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Crews v. City of Gary

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

November 19, 2014

LaRIA CREWS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF GARY, INDIANA, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

PHILIP P. SIMON, District Judge.

Plaintiff LaRia Crews is a Gary, Indiana police officer who claims she was the victim of sex discrimination when she was transferred to street patrol position after a confrontation with fellow officer, Pete Sormaz. She has filed this lawsuit against Sormaz, the City of Gary, and Chief of Police Wade Ingram alleging discrimination and retaliation claims based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as well as 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing Crews has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Defendants are partly right. Crews hasn't pled sufficient facts to support certain of her § 1983 claims. Crews's other claims, however, pass muster, so the Defendants' motion [DE 43] is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

BACKGROUND

The facts come from the complaint which I will accept as true for present purposes. Here is what the complaint alleges: LaRia Crews is a Gary, Indiana police officer who, back in 2012, was the Indiana Data Communications Systems Coordinator for the Administrative Services Division of the department. One of her responsibilities was programming and distributing police radios.

One day, Gary Police Sergeant Pete Sormaz asked Crews to provide him with a radio that was programmed with the department's secure channels. Crews refused. She told Sormaz that, according to standard operating procedure, he needed a written order from Police Chief Ingram before Crews could give him the radio. Sormaz lost his temper and yelled at Crews, demanding the programmed radio by the end of the day. Still steaming, Sormaz went to Ingram and requested that Crews be transferred. Sure enough, later that day, Ingram issued the transfer order sending Crews to a patrol position in the Uniform Services Division. She was replaced at the Administrative Services Division by a less qualified male officer.

Crews thought the transfer was discriminatory so she filed complaints with the Gary Human Relations Commission and the Gary Police Civil Service Commission in February 2013. She also filed a complaint with the EEOC and received a Right to Sue letter on May 28, 2013. Crews claims the City of Gary made a habit of discriminating against female police officers who insisted that their male colleagues follow procedure. She alleges two of other women, Darlene Breitenstein and Shae Russell, faced similar discrimination.

A few months later, a vacancy opened up for an Investigator position in the Juvenile Division of the Police Department's Bureau of Investigation. Crews applied for the spot in August 2013, but didn't get it. First, she was told that she didn't qualify for the job because she was on light duty due to an injury. That wasn't true. Next she was told that the Department wasn't going to fill the position at all. This also wasn't true because the job ultimately went to a male employee with less seniority. Crews maintains that the Defendants denied her attempt to transfer in retaliation for filing discrimination claims.

Crews filed this suit in August 2013 [DE 1]. Since then, the Complaint has gone through a couple of rounds of amendments as the Defendants pointed out some deficiencies in the first versions of the Complaint and Crews fixed those problems. We are now on the Third, and final, Amended Complaint [DE 38]. The Complaint alleges claims of discrimination and retaliation against the City of Gary, Sormaz, and Ingram based on Title VII and § 1983. Defendants have again moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim [DE 43].

DISCUSSION

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, "[a] plaintiff still must provide only enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, and, through his allegations, show that it is plausible, rather than merely speculative, that he is entitled to relief." Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). Although at this stage I still must accept all allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the Crews's favor, I don't need to accept threadbare legal conclusions supported only by conclusory statements. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. Crews has to provide enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together. Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010).

As a preliminary matter, Defendants have argued that certain claims, specifically Counts I and III, ought to be dismissed for failing to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. That rule requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Defendants argue that Count I did not provide adequate notice of the basis for the claim because Crews did not specifically cite to Title VII in the allegations. Count III is said to be incomprehensible because Crews cited to more than one constitutional amendment as the basis for her § 1983 conspiracy claim. While Rule 8 authorizes me to dismiss complaints that fail to give the Defendants notice, that remedy is generally saved for complaints that are truly unintelligible. See, e.g., Crenshaw v. Antokol, 206 F.Appx. 560, 563 (7th Cir. 2006) (affirming dismissal of complaint where it was "difficult to tell what claims it raises, and [was] replete with confusing language, redundancies and irrelevant material"); U.S. ex rel. Garst v. Lockheed-Martin Corp., 328 F.3d 374, 378 (7th Cir. 2003) (affirming dismissal where complaint was "so long, so disorganized, so laden with cross-references and baffling acronyms" as to be unintelligible). Crews's complaint has its problems, but unintelligiblility is not one of them. Count I alleges a straightforward discrimination claim, and Count III a § 1983 conspiracy claim. That's enough to satisfy Rule 8.

A. TITLE VII CLAIMS

Crews has alleged Title VII claims against the City of Gary. Count I alleges Gary discriminated against her on the basis of sex when she was transferred. Count I also alleges Gary engaged in a regular practice of sex discrimination against female employees. Count IV alleges Gary retaliated against Crews for filing discrimination complaints.

Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. There is a "minimal pleading standard for simple claims of race or sex discrimination." Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1084 ( citing EEOC v. Concentra Health Svcs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 781-82 (7th Cir. 2007)). To avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), "a complaint alleging sex discrimination need only aver that the employer instituted a (specified) adverse employment action against the plaintiff on the basis of her sex." Id .; see also Carlson v. CSX Transp., Inc., 758 F.3d 819, 827 (7th Cir.2014). Here, Crews has checked off the right boxes. She alleges that she was ...


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