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Powell v. Illinois Department of Corrections

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

September 20, 2017



          James E. Shadid, Chief United States District Judge

          Before the Court is the Defendant, Illinois Department of Corrections' (“IDOC”), Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (D. 24)[1] and the Plaintiff, Clarence Powell's, Response. (D. 29). The Defendant has also provided a supporting memorandum. (D. 25). For the reasons stated, infra, the Defendant's motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


         In April 2016, the Plaintiff filed his Complaint against the Defendant. (D. 1). His Amended Complaint, filed the following day, included the following counts: Count I, Harassment pursuant to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(5) (“Title VII”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”); Count II, Disparate Treatment Under Title VII and Section 1981; and Count III, Retaliation Under Title VII. (D. 5 at pp. 22-24). The Plaintiff has since conceded that his section 1981 claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and “voluntarily dismiss[es] those claims.” (D. 29 at pg. 2). Thus, the Plaintiff's remaining claims are Retaliation, Disparate Treatment, and Harassment, brought exclusively under Title VII.

         The Plaintiff filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) charge on November 24, 2015 alleging the Defendant racially discriminated against him, in violation of Title VII. (D. 25-1). In the particulars, he stated wholly as follows:

I began my employment with Respondent on or about November 8, 1999. My current position is Correctional Officer. During my employment I was subjected to continuous racial harassment and disciplined, while other non-Black employees were not disciplined.
I believe I have been discriminated against based on my race, Black, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.

Id. The charge form, EEOC Form 5, has multiple boxes for petitioners to allege the basis for their discrimination charge. Retaliation was one of the options on the form. The Plaintiff only marked the box for race discrimination. Id.

         In the Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, he alleged a multitude of facts he claims pertain to his race-based harassment, disparate treatment, and retaliation by the Defendant between 2006 and 2015 while he was a correctional officer at Defendant's Pontiac Correctional Facility (“PCF”). (D. 5). The Plaintiff states that he is an African-American and that several of his superiors at IDOC violated his rights under, inter alia, Title VII. He named the following specific PCF employees as defendants: “Lieutenant Duane Beal, Lieutenant Benny Dallas, Lieutenant Eugene Masching, Lieutenant Shawn Holmes, Major James Blackard, Major Susan Prentice, Superintendent Michael Melvin, Warden Guy Pierce, and Warden Randy Pfister[.]” Id. at pg. 2.

         The Plaintiff describes several events during his time as an employee at PCF in his Amended Complaint. He claims his allegations all support his individual claims of harassment, disparate treatment, and retaliation. In particular, he claims: (1) Lieutenant Beal threatened to lynch him; (2) Lieutenants Masching and Dallas harassed him repeatedly, and eventually retaliated against him for reporting them; (3) Masching continued to harass him for reporting his behavior to IDOC authorities; (4) Masching authored and posted a mock memorandum with the Plaintiff's picture on it and a racial slur; (5) Superintendent Melvin discriminated against him by disciplining him for taking leave which he was entitled to take under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”) 29 U.S.C. § 2612; and (6) the harassment against him is part of PCF's broader scheme to intentionally discriminate against African-American correctional officers. (D. 5).

         First, the Plaintiff alleges that in January 2014, while Beal was his direct supervisor, Beal told him “he would ‘slap the black off [the Plaintiff's] face' and that he would ‘hang [the Plaintiff] from an oak tree.'” Id. at pg. 4. The Plaintiff also claims Beal consistently made these and other similar comments to him from January 2013 until January 2014. The Plaintiff eventually reported Beal to IDOC's Office of Affirmative Action (“OOAA”). His complaint was substantiated and IDOC suspended Beal for 20 days.

         The Plaintiff also alleges that throughout 2006, Dallas and Masching “repeatedly made derogatory remarks about [his] race in his presence.” Id. at pg. 6. The Plaintiff asserts that after he reported Dallas and Masching to the OOAA for their remarks, they retaliated against him in “mid-2007” by assigning him to a unit where inmates were allowed to smoke, exacerbating his asthma. Id. at pg. 8. Months later, smoking was banned in the facility.

         According to the Plaintiff, however, Masching continued to make racially derogatory remarks to him. The Plaintiff says he regularly reported Masching for his behavior through IDOC's proper channels in the “late spring and summer of 2015, ” but his reports resulted in no discipline and actually intensified Masching's harassment efforts. Id. at pg. 9. Masching's harassment allegedly involved hiding the Plaintiff's work equipment and regularly following him in a “hyper-vigilant[]” manner that was intended to intimidate him. Id. at pg. 10. The Plaintiff also alleges Masching retaliated against him “for several years, including 2015” by “giving him negative performance evaluations even though [his] work at IDOC was always exceptional.” Id. at pg. 12.

         In response to the Plaintiff reporting Masching's behavior, he claims Masching filed a “false” report against him in August 2015, in which he implicated the Plaintiff for being found “in a relaxed position” while on duty. Id. at pg. 11. Major Blackard and Major Prentice conducted an Employee Review Hearing (“ERH”) to assess Masching's report. The Plaintiff presented evidence at the hearing suggesting that he was either about to make a phone call or had just completed one at the time he was accused of being in a relaxed position. The ERH concluded that the Plaintiff violated IDOC regulations by being in a relaxed position, as alleged, and suspended him for one day. According to the Plaintiff, his suspension was later rescinded. The Plaintiff also alleges that sometime ...

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