plaintiffs worked the same job (combo truck drivers), in the same department, in the same location (the Bolingbrook terminal). They all allege the same type of discrimination (namely, intentional discrimination based on their race, and hostile work environment), and they all allege the same type of adverse employment actions (getting undesirable and/or dangerous work routes, increased discipline, and shoddier equipment). Although there is no company-wide policy alleged by the Plaintiffs, that factor is less impactful because all of the Plaintiffs worked in the same location and in the same job. In other words, the need for a company-wide pattern of discrimination is less vital when the Plaintiffs are all attempting to show discrimination emanating from one shared locus. Moreover, the lack of complete overlap of supervisors is not fatal Plaintiffs' claims; while one could argue that this factor cuts against the Plaintiffs, it is also diluted by the fact that there is significant commonality between many of the plaintiffs and the supervisors who engaged in the allegedly discriminatory activities.[3]

         Defendant attempts to atomize Plaintiffs' claims to support to its argument that they do not arise out of the same series of transactions or occurrences, pointing out each alleged instance of discrimination and highlighting the relatively minute ways in which they differ. (See Dkt. 72 at 5-10.) However, it is not necessary for all of Plaintiffs' claims to be carbon copies of one another; the factors outlined in McDowell demonstrate that it is sufficient for there to be uniformity in the type of discrimination and type of adverse employment actions to satisfy the first portion of the permissive joinder test. As discussed above, Plaintiffs have demonstrated that there is such commonality among their claims. The Court believes that the factors weigh in favor of finding that the Plaintiffs' claims arise from the same series of transactions or occurrences, and reject Defendant's arguments to the contrary.

         Defendant relies heavily on two cases to support its argument that joinder is inappropriate: Bailey v. Northern Trust Co., 196 F.R.D. 513 (N.D. Ill. 2000), and Buie v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., 1998 WL 729614 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 16, 1998). Both these cases are distinguishable from the instant matter. In Bailey, the court held that the five plaintiffs were not properly joined. 196 F.R.D. at 516-17. That case shared many similarities with this case; the plaintiffs worked in the same location and department, and the employment actions were made “by different section managers and team leaders at different times over a period of at least fifteen months.” Id. at 516. However, in Bailey, the plaintiffs “were employed in various positions, ” and there was significant disparity in the type of adverse employment actions being alleged. Id. Here, the Plaintiffs all worked in the same job, and are alleging the same type of adverse employment actions. As noted above, the question before the Court is a multi-factor balancing test. The Court believes that these two factors - the similarity of the adverse employment actions, and the identical job among the Plaintiffs - weigh heavily in favor of finding that joinder is appropriate, and are a crucial distinction between this case and Bailey.

         Buie is also distinguishable from the instant suit, in that the plaintiffs' allegations in that case were very vague, claiming that the defendant's failure to adhere to its equal employment opportunity policy constituted a “de facto policy and practice of excluding African-Americans from employment and employment advancement opportunities.” 1998 WL 729614, at *4. This failure was the only reasoning articulated by the court in Buie to justify its holding that the plaintiffs had failed to establish that their claims arose from the same transaction or occurrence. Id. Here, the Plaintiffs have pointed to specific actions taken by the Defendant they believe constitute discrimination, which differentiates this case from Buie. In short, the Court does not believe that the cases that Defendant relies on are dispositive to the facts and allegations of this case.

         The Court also finds that there are common questions of law or fact shared among all of the Plaintiffs in this case. As noted above, the Plaintiffs all worked in the same job at the same location, and alleged that they were discriminated on the basis of their race by being forced to take more dangerous jobs, being disciplined more harshly than their white counterparts, and being subjected to a hostile work environment. ...


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