E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Services, Inc., No. 06-3436.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtCudahy
Citation496 F.3d 773
PartiesEQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CONCENTRA HEALTH SERVICES, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date03 August 2007
Docket NumberNo. 06-3436.
496 F.3d 773
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CONCENTRA HEALTH SERVICES, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellee.
No. 06-3436.
United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.
Argued May 25, 2007.
Decided August 3, 2007.

[496 F.3d 775]

Joseph A. Seiner (argued), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

James J. Oh (argued), Littler Mendelson, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before BAUER, CUDAHY and FLAUM, Circuit Judges.

CUDAHY, Circuit Judge.


Charles Horn complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that his employer, Concentra Health Services, Inc., fired him when he reported a sexual affair between his supervisor and another employee. The EEOC brought an action against Concentra, arguing that Concentra had violated the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court dismissed the EEOC's complaint without prejudice, holding that the anti-retaliation provision did not protect Horn's report. The EEOC responded by filing a markedly less detailed amended complaint that did not allege the specifics of Horn's report. The district court dismissed the amended complaint with prejudice. The EEOC appeals and we affirm, holding that the amended complaint failed to provide Concentra with sufficient notice of the nature of the EEOC's claim.

I. Background

In 2003, Charles Horn filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In it he alleged that, while working as an Assistant Center Administrator for Concentra Health Services, Inc. (Concentra) in August 2001, he discovered that his supervisor and another employee were having a sexual affair. In April 2002 Horn further learned that the supervisor was giving the employee preferential treatment because of this relationship. The charge stated that on April 25, 2002, Horn reported the situation to Concentra's brass. Concentra allegedly responded by, among other things, firing Horn on a pretext.

The EEOC investigated Horn's charge and sued Concentra under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, using its power to "bring a civil action against any respondent . . . named in the charge." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). Its terse complaint alleged that Concentra had retaliated against Horn because he "opposed [a] practice made an unlawful employment practice" by Title VII, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). The complaint also laid out the broad details alleged in Horn's charge: Horn reported to Concentra's Director of Human Resources that "his female supervisor gave a male subordinate, with whom she was having an inappropriate sexual relationship, preferential treatment over similarly situated employees with respect to his employment," and Concentra responded by firing Horn. (Compl. ¶ 7.)

The district court granted Concentra's motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. It reasoned that employees are protected against retaliation only when they reasonably believe that the activities they oppose violate Title VII, see Clark County Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 269-71, 121 S.Ct. 1508, 149 L.Ed.2d 509 (2001) (per curiam); Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Care Ctr., Inc., 224 F.3d 701, 706-07 (7th Cir.2000), and that it was clear at the time Horn reported the affair that favoring a subordinate because of a sexual relationship did not, without more, violate Title VII, see Preston v. Wis. Health Fund, 397 F.3d 539, 541 (7th Cir. 2005); Schobert v. Ill. Dep't of Transp., 304 F.3d 725, 733 (7th Cir.2002). The court concluded that, assuming Horn had believed that the affair violated Title VII,

496 F.3d 776

his belief was not reasonable, and that the EEOC's complaint therefore did not state a claim of illegal retaliation. EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., No. 05 C 1109, 2005 WL 2989904, *2 (N.D.Ill. Nov. 3, 2005).

The dismissal was without prejudice and rather than stand on its complaint and challenge the district court's interpretation of Title VII, the EEOC chose to file an amended complaint that is the subject of this appeal. It differs from the original in only one respect: the seventh paragraph, which sets forth the EEOC's claim, is conspicuously less detailed and specific.

Since at least 2001, Defendant has engaged in unlawful employment practices at its Elk Grove location, in violation of Section 704(a) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Such unlawful employment practices include, but are not limited to, retaliating against Horn after he opposed conduct in the workplace that he objectively and reasonably believed in good faith violated Title VII by reporting the conduct to Concentra's Director of Human Resources. Concentra's retaliation includes, but is not limited to, issuing Horn unwarranted negative evaluations and terminating him.

(Am.Compl. ¶ 7.) Thus, the amended complaint does not specify the nature of the conduct Horn reported to the Human Resources Director other than to indicate that Horn reasonably believed that it violated Title VII.

Concentra again moved to dismiss. The district court, noting that the "amended complaint is even more vague than the original," EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., No. 05 C 1109, 2006 WL 2024240, *1 (N.D.Ill. July 12, 2006), granted the motion with prejudice, offering two alternative and radically different (indeed logically inconsistent) bases for its decision. First, it concluded that the complaint did not provide sufficient notice of the nature of the EEOC's claim "because it offers only a conclusory allegation rather than offering any facts to support the claim," and more specifically because it does not "specify what conduct Horn believed to violate Title VII." Id. at *2. Second, it concluded that Horn's EEOC charge is "central to [the EEOC's] claim" (in that a charge is a statutory prerequisite to the EEOC's suit) and consequently should be considered part of the complaint, even though it was not physically attached to the complaint. Id. at *3. The court reasoned that because the amended complaint refers to the charge, the EEOC must adopt all of the charge's allegations and plead itself out of court again. Id. at *4-7. The EEOC now appeals.

