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Pillows v. Cook County Rec of Deeds Office

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

October 31, 2019

KHESI PILLOWS and TIFFANY WILSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
COOK COUNTY RECORDER OF DEEDS OFFICE and COOK COUNTY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          Sidney I. Schenkier, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiffs Khesi Pillows and Tiffany Wilson are former employees of defendant Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office (the "Recorder's Office"). On November 13, 2018, plaintiffs filed a two-count complaint against the Recorder's Office and defendant Cook County, alleging that the Recorder's Office violated consent decrees entered in Shakman v. Democratic Organization of Cook County, No. 69 cv 2145 (N.D. Ill.) ("Shakman Decrees") and requesting indemnification from Cook County (doc. # 1: Compl.). On April 11, 2019, defendants moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint with prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (doc. # 14: Defs.' 1st Mot. to Dismiss). On June 18, 2019, we dismissed plaintiffs' complaint, but we gave plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint by July 10, 2019 if they could do so consistent with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 (docs. ## 28, 29). See Pillows v. Cook Cty. Recorder of Deeds Office, No. 18 C 7497, 2019 WL 2524149 (N.D. Ill. June 18, 2019).

         Plaintiffs timely filed an amended complaint, which, like their original complaint, alleges that the Recorder's Office violated the Shakman Decrees and requests indemnification from Cook County (doc. # 30: Am. Compl.).[2] Defendants again move to dismiss with prejudice under Rule 12(b)(6) (doc. #31: Defs.' 2d Mot. to Dismiss). Defendants' motion is now fully briefed (doc. # 34: Pls.' Resp.; doc. # 35: Defs.' Reply). For the reasons set forth below, we deny defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I.

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss challenges the sufficiency of a complaint. Bonnstetter v. City of Chicago, 811 F.3d 969, 973 (7th Cir. 2016). A complaint must contain enough information, in the form of "a short and plain statement of the claim," to give the defendant "fair notice" of the claim and its basis. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Notice alone, however, is insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss; a complaint must also "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); Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728-29 (7th Cir. 2014). Indeed, "the Supreme Court's decisions in Twombly and Iqbal ushered in a requirement that civil pleadings demonstrate some merit or plausibility in complaint allegations to protect defendants from having to undergo costly discovery unless a substantial case is brought against them." United States v. Vaughn, 722 F.3d 918, 926 (7th Cir. 2013).

         "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In determining the plausibility of a claim, a court must "accept as true all of the well-pleaded facts in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Kubiak v. City of Chicago, 810 F.3d 476, 480-81 (7th Cir. 2016). A court "must consider the complaint in its entirety," Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007), as well as "documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice." Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714 F.3d 1017, 1019-20 (7th Cir. 2013) (citation and internal quotations omitted). By contrast, a court does not consider "legal conclusions and conclusory allegations merely reciting the elements of the claim," as they "are not entitled to [the] presumption of truth." McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Seventh Circuit has interpreted the "plausibility" standard as requiring "a nonnegligible probability that the claim is valid[.]" In re Text Messaging Antitrust Litig, 630 F.3d 622, 629 (7th Cir. 2010). In applying this standard, a court must "draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         II.

         Plaintiffs allege the following in their amended complaint, and we accept as true all well-pleaded, non-conclusory allegations in deciding defendants' motion to dismiss. See McCauley, 671 F.3d at 616. Ms. Pillows began working for the Recorder's Office in February 1999 and was employed as a "Systems Analyst III" at all relevant times (Am. Compl., ¶¶ 5, 11, 13). Ms. Wilson began working for the Recorder's Office in February 2001 and was employed as a "Systems Analyst III" and an "Administrative Assistant V" (Id., ¶¶ 6, 12, 13). The Recorder's Office is divided into three different departments-Departments 130, 527, and 570-with each department having its own budget (Id., ¶ 33).[3] Ms. Wilson's System Analyst III position was in Department 130, and Ms. Pillows's System Analyst III position was in Department 527 (Id.). At all material times, both plaintiffs performed their jobs according to their employer's legitimate expectations (A*, ¶14).

