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Soto v. Yarbrough

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

August 5, 2019

JEANNETTE SOTO, Plaintiff,
v.
KAREN YARBROUGH, ERWIN ACOX, JR., COOK COUNTY REC OF DEEDS OFFICE, and COOK COUNTY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN Z. LEE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jeannette Soto has brought this lawsuit against Defendants Karen Yarbrough, Erwin Acox, Jr., and the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office (“the Recorder's Office”), and Cook County (“the County”), alleging that they discriminated and retaliated against her on the basis of her political affiliation, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Yarbrough has moved to dismiss Soto's amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied.

         Background[1]

         Soto began working as the Director of Human Resources at the Recorder's Office on October 31, 2016. Am. Compl. ¶ 12, ECF No. 18. At that time, Yarbrough was the elected Cook County Recorder of Deeds. Id. ¶ 8. Soto is not politically affiliated with Yarbrough. Id. ¶ 13.

         Soto reported to Acox, the Chief of Human Resources at the Recorder's Office. Id. ¶¶ 9, 15-19. She alleges that she experienced various difficulties in working with Acox; for example, Acox refused to act on a report Soto submitted about attendance policy violations by an employee who was politically connected to Yarbrough. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. According to Soto, Acox also excluded her from meetings and gave her poor performance reviews. Id. ¶¶ 17-20. After receiving a negative evaluation in March 2017, Soto complained to the Recorder Compliance Administrator (“RCA”)[2] that she believed she was being discriminated against because she was not politically affiliated with Yarbrough. Id. ¶¶ 18, 21.

         Later that month, Soto was asked to assist in hiring a new Director of Compliance for the Recorder's Office. Id. ¶ 22. Specifically, she was assigned the task of reviewing applicants and categorizing them as qualified or not qualified for the position. Id. ¶ 23. Acox was “not supposed to be involved” in this process because he was one of the people who would be interviewing candidates. Id.

         After Soto had compiled a list of qualified candidates, Acox asked to review the list and “check [her] work.” Id. ¶ 25. He then “indicated to [Soto] that there were a few candidates” she incorrectly categorized as not qualified. Id. Interviews were conducted on March 21, 2017, but Acox had to recuse himself from the process because he knew one or more of the candidates. Id. ¶ 26. After the interviews were completed, Soto was tasked with entering the candidates' names into a spreadsheet, in the order in which they had been ranked. Id. ¶ 27. Although he had recused himself from the interview process, Acox ordered Soto to show him the spreadsheet. Id.

         Yarbrough eventually selected Kevin Thomas for the Director of Compliance position on March 23, 2017. Id. ¶ 28. According to Soto, Acox knew Thomas personally. Id. Thomas was not the highest ranked candidate for the position, so Yarbrough was required to submit a statement as to why she had not chosen the first ranked candidate. Id. When Acox subsequently asked Soto to prepare an offer letter for Thomas, she told him she could not do so without Yarbrough's statement as to why Thomas had been selected. Id. ¶ 29.

         Soto also voiced concerns about Acox's participation in the hiring process to the RCA, who allegedly told her that Acox's involvement had been improper. Id. ¶ 30. Soto was then designated the Acting Head of the Human Resources Department and was asked to suspend the hiring process. Id. ¶ 31. The next day, on March 24, 2017, Acox and Yarbrough fired Soto, stating that she was an “at will employee, ” that it was “not working out, ” and that she was still within her six-month probationary period. Id. ¶ 32.

         Legal Standard

         Rule 8 provides that a complaint need only include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Additionally, when considering motions to dismiss, the Court accepts “all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and view[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Lavalais v. Vill. of Melrose Park, 734 F.3d 629, 632 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1027 (7th Cir. 2013)). At the same time, “allegations in the form of legal conclusions are insufficient to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.” McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., 694 F.3d 873, 885 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). As such, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of the cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Analysis

         I. Political ...


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