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Love v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago

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

January 16, 2020



          Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Rachel Dixon Love (“Plaintiff”) brings suit against Defendant the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (“Defendant”) for employment discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint for failure to state a claim [47]. For the following reasons, the Court denies Defendant's motion [47]. This case is set for status hearing on February 4, 2020 at 9:00 a.m.

         I. Background

         The following facts are taken from the governing amended complaint [43] and assumed to be true for purposes of Defendant's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff is a fifty-nine-year-old African American female who was formerly employed by Defendant. Her most recent position was teacher at Arthur Ashe Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois (“Arthur Ashe”). Plaintiff alleges that when she began working at Arthur Ashe in August 2016, she “was almost immediately subjected to a hostile work environment” by another teacher at the school, Maria Walls. [43] at 3. Walls is an African American female around the same age or slightly older than Plaintiff. According to the complaint, Walls “made numerous disparaging and inappropriate age-related comments to Plaintiff, ” including but not limited to, “[c]an you take your old ass down the stairs, you left your jacket there” and “Is that a bologna sandwich you are eating, you are so old-fashioned.” Id. The complaint also alleges that during a teacher's meeting in Plaintiff's classroom, and in the presence of the school's assistant principal, Dr. Jackson, Walls said, “Don't you smell something, it smells old in here.” Id. Walls also told Plaintiff on one occasion, “Hey Mrs. Hard of Hearing. What is wrong with you, you are so slow.” Id. at 4.

         Walls also allegedly made numerous comments to Plaintiff concerning her race and color. For instance, on numerous occasions, “Walls referred to Plaintiff by the name ‘Celie' which was the main character from the movie The Color Purple and who was considered slow and stupid.” [43] at 3. Plaintiff found the nickname to be very offensive. On other occasions, “Walls referred to Plaintiff as Boo-Boo, a small bear from Yogi Bear, ” which Plaintiff took to “insinuate[] that she was a follower and not a leader.” Id. at 4. This comment was allegedly made many times in front of Plaintiff's students and caused Plaintiff's students to make fun of her and call her Boo-Boo, as well.

         In October 2016, Plaintiff complained to Dr. Jackson about Walls' comments. Dr. Jackson told Plaintiff that he did not “have time for your petty conversations with Ms. Walls” and did not offer to investigate the matter. [43] at 4. In November 2016, Plaintiff tried to set up a meeting with Dr. Jackson to discuss her concerns over the hostile work environment, but he did not respond. Later that month, he told her that she was “such a headache for me” and asked “are you stuck in Alzheimer's time?” Id.

         During her time at Arthur Ashe, Plaintiff was unable to carry heavy items due to having two torn rotator cuffs and a hairline fracture. Plaintiff alleges that she received these injuries in 2015 while working in another school, and that she had requested and received light work accommodation at the prior school. When Plaintiff was transferred to Arthur Ashe, the school knew or should have known from Plaintiff's file that Plaintiff was disabled and continued to require light duty accommodation. Plaintiff also told Dr. Jackson that she was unable to carry heavy items due to her disability. Nonetheless, on multiple occasions, Plaintiff was told to carry heavy boxes of paper from the copy room upstairs to her classroom. Plaintiff asked for help because of her torn rotator cuffs, but Dr. Jackson told Plaintiff that she would not be getting help and had to carry the boxes herself.

         The complaint alleges that “Plaintiff was also disabled in that she had two partial amputations on fingers above the knuckle of her left hand.” [43] at 5. Although Plaintiff was generally able to hide the amputations, Walls noticed them in October 2016 and told other staff members. “Within a week thereafter, Plaintiff was told by Dr. Jackson that, ‘we didn't know you couldn't adequately teach the class.'” Id. “After Plaintiff used hand signals for numbers, Plaintiff was then transferred to teach the lowest level students that needed a 1 on 1 teacher.” Id.

         During a Halloween event at Arthur Ashe, it was Plaintiff's responsibility to escort a small number of students from the classroom out of the school building where certain holiday activities were to take place. Some of the students did not have Halloween costumes so Plaintiff decided to take parts of her costume off and give them to some of the students to use as their costumes. During that process, Plaintiff cut her finger, which caused it to bleed heavily. Plaintiff asked another teacher, Mr. Thompson, to watch the students while she went to the bathroom to clean the cut. Mr. Thompson agreed to watch the students. When Plaintiff returned from tending her injury, she was confronted by a school administrator who accused Plaintiff of abandoning her students. Plaintiff denied the allegation and explained her need for medical attention. Nonetheless, Plaintiff was ordered to sign a letter admitting that she neglected the students. When Plaintiff refused, she was threatened, “This [termination] is going to happen one way or the other.” [43] at 6. Plaintiff signed the letter and was then terminated and escorted out of the building. Plaintiff alleges on information and belief that a “Do not hire” note was placed in her file, preventing her from getting a new job with any school in the Chicago Public School system. Id.

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant was required but failed to pay her for “her first week of teaching in which she was required to attend training sessions.” [43] at 10.

         Plaintiff attaches to the Amended Complaint a copy of the Charge of Discrimination she filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights on December 14, 2016. See [43-1]. On the charge, Plaintiff has checked boxes indicating that her complaint relates to discrimination on the basis of color, retaliation, age, and disability. The charge asserts that during her employment, Plaintiff was subjected to different terms and conditions of employment, including lack of support and extra scrutiny, that she was harassed and complained to Defendant to no avail, and that she was discharged. The charge states that Plaintiff believes she was discriminated against because of her age, color (light complexion), in retaliation, and because of her disability.

         On December 21, 2016, Plaintiff was issued a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC. According to the complaint, Plaintiff never received the letter and requested a replacement in June 2018. On June 18, 2018, Plaintiff received an EEOC Right to Sue letter for the first time.

         Plaintiff's amended complaint contains claims for age discrimination/hostile work environment (Count I); disability discrimination (Count II); discrimination on the basis of color (Count III); retaliation (Count IV); and violation of the Illinois Wage and Payment and Collect Act (Count V). Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, costs, expenses, and attorneys' fees.

         Currently before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

         II. Legal Standard

         Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), plaintiff's complaint must allege facts which, when taken as true, ‘plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a speculative level.'” Cochran v. Illinois State Toll Highway Auth., 828 F.3d 597, 599 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007)). The Court “accept[s] all well-pleaded facts as true and draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor.” Id. at 600 (citing Tamayo v. ...

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