         On November 6, 2012, Karen Yarbrough was elected Recorder of Deeds, and she took office in December 2012 (Am. Compl., ¶ 17). The Recorder's Office believed that plaintiffs were politically affiliated with Eugene Moore, who preceded Ms. Yarbrough as Recorder of Deeds (Id., ¶ 15). It was well known around the Recorder's Office that Mr. Moore was Ms. Pillows's godfather and that he fondly referred to Ms. Wilson as his "daughter" (Id., ¶ 16). The Recorder's Office was further aware that plaintiffs were not politically affiliated with Ms. Yarbrough (Id., ¶ 49).

         On July 6, 2013, Ms. Wilson was transferred from her job in payroll, which she had held since April 2004 and where she had obtained the highest superiority in the department, to a newly created "training coordinator" position (Am. Compl., ¶ 18).[4] Ms. Wilson's new position "effectively" stripped her of her security clearance and gave her fewer responsibilities (Id., ¶ 19). Plaintiffs allege that this transfer was significant because without her security clearance, Ms. Wilson could no longer observe or question any politically motivated timekeeping discrepancies, and the practice of the Recorder's Office was to give more timekeeping leniency to employees politically affiliated with Ms. Yarbrough (Id., ¶¶ 19-20). To show this alleged practice, plaintiffs point to a six-month time span more than three years after Ms. Wilson's transfer (October 2016 through April 2017) where a single employee avoided discipline for repeated violations of the office's attendance policy because of her political affiliation (Id., ¶ 21 & Ex. 1).

         On or about August 1, 2016, Ms. Wilson was reassigned on a temporary basis to an Administrative Assistant V position (Am. Compl., ¶ 22). Ms. Wilson, however, was unaware of her title change because job titles at the Recorder's Office had little meaning or correlation with an employee's job functions (Id., ¶¶ 22, 44). In August 2016, the Recorder's Office also hired a new Database Administrator to work in Department 527, the same department in which Ms. Pillows worked (Id., ¶ 35).[5] The Database Administrator's salary was similar to Ms. Pillows's salary, and the tasks performed by the Database Administrator overlapped with the tasks performed by Ms. Pillows (Id.).

         Sometime before September 6, 2016, the Budget Office notified the Recorder's Office about potential countywide budget cuts for fiscal year 2017 (Am. Compl., ¶ 23).[6] On September 6, 2016, Chief Deputy Recorder Cedric Giles, with the agreement of the Budget Office, emailed the Deputy Recorders who each headed a department within the Recorder's Office and asked them to identify positions that could be eliminated with the least disruption to core operations (Id., ¶ 24). The Deputy Recorders had the most intimate knowledge of and familiarity with the active positions in each department (Id.).

         Around the same time-but before receiving the requested input from all the Deputy Recorders-Mr. Giles and Carolyn Wilhight (Deputy Recorder - Finance) met with the Budget Office and provided it with a list of positions to potentially eliminate (Am. Compl., ¶ 26). Plaintiffs allege that the positions on this list were based on political affiliation, as Mr. Giles and Ms. Wilhight had yet to receive any input about which active positions were tied to non-essential functions and could be eliminated with the least disruption to core functions (Id., ¶ 27). Both Ms. Wilson's permanent System Analyst III position and Ms. Pillows's System Analyst III position were on the list (Id., ¶¶ 28, 31).

         On September 23, 2016, the Budget Office adopted the workforce reduction proposal submitted by Mr. Giles and Ms. Wilhight and requested that layoff plans be finalized by September 30, 2016 (Am. Compl., ¶ 28). The same day (September 23), the Budget Office emailed its adoption of the proposal to Chief of Human Resources Erwin Acox, Jr. (Id., ¶ 29).[7] As a Deputy Recorder, Mr. Acox was one of the individuals who was to have provided input on non-essential job functions in his department (Id.). On October 12, 2016, and despite the workforce reduction decision having already been finalized by the Budget Office, Mr. Acox recommended eliminating Ms. Wilson's Systems Analyst III position (Id.). At this time, however, Ms. Wilson ...


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