Jones v. Circuit Court of Cook Cnty., 18-cv-1319

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
Writing for the CourtMARY M. ROWLAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
PartiesTONNETTE JONES, Plaintiff, v. CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, OFFICE OF THE CHIEF JUDGE, AVIK DAS, and EILEEN KINTZLER, Defendants.
Docket Number18-cv-1319
Decision Date29 September 2021

TONNETTE JONES, Plaintiff,
v.

CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, OFFICE OF THE CHIEF JUDGE, AVIK DAS, and EILEEN KINTZLER, Defendants.

No. 18-cv-1319

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

September 29, 2021


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARY M. ROWLAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Tonnette Jones was formerly employed by the Circuit Court's Juvenile Probation and Court Services Department as a Juvenile Probation Officer. Jones brings this employment discrimination action against the Circuit Court of Cook County Office of the Chief Judge, Avik Das, the Acting Director of the Circuit Court's Juvenile Probation Department, and Eileen Kintzler, the Supervising Probation Officer of the Circuit Court's Juvenile Probation Department. Defendants move to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons given below, the Motion to Dismiss [131] is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

The following factual allegations are taken from the Third Amended Complaint (Dkt. 128, “TAC”) and are accepted as true for the purposes of the motion to dismiss. See W. Bend Mut. Ins. Co. v. Schumacher, 844 F.3d 670, 675 (7th Cir. 2016).

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Jones, who is African American, worked as a sworn law enforcement officer for the Circuit Court from February 2015 until her termination on March 19, 2018. TAC ¶ 8. Jones alleges that her work environment changed in 2017, when Kintzler became Jones's supervisor, and Kintzler began discriminating against Jones and other African American employees based on their race. Id. at ¶ 16. In August 2017, Jones spoke with the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court about her perception that Kintzler and her Juvenile Probation Department supervisors did not treat Jones like her white colleagues in the department. Id. at ¶ 17. According to Jones, Das and Kintzler (the “Individual Defendants”) decided to retaliate as a result of her complaint by falsely accusing her of misconduct and later relying on those false accusations as reasons to discipline and ultimately fire her. Id. at ¶ 18. During her employment, Jones alleges that Das used a slur in referring to African Americans and that Jones was subjected to harsher disciplinary treatment than white officers. Id. at ¶¶ 80-86.

On November 21, 2017, Jones filed her first Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge. Id. at ¶ 27. Jones claims that the Individual Defendants retaliated against Jones because of this charge by issuing her a formal Verbal Reprimand based on more false accusations, which defendants eventually relied on to wrongfully suspend and fire her. Id. at ¶ 28. On December 14, 2017, Jones went to the Cook County Sheriff's Office to report discrimination and retaliation she experienced from the Individual Defendants, and then went to the Chicago Police Department. Id. at ¶¶ 57-58. Four days later, on December 18, Jones received formal notice from Donna Neal, Assistant Section Chief in the Circuit Court's Juvenile

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Probation Department, who “spoke with Acting Director Avik Das” and had been advised to suspend Jones indefinitely without pay. Id. at ¶ 60. On December 19, 2017, Jones filed her second EEOC charge for discrimination and retaliation. Id. at ¶ 72. On March 16, 2018, Das and Kintzler fired Jones based on a number of accusations Jones says were false. Id. at ¶ 78.

II. Standard

A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint, not the merits of the case. Gibson v. City of Chi., 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). “To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must provide enough factual information to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face and raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Haywood v. Massage Envy Franchising, LLC, 887 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 2018) (quotations and citation omitted). See also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (requiring a complaint to contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”). A court deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion accepts plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draws all permissible inferences in plaintiff's favor. Fortres Grand Corp. v. Warner Bros. Entm't Inc., 763 F.3d 696, 700 (7th Cir. 2014). A plaintiff need not plead “detailed factual allegations”, but “still must provide more than mere labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action for her complaint to be considered adequate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8.” Bell v. City of Chi., 835 F.3d 736, 738 (7th Cir. 2016) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

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Dismissal for failure to state a claim is proper “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1966 (2007). Deciding the plausibility of the claim is “‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” McCauley v. City of Chi., 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009)).

III. Analysis

Jones brings claims for: (I) First Amendment retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Individual Defendants; (II) conspiracy under § 1983 against the Individual Defendants; (III) violation of the Illinois State Officials and Employee Ethics Act against the Individual Defendants; (IV) violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act against the Individual Defendants; and (V) race-based hostile work environment in violation of Title VII against the Circuit Court Office of the Chief Judge (OCJ).

A. Statute of Limitations

Defendants argue that Jones's claims against the Individual Defendants are time-barred because she did not bring these claims until her Second Amended Complaint (SAC), filed November 30, 2020. The TAC, Defendants argue, brings different claims against different defendants. Jones responds that these claims are timely under Federal Rule 15(c) because they relate back to her June 20, 2018 First Amended Complaint (FAC) (Dkt. 32). The parties agree that a two-year statute of limitations

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applies to Jones's Section 1983 claims. See Herrera v. Cleveland, 8 F.4th 493, 495, n. 2 (7th Cir. 2021).

Jones argues that her TAC relates back to her FAC, but as Defendants point out, Rule 15(c) deals with relation back to the original pleading-an “amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out--or attempted to be set out--in the original pleading.” Fed.R.Civ.Pro. 15(c)(1)(B) (emphasis added). The original pleading is the February 2018 complaint. (Dkt. 1).[1]

Because the TAC added new defendants, Das and Kintzler, subparts (1)(B) and (1)(C) of Rule 15(c) are both implicated:

An amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when: the amendment changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted, if Rule 15(c)(1)(B) is satisfied and if, within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for serving the summons and complaint, the party to be brought in by amendment: (i) received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits; and (ii) knew or
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