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Pillows v. Cook County Rec of Deeds Office

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

June 18, 2019

KHESI PILLOWS and TIFFANY WILSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
COOK COUNTY RECORDER OF DEEDS OFFICE and COOK COUNTY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          Sidney I. Schenkier United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiffs Khesi Pillows and Tiffany Wilson are former employees of defendant Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office (the "Recorder's Office"). On November 13, 2018, plaintiffs filed a two-count complaint against the Recorder's Office and defendant Cook County, alleging that the Recorder's Office violated consent decrees entered in Shakman v. Democratic Organization of Cook County, No. 69 cv 2145 (N.D. 111.) (“Shakman Decrees")[2] and requesting indemnification from Cook County (doc. # 1: Compl.). On April 11, 2019, after obtaining an extension of time to respond, defendants moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint with prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (doc. # 12; doc. # 14: Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss).[3] Defendants' motion is now fully briefed. For the reasons set forth below, we grant defendants' motion to dismiss, but do so without prejudice.

         I.

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss challenges the sufficiency of a complaint. Bonnstetter v. City of Chicago, 811 F.3d 969, 973 (7th Cir. 2016). A complaint must contain enough information, in the form of "a short and plain statement of the claim," to give the defendant "fair notice" of the claim and its basis. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Notice alone, however, is insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss; a complaint must also "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, 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 570); Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728-29 (7th Cir. 2014). Indeed, "the Supreme Court's decisions in Twombly and Iqbal ushered in a requirement that civil pleadings demonstrate some merit or plausibility in complaint allegations to protect defendants from having to undergo costly discovery unless a substantial case is brought against them." United States v. Vaughn, 722 F.3d 918, 926 (7th Cir. 2013).

         "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. In determining the plausibility of a claim, a court must "accept as true all of the well-pleaded facts in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Kubiak v. City of Chicago, 810 F.3d 476, 480-81 (7th Cir. 2016). By contrast, a court does not consider "legal conclusions and conclusory allegations merely reciting the elements of the claim," as they "are not entitled to [the] presumption of truth." McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Seventh Circuit has interpreted the "plausibility" standard as requiring "a nonnegligible probability that the claim is valid[.]" In re Text Messaging Antitrust Litig., 630 F.3d 622, 629 (7th Cir. 2010). In applying this standard, a court must "draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         II.

         Plaintiffs allege the following in their complaint, and we accept as true all well-pleaded, non-conclusory allegations in deciding their motion to dismiss. See McCauley, 671 F.3d at 616. Ms. Pillows began working for the Recorder's Office in February 1999, and Ms. Wilson began working for the Recorder's Office in February 2001 (Compl., ¶¶ 9-10). At all relevant times, both plaintiffs were employed as a "Systems Analyst III" and performed their jobs according to the legitimate expectations of the Recorder's Office (Id., ¶¶ 5-6, 11-12).

         On November 6, 2012, Karen Yarbrough was elected Recorder of Deeds, and she took office in December 2012 (Compl., ¶ 14). The Recorder's Office believed that plaintiffs were politically affiliated with Eugene Moore, who preceded Ms. Yarbrough as Recorder of Deeds and who was also Ms. Pillows's godfather (Id., ¶ 13).[4] The Recorder's Office was further aware that plaintiffs were not politically affiliated with Ms. Yarbrough (Id., ¶ 22). Shortly after Ms. Yarbrough took office, Deputy Recorder of Deeds William Velazquez prepared a document indicating that the Recorder's Office should "Let go Tiffany Wilson . . ." and other individuals believed to be politically connected to Mr. Moore (Id., ¶ 15).[5]

         On or about August 1, 2016, Ms. Pillows was reassigned "again" on a temporary basis from her training coordinator duties to timekeeping duties (Compl., ¶ 16).[6] On November 28, 2016-the same day that Ms. Pillows's temporary reassignment ended-both plaintiffs were notified that their positions would be eliminated as of December 2, 2016 as part of a layoff (Id., ¶¶ 17, 18). Plaintiffs allege that their employment was terminated because they were not politically affiliated with Ms. Yarbrough and based on their perceived affiliation with Mr. Moore (Id., ¶¶ 23, 26, 27).

         Although the Recorder's Office stated that plaintiffs' layoffs were due to budgetary reasons, plaintiffs allege that this justification "was false and merely pretext for illegal discrimination" (Compl., ¶¶ 20, 21). The Recorder's Office hired at least two other individuals in October and November 2016 with salaries similar to plaintiffs' salaries (Id., ¶ 20). Moreover, plaintiffs were not given 30-days' notice for their layoffs as were all other individuals who were laid off in Cook County in 2016, and their supervisors were not notified of their layoffs (Id., ¶¶ 19-20). Each plaintiff also performed necessary and crucial tasks in their positions (Id., ¶ 20).

         Plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Cook County Inspector General's Office ("IGO") and received a decision from the IGO (Compl., ¶ 4)-plaintiffs' complaint here, however, does not disclose the results of the IGO investigation. Plaintiffs also completed the IGO's settlement procedure with the Recorder's Office, but the parties did not come to a resolution (Id.).

         III.

         Count I of plaintiffs' complaint alleges that the Recorder's Office violated the Shakman Decrees by terminating plaintiffs' employment based on their non-affiliation with Ms. Yarbrough, who was elected Recorder of Deeds in 2012, and their perceived affiliation with the previous Recorder of Deeds, Mr. Moore (Compl., ¶¶ 14, 25-28). Count II seeks indemnification from Cook County for damages resulting from the Shakman Decree violations committed ...


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