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Bear v. Mason

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

July 20, 2018

JOHN BEAR, Plaintiff,


          Ruben Castillo Chief Judge

         John 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.


         In June 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.)

         After 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.)

         Mason 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.)

         On 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. ¶¶ 38-40.)

         On 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. (Id.)

         Plaintiff 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.)

         In 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).[2] (Id.¶¶ 61-85.)


         On 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.)

         In 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.)

         LEGAL ...

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