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Earl v. Jewel Food Stores Inc.

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

July 2, 2019

BILLY EARL, Plaintiff,


          Charles P. Kocoras United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant Jewel Food Stores, Inc.'s (“Jewel”) motion to dismiss Plaintiff Billy Earl's (“Earl”) amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Also before the Court is Defendant Highway Drivers, Dockmen, Spotters, Rampmen, Meat, Packing House, and Allied Products Drivers and Helpers, Officer Workers and Miscellaneous Employees Local Union No. 710's (“Local 710”) (collectively, “Defendants”) motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). For the following reasons, the Court grants both motions.


         For purposes of this motion, the Court accepts as true the following facts from the amended complaint. Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995). All reasonable inferences are drawn in Earl's favor. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008).

         Plaintiff Earl is an African American male who resides in Cook County, Illinois. From September 1988 until July 7, 2017, Earl was employed by Defendant Jewel, a supermarket chain with its principal place of business in Boise, Idaho. As part of his employment, Earl belonged to Local 710, the sole and exclusive bargaining agent of Jewel employees engaged in warehousing operations at Jewel's warehouses in Melrose Park, Illinois. At all relevant times, Earl's employment was governed by a collective bargaining agreement between Local 710 and Jewel.

         In his most recent role at Jewel, Earl worked in the Maintenance and Sanitation Department as a Recoup Worker in Melrose Park, Illinois. Stephen Cohen (“Cohen”), William Knedler (“Knedler”), and Fred Casey (“Casey”), all Caucasian men, were among Earl's supervisors.

         Between 2016 and 2017, Earl alleges that “Cohen regularly falsely accused Earl of sleeping on the job, being lazy, and not doing any work, and eating while working.” Earl noted that Cohen did not direct similar comments to non-African American employees.

         According to the amended complaint, Jewel employees were allowed to briefly leave the warehouse during winter months to heat up their cars before the end of their shift. Earl alleges that Cohen and Casey would admonish him for leaving to heat up his car but would not admonish non-African American employees that did so.

         Around 2016 or 2017, Earl's union representatives warned him that Knedler, Cohen, Casey, and other Jewel supervisors “were determined to force him out of his employment at Jewel.” Casey would allegedly ask Jewel managers during meetings when they intended to dismiss Earl. These collective activities led Earl to report racial discrimination to Local 710. However, according to the amended complaint, Local 710 did not investigate or take any further action regarding Earl's claims.

         Despite his concerns, Earl remained in Jewel's employ and subject to the collective bargaining agreement. According to the agreement, “union members had the right to take an extra day off if a holiday fell within the employee's vacation period, and the employee properly notified Jewel in advance of his intention to take the day off.” Earl regularly selected vacation and personal holidays that he wished to take off and would submit those dates to his supervisor for approval using the standard vacation request form. Earl indicated his intent to take an extra day off during a holiday period by indicating “Ex. Day” next to each relevant vacation week that he requested.

         In 2016, Earl attempted to utilize this policy to request off July 5, 2016, however, Jewel denied Earl's request. Unaware that his time off was not approved, Earl took off on July 5, 2016. Jewel issued Earl a warning for this incident because he did not call the company prior to his unapproved absence, which they considered a “No Call/No Show.”

         On February 1, 2017, Earl selected his vacation days for the year, including the week ending on June 2, 2017. As May 29, 2017 was a holiday, Earl elected to take off June 5, 2017 by marking “Ex. Day” on his vacation request form. According to the amended complaint, Knedler approved Earl's request on February 6, 2017. Jewel manager Dan Carol (“Carol”) gave Earl three photocopies of his approved vacation request form, signed by Knedler.

         Earl did not show up for work on June 5, 2017, believing that his requested time off was approved. The following day at work, Earl was called into a meeting with Jewel employees Gary Michelini (“Michelini”) and Chuck Blanton (“Blanton”) and Local 710 representative Al Wiegel (“Wiegel”) to discuss his absence, which they characterized as his second “No Call/No Show.”

         On June 16, 2017, Earl attended another meeting with Local 710 representative Jimmy Bradford (“Bradford”), Knedler, and Jewel employee Chris Herrick (“Herrick”). At the meeting, Knedler claimed that he did not authorize Earl's time off on June 5, 2017. In response, Earl produced a copy of the approved vacation request form that Casey handed to him in February. Knedler claimed that the original document in his office did not match Earl's copy. Bradford viewed the document in Knedler's office and “informed Earl that parts of it appeared to have been erased using a correction fluid or similar material.”

         On June 29, 2017, Jewel suspended Earl without pay and accused him of falsifying a company record. On July 7, 2017, Jewel terminated Earl's employment, causing Local 710 to file a grievance on Earl's behalf. The grievance proceeded to arbitration on July 13, 2018, during which attorney Laurence Goodman (“Goodman”) represented Local 710.

         On September 26, 2018, arbitrator Brian Clauss (“Clauss”) issued a decision denying Local 710's grievance of Earl's termination. Clauss concluded that the accurate copy of the approved vacation request form was that produced by Knedler, not the copy produced by Earl. On November 28, 2018, Local 710 mailed a copy of the arbitration decision to Earl. Earl asked to return to his job at Jewel or a substantially similar position in February 2019, but he has not been re-hired.

         While the grievance process progressed, Earl filed a charged against Jewel and Local 710 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on April 3, 2018, claiming race discrimination. On September 24, 2018, the EEOC issued Earl a right to sue letter regarding his charges against Jewel. On February 5, 2019, the EEOC did the same regarding Earl's charges against Local 710. Earl filed a second charge with the EEOC on December 18, 2018, alleging continued retaliation and age discrimination. The EEOC issued Earl a third right to sue letter for the claims in his second charge on February 14, 2019.

         Based on these events, Earl filed his initial complaint on December 18, 2018, alleging various counts of racial discrimination, retaliation, breach of duty of fair representation, and breach of collective bargaining agreement, among others. Earl amended his complaint on April 12, 2019 to include additional claims of race and age discrimination. On May 2, 2019, Jewel filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The following day, Local 710 filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).

         LEGAL ...

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