United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Castillo Chief Judge
Bear ("Plaintiff) filed this action against the
University of Chicago ("University") and Jeff Mason
("Mason"), the parent of a University football
player, based on events precipitated by a confrontation
between Plaintiff and Mason. (R. 1, Compl.) Plaintiff brings
two claims against the University: (1) a claim of gender
discrimination in employment under Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.,
and (2) a premises-liability claim. (Id.
¶¶ 45-60.) The University moves to dismiss
Plaintiffs premises-liability claim pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (R. 17, Mot.) For the reasons
stated below, the Court grants the University's motion.
2016, Plaintiff was hired by the University as an assistant
football coach. (R. 1, Compl. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff alleges
that when he was recruited for the position, he was told by
the University's head football coach, Chris Wilkerson
("Wilkerson"), that the University had a
"strong athletic department" and that Plaintiff
"had the support of an 'up and coming athletic
director.'" (Id. ¶ 9.) To entice
Plaintiff to accept the position, Wilkerson allegedly made
multiple statements to Plaintiff describing the
University's "commitment to excellence" and
"desire to have a winning football team."
(Id. ¶ 10.)
taking the position, Plaintiff realized that the
University's athletic director, Erin McDermott
("McDermott"), allegedly had "little interest
in either treating male coaches fairly or building a strong
football team." (Id. ¶ 12.) Instead,
Plaintiff alleges, McDermott and the University were
principally interested in the profit to be gained from the
football program. (Id. ¶ 14.) To that end,
McDermott allegedly encouraged unruly "tailgates"
before and during University football games. (Id.
¶¶ 15-19.) According to Plaintiff, McDermott
directed for tables and tents to be set out around the
University football field on game days-specifically, on 56th
Street and its surrounding sidewalks in the Hyde Park
neighborhood of Chicago. (Id. ¶ 15.) At these
tailgates, students, alumni, and parents of students
allegedly drank alcohol excessively and without restriction.
(Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Plaintiff claims that the
excessive drinking at tailgates led to dangerous incidents.
(Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff alleges that on one
occasion, for example, some parents of University students
began shouting racial slurs at some other parents and a fight
almost broke out. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges
that the football coaching staff expressed concerns about the
danger posed by the tailgates, but McDermott and the
University failed to take any action or put security measures
in place at the tailgates. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.)
is the parent of a University football player. (Id.
¶ 20.) Plaintiff alleges that Mason had a history of
disruptive behavior during University tailgates, including
"excessive drinking, personal insults, and complaints
and threats against the coaching staff for refusing to allow
his son to play more during games." (Id.
¶¶ 21-22.) Plaintiff further claims that Mason
would "regularly email other parents of students and
express frustration and disappointment with the football
coaching staff." (Id. ¶ 23.) Mason also
allegedly "made repeated complaints throughout the 2016
football season to other parents regarding both [Plaintiff]
and the other members of the coaching staff, blaming the
team's inability to win every game on poor coaching and
their refusal to play Mason's son more often."
(Id. ¶ 24.) According to Plaintiff, "some
of the students' parents began avoiding Mason given his
tendency to get drunk and unruly at tailgates and engage in
derogatory treatment of the football coaching staff."
(Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff alleges that he,
Wilkerson, and other members of the football coaching staff
repeatedly expressed their concerns and frustrations
regarding Mason to both McDermott and the University.
(Id. ¶ 26.)
November 12, 2016, Mason attended the 56th Street tailgate
during a football game between the University and Washington
University. (Id. ¶¶ 28-30.) Mason
allegedly drank excessive amounts of alcohol and became
increasingly disorderly. (Id. ¶ 30.) After the
game, Plaintiff was in a restricted section of the football
stadium with other coaches, players, and members of his
family. (Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff alleges that
Mason was belligerently shouting at University employees to
be let into the stadium and, because there was no security at
the football game, was able to force his way into the
restricted section. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33.)
