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Garza v. Illinois Institute of Technology

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

January 2, 2018

ANDRES GARZA, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Hon, Virginia M. Kendall, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Andres Garza sued Defendant Illinois Institute of Technology (“IIT”)-his former employer-alleging that IIT discriminated against him due to his age and national origin and that IIT retaliated against him when he discussed discrimination in the workplace in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. IIT moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. 10). For the reasons set forth below, IIT's motion (Dkt. 10) is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff shall file an amended complaint consistent with this opinion to the extent he can do so on or before January 18, 2018.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Andres Garza is a 63-year-old Latino man. Defendant Illinois Institute of Technology hired Garza as an Executive Director in its Career Management Center on February 25, 2013. (Dkt. 1 at ¶¶ 3, 10). During the time he worked at IIT, Garza received a rating of “exceeds expectations” on the only performance review he received from IIT and he was awarded the highest possible salary for his position. Id. at ¶ 12.

         In late 2015, Garza began to schedule monthly lunch meetings of IIT's Latino faculty and staff in order to discuss Latino-specific issues, including the lack of advancement opportunities and unfair treatment at IIT. Id. at ¶ 13. In April 2016, IIT laid off 24 employees, including Garza, in a reduction in force. IIT informed Garza his position had been eliminated. Garza claims, however, that he was terminated because he is Latino and over 40 years of age. Id. at ¶¶ 14-16. Garza filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on November 7, 2016. After receiving notice of his Right to Sue on June 8, 2017, he filed this five-count Complaint alleging: national-origin discrimination in violation of Title VII (Count I); age discrimination in violation of the ADEA (Count II); race discrimination in violation of § 1981 (Count III); and retaliation in violation of Title VII and § 1981 (Counts IV and V). See id.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         IIT seeks dismissal of Garza's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A complaint must contain factual matter sufficient to state a claim that is plausible on its face. Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To determine whether a complaint meets this standard, the “reviewing court must draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construes all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007). Conclusory statements and abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action, however, will not help a complaint survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 405 (7th Cir. 2010).

         ANALYSIS

         A. Title VII Discrimination (Count I)

         Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate 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). IIT argues that Garza has failed to set forth a prima facie case allege of national-origin discrimination under the McDonell Douglas[2] burden-shifting method and also that he has failed to allege sufficient facts to support such a claim. See (Dkt. 11 at 3-4). As an initial matter, the McDonell Douglas burden-shifting method is applied at the summary judgment stage, not at the pleading stage. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510-11 (2002); see also Williams v. Cty. of Cook, 969 F.Supp.2d 1068, 1079 (N.D. Ill. 2013). The Supreme Court has explained that “[t]he prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas . . . is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement, ” and that the “Court has never indicated that the requirements for establishing a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas also apply to the pleading standard that plaintiffs must satisfy in order to survive a motion to dismiss.” Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 510; see also Simpson v. Nickel, 450 F.3d 303, 305 (7th Cir. 2006). Accordingly, IIT's first argument fails.

         Still, Garza's “complaint must contain something more than a general recitation of the elements of the claim.” Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1084 (7th Cir. 2008). For simple claims of race or sex discrimination, however, this is a “minimal pleading standard.” Id. (citing Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d at 781-82)); see also id. (even after the heightened pleading standard set forth in Twombly, a complaint alleging employment discrimination “need only aver that the employer instituted a (specified) adverse employment action against the plaintiff on the basis of [his national origin]”). Put differently, “[a] plaintiff need only identify the type of discrimination, when it occurred, and by whom.” Clark v. Law Office of Terrence Kennedy, Jr., ___ Fed.Appx. ___, 2017 WL 4176285, at *2 (7th Cir. Sept. 21, 2017). Under this standard, Garza has alleged enough in support of his Title VII clam to give him the opportunity to see if he can find the evidence that he will need to prove his claim of national-origin discrimination. He asserts that he (1) is Latino, (2) was employed by IIT and (3) was terminated in April 2016 on account of his national origin. (Dkt. 1 at ¶¶ 6, 10, 14, 18, 20). The court's task on a motion to dismiss is not to gauge the ultimate strength of Garza's case; but rather, to determine whether the complaint contains “enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” to support liability for the wrongdoing alleged. Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 729 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Therefore, IIT's motion to dismiss Count I is denied.

         B. Age Discrimination (Count II)

         The same analysis applies to Garza's age-discrimination claim under the ADEA. Again, IIT argues that Garza must plead a prima facie case of age discrimination to state a claim, that: (1) Garza was in the protected age group of 40 years or older, (2) he was performing his job satisfactorily, (3) he was discharged, and (4) a substantially younger employee replaced him. See (Dkt. 11 at 4-5). And again, IIT cites to the standard of proof on summary judgment, not at the motion to dismiss stage. See id. (citing Johnson v. Zema Sys. Corp., 170 F.3d 734, 746 (7th Cir. 1999) (summary judgment)). Seeing that Garza alleges that he (1) is currently 63 years old, (2) was employed by IIT, and (3) was terminated in April 2016 (when he presumably was somewhere between 61-62 years old) “because of [his] age” (Dkt. 1 at ¶¶ 6, 10, 14, 25, 27), he has sufficiently pled his age-discrimination claim under the minimal pleading standards applied here.[3] See Clark, ___ Fed.Appx. ___, 2017 WL 4176285, at *1-*2 (rejecting argument that plaintiff was required to plead that the defendant replaced her with a younger person following termination). IIT's motion to dismiss Count II is denied. Notwithstanding this result, the Court reminds Garza that ADEA a plaintiff ultimately must “prove by a preponderance of the evidence (which may be direct or circumstantial), that age was the ‘but-for' cause of the challenged employer decision, ” not simply “one motivating factor” in that action. Gross v. FBI Fin. Servs., Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 177-78 (2009).

         C. ยง 1981 ...


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