United States District Court, C.D. Illinois
CELIA L. WARR-HIGHTOWER Plaintiff,
ILLINOIS CENTRAL COLLEGE, THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF ILLINOIS CENTRAL COLLEGE, CARL CANNON, KELLY DANIELS, PAULA DAVIS, MICHAEL EVERETT, DIANE M. LAMB, FRANK M. MACKAMAN, GALE THETFORD, DON BRENNAN, SUSAN K. TODER- ORTSCHELLER, JOHN ERWIN, WILLIAM TAMMONE, BRUCE BUDDE, SHEILA QUIRK-BAILEY, RITA ALI, MARTHA BLOODSAW, AMY DAXENBICHLER, EMILY POINTS & TRACY MORRIS Respondents.
ORDER & OPINION
BILLY MCDADE UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss the Amended Complaint. (Doc. 16). The motion has been
fully briefed. For the reasons stated below, the motion is
GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
April 14, 2017, Plaintiff Celia Warr-Hightower
(“Hightower”) brought a class action complaint
against Illinois Central College (“ICC”) alleging
race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e
et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). On
July 28, 2017, Hightower filed an amended class action
complaint adding multiple defendants in addition to
ICC: ICC's Board of Trustees (the “Board”);
current and former members of the Board, Carl Cannon, Kelly
Daniels, Paula Davis, Michael Everett, Diane M. Lamb, Frank
H. Mackaman, Gale Thetford, Don Brennan, and Susan K.
Yoder-Portscheller; former President of ICC John Erwin;
former interim President of ICC William Temmone; former
interim President of ICC Bruce Budde; current President of
ICC Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey; ICC's Vice President of
Diversity Rita Ali; ICC's Vice President of Human
Resources Martha Bloodsaw; and Hightower's supervisors,
Amy Daxenbichler, Emily Points, and Tracy Morris.
following facts are taken from Plaintiff's amended
complaint and are assumed to be true for purposes of this
motion to dismiss. See Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d
714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995). The Court will separate
Hightower's class action claims from her individual
Hightower's Individual Claims
is an African American woman and has been employed by ICC
from 2011 until present as a Counselor and Advisor. (Doc. 12,
¶¶ 10, 20). She has a bachelor's degree in
psychology, a master's degree in human development and
counseling, and is currently working towards her Ph.D in
education from Illinois State University. Id. ¶
19. Hightower's students have consistently given her
extremely high remarks for her counseling abilities.
Id. ¶ 21.
alleges that she was unlawfully denied two promotions for
which she was qualified for on the basis of race.
Id. at ¶¶ 19-27, 31-36. In late 2014,
Hightower's supervisor retired and recommended Hightower
for promotion. Id. ¶ 22. Hightower applied for
the promotion. After the final interview, the Vice President
of Student Services, Tracy Morris, asked to speak to
Hightower one-on-one; Morris did not ask to speak one-on-one
with the two white candidates under consideration for the
position. Id. ¶¶ 24-25. During that
meeting, Morris tried to convince Hightower that she did not
really want to obtain the new position because Hightower
really enjoyed counseling and interacting with students.
Id. ICC chose a white woman, defendant Emily Points,
for the role. Id. ¶ 27. Points had no
experience or relevant education in counseling. Id.
Points was the ICC's women's soccer coach and her
degrees were in physical education and sports management.
Id. Shortly after starting the new position,
Points-now serving as Hightower's supervisor-gave
Hightower a lower performance rating than Hightower had
received in previous years. Id. ¶ 30.
Hightower's promotion denial, Morris instructed campus
police to be “on guard” because Morris believed
Hightower might react angrily. Id. ¶ 28.
Hightower was offended and visited the Chief of Police to
voice her displeasure with Morris's instruction.
Id. ¶ 29. Shortly thereafter, Morris came to
Hightower's office and accused her of being angry,
stating that Hightower needed to “move on.”
fall of 2015, Hightower applied for a promotion to Director
of Counseling, a position that Hightower had previously
served successfully on an interim basis. Id. ¶
31. Contrary to ICC's practice for other open positions
for which there are qualified internal candidates, ICC
elected to interview outside candidates for the position.
Id. ¶ 33. Hightower was not chosen for the
position. ICC instead hired a white woman, Amy Daxenbichler,
from outside ICC for the role. Id. ¶ 34.
learning that she did not get the position, Hightower spoke
with Vice President of Diversity Rita Ali. Hightower pointed
out that she had successfully served in the role of Director
of Counseling on an interim basis. Id. ¶ 35.
