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Morton v. Teamsters Local 710

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

January 22, 2018



          Charles P. Kocoras United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendants John T. Coli, Sr. (“Coli”), Teamsters Joint Council 25 (“Joint Council 25”), and Teamsters Local 710's (“Local 710”) (collectively “Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss (“Motion”) much of Plaintiff Demtrius Morton's (“Morton”) First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' Motion.


         The following facts are taken from Morton's FAC and are assumed to be true for purposes of this Motion. Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995). The Court draws all reasonable inferences in Morton's favor. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008).

         The central parties are as follows. Morton is a “black, African-American” and former business agent of Local 710. Local 710 is a subordinate body of Joint Council 25, each of which is a labor organization as defined in 29 U.S.C. §§ 402(i) and (j). Headquartered in Mokena, IL, Local 710 represents more than 12, 000 members employed in various industries across the Midwest and was a founding local of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (“IBT”). In 2014, Local 710 was placed under Trusteeship because of it “financial impropriety.” Joint Council 25 is comprised of 27 Teamsters Local Unions, including Local 710, and is headquartered in Park Ridge, IL. At all times relevant to this suit, Coli was both the President of Joint Council 25 and, as a result of Local 710's placement into Trusteeship, the Trustee of Local 710.

         In 1996, Morton became a member of the IBT and Teamsters Local 744. The same year, Morton was elected Business Agent of Local 744 and became a member of the Teamsters National Black Caucus (“National Black Caucus”), an independent organization affiliated with the IBT, where it appears Morton still sits as a member of the National Black Caucus' Executive Board. In 2010, Local 710 merged with Local 744, and Morton was retained as Business Agent of Local 710. As a Business Agent, Morton travelled to assigned companies to provide representation for Local 710 members. His duties included negotiating contracts, resolving disputes and grievances with management, preparing grievances for arbitrations, organizing membership for collective action, and keeping members informed and involved with Local 710 activity.

         On July 30, 2014, IBT President James P. Hoffa Jr. appointed Coli to preside as President of Joint Council 25 and Trustee of Local 710, where he would manage the local's affairs. At all times relevant to this suit, Coli was Morton's ultimate supervisor. Together with Brian Rainville (“Rainville”), the Executive Director of Joint Council 25, Coli controlled all hiring and firing decisions at Local 710 and directed all personnel policies. Coli and Rainville also personally oversaw Local 710's “most vital tasks, ” such as “representation, ” “bargaining, ” and the installation of other Joint Council 25 staff into managerial roles responsible for the direction of Local 710's affairs. Morton alleges that such decisions were made “in the interests of…Joint Council 25.”

         Following Coli's appointment as President, Mike and Paul DiGrazia (“the DiGrazias”), Joint Council 25's Organizing Directors, assumed control of organizing responsibilities for Local 710, “ensur[ing that] it aligned with…Joint Council 25 objectives.” The DiGrazias subsequently assigned three organizers from Joint Council 25 to Local 710. Joint Council 25 Communications Director William Petty was assigned to direct Local 710's communications, other Joint Council 25 staff were placed on the Local 710 payroll for “unknown duties, ” and Coli plucked Rupa Baskaran from his own Local 727 to serve as in-house attorney for Local 710. Additionally, and for the first time, Joint Council 25 required Local 710 staff to campaign for political candidates endorsed by Joint Council 25.

         Upon installation as Local 710 Trustee, Coli fired Local 710's legal representation Asher, Gittler & D'Alba, Ltd, replacing the firm with Illinois Advocates, whose legal services came at an “equivalent or greater cost to the membership of…Local 710.” Coli's son, Joseph Coli, founded Illinois Advocates “immediately after his graduation from law school in 2012.” Illinois Advocates continues to represent all Defendants in this case.

         Prior to Coli's Trusteeship, Joint Council 25 was required to pay Local 710 to store its vehicles on Local 710 property and had to use its own vehicles to transport Coli and Mike DiGrazia. Once Coli's Trusteeship began, Joint Council 25 cancelled the paid parking agreements, parked two semi-trailers on Local 710's property without payment, and took exclusive use of Local 710 vehicles for Coli and Mike DiGrazia's use. Local 710 continued to pay for the gas and cleaning expenses of the vehicles used exclusively by Joint Council 25.

