Sharma v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ill., No. 17-cv-07378

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
Writing for the CourtAndrea R. Wood, United States District Judge
Citation404 F.Supp.3d 1183
Docket NumberNo. 17-cv-07378
Decision Date26 August 2019
Parties Suresh SHARMA, Plaintiff, v. BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF the UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, et al., Defendants.

404 F.Supp.3d 1183

Suresh SHARMA, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF the UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, et al., Defendants.

No. 17-cv-07378

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

Signed August 26, 2019


404 F.Supp.3d 1189

Lisa L. Clay, Attorney at Law, Wheaton, IL, Jorge Sanchez, Lopez & Sanchez, LLP, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff.

Timothy Alan Wolfe, Katherine A. Manuel, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., Matthew Lincoln Johnson, Caroline Kneafsey Vickrey, Johnson & Bell, Ltd., Chicago, IL, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Andrea R. Wood, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Suresh Sharma, a former employee of the University of Illinois College of Medicine ("UIC Med"), alleges that Defendants Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois ("Board"), Dimitri T. Azar, Todd Van Neck, Benjamin Van Voorhees, and Alan Friedman targeted Sharma and ultimately terminated his employment due to his race and because he reported their misconduct. Sharma has filed a Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") asserting claims based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. , the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. , the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act ("Ethics Act"), 5 ILCS 430/1 et seq. , and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. He also asserts several state common law tort claims, including claims for interference with contract or prospective economic advantage, retaliatory discharge, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.1

404 F.Supp.3d 1190

Before the Court are two motions to dismiss the SAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) : one motion filed on behalf of the Board, Azar, Van Neck, and Van Voorhees (collectively, "UIC Defendants") and a separate motion on behalf of Friedman. (Dkt. Nos. 23, 32.) For the reasons explained below, the UIC Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Friedman's motion is granted in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

For the purposes of Defendants' motions to dismiss, this Court accepts as true the well-pleaded facts in the SAC and views those facts in the light most favorable to Sharma. Firestone Fin. Corp. v. Meyer , 796 F.3d 822, 826–27 (7th Cir. 2015). Sharma has alleged as follows.

The Parties

Sharma, who identifies his race as Asian and his national origin as Indian, used to work at the University of Illinois at Chicago ("UIC"). (SAC ¶ 7, Dkt. No. 19.) Sharma was initially hired in July 2005 by the UIC Office of the Dean, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, as a Business and Financial Systems Specialist. (Id. ) Eventually, after multiple promotions, Sharma became Director of Administrative Operations for the Department of Pediatrics ("Department") at UIC Med. (Id. ) Despite receiving praise from multiple individuals within the Department and achieving high scores on his annual performance reviews, Sharma was terminated on June 28, 2016, with his discharge becoming effective on July 20, 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 20–22, 25.)

The Board oversees the University of Illinois's various campuses, including UIC. (Id. ¶ 8.) During the relevant time period at UIC, Azar held the title of Dean, Van Neck was Associate Dean of Administration, and Van Voorhees was the Head of the Department and, at times, Sharma's immediate supervisor. (Id. ¶¶ 9–11, 78.) Friedman, who works as a psychiatrist at Northwestern University, has been named as a defendant in this case based on a psychiatric evaluation of Sharma he conducted at UIC's request. (Id. ¶ 14.)

The Bad-Debt Issue

In 2011, the Board appointed Azar as Interim Dean of UIC Med. (Id. ¶ 27 at 6.)2 In 2013, after Azar officially took over as Dean, Sharma reported a concern regarding UIC's financial statements: the line item for bad-debt expenses increased in the 2012 fiscal year (Azar's first year as Dean) by approximately $1 million compared to earlier years. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 21 at 6.) (For purposes of this opinion, the Court will refer to this accounting matter as the "bad-debt issue.") After investigating, Sharma determined that UIC had begun to record bad-debt expenses for the Department at very high dollar amounts, resulting in erroneous year-end operating statements. (Id. ¶ 22.) Sharma reported the bad-debt issue to Dr. Usha Raj, who at the time was the Head of the Department and Sharma's immediate supervisor. (Id. ¶ 23.)

