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Helms v. Village of Clarendon Hills

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

June 7, 2019

TODD HELMS, Plaintiff,
v.
VILLAGE OF CLARENDON HILLS, ILLINOIS, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SARA L. ELLIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Todd Helms, a retired police officer for Defendant Village of Clarendon Hills, Illinois (the “Village”) and a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, claims that the Village discriminated against him based on his military service. After retiring from the police force, Helms filed this suit claiming the Village violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”), 38 U.S.C. § 4301 et seq.[1]The Village has moved to dismiss Helms' complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Although the Court does not find that the statute of limitations or laches bars any of Helms' claims at this time, Helms has not sufficiently alleged that he experienced adverse employment actions in March 2008, May 2011, or April 2013 so as to pursue a discrimination claim based on these events. Helms has also failed to sufficiently allege that the Village subjected him to a hostile work environment. But, drawing all reasonable inferences in Helms' favor, the remaining alleged discrete adverse actions taken by the Village suffice to allow him to base his discrimination claims on such conduct.

         BACKGROUND [2]

         Helms served as an active member of the United States Army. Around 2000, he transitioned from active to reserve duty. At the same time, Helms began employment as a police officer for the Village. The Village knew of his military service. But the Village attempted to interfere with his commitment to the Army and dissuade him from continuing in the reserves.

         Specifically, in March 2008, after Helms appeared on a military deployment mobilization list, the Village informed Helms that the police department was “short staffed” and that, by going on a deployment, Helms would “screw[ ] over all of [his] co-workers and the Village.” Doc. 1 ¶ 14. The Village chief of police also demanded that Helms ask Senator Dick Durbin, one of the U.S. Senators for Illinois, to cause the Army to rescind the deployment order. The chief of police also threatened that, if Helms deployed, he would lose out on a promotion opportunity. Helms, “[u]nder duress, ” caused himself to be removed from the deployment list. Id.

         Subsequently, in May 2011, a Village employee mocked Helms for participating in reserve weekend drills. In April 2013, the Village required him to return to work within ninety days after Helms returned from a military deployment. At the time he returned, Helms learned that the Village had deprived him of seniority credits and benefits during his deployment. In December 2013, the Village removed Helms from his position as a field training officer after he participated in a twenty-one-day military war exercise. Several years later, in the spring and summer of 2016, Sergeant Wendy Porter informed Helms during his annual review that he could improve by serving the police department in another area of specialty. Helms then volunteered to go to juvenile officer training, but the Village denied Helms the opportunity to do so. Sergeant Porter informed Helms that the Village would not send him to more training while he remained in the military.

         In December 2018, Helms retired from his position with the Village. At that time, he learned that the Village would not monetarily compensate him for his accrued time. This time amounted to approximately 1160 hours and had a value of approximately $19, 000.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor. AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer, 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must not only provide the defendant with fair notice of a claim's basis but must also be facially plausible. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         ANALYSIS

         USERRA prohibits employment discrimination against military service members, providing that members “shall not be denied initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion, or any benefit of employment by an employer on the basis of that membership, application for membership, performance of service, application for service, or obligation.” 38 U.S.C. § 4311(a). A benefit of employment means “the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, including any advantage, profit, privilege, gain, status, account, or interest (including wages or salary for work performed) that accrues by reason of an employment contract or agreement or an employer policy, plan, or practice.” 38 U.S.C. § 4303(2). Section 4316, which Helms cites as the basis for his claims, establishes the rights of service members absent from their employment while fulfilling their service obligations.[3] It includes a provision that a person reemployed subject to USERRA “is entitled to the seniority and other rights and benefits determined by seniority that the person had on the date of the commencement of service in the uniformed services plus the additional seniority and rights and benefits that such person would have attained if the person had remained continuously employed.” 38 U.S.C. § 4316(a). A plaintiff states a USERRA discrimination claim by alleging that his employer subjected him to an adverse employment action for which the plaintiff's military service was a motivating factor. 38 U.S.C. § 4311(c); Staub v. Proctor Hosp., 562 U.S. 411, 416-17, 131 S.Ct. 1186, 179 L.Ed.2d 144 (2011).

         Helms appears to claim that the Village acted to prevent Helms and other employees from fulfilling their military service commitments during their employment with the Village, took adverse employment actions against him, and subjected him to a hostile work environment because of his military service. The Village argues that Helms cannot pursue any claims for violations of USERRA that occurred prior to October 2008, that laches bars claims based on conduct through 2013, and that Helms has failed to allege an actionable adverse employment action or a hostile work environment. The Court addresses these arguments in turn.

         I. Statute of Limitations and Laches

         First, the Village asks the Court to dismiss Helms' claims to the extent he bases them on actions taking place before October 2008, including the allegation that, in March 2008, the Village demanded that Helms seek removal from the military deployment mobilization list. Prior to October 2008, a four-year statute of limitations applied to USERRA claims. See Middleton v. City of Chicago, 578 F.3d 655, 657-62 (7th Cir. 2009) (concluding that the four-year statute of limitations in 28 U.S.C. § 1658 applied to USERRA upon its enactment). But on October 10, 2008, the Veterans Benefit Improvement Act (“VBIA”) went into effect, eliminating a limitations period for USERRA claims. 38 U.S.C. § 4327(b); Middleton, 578 F.3d at 662. The VBIA's elimination of the limitations period does not apply retroactively to claims that had expired before the VBI's enactment, i.e. those based on conduct that occurred before October 2004. Middleton, 578 F.3d at 662-65. But Middleton left open the question of “whether § 4327(b) applies retroactively to a claim that accrued within the four years preceding the VBIA.” Id. at 663. Those courts to consider the question have concluded that the VBIA applies to USERRA claims that would have been timely at the time of the VBIA's enactment. See Andritzky v. Concordia Univ. Chicago, No. 09 C 6633, 2010 WL 1474582, at *4-5 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 8, 2010); see also Cabrera v. Perceptive Software, LLC, 147 F.Supp.3d 1247, 1251-52 (D. Kan. Dec. 2, 2015) (“Plaintiff's USERRA claims are not time-barred because the enactment of the VBIA eliminated the limitations period for Plaintiff's claims before those claims became untimely.”). Although the parties have not addressed this aspect of the timeliness issue, ...


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