Williams v. City of Chicago, 22-cv-1084

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
Writing for the CourtMARVIN E. ASPEN, DISTRICT JUDGE:
PartiesCASSANDRA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF CHICAGO and JASON E. BROWN, Defendants.
Docket Number22-cv-1084
Decision Date29 August 2022

CASSANDRA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.

CITY OF CHICAGO and JASON E. BROWN, Defendants.

No. 22-cv-1084

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

August 29, 2022


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARVIN E. ASPEN, DISTRICT JUDGE:

Defendants Jason Brown and the City of Chicago (“the City”) move to dismiss Plaintiff Cassandra Williams's Complaint against them with prejudice. (See Defendants' 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt. No. 16).)[1] For the following reasons, the motion is denied in part and granted in part.

BACKGROUND

We take the following facts from the Complaint, “documents that are critical to the [Complaint] and referred to in it, [] information that is subject to proper judicial notice[,]” and any additional facts set forth in Williams's response brief, “so long as those facts are consistent with the pleadings.” Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714 F.3d 1017, 1019-20 (7th Cir. 2013) (quotation marks omitted). We have accepted as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and drawn all reasonable inferences in Williams's favor. O'Brien v. Vill. of Lincolnshire, 955 F.3d 616, 621 (7th Cir. 2020).

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Williams became an officer with the Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) in February 1991. (Complaint (“Compl.”) (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 7.) During her 30-plus years as a Chicago police officer, Williams has held a wide variety of special assignments and developed “skills in patrol, investigations, administration, community engagement, and crime reduction.” (Id. ¶ 8.) She has also received numerous awards from the CPD, including the Chicago Crime Commissioner Award of Excellence, four commendations, and 93 honorable mentions. (Id. ¶ 15.)

Williams was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2004 and was assigned to the organized crimes division of the CPD's narcotics unit in June 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 12.) As a sergeant in the narcotics unit, she supervised a team of eight police officers “investing illegal narcotic sales in Chicago's neighborhoods.” (Id. ¶ 13.)

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died while in the custody of Minneapolis police.[2] In the wake of Floyd's death, the City “began to experience a significant amount of civil unrest.” (Id. ¶ 16.) The CPD responded “by deploying most of its personnel to work extended shifts in areas of Chicago that needed extra protection.” (Id. ¶ 17.) Williams and her team were originally assigned to a location in downtown Chicago. (Id. ¶ 24.)

Around the same time, Brown-who was then a lieutenant-was assigned to the narcotics unit and became Williams's supervisor. (See id. ¶¶ 5, 23; Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (“Resp.”) (Dkt. No. 23) at 1.) On June 2, Brown instructed Williams to take her team to the block where he lived so it could watch his house. (Compl. ¶¶ 25-30.) Brown did this even though he lived a short distance from Guaranteed Rate Field's parking lot, where hundreds of police officers were gathering daily at the time.

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(Id. ¶¶ 21, 22, 33.) Williams and her team went to Brown's block, and they stayed on the block “for the rest of their shift, which lasted until late at night.” (Id. ¶¶ 35, 41.) Between June 2 and June 8, Brown ordered Williams and her team to guard his block for six nights. (Id. ¶¶ 44, 45.) On June 9, Williams was informed that the “detail” was over. (Id. ¶ 49.)

Although Williams initially viewed the assignment as a sign of trust, a reward for loyalty, and a recognition of her competence, she eventually came to see it as an abuse of Brown's authority and a waste of scarce law enforcement resources. (Id. ¶¶ 46, 52.) While the rest of the City was facing “significant problems, including property damage, looting, and attacks on other officers,” her team was watching a block where there was no crime, unrest, or disorder. (Id. ¶¶ 43, 47, 51.)

In the subsequent months, Williams and her team members discussed their assignment to guard Brown's block. (Id. ¶ 75.) This “talk spread to other officers,” who asked Williams if Brown had ordered her and her team to watch his block during the civil unrest. (Id. ¶¶ 75, 77.) Williams did not deny it. (Id. ¶ 78.) Brown caught wind of this and told Williams that it would be best for her to keep her mouth shut. (Id. ¶¶ 80, 81.)