         Since the beginning of his Trusteeship, Coli has transferred in the neighborhood of 2, 000 dues-paying members from Local 710 to his home Local 727 and other Teamsters locals. Around April 2015, the Local 710 membership in the soft drink and beverage industry, with dues worth approximately $1, 000, 000 per year, was transferred to Coli's Local 727. To facilitate the mass transfer of membership into his home local, Coli allegedly secured employer cooperation through the forgiveness of months' worth of back dues owed by employers to Local 710. Around August 2015, Coli attempted to transfer Local 710 members in the food and grocery industry to Local 703, controlled by Thomas Stiede, Vice-President of Joint Council 25. When Local 710 members discovered the transfer, letters and phone calls were made to IBT to stop the wholesale dismantling of Local 710 into Coli and his Joint Council 25 allies' locals. The protest forced Coli to cease his food and grocery membership transfer effort.

         In early 2015, Morton submitted a request for funding and time-off to attend a February 2015 National Black Caucus meeting in Florida. Despite this request having always been previously approved - it was common practice, so Teamsters locals could preserve personal vacation time - Morton was told two weeks before the Florida conference that no funding was available to send him and that his time-off request would be denied. He instead used personal vacation days to attend. Also in early 2015, Morton requested funding and time-off to attend a separate National Black Caucus meeting, this one scheduled for August 2015 in Nevada. This request had similarly always been approved in the past, but in July or August 2015, Morton was again told that no funding would be available and he would have to use personal vacation days to attend. Around the same time that Morton's second request was denied, Local 710 paid for time-off, travel, hotel, registration fees, and per-diem for four white female members to attend the Teamsters Women's Caucus meeting in August 2015 in Massachusetts.

         In the summer of 2015, Gary Abrahamson, who handled the day-to-day management of Coli's Business Agents, ordered Morton to stop distributing any business cards with Morton's personal cell phone that included an affiliation with the National Black Caucus. Morton was “incorrectly told” both that Local 700 also prohibited distribution of business cards that had an affiliation with the National Black Caucus and that this was consistent with the policies of other Teamsters locals.

         Throughout 2015 and 2016, Morton's representation and bargaining responsibilities were removed by the Trusteeship and vested primarily in white and Latino business agents with less experience and worse work performance, but “who were trusted by…Coli not to ‘agitate' the black membership regarding Coli's misappropriation of assets.” Beginning in mid-2015 and continuing until his termination, Morton began reporting that his “scheduling and hours” received extra scrutiny not given to other non-black/African American Business Agents. Morton was required to turn in weekly schedules, immediately report any changes in schedule, and report back to the union local office after site visits. White business agents did not have the same reporting requirements. Morton was not given an explanation for these additional requirements and was told by Coli that if he disagreed, he could leave the employment of Local 710.

         In early January 2015, Local 710 Business Agents slated Morton to run for Vice-President of Local 710 once Coli left his Trusteeship. The other Business Agents on the Local 710 leadership slate included Mike Rossow, Thomas Coffey, and Roger Kelley (collectively, the “Morton Slate”). On June 3, 2015, Coli announced at a meeting that the Local 710 Business Agents would be voting anew for an election slate to run for Local 710 leadership. A new slate was then elected that replaced the entirety of the Morton Slate. Prior to the June 3 vote, Coli held private individual meetings to inform other Business Agents that Morton would not be running for Vice-President of Local 710 and Roger Kelley was not to run for President of Local 710, or else Local 710 would be dissolved and have its membership transferred into other Joint 25 Council locals. The Business Agents who were not approached by Coli before the vote were the only Business Agents who did not vote for Coli's preferred slate. Coli's preferred slate won, and the Morton slate was replaced. Within a month or two of the June 3 vote, Coli terminated Mike Rossow as an elected Local 710 Business Agent.

         In February 2015, Coli informed Morton that he was trying to diversify Local 710. Because Morton was the only black Business Agent, Coli told him that his job was “safe.” When Morton complained about the diminution of his work responsibilities, Coli responded that there was a need to hire more Hispanics and women. In March 2016, prior to Morton's termination, Coli hired Aisha Hurston, an African-American woman with only one year of experience, as a Business Agent. When Morton again asked about his job security, Coli again told him that he was trying to diversify the local and hire more “Hispanics and women.” On April 20, 2016, Coli fired Morton due to “financial ...

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