Ali responded that she was unaware that Hightower had served
as interim Director of Counseling. Id.
complained to Ali, Vice President of Human Resources Martha
Bloodsaw, and former interim President of ICC Bruce Budde
about the promotion denials and Morris's characterization
of Hightower as an “angry black woman, ” all of
whom failed to meaningfully address her concerns.
Id. ¶ 36.
alleges that after being passed over for promotions and since
she complained, she has been unlawfully retaliated against in
various forms. Plaintiff alleges that Daxenbichler delivered
a “false and retaliatory disciplinary write up”
which resulted in Hightower not being eligible for a standard
pay raise, denied Hightower's request to take vacation
days even though white employees were allowed to take those
same days off, and required Hightower to participate in extra
training on the weekends and evenings. Id. ¶
38. Hightower further claims that Points and Daxenbichler
transferred her job location to another campus and that
Points “laughed it off” when Hightower's
office was broken into. Id. She further states that
Morris and Daxenbichler denied Hightower the benefit of
tuition reimbursement that was afforded to other white
employees. Id. Lastly, Plaintiff claims that Points
gave Hightower a lower performance review than she had
received in the past. Id. ¶ 30.
contends that Defendants have discriminated against her on
the basis of race and retaliated against her for complaining
of racial discrimination. Id. ¶ 40. She brings
claims for race discrimination and retaliation under Title
VII and the Illinois Civil Rights Act (“ICRA”),
740 ILCS 23/5, against ICC. Id. ¶¶ 51-69.
She brings individual-capacity equal protection claims
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the individual
defendants. Id. ¶¶ 70-74.
Hightower's Class Action Claims
asserts that ICC has a pattern and practice of discrimination
“against its African American employees through
policies, practices, and standard operating
procedures.” Id. ¶ 11. She contends that
the “basic forms of discrimination” “fall
into two basic categories.” Id.
ICC maintains a policy or practice of creating a
predominantly and disproportionately non-African American
upper echelon workforce, thus systematically denying African
Americans the responsibilities, salary, and benefits of
high-level positions.” Id. ¶ 12.
“ICC ensures that its upper ranks remain predominantly
white through a variety of methods” such as denying
African Americans promotions in a sham interview process that
favors pre-selected white candidates; hiring non-African
American outside candidates for positions which qualified
African American internal candidates have applied for;
employing succession planning practices that fast-track
non-African American employees for advancement over African
Americans; denying tenure to qualified African American
faculty; falsely disciplining African Americans for behavior
permitted for non-African Americans; denying training
opportunities for African Americans; and discouraging African
Americans to pursue advancement by employing a Vice President
of Diversity who regularly counsels African American
employees to simply put their heads down and wait for better
opportunities in the future. Id.
ICC maintains the status quo of disproportionately
non-African American leadership by channeling discrimination
complaints into a sham investigation process, and retaliating
against those who pursue discrimination complaints outside of
that process. Id. ¶ 13. This sham process
discourages African American employees from continuing to
pursue advancement or challenge racial discrimination, and
makes it more difficult for African Americans to find lawyers
or timely pursue legal claims outside of the sham process.
Id. Hightower asserts that the Board is acting in
concert with Vice President of Human Resources Bloodsaw and
Vice President of Diversity Ali to implement, devise, and
enforce the aforementioned policies or practices of
discrimination. Id. ¶ 14.
further claims that there are “numerous recent examples
of ICC imposing a glass ceiling toward African
Americans.” Id. ¶ 15. ICC refused to give
a tenure-track position to a well-respected African American
professor. Id. When students protested the
school's action, President Quirk-Bailey attempted to
intimidate the protesting students by telling them their
protests would only make it worse for the professor.
Id. ICC also “drove out” its only
African American dean, reassigning him to a high school
program. Id. Lastly, ICC denied a permanent role to
an African American interim dean whose performance in the
position was excellent. Id. ICC again chose a less
qualified white candidate for the role. Id.
asserts class claims of race discrimination and retaliation
against ICC and the Board in violation of Title VII and ICRA.
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
August 21, 2017, Defendants filed the instant motion to
dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint making several
arguments in support of dismissal. (Doc. 16). On October 10,
2017, Plaintiff filed a response contesting all of
Defendants' arguments. (Doc. 20). Defendants filed a
reply on October 27, 2017. (Doc. 22). This matter is now ripe
ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6),
“the court must treat all well-pleaded allegations as
true and draw all inferences in favor of the non-moving
party.” In re marchFIRST Inc., 589 F.3d 901,
904 (7th Cir. 2009). The complaint must contain “a
short and ...