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Washington v. Magna Exteriors

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

October 4, 2019

Dominic Washington, Plaintiff,
Magna Exteriors, et al., Defendants.



         For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion for partial judgment on the pleadings [26] is denied.


         Plaintiff, Dominic Washington, brings this action against defendant, Nascote Industries, Inc., his former employer, alleging race discrimination (Count I) and retaliation (Count II) in violation of 42 U.S.C § 1981, race discrimination (Count III) and retaliation (Count IV) in violation of Title VII (“Title VII”) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, breach of contract (Count V), promissory estoppel (Count VI), negligent retention (Count VII), violation of ERISA (Count VIII) and violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 740 ILCS 174/15 (Count IX). The court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331and 1367(a). Defendant moves [26] for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) on all but the Count VIII ERISA claim.

         The facts are taken from plaintiff's amended complaint. Plaintiff is an African-American man who worked for defendant from December 12, 2016 until September 28, 2017 when his employment was terminated. Plaintiff was hired by defendant for a position as an assembly process engineering manager. All plaintiff's pre-employment interviews were by phone. Defendant was not aware plaintiff was African-American until he started work. Plaintiff was the only African-American employee in his department. In May 2017, plaintiff's direct supervisor, Martin Tremonti, demoted plaintiff to an inferior non-degree position as a production manager. The demotion substantially reduced plaintiff's job responsibilities. In his original position he supervised five to eight engineers and was involved in implementing new processes and Professionally-fulfilling technical discussions. After his demotion, he was required to perform demeaning tasks for long periods of time. Prior to his demotion he worked approximately 50 hours per week. After his demotion, he was forced to work for more than 80 hours per week and for several weeks without a day off.

         Throughout his employment with defendant, plaintiff was subjected to racial discrimination, alienation, and humiliation. Tremonti, his supervisor, consistently used racial slurs in reference to plaintiff. On one occasion he referred to plaintiff as “Tiger Woods” in a demeaning manner. At other times he asked plaintiff if he wore a “do-rag”. Plaintiff was treated differently than his white counterparts. He was denied access to professional training opportunities that similarly situated white employees had access to, even after plaintiff requested such access. Tremonti offered plaintiff's white counterparts five to seven days to relocate their families but plaintiff was only given one day to relocate his family from Indiana to Illinois. Plaintiff was subjected to humiliation when he was instructed by Tremonti to wipe down the facility, mop floors, paint bins and carts in his professional attire. Tremonti did not subject plaintiff's similarly situated white counterparts to this humiliation. Plaintiff was subjected to unequal, discriminatory treatment and a hostile work environment based on his race.

         On August 25, 2017, plaintiff filed an EEOC charge of race discrimination. After receiving notice of the charge, defendant fired plaintiff in September 2017. Plaintiff asserts his termination was in retaliation for filing the EEOC discrimination charge.

         "A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is governed by the same standards as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)." Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 727-28 (7th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). All of the factual allegations of the complaint are taken as true and the complaint “must describe the claim in sufficient detail to give defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds on which it rests.” Guzman v. Target Corp., No. 18 CV 4508, 2018 WL 5977924, * 2 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 14, 2018). [I]ts allegations must plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a speculative level.” Id. "In addition, a Rule 12(c) motion is appropriate only when 'it is clear that the merits of the controversy can be fairly and fully decided in this summary manner.' Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1369 (3d ed.)." Birch|Rea Partners, Inc. v. Regent Bank, No. 18-CV-30, 2019 WL 2067358 * 1 (N.D. Ind. May 10, 2019).

         The elements and proof for Section 1981 claims are essentially identical to Title VII claims and do not need to be separately analyzed. Brown v. Advocate South Suburban Hosp., 700 F.3d 1101, 1104 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012). Looking to the race discrimination claims of Counts I and III, plaintiff need only plead that his employer instituted a specified adverse employment action against him based on his race. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1084 (7th Cir. 2008). Plaintiff alleges he was demoted because of his race. This is sufficient to give defendant “notice to enable [it] to begin to investigate and prepare a defense, ” which is all that is required of plaintiff. Id., at 1085.

         To plead a hostile work environment claim, plaintiff need only allege the type of discrimination, the whom, and the when. Huri v. Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, 804 F.3d 826, 834 (7th Cir. 2015). Plaintiff alleges he was harassed on account of his race, by his supervisor, throughout the course of his employment. He does not at this point have to plead facts to show “just how abusive [his] work environment was.” Id.

         As to the retaliation claims of Counts II and IV, plaintiff need only allege that he engaged in statutorily protected activity and was subjected to an adverse employment action. Id., at 833. Plaintiff alleges he filed an EEOC race discrimination charge and was fired because of it. Plaintiff has met his pleading requirement for retaliation claims.

         Defendant argues plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies for the Title VII retaliation claim (Count IV) because he did not file a timely EEOC charge claiming retaliation.[1]However, when the plaintiff's claim is that he was retaliated against for filing the original charge of discrimination a second charge charging retaliation for filing the first charge is not a prerequisite to suing for retaliation under Title VII. Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1030 (7th Cir. 2013); Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, No. 3:14-CV- 1791, 2018 WL 3198888, * 7-8 (N.D. Ind. May 4, 2018).

         Defendant also seeks judgment on the pleadings for the state law claims asserted in Counts V, VI, VII, and IX. Count V claims breach of contract. “Under Illinois law, a plaintiff looking to state a colorable breach of contract claim must allege four elements: (1) the existence of a valid and enforceable contract; (2) substantial performance by the plaintiff; (3) a breach by the defendant; and (4) resultant damages.” Sevugan v. Direct Energy Services, LLC, 931 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2019) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         The complaint alleges plaintiff received a written offer of employment on behalf of defendant from its agent Josh Gasaway effective December 12, 2016. “Under the terms of the offer: a. Plaintiff would be entitled to an annual salary of $94, 000 and other benefits, including a profit sharing plan, an annual bonus and professional training opportunities; b. Plaintiff would perform the duties assigned to him by the Assembly Department Manager for each project until complete; c. Defendant could only terminate Plaintiff's employment under limited circumstances, including for cause, with appropriate notice.” (Dkt # 10, ¶ 13) Plaintiff was assigned a project that was projected to last at least 6 years. “At relevant times, there existed a valid and enforceable employment contract between Plaintiff and Defendant, in which Plaintiff agreed to work for defendant until his assigned projects were completed, or for at least 6 years, in exchange for an annual salary and other benefits.” (Id., ¶ 72) The complaint alleges “[o]n or about December 2, 2016, Plaintiff accepted a written offer of employment from Defendant, effective December 12, 2016, by executing a series of documents that were also signed by Defendant's authorized agents, and subsequently supplemented with other written terms.” (Id., ¶ 77) “The documents that Plaintiff signed incorporated other writings that formed a promise of employment unambiguous in terms by Defendant that: a. guaranteed Plaintiff a reasonable expectation of continued employment for at least 6 years; b. entitled Plaintiff to an annual base salary, bonus pay and other benefits, including severance, profits, retirement and health care benefits.” (Id., ΒΆ 78) Plaintiff ...

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