Others at UIC soon found out about Sharma's discovery, including Van Neck, who was Associate Dean for Administration and Finance. (Id. ¶ 24.) Sharma's co-worker, Marc Archambeau, told Sharma that Van Neck and others in the Dean's office were "unhappy" with Sharma for bringing the bad-debt issue to light because

404 F.Supp.3d 1191

it reflected poorly on them. (Id. ¶ 26.) Archambeau warned Sharma to be careful, saying that Azar and Van Neck had bad-mouthed Sharma and intended to terminate him. (Id. ¶ 27.)

Rather than stay quiet, Sharma voiced his concerns about being targeted by Azar and Van Neck to Raj, who reassured him that he was doing a good job and she had no issues with his work performance. (Id. ¶¶ 28–29.) At Sharma's next performance review, Raj awarded Sharma 35 out of 36 points and approved a seven percent merit raise for him. (Id. ¶ 30.) Yet Sharma ultimately received only a three percent merit raise. (Id. ¶ 31.) Raj explained to Sharma that Van Neck and Marci Fanti, Director of Human Resources at UIC Med, lowered Sharma's raise as punishment for raising the bad-debt issue. (Id. ¶ 32.)

Subsequently, in January 2015, UIC determined that the codes used to classify bad debts versus insurance adjustments were outdated and instituted a system-wide reform, confirming Sharma's suspicions about the bad-debt issue. (Id. ¶¶ 34–36.) Around that time, Archambeau again warned Sharma that certain individuals at UIC felt he was a troublemaker and wanted him to be terminated. (Id. ¶ 37.)

Conflicts with Van Voorhees

Also in January 2015, Sharma refused to approve certain travel expenses submitted by Van Voorhees that violated UIC policies and procedures. (Id. ¶¶ 39–42.) In February, Azar removed Raj from her position as Department Head and replaced her with Van Voorhees. (Id. ¶¶ 44–45.) Then, on March 4, 2015, Sharma again refused to authorize improper payroll payment requests for payments to Van Voorhees's "life empathy coach," as doing so would be illegal and violate UIC policies and procedures. (Id. ¶¶ 48–50.) Van Voorhees repeatedly pressured Sharma to transfer funds retroactively to his grant during the eight months prior to his promotion to Department Head, but Sharma refused.(Id. ¶ 51.)

In March and April 2015, Sharma applied and interviewed for the position of Associate Dean for Administration and Finance at UIC's College of Dentistry, but he was not selected. (Id. ¶ 47.) Sharma believes Defendants intervened and sabotaged his candidacy, but he does not specifically identify which Defendants did so or describe any specific conduct. (Id. )

On April 22, 2015, Sharma was in a budget meeting when Van Voorhees forcefully dragged Sharma to his office. (Id. ¶ 52.) There, Van Voorhees and Dr. Mary Lou Schmidt pressured Sharma to violate UIC's internal pay equity process and policy by immediately processing a $10,000 salary increase for an employee named Laura Ravens. (Id. ¶¶ 53–54.) For the next three months, Van Voorhees continued pressuring Sharma to administer the salary increase for Ravens. (Id. ¶ 54.) Sharma ultimately agreed to do so but informed Van Voorhees and Schmidt that he wished to follow the internal pay equity process and policy with respect to other employees to prevent potential lawsuits. (Id. ¶ 55.)

Between March 2015 and May 2015, Van Voorhees hired two Caucasian consultants to work in the Department, who yelled at Sharma on multiple occasions. (Id. ¶¶ 58–60.) Sharma complained to Van Voorhees about the situation, but neither Van Voorhees nor any other Defendant did anything to intervene. (Id. ¶¶ 63–64.) Sharma also complained about his treatment to UIC's Office of Access and Equity ("OAE") and asked for a "congenial, harassment free atmosphere." (Id. ¶¶ 65, 74–76.) In his meeting with the OAE, Sharma recounted the bad-debt issue, the repeated attempts by Van Voorhees to get Sharma to waive or ignore financial controls

404 F.Supp.3d 1192

and procedures, attempts by Van Voorhees to demote Sharma, and incidents when Van Voorhees and the consultants yelled at Sharma. (Id. ¶ 77.) But the OAE ultimately decided that Defendants had not retaliated against him. (Id. ¶ 66.)

