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Spriesch v. City of Chicago

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

October 26, 2017

CITY OF CHICAGO, a municipal corporation, Defendant.



         After learning she was pregnant, fire paramedic Sarah Spriesch (at the time, Sarah Murphy) faced gender and pregnancy discrimination and retaliation at the City of Chicago's (the “City”) fire department. Spriesch sues the City alleging violations of the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1-101 et seq., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq., the Illinois Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act (“INMWA”), 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 260/1 et seq., and the Fair Labor Standards Acts of 1938 (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. The City moves to dismiss some of her claims, and the Court grants in part and denies in part the motion. Because Spriesch alleges enough facts to suggest a continuing violation, she can pursue claims related to the decision to place her on leave. However, Spriesch fails to allege any injury from the classification of her leave as off-duty after she returned to work; thus, she fails to establish standing to pursue her claims arising from the classification. Because the IHRA's pregnancy accommodation amendment was not retroactive, she cannot pursue IHRA accommodation claims arising from acts committed before January 1, 2015. Spriesch sufficiently alleges that a City assignment policy caused her injury and may pursue her disparate impact claim. Finally, the City fails to show that there is no private right of action under the INMWA and thus, Spriesch may pursue her claim pursuant to the INMWA .


         Spriesch was working for the City's fire department as a fire paramedic when she learned she was pregnant, in June 2014. Soon after, she informed her supervisor that she was pregnant. Spriesch's supervisor asked her to go on leave immediately. The City required Spriesch to stay on leave throughout her pregnancy, requiring her to report monthly in person or by phone to confirm she was still pregnant. In contrast to other City fire employees who received temporary assignments, the City has a pattern and practice of placing pregnant employees on immediate leave.

         Spriesch gave birth to her child on February 4, 2015. She returned to work two months later on April 8, 2015. When she returned to work, the City designated her leave as off-duty injury leave, which can be used for up to twelve months every two years, rather than on-the-job injury leave, which can be used for up to twelve months as often as is needed. The City has a pattern and practice of designating pregnancy leave as off-duty injury leave. Spriesch used 308 days of leave.

         Spriesch was breastfeeding when she returned to work. Because she could not breastfeed her child at work, she pumped breastmilk for her child. She informed City fire department officials that she was breastfeeding and needed to pump. No one told Spriesch about any accommodations for pumping. When she needed to pass a re-training course to reenter the field, she was not allowed to pump and express breastmilk for hours. Despite experiencing pain and leaking that day at re-training, no one allowed her to pump for more than eight hours, and she faced threats if she were to leave early. Eventually Spriesch was allowed leave to pump and express breastmilk, only to return and be told frequently over the rest of the day that she could not take breaks to pump.

         When Spriesch requested a reasonable accommodation for pumping and expressing breastmilk, the instructor in re-training required her to perform two more re-training days and required her to stay later than other employees. Spriesch submitted a union grievance and complained to the City's equal employment opportunity division on or around April 8, 2015. When Spriesch returned to active duty, she received unfavorable assignments.

         Spriesch asked for accommodations from the assistant deputy fire commissioner and human relations coordinator. Although the assistant deputy acknowledged that Spriesch should have a private, non-bathroom space to pump, she expressed doubt about the existence of such a place and suggested that Spriesch use someplace like an ambulance, hospital, or quiet corner.

         Because she went on leave, Spriesch lost her assignment to her regular ambulance. Instead she began receiving her assignments from the relief pool, which sourced paramedics to temporary firehouse assignments. Many firehouses in the relief pool did not have a private, non-bathroom space suitable for Spriesch to pump and express breastmilk. Spriesch was assigned to many of those firehouses, and she often had to pump in a restroom or ambulance and discard her breastmilk. Spriesch received a promotion to paramedic in charge in June 2015, but she still was part of a relief pool. Although there were some relief pool firehouses that provided access to a private, non-bathroom area for pumping and expressing breastmilk, there were firehouses that did not. Spriesch did not always receive assignments to firehouses that contained private, non-bathroom areas.


         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 claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.


         I. Format of the City's Motion

         The parties debate whether some of the City's motion is procedurally proper because it attacks some of Spriesch's claims in her enumerated Counts. In its own words, the City has moved to partially dismiss Counts I, II, and III. Spriesch says the City cannot partially dismiss counts in her complaint, pointing out that the Seventh Circuit noted in BBL, Inc. v. City of Angola, 809 F.3d 317 (7th Cir. 2015), that a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) doesn't permit “piecemeal dismissals of parts of claims.” BBL, Inc., 809 F.3d at 325. But the City does not move to dismiss parts of claims or parts of a single-element claim. Spriesch pleads multiple claims ...

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