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Escobedo v. Buncich

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

March 25, 2019




         Plaintiff Kathleen Escobedo (“Escobedo”) brings claims against former Lake County Sheriff John C. Buncich (“Buncich”) and Lake County, Indiana (“Lake County”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (DE # 1 at 1.) The matter is now before the court on defendant Buncich's motion to dismiss. (DE # 15.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a female who is employed by Lake County as a correctional officer. (DE # 1 at 2.) She performs duties in the Lake County Jail. (Id.) She alleges that in May 2016, she was placed on administrative leave after being erroneously accused of causing an inmate to escape from custody. (Id.)

         At the time, Buncich was the Sheriff of Lake County and plaintiff's supervisor. (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff alleges that Buncich gave her a fifteen-day suspension starting on June 13, 2016, for allegedly causing the escape. (Id. at 3-4.) She also alleges that Buncich caused her to be removed from the “SWAT” team for approximately six months, and that she was barred from certain overtime opportunities. (Id. at 4.)

         In contrast, plaintiff alleges that similarly situated male correctional officers who were also associated with the escape were treated more favorably than plaintiff. (Id. at 3.) She states that Buncich “intentionally and purposely treated [her] less favorably because she is female.” (Id. at 3.)

         Based on these facts, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court on June 12, 2018. (DE # 1.) The complaint contains three claims for violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at 4-9.)

         On August 24, 2018, Buncich filed a motion to dismiss. (DE # 15.) Buncich argues that the court should dismiss Count I of the complaint. (DE # 16 at 1.) Count I is an individual capacity claim against Buncich, alleging that he violated plaintiff's rights under the Equal Protection Clause. (DE # 1 at 3.) Plaintiff responded to the motion (DE # 18), and Buncich filed a reply brief (DE # 19). The motion is now fully briefed and ripe for ruling.


         Buncich has moved to dismiss plaintiff's claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. A judge reviewing a complaint under a Rule 12(b)(6) standard must construe it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, accept well-pleaded facts as true, and draw all inferences in the non-movant's favor. Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007); Reger Dev., LLC v. Nat'l City Bank, 595 F.3d 759, 763 (7th Cir. 2010). Under the liberal notice-pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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). To satisfy Rule 8(a), “the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         “While the federal pleading standard is quite forgiving, . . . the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ray v. City of Chicago, 629 F.3d 660, 662-63 (7th Cir. 2011); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. A plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). To meet this standard, a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, but it must go beyond providing “labels and conclusions” and “be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry & Neurology, 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994) among other authorities).


         A discriminatory act against an individual member of a protected class can amount to an Equal Protection claim. Bohen v. City of E. Chicago, Ind., 799 F.2d 1180, 1186-87 (7th Cir. 1986). It is undisputed that plaintiff, as a woman, is a member of a protected class. However, merely alleging discrimination against a woman is not enough to state a claim. Plaintiff must also allege “an intent to discriminate [against plaintiff] because of her status as a female and not because of characteristics of her gender which are personal to her.” Trautvetter v. Quick, 916 F.2d 1140, 1151 (7th Cir. 1990). In other words, plaintiff “must show that the decisionmakers in [her] case acted with discriminatory purpose.” Chavez v. Illinois State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 645 (7th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Buncich moves to dismiss Count I on the grounds that (1) plaintiff has failed to properly allege discriminatory intent or purpose, and (2) to the extent she does allege such intent or purpose, her allegations are ...

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