II. Discussion

Rule 12(b)(6) permits a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To state such a claim, the complaint need only contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The Supreme Court has interpreted that language to impose two easy-to-clear hurdles. First, the complaint must describe the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)) (alteration in Bell Atlantic). Second, its allegations must plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a "speculative level"; if they do not, the plaintiff pleads itself out of court. Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1973 n. 14. Concentra argues in the alternative that the EEOC's complaint

496 F.3d 777

has failed to meet either of these requirements; we discuss the latter first.

A. Did the EEOC Plead Itself Out of Court?

One reason Concentra offers for affirming the dismissal of the EEOC's amended complaint is that the EEOC has pleaded itself out of court by alleging that Horn reported his supervisor's favoritism to a lover. This argument reflects a fond nostalgia for the EEOC's original complaint, which alleged those facts and was dismissed because the allegations neither constituted a violation of Title VII nor "suggest[ed]" such a violation. EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., No. 05 C 1109, 2006 WL 2024240, *5 (N.D.Ill. July 12, 2006). That original dismissal was probably correct. True, while the original complaint stressed the rejected "favoring a paramour" theory, it did not logically foreclose the possibility that some other aspect of Horn's report might have furnished a ground for relief. Perhaps, as Concentra now suggests, the reported affair was not consensual but rather the result of quid-pro-quo sexual harassment. Some of our cases suggest that such a possibility is enough to avoid dismissal. See, e.g., Kolupa v. Roselle Park Dist., 438 F.3d 713, 715 (7th Cir.2006) (stating that dismissal is proper only "when it would be necessary to contradict the complaint in order to prevail on the merits").

Those cases, however, are no longer valid in light of the Supreme Court's recent rejection of the famous remark in Conley v. Gibson from which they derive, that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1968 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99). As the Bell Atlantic Court explained, it is not enough for a complaint to avoid foreclosing possible bases for relief; it must actually suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, id. at 1968-69, by providing allegations that "raise a right to relief above the speculative level," id. at 1965. Horn's report of a sexual affair is logically consistent with the possibility that the affair was caused by quid-pro-quo sexual harassment, but it does not suggest that possibility any more than money changing hands suggests robbery. Dismissal was probably correct.

But enough of this trip down memory lane; why are allegations contained in the original complaint relevant to this appeal? The original complaint was dismissed and the EEOC does not seek to resurrect it. The amended complaint does not contain the specifics of Horn's report,...

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  • Jane Doe v. Bd. of Educ. of Chi., No. 18 C 3201
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • 1 Febrero 2019
    ...... by providing allegations that ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level.’ " E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc. , 496 F.3d 773, 777 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ) (emphasis in original). The allegations "must be more than ‘[t]hreadba......
  • C.S.B. Commodities, Inc. v. Urban Trend (Hk) Ltd., Case No. 08 cv 1548.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • 7 Enero 2009
    ...above the "speculative level," assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir.2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1973 n. 14). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported ......
  • Gann v. Richardson, No. 1:13–cv–00532–SEB–TAB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • 3 Septiembre 2014
    ...that claims should be “determined on their merits rather than through missteps in pleading.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 779 (7th Cir.2007) (citing 2 James W. Moore, et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 8.04 (3d ed.2006)). A pleading satisfies the core requirement......
  • Molina v. Latronico, Case No. 18-cv-6632
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • 27 Diciembre 2019
    ...complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level." E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc. , 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). "A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions’ or a ‘formulaic......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2160 cases
  • Jane Doe v. Bd. of Educ. of Chi., No. 18 C 3201
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • 1 Febrero 2019
    ...... by providing allegations that ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level.’ " E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc. , 496 F.3d 773, 777 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ) (emphasis in original). The allegations "must be more than ‘[t]hreadba......
  • C.S.B. Commodities, Inc. v. Urban Trend (Hk) Ltd., Case No. 08 cv 1548.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • 7 Enero 2009
    ...above the "speculative level," assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir.2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1973 n. 14). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported ......
  • Gann v. Richardson, No. 1:13–cv–00532–SEB–TAB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • 3 Septiembre 2014
    ...that claims should be “determined on their merits rather than through missteps in pleading.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 779 (7th Cir.2007) (citing 2 James W. Moore, et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 8.04 (3d ed.2006)). A pleading satisfies the core requirement......
  • Molina v. Latronico, Case No. 18-cv-6632
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • 27 Diciembre 2019
    ...complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level." E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc. , 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). "A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions’ or a ‘formulaic......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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