United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. Chang Judge.
Tiffany Taylor worked as the Executive Secretary for Country
Club Hills School District 160’s Board of Education. In
2017, Taylor complained that Board members subjected her to
abusive treatment. A year later, the District fired Taylor.
She now brings a civil rights lawsuit, 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
against several defendants: the District; the Board; the
District’s Human Resources Director, Tracy
Lett-Foreman; the Board’s President, Tamara Young; and
individual Board members Margo Brown, Jacqueline Doss,
Michael Humphrey, and Barbara Swain. R. 1,
Compl. Specifically, Taylor alleges that the
Defendants violated her right to free speech under the First
Amendment and her right to due process under the Fourteenth
Amendment. The Defendants have moved to dismiss. R. 28,
Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss. For the reasons set forth below,
the Court grants the motion to dismiss, dismissing both
claims, though without prejudice for now.
purposes of this motion, the Court accepts as true the
allegations in the Complaint. Erickson v. Pardus,
551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Taylor started working for the
District as a School Secretary at Meadowview School in 2011.
Compl. ¶ 13. A few years later, in 2014, she became the
Executive Secretary to the Board. Id. According to
Taylor, the Board members disrespected, intimidated, and
harassed her on numerous occasions. Id.; see
also R. 28-1, Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss, Exh. A, 9/6/17
Letter at 1. Jacqueline Doss verbally
“attacked” Taylor; Barbara Swain belittled her;
and Margo Brown insulted her appearance. Id. In
September 2017, Taylor wrote a letter to Tracy Lett-Foreman,
the District’s Director of Human Resources, detailing
these alleged abuses. Compl. ¶ 14; 9/6/17 Letter at 1.
At the end of the letter, Taylor asked Lett-Foreman to place
the letter in Taylor’s personnel file and declared that
she would file a formal complaint if the abusive behavior did
not end. 9/6/17 Letter at 1-2.
abuse continued. So, a few months later, in March 2018,
Taylor wrote another letter, this time to Interim
Superintendent Dr. Griff Powell, informing the Board that the
abuses of its members made her working conditions unbearable
and that she was resigning from her position, effective June
30, 2018. Compl. ¶ 16. Meanwhile, on April 10, 2018,
Powell met with Taylor to discuss two emails that Taylor had
sent to Board President Tamara Young. Id. ¶ 18.
Powell said that Taylor had referred to Young with “a
name that Powell deemed to be disrespectful.”
Id. Taylor apologized for the emails during their
discussion. Id. After that discussion, Powell
emailed Taylor with an instruction to stop using similar
labels when addressing Board members. Id. Later that
same day, Taylor also apologized to Young for the emails and
explained that the offense was inadvertent. Id.
after her conversation with Young, Taylor arrived at a Board
meeting to take the meeting’s minutes. Compl. ¶
20. After a 2½-hour closed session, Taylor was asked
to come into the meeting room. Id. Without any prior
notice, Taylor was questioned by several Board members about
the emails again. Id. Although Taylor tried to offer
an explanation, the District’s Business Manager, Kenya
Austin, shouted at Taylor and then left the room.
Id. Then Lett-Foreman (the Human Resources Director)
began making faces behind Taylor’s back, and
Lett-Foreman was eventually asked to leave the room.
Id. After Taylor finished apologizing to the Board,
Taylor too left the room. Id.
then came out of the room and told Taylor that Board
President Young and Board Members Margo Brown, Jacqueline
Doss, Michael Humphrey, and Barbara Swain had voted to
suspend her without pay until June 30, 2018. Compl. ¶
21. Two days later, Powell told Taylor that her employment
would not be “renewed” for the 2018-2019
schoolyear. Id. Before April 10, 2018 (the date that
Powell confronted Taylor about the disrespectful emails),
Taylor had not received any disciplinary write-ups, and all
of her performance evaluations were overwhelmingly positive.
Id. ¶ 17.
lawsuit, Taylor alleges that the Defendants violated her
freedom of speech when they suspended her without pay for
complaining about the Board members’ abuse, and that
the Defendants violated her procedural due process rights by
failing to give her a fair and objective hearing. The
Defendants have moved to dismiss the claims, Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6), and also seek dismissal of Lett-Foreman because she
was not personally involved in the alleged violations.
Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss.
Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint
generally 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). This short and plain
statement must “give the defendant fair notice of what
the … claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 545 (2007) (alteration in original) (cleaned
The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule
“reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is
intended to focus litigation on the merits of a claim rather
than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of
court.” Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th
Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534
U.S. 506, 514 (2002)) (cleaned up).
motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the
complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of
Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009).
“[A] complaint must 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). These allegations
“must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
The allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth
are those that are factual, rather than mere legal
conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.
establish a claim for retaliation in violation of the First
Amendment, a public employee first must prove that her speech
is constitutionally protected.” Forgue v. City of
Chicago, 873 F.3d 962, 966 (7th Cir. 2017). For a public
employee’s speech to be protected under the First
Amendment, the employee must establish (1) that she spoke as
a citizen; and (2) addressed a matter of public concern.
Id.; Kubiak v. City of Chicago, 810 F.3d
476, 487 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Garcetti v.
Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 418 (2006)). Only the second
element is at issue here. Whether speech is a matter of
public concern depends on its content, form, and context.
Kubiak, 810 F.3d at 483 (quoting Connick v.
Meyers, 461 U.S. 138, 147–48 (1983)). The relevant
question is “whether the objective of the speech-as