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Mehrberg v. Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity

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

June 13, 2019

JILL MEHRBERG, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE & ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jill Mehrberg brings this action against the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (“the Department”) for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12112, et seq. (Count I); the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. (Count II); and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Count III). Currently before the Court is the Department's motion to dismiss [26] the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons explained below, the Court denies the motion [26]. This case is set for further status on June 27, 2019 at 9:00 a.m.

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff served as the Managing Director, Performance Management in the Department's Office of Accountability at the time of her termination on April 8, 2016. [22, ¶¶ 9, 25.] She joined the Department in or about May 2009 as Deputy Director of the Department's Bureau of Technology and Industrial Competitiveness. [Id. ¶¶ 6, 7.] She moved from that position to her final position in or about September 2011. [Id. ¶ 9.] Plaintiff asserts that she met the Department's legitimate performance expectations at all times relevant to her claims. [Id. ¶ 10.]

         Plaintiff further alleges that her treatment and recovery from breast cancer has left her with disabilities as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act and that the Department never fulfilled her reasonable requests for accommodation in light of those disabilities. [Id. ¶¶ 11-20.] Plaintiff also claims that the Department “intentionally micro-managed her movements - including but not limited to monitoring her comings and goings, including breaks, bathroom breaks, meal times, and authorized medical appointments.” [Id. ¶ 21.] Plaintiff asserts that none of her similarly-situated peers or other Department employees who do not suffer from disabilities were subject to this treatment or monitoring. [Id. ¶ 21.] Plaintiff also alleges that the Department harassed her for making the requests for reasonable accommodations by pejoratively referring to her as an “entitled” and “privileged” employee. [Id. ¶ 22.] Finally, starting in or about January 2016, Plaintiff alleges that the Department began taking away her job duties (1) because of her disabilities, requests for accommodations, and age in an attempt to get her to quit and (2) in retaliation for exercising her legal rights. [Id. ¶ 23.] In March 2016, Plaintiff complained yet again about the Department's failure to reasonably accommodate her. [Id. ¶ 24.] On April 8, 2016, the Department fired her. [Id. ¶ 25.]

         Plaintiff subsequently filed a charge with the Equal Employer Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), which mailed Plaintiff her right to sue letter on February 20, 2018. [Id. ¶¶ 28-29]; [27-1, at 1]. The EEOC also sent the Department a copy of the letter. [27-1, at 1.] Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit on March 21, 2018. [1.] In her initial complaint, Plaintiff named the State of Illinois (“the State”), rather than the Department, as the only defendant and alleged that her treatment by the State/Department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12112, et seq. (“the ADA”); Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. (“the ADEA”); and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”). See generally [1].

         The State moved to dismiss the initial complaint, asserting that it was the improper defendant. See generally [9]. On December 12, 2018, the Court granted the State's motion [9] and dismissed the complaint against the State with prejudice. [20.] The Court concluded that the Department, rather than the State, had actual hiring and firing responsibility and was therefore the proper defendant. [20, at 7.] However, the Court also granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint against the Department. [Id. at 7.]

         Thus, on January 13, 2019, Plaintiff filed her amended complaint against the Department. [22, ¶ 3.] On March 1, 2019, the Department moved to dismiss on the ground that Plaintiff did not file her complaint against the Department within the applicable statute of limitations. [26, at I, 3.] With that motion, the Department also submitted the EEOC's right to sue letter, which named the Department as respondent, and not the State. [27-1, at 1.][2] The motion having been fully briefed, the Court now resolves the motion.

         II. Standard

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), such that the defendant is given “fair notice of what the * * * claim is 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)) (alteration in original). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the “speculative level.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S at 555). Dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558. In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all of Plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor. Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007). Evaluating whether a claim is sufficiently plausible to survive a motion to dismiss is “‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” McCauley v. City of Chi., 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         III. Analysis

         The Department asserts that Plaintiff failed to properly name and bring her claim against it within the relevant statute of limitations. [27, at 3.] To file a complaint under the ADA or Title VII, a plaintiff must first file a written charge of discrimination with the EEOC and then file her lawsuit within 90 days after receiving the EEOC's right to sue letter. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5; 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a) (incorporating § 2000e-5). Likewise, under the ADEA, a plaintiff has 90 days to file her lawsuit after the EEOC notifies her that it has completed its investigation into her claims. 29 U.S.C. § 626.

         Here, the EEOC mailed Plaintiff's right to sue letter, which named the Department, on February 20, 2018. [27-1, at 1.] Plaintiff filed her initial complaint against the State on March 21, 2018, well within the 90-day statute of limitations period. See generally [1]. However, Plaintiff did not name the Department as a Defendant until she filed her amended complaint on January 13, 2019, almost a year after she received her right to sue letter. See generally [22]. The Department argues that Plaintiff's claims against it are therefore barred as untimely.

         In response, Plaintiff argues that her amended complaint “relates back” to her initial complaint under Rule 15(c). A pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading “in several circumstances, including when ‘the party to be brought in by the amendment: (i) received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits; and (ii) knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party's identity.” Joseph v. Elan ...


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