Due to a combination of scheduled paid time off and illness, Williams was away from work from the end of September 2020 through early January 2021. (Id. ¶¶ 79, 82, 84.) Upon returning to work, Williams learned that Brown, who had been promoted to commander of the narcotics unit during her absence, “had removed her from supervising a team of narcotics officers and assigned her to work the ‘duty desk.'” (Id. ¶¶ 83, 85.) Working the duty desk, which involves “approving police paperwork, monitoring security cameras, answering the phone, and keeping track of supplies,” is “a less desirable and less prestigious assignment than being actively involved in ongoing narcotics investigations.” (Id. ¶¶ 86, 87.) Brown also switched

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Williams from the day shift to the night shift. (Id. ¶ 88.) Nothing about Williams's work performance justified Brown's decision “to remove her from her team, switch her work shift from days to nights, and assign her to the duty desk.” (Id. ¶ 89.) In fact, such a decision is widely perceived in the CPD as a form of punishment and an indication that the subject officer had fallen out of favor with the CPD bosses. (Id. ¶ 90.) Williams worked the duty desk for about a week before Brown reassigned her again, this time to a role as a “relief sergeant.” (Id. ¶ 92.) A relief sergeant, which Williams likens to being a substitute teacher, fills in for other sergeants who are on vacation or out sick and temporarily supervises their teams. (Id. ¶¶ 92, 93.)

Sometime later, Williams contacted the City's Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) to make a formal complaint about Brown. (Id. ¶¶ 101-03.) On May 21, 2021, Williams gave a statement to OIG investigators about guarding Brown's home during the George Floyd protests and about the retaliation she had experienced from Brown for not keeping the assignment secret. (Id. ¶ 104.) Williams also spoke to reporters from the Chicago Tribune about guarding Brown's home and the subsequent retaliation. (Id. ¶ 105.) The Chicago Tribune published a news story about Williams's experience on June 14, 2021. (Id. ¶ 106); see Annie Sweeney & William Lee, Chicago police sergeant alleges commander sent officers to the block his home sits on during last year's unrest, Chi. Tribune (June 14, 2021), available at https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/criminal-justice/ct-unrest-detail-commander-house-20210614-pqoa52om55fx5gqioyaja2ujyu-story.html (last visited Aug. 26, 2022).[3]

According to Williams, after Brown found out about the OIG complaint and Williams's discussions with the Chicago Tribune reporters, the retaliation against her became more frequent.

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(Compl. ¶¶ 107-09.) Williams's Complaint sets forth the following examples of retaliation since her public disclosure of Brown's conduct:

• In July and August 2021, Brown criticized Williams for her team's low productivity and gave the team a quota of two arrests per day even though the team had only four or five officers instead of the usual eight officers.
• Brown ignored Williams during meetings.
• In August 2021, Brown's administrative sergeant instructed Williams to vacate her office space to make room for Brown's secretary. This left Williams with no desk or office space and forced her to move her files and belongings to the trunk of her car.
• During a staff meeting in October 2021, Brown replied “yeah, right” when another officer stated that Williams was “a piece of shit.”
• In December 2021, Williams took a scheduled day off from work. Brown's administrative lieutenant marked Williams as absent without permission and issued her a summary punishment. The punishment was reversed after Williams appealed it to Brown's superior.
• Brown's administrative staff told Williams on several occasions that it had not received paperwork that Williams had, in fact, timely submitted. This caused Williams to complete her paperwork a second time.

(Id. ¶ 112(a)-(h).)

More than a year after returning to work in January 2021, Williams remains a relief sergeant. (Id. ¶ 97.) As a relief sergeant, Williams does not have overall authority for narcotics investigations (which she did have before she took her leave), and she is not permitted to brief the Superintendent of Police on cases. (Id. ¶¶ 94, 112(i).) Moreover, because the officers she

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supervises change frequently, she cannot build relationships with them or effectively lead their investigations. (Id. ¶¶ 95, 96.) Meanwhile, several other sergeants with less seniority than Williams have been assigned to specific narcotics teams without having to serve as relief sergeants. (Id. ¶¶ 99, 100.)

LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges “the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case.” Gociman v. Loyola Univ. of Chi., 41 F.4th 873, 885 (7th Cir. 2022). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “[w]e construe the complaint in the light most favorable to [the] plaintiff, accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and draw reasonable inferences in [the] plaintiff's favor.” Taha v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 947 F.3d 464, 469 (7th Cir. 2020). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must assert a facially plausible claim and provide fair notice to the defendant of the claim's basis. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007); Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728-29 (7th Cir. 2014). A claim is facially plausible “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...

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