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McGinnis v. United States Cold Storage

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

May 22, 2018



          John Robert Blakey United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Richard McGinnis sued his former employer Defendant United States Cold Storage for permitting a hostile work environment and engaging in race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. [34]. Defendant moved to dismiss. [38]. As explained below, this Court partially grants and partially denies the motion.

         I. The Complaint's Allegations

         Defendant provides temperature-controlled warehousing and transportation services nationwide. [34] ¶ 10. Plaintiff, an African-American man, began working for Defendant in April 2011 as part of a “transportation team, ” eventually becoming a transportation coordinator. Id. ¶¶ 8-9, 12. Plaintiff was the only black employee on his transportation team and his supervisor, Richard Beghy, was white. Id. ¶ 12.

         When Plaintiff started with Defendant, his team worked “together in one small room, ” where everyone could “hear everyone else's conversations.” Id. ¶13. Plaintiff claims that throughout his employment his coworkers and supervisors intentionally and regularly “embarrassed, ridiculed, insulted, and demeaned” him. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff alleges that when the team learned of his hiring, his coworker Annie commented-in front of Beghy-that there would be “chicken bones and watermelon rinds” in the parking lot. Id. ¶ 15.[1] During “the first six to nine months” after Plaintiff started work, another coworker, Pam, responded angrily whenever Plaintiff asked her to complete “overshortage damage reports” (OSD reports), which Pam was responsible for filling out if any driver came up with overages, shortages, or damage to any goods. Id. ¶ 18. Pam did not react negatively when white members of the team asked for OSD reports; Beghy observed Pam's hostility to Plaintiff and never reprimanded her. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. Ultimately, Plaintiff learned to complete OSD reports to avoid interacting with Pam. Id. ¶ 21.

         In early 2012, Plaintiff's coworker John yelled at Plaintiff to “keep his cotton picking hands off his fucking orders.” Id. ¶ 22. When Plaintiff told John not to speak to him that way, Beghy told Plaintiff to “settle down, ” but failed to reprimand John. Id. ¶ 23. That same year, Beghy began answering emails directed to Plaintiff on which he was copied. Id. ¶¶ 24-25. Beghy did not answer other team member's emails, and told Plaintiff he stepped in on his emails because Plaintiff did not have “enough intelligence or tact to respond professionally, ” and took too long to do so. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. Meanwhile, Plaintiff's coworkers often discussed the ongoing 2012 presidential campaign, making derogatory comments about President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and African-Americans generally. Id. ¶ 28. Beghy knew about these comments and never addressed them. Id. ¶ 29.

         At the end of 2012, Defendant moved to a new office where Plaintiff and his coworkers no longer worked in such close quarters. Id. ¶ 30. Plaintiff asked Defendant's transportation manager, Don Romniak, to seat him away from Pam or Annie. Id. ¶ 31. Romniak, who is white, granted Plaintiff's request but also asked Defendant “to install a window in his office” so he could “keep an eye on Plaintiff.” Id. ¶ 32. Plaintiff does not allege that Romniak got the window. Id.

         In 2013, an employee of one of Defendant's carrier companies asked Plaintiff why Defendant had not given the carrier more assignments. Id. ¶ 33. Plaintiff told the employee that Defendant's other carriers had better track records, and the employee responded with an email calling Plaintiff an “asshole.” Id. ¶¶ 33-34. Plaintiff responded-by email-calling the employee a “cry baby.” Id. ¶ 34. One of Plaintiff's coworkers then sent Plaintiff's email to Defendant's human resources representative, Nicole, omitting the initial insult from the carrier employee. Id. ¶ 37. Nicole sent the email to Defendant's General Manager, Gregg, and Plaintiff received a two-day suspension as a result. Id. ¶¶ 35-36. Both Nicole and Gregg are white. Id. ¶¶ 35, 36. Plaintiff became noticeably depressed following this suspension. Id. ¶¶ 38-40. Later that year, Plaintiff told Gregg he was upset about the suspension; Gregg told him to stop moping and be a good “boy.” Id. ¶ 40.

         At some point in 2014, Plaintiff put a sign in the break room asking employees to wash and refill the communal coffee pot when they finished the previous pot. Id. ¶ 42. For several months, Plaintiff would put up the sign and Annie would rip it down. Id. ¶¶ 42-43. Plaintiff reported this to Beghy and Romniak, who took no action until Plaintiff appealed to the Regional Manager, at which point Romniak announced to the team that the sign should stay up. Id. ¶¶ 43-46. Defendant never reprimanded Annie for her conduct, though Plaintiff “interpreted” her behavior as “predicated upon” his race. Id. ¶ 47.

         In April 2015, a carrier called Beghy to complain that Plaintiff failed to include the carrier in a certain email. Id. ¶ 48. Plaintiff had, in fact, included the carrier on the email, and, frustrated that the carrier waited to the end of the work day to raise the issue, exclaimed: “Why the fuck did he wait until the last minute to say something!” Id. ¶ 49. According to Plaintiff, Defendant's employees commonly used that profanity and no employee had ever been “severely disciplined” for it. Id. ¶¶ 50-52. Plaintiff's coworker John once used the term in an argument with a carrier and was suspended, but not fired. Id. ¶ 53. Annie complained about Plaintiff's language to Nicole, after which Romniak and Beghy gave Plaintiff a one-day suspension. Id. ¶¶ 54-55. During Plaintiff's suspension, [2] Nicole called and told him he was fired effective immediately. Id. ¶ 56. Before his termination, Plaintiff had never been disciplined for using inappropriate language, or subjected to “progressive discipline.” Id. ¶ 60-61.

         Plaintiff filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on May 24, 2016. Id. ¶ 5; [34-1] at 2. Plaintiff's EEOC charge alleged that Defendant discriminated against him because of his race, stating: “During my employment, I was subjected to different terms and conditions than non-black employees including, but not limited to, being suspended for foul language. On or about November 11, 2015, I was discharged.” [34-1] at 2.

         Plaintiff received his right-to-sue notice from the EEOC on June 13, 2016. [34] ¶ 5; [34-1] at 3. Plaintiff timely filed this suit on September 12, 2016. [34] ¶ 5; [1]. He amended his complaint in November 2017, [34], and Defendant moved to dismiss, [38].

         II. Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) “challenges the sufficiency of the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution Corp., 128 F.3d 1074, 1080 (7th Cir. 1997). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), giving the defendant “fair notice” of the claim “and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint must also contain “sufficient factual matter” to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at ...

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