Meanwhile, Sharma continued to perform his job responsibilities at a high level, receiving compliments on his work from supervisors and colleagues. (Id. ¶¶ 67–73.) At no point did Van Voorhees or any other UIC employee inform Sharma about any issues with his work performance or that any complaints had been lodged against him. (Id. ¶ 88.)

The Evaluations

On July 17, 2015, around noon, Sharma received a vague calendar notification from Van Voorhees for a meeting at 3:00 p.m. (Id. ¶ 78.) That afternoon,...

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4 practice notes
  • O'Connor v. Ford Motor Co., Case No. 19-cv-5045
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • October 19, 2021
    ...to dismiss [any portion of the] complaint on statute of limitations grounds." Sharma v. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois , 404 F. Supp. 3d 1183, 1197 (N.D. Ill. 2019).I. Nationwide Class Allegations The Complaint defines the proposed class to include "[a]ll persons in the United ......
  • O'Connor v. Ford Motor Co., 19-cv-5045
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • September 30, 2021
    ...to dismiss [any portion of the] complaint on statute of limitations grounds.” Sharma v. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois, 404 F.Supp.3d 1183, 1197 (N.D. Ill. 2019). I. Nationwide Class Allegations The Complaint defines the proposed class to include “[a]ll persons in the United St......
  • O'Connor v. Ford Motor Co., 19-cv-5045
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • October 19, 2021
    ...to dismiss [any portion of the] complaint on statute of limitations grounds.” Sharma v. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois, 404 F.Supp.3d 1183, 1197 (N.D. Ill. 2019). I. Nationwide Class Allegations The Complaint defines the proposed class to include “[a]ll persons in the United St......
  • Separation of Hinduism from Our Sch. v. Chi. Pub. Sch., Case No. 20 C 4540
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • May 21, 2021
    ...to dismiss the complaint on this basis without the benefit of a complete factual record. See Sharma v. Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ill., 404 F. Supp. 3d 1183, 1197 (N.D. Ill. 2019). The plaintiffs have not pleaded themselves "out of court by alleging facts sufficient to establish the complaint'......
4 cases
  • O'Connor v. Ford Motor Co., Case No. 19-cv-5045
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • October 19, 2021
    ...to dismiss [any portion of the] complaint on statute of limitations grounds." Sharma v. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois , 404 F. Supp. 3d 1183, 1197 (N.D. Ill. 2019).I. Nationwide Class Allegations The Complaint defines the proposed class to include "[a]ll persons in the United ......
  • O'Connor v. Ford Motor Co., 19-cv-5045
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • September 30, 2021
    ...to dismiss [any portion of the] complaint on statute of limitations grounds.” Sharma v. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois, 404 F.Supp.3d 1183, 1197 (N.D. Ill. 2019). I. Nationwide Class Allegations The Complaint defines the proposed class to include “[a]ll persons in the United St......
  • O'Connor v. Ford Motor Co., 19-cv-5045
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • October 19, 2021
    ...to dismiss [any portion of the] complaint on statute of limitations grounds.” Sharma v. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois, 404 F.Supp.3d 1183, 1197 (N.D. Ill. 2019). I. Nationwide Class Allegations The Complaint defines the proposed class to include “[a]ll persons in the United St......
  • Separation of Hinduism from Our Sch. v. Chi. Pub. Sch., Case No. 20 C 4540
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • May 21, 2021
    ...to dismiss the complaint on this basis without the benefit of a complete factual record. See Sharma v. Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ill., 404 F. Supp. 3d 1183, 1197 (N.D. Ill. 2019). The plaintiffs have not pleaded themselves "out of court by alleging facts sufficient to establish the complaint'......

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