Plaintiff claims that Mason then violently grabbed him by the
wrist, spun him around, and began yelling at him.
(Id. ¶ 34.) According to Plaintiff, Mason
shouted several derogatory remarks regarding Plaintiffs
management and coaching of the football team, such as
"You don't care about the players!"
(Id. ¶ 35.) Plaintiff alleges that he
"verbally defended himself from Mason's remarks,
while reasonably believing he was being attacked and
assaulted." (Id. ¶ 36.) Plaintiff then
left the restricted area and returned to his office.
(Id. ¶ 37.) After waiting in his office for
someone from the athletic department to come speak to him
about the incident, Plaintiff went home. (Id.
November 14, 2016, two days after the confrontation between
Plaintiff and Mason, McDermott informed Plaintiff that the
University was placing him on "investigative
suspension." (Id. ¶ 41.) Plaintiff alleges
that, during its investigation, the University received an
email from another parent that described Mason's
"long, violent history of. . . behavior at football
games and his history of harassing other parents, students,
and football coaches." (Id. ¶ 42.)
Plaintiff claims that other parents and coaches voiced
support for him as well and acknowledged to the University
that Mason assaulted Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 43.)
Despite this support, the University ultimately offered
Plaintiff a choice between resigning or having his employment
terminated. (Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff elected to
resign "under duress," rather than be fired, in
order to protect his effort to find other employment.
brings federal and state-law claims against both the
University and Mason based on what transpired. In Count I,
Plaintiff claims that by terminating his employment in
response to the altercation, the University discriminated
against him on the basis of his gender in violation of Title
VII. (Id. ¶¶ 45-50.) Plaintiff alleges
generally that the University has a "pattern of treating
male coaches differently than female coaches."
(Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff claims more specifically
that similarly situated female coaches and other University
employees were treated less harshly when involved in
altercations, disputes, and assaults. (Id. ¶
48.) As an example, Plaintiff asserts that female coach Amy
Reifert was involved in a "loud verbal incident"
during the 2015-2016 school year, but that this resulted only
in a policy change rather than termination of her employment.
(Id. ¶ 13.)
Count II, Plaintiff asserts a premises-liability claim
against the University under Illinois law. (Id.
¶¶ 51-60.) Plaintiff alleges that the University
encouraged and facilitated the tailgates, had a duty of
reasonable care to ensure the safety of students, alumni,
parents, and employees after inviting them onto the campus,
and breached its duty of reasonable care by "allowing
and encouraging unruly tailgates with no security" and
"failing to ensure a safe work environment for its
staff." (Id. ¶¶ 53-57.) Because the
University breached its duty of reasonable care, Plaintiff
alleges, Mason was "able to access the restricted area
of the football stadium where he assaulted [Plaintiff],"
and Plaintiff suffered physical, economic, and emotional
damages as a result. (Id. ¶¶ 58-60.)
Against Mason, Plaintiff asserts claims for assault (Count
III), battery (Count IV), tortious interference with business
contracts (Count V), and defamation (Count VI).
September 8, 2017, Plaintiff filed this suit against the
University and Mason. (R. 1, Compl.) On November 7, 2017, the
University filed its present motion to dismiss. (R. 17, Mot.)
The University contends that Plaintiffs premises-liability
claim should be dismissed on either of two independent
grounds: (1) the claim is preempted by the Illinois
Workers' Compensation Act ("IWCA"), which
provides the exclusive remedy for alleged employer negligence
against employees; and (2) under the no-duty rule, the
University cannot be held liable for the alleged criminal
actions of a third party. (Id. ¶¶ 2-4; R.
18, Mem. at 1-2.)
response, Plaintiff argues that the IWCA does not preempt his
premises-liability claim because the University is liable to
him in a dual capacity: both as his employer and as a
business invitor. (R. 33, Resp. at 3-5.) Plaintiff further
argues that the University can be held liable for the
criminal actions of a third party because, by hosting
tailgates, the University created a "volatile
environment." (Id. at 5.)