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Tapia v. City of Chicago

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

August 7, 2019

Melissa Tapia, Plaintiff,
City of Chicago, a municipal corporation, and Lt. Paul Mack and Sgt. Eduardo Beltran, in their individual capacities, Defendants.



         Officer Melissa Tapia brings this action against the City of Chicago, Sergeant Eduardo Beltran, and Lieutenant Paul Mack for sex discrimination in connection with her training in the Chicago Police Department Special Function Division's Marine Unit. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss all claims. For the following reasons, the defendants' motion is denied.

         Legal Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the “sufficiency of the complaint.” Berger v. Nat. Collegiate Athletic Assoc., 843 F.3d 285, 289 (7th Cir. 2016). A complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), sufficient to provide defendant with “fair notice” of the claim and the basis for it. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While “detailed factual allegations” are not required, “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “‘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.'” Boucher v. Fin. Sys. of Green Bay, Inc., 880 F.3d 362, 366 (7th Cir. 2018) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In applying this standard, the Court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Tobey v. Chibucos, 890 F.3d 634, 646 (7th Cir. 2018).


         Officer Melissa Tapia has been a member of the Chicago Police Department since 2002. R. 30 ¶ 27. From 2004 until 2018, Tapia worked in the Juvenile Intervention Center and the Missing Persons Unit. Id. ¶ 28. In 2009 and in 2014, Tapia unsuccessfully applied to join the Marine Unit, one of the four units of the CPD's Special Functions Division (the other three units include the Helicopter Unit, the Bomb Squad, and SWAT). Id. ¶¶ 6-8. In June 2018, Tapia was selected from a promotions list to begin training with the Marine Unit. Id. ¶ 31. Tapia is an experienced diver and has several certifications, including as a rescue diver. Id. ¶ 30.

         During Tapia's training, Lieutenant Paul Mack served as the acting commanding officer and officer Eduardo Beltran led the training class. Id. ¶ 13. The class included 15 officers, 13 men and two women, very few of whom had dive training. Id. ¶ 33. Five candidates dropped out of training in the first few weeks. Id. ¶ 36. During the fourth week, Beltran administrated a mandatory swim test that required trainees to pull themselves out of deep water onto a pool deck (known as the “pool exit test”). Id. ¶ 37. Tapia could not pull herself out of the water. Id. After the failed test, Beltran ridiculed Tapia in front of Mack and several other officers, accusing her of being weak and needing to do pushups. Id. ¶ 38. Beltran gave Tapia one week to pass the test, which was required to receive an interview for the Unit. Id. ¶¶ 37, 38.

         Tapia completed the pool exit test the following week, but Beltran and Mack determined she did not exit quickly enough. Id. ¶ 39. Mack told Tapia: “That looked like shit, I should send you back. You should have more strength. Why are you so weak?” Id. ¶ 39. Tapia again completed the pool exit test the following week, at which time Beltran stopped conducting the test for all trainees. Id. ¶ 40. Nevertheless, Beltran required Tapia, and no one else, to perform the test throughout the training. Id. ¶ 41. Meanwhile, Beltran permitted a male trainee to complete the lifeguard portion of the training even though he could not perform the required 600-meter swim or pick up a brick from the bottom of the pool. Id. ¶ 55.

         Tapia alleges that Beltran routinely singled her out and humiliated her in front of the class. Specifically, Beltran berated Tapia for minor mistakes but did not do the same to male trainees; blamed Tapia for the male officers' mistakes; required Tapia and the other female trainee (but not the male trainees) to clean, set up, and keep track of his dive equipment; and yelled at the female trainees for asking questions or seeking clarification. Id. ¶¶ 43, 44, 52, 53.

         Tapia alleges her experience is an example of the CPD Special Function Division's customarily hostile treatment of women. In addition to being singled out, humiliated, and held to a different standard than the male trainees, Tapia contends the Marine Unit officers would routinely ogle women in swimsuits and take photographs of them on the beach. Id. ¶ 56. Tapia also alleges the CPD provided her with defective equipment and inadequate training facilities. Specifically, the facility where the trainees swam had only one women's changing room, which the male trainees used for bowel movements, causing Tapia and the other female trainee to be late for training sessions. Id. ¶ 46. The CPD also did not provide appropriately sized dry suits for women, forcing Tapia and the other female trainee to either share a suit or wear suits that were too large. Id. ¶¶ 48-49. Finally, the Marine Unit boats did not have bathrooms or separate changing areas, creating problems for Tapia during her menstrual period and requiring her and the other female trainee to go hours without relieving themselves. Id. ¶¶ 57-58.

         In December 2018, Mack informed the nine remaining trainees that he would invite them all to join the Marine Unit pending an ice dive. Id. ¶ 60. Tapia could not complete the dive on her first two tries because of her large and leaking dry suit. Id. ¶¶ 61, 63. Tapia failed the test two more times before she eventually completed the dive. Id. ¶¶ 64-67. While many of the trainees struggled to pass the ice dive test, Beltran made only Tapia write memos about her mistakes. Id. ¶ 68.

         In January 2019, Beltran invented an ad hoc test that required the trainees to pull themselves out of the training pool in their dry suits. Id. ¶ 71. Tapia's oversized dry suit filled with water rendering her unable to complete the test. Id. ¶ 70.

         Three weeks later, Beltran terminated Tapia's detail in the Marine Unit, citing concerns over her ice dive in December. Id. ¶ 74. On the same day, Mack told Tapia she had been terminated because of her trouble removing herself from the water. Id. ¶ 75. Tapia responded that she never had trouble getting onto boats, but Mack told her the issue was the pool. Id. Tapia returned to her previously assigned unit the following Monday. Id. ¶ 77.

         Tapia brings this action for sex-based discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1893 and equal protection (Count I against the City of Chicago and Count II against Beltran and Mack), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) (Counts IV and V against the City of Chicago), and the Illinois Civil Rights Act, 740 ILCS 23/5 (Count III against the City of Chicago). The defendants now move to dismiss Tapia's complaint.


         I. Section 1983 Equal Protection ...

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