United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
ANTWOIN HUNT, JAMES ZOLLICOFFER, NORMAN GREEN, JAMES LEWIS, and KEVIN JAMES, on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated laborers, Plaintiffs,
PERSONNEL STAFFING GROUP, LLC, d/b/a MVP, THE SEGERDAHL CORP., MERCURY PLASTICS, INC., MPS CHICAGO, INC. d/b/a JET LITHO, THE PENRAY COMPANIES, INC., ADVERTISING RESOURCES, INC. d/b/a ARI PACKAGING, LAWRENCE FOODS, INC., and BLOMMER CHOCOLATE COMPANY, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. Tharp, Jr. United States District Judge.
African American laborers sued Personnel Staffing Group, LLC,
d/b/a MVP (“MVP”), an employment agency, and
seven of its client companies for race discrimination.
Plaintiffs Antwoin Hunt, James Zollicoffer, Norman Green,
James Lewis, and Kevin James, on behalf of themselves and
other similarly situated laborers, allege that MVP and its
client companies refused to provide them with job assignments
on account of their race and in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
1981 (“Section 1981”). The defendant client
companies move to dismiss the claims against them for lack of
standing and for failure to state a claim and also move to
dismiss or strike any time-barred claims and allegations.
Because the plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to have
standing and to state a claim under Section 1981 against each
of the defendant client companies, and because the complaint
does not unambiguously establish that the claims are
time-barred, the Court denies the defendants' motions to
a temporary staffing agency that provides its client
companies with low- and moderately-skilled laborers to fill
jobs on a daily basis. Defendants The Segerdahl Corp.
(“Segerdahl”), Mercury Plastics, Inc.
(“Mercury”), MPS Chicago, Inc. d/b/a Jet Litho
(“MPS”), The Penray Companies, Inc.
(“Penray”), Advertising Resources, Inc. d/b/a ARI
Packaging (“ARI”), Lawrence Foods, Inc.
(“Lawrence Foods”), and Blommer Chocolate Company
(“Blommer”) are clients of MVP (collectively
“the defendant client companies”). MVP acts as an
agent of the defendant client companies in recruiting,
training, assigning, and paying laborers to work at the
companies. MVP also acts as a joint employer with the
defendant client companies in the assignment of laborers to
work at the companies. The jobs for which MVP assigns
laborers do not require any special skills, training, or
qualifications. MVP operates a branch office located in
recruits laborers for its client companies through various
forms of advertising. Individuals seeking work assignments
from MVP may walk into the Cicero office to request work. A
walk-in is typically asked to provide his contact information
to an MVP employee, who then assigns work to the individual
or informs the person that he will be contacted when a daily
job becomes available. MVP's Cicero office retains
contact information and applications for at least several
Zollicoffer, Green, Lewis, and James were qualified to work
at the defendant client companies and, at various times
throughout December 2012 to December 2016, they repeatedly
sought work assignments in person and by phone from MVP's
Cicero office. On a few occasions, Hunt, Green, Lewis, and
James received work assignments, but they were never assigned
to any of the defendant client companies. Zollicoffer never
received a work assignment from MVP, including to any of the
defendant client companies.
their visits to MVP's Cicero office, the plaintiffs
observed that typically between a quarter and a third of the
laborers seeking work assignments at the office were African
American. They further observed that many of the laborers who
appeared Hispanic or spoke Spanish were given work
assignments. However, laborers who appeared to be African
American were not assigned work. Furthermore, the majority of
MVP's recruitment efforts were in predominantly Latino
neighborhoods or via Spanish-language media sources. MVP also
provides transportation for some of its laborers, but the
plaintiffs observed that the laborers who received
transportation appeared to be Latino or spoke Spanish and
none appeared to be African American.
to information from former MVP dispatchers, drivers, and
onsite representatives, many of MVP's client companies,
including the defendant client companies, directed MVP not to
send African American laborers to work at their companies.
MVP complied with these requests and instructed its employees
to refrain from referring African American laborers to
assignments at many of its client companies, including the
defendant client companies. When making their discriminatory
requests, the defendant client companies used code words to
refer to African American laborers and Hispanic laborers.
According to a former MVP onsite representative, MVP
management disciplined her for failing to comply with its
client companies' directions to steer African American
laborers away from their companies. MVP and its clients
companies also had a system in place so that client companies
could terminate an African American laborer by marking the
laborer as “Do Not Return.”
plaintiffs filed their complaint on December 6, 2016,
alleging intentional discrimination in violation of Section
1981 against MVP and the defendant client companies.
Segerdahl and Lawrence Foods filed a motion to dismiss and
strike as time-barred the plaintiffs' Section 1981 claims
that are based on events occurring more than two years prior
to the filing of the complaint. Segerdahl and Lawrence Foods
Mot. to Dismiss and Strike Time-Barred Section 1981 Claims
(“Segerdahl Motion”), ECF No. 51. Mercury then
filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of standing
and for failure to state a claim. Mercury Mot. to Dismiss for
Lack of Standing and for Failure to State a Claim
(“Mercury Motion”), ECF No. 77. All of the
defendant client companies joined both motions. The plaintiffs
filed a response to the Segerdahl Motion before the Mercury
Motion was filed, and later filed a revised response
addressing both motions. See Pls.' Resp. to Mot.
to Dismiss and Strike, ECF No. 73; Pls.' Revised Resp. to
Mot. to Dismiss and Strike (“Pls.' Resp.”),
ECF No. 92. The defendants jointly filed one reply in support
of both motions. Defs.' Consolidated Reply in Supp. of
their Mot. to Dismiss (”Defs.' Reply”), ECF
survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), “a complaint must state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Adams v.
City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014)
(citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007)). A claim is plausible on its face if the facts
alleged allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.
Id. (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009)). The plaintiff's claims must include
enough details to present “a story that holds
together.” Carlson v. CSX Transp., Inc., 758
F.3d 819, 826-27 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Swanson v.
Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404-05 (7th Cir. 2010)).
When considering a motion to dismiss, the court construes the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and
draws all inferences from the alleged facts in the
plaintiff's favor. Id.
crux of the debate presented in the parties' briefs is
whether the plaintiffs had (or were seeking) an employment
contract and if so with whom. The defendants maintain that
the allegations of the complaint do not afford the plaintiffs
standing to pursue Section 1981 claims because the complaint
fails to adequately allege the requisites of a contractual
relationship with which the defendants interfered. The
defendants' challenge falls short, however, because it
misconstrues applicable precedent and demands more detail at
the pleading stage than is required to state a plausible
claim under Section 1981.
Standing and Failure to State a Claim
client company defendants argue that the plaintiffs'
Section 1981 claims should be dismissed because the
plaintiffs “lack standing” and fail to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted. Memo. in Supp. of
Mercury Motion 1, ECF No. 78. Section 1981 provides that all
persons shall have the same rights as white citizens to make
and enforce contracts, which includes “the making,
performance, modification, and termination of contracts, and
the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and
conditions of the contractual relationship.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981. In the employment context, the statute prohibits
an employer from discriminating against a job applicant or an
employee on the basis of race. Blise v. Antaramian,
409 F.3d 861, 866 (7th Cir. 2005); Tank v. T-Mobile USA,