Submitted May 30, 2019
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 17 C 4409 - Harry
D. Leinenweber, Judge.
WOOD, Chief Judge, and Easterbrook and ROVNER, Circuit
Freeman, an African-American man who suffers from alcoholism,
sued the Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, his
former employer, for firing him because of his race and
disability. The district court dismissed his complaint for
failure to state a claim. See Fed. R. Crv. P. 12(b)(6). We
conclude, however, that Freeman has pleaded enough to state
his discrimination claims, and so we vacate the judgment and
remand for further proceedings with respect to those issues.
We affirm with respect to Freeman's contention that the
District fired him pursuant to a policy that is unlawful
under Monell v. Department of Social Services., 436
U.S. 658, 694-95 (1978).
purposes of this appeal, we assume the truth of the
allegations in Freeman's complaint and its attachments.
See Carmody v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of III,
747F.3d 470, 471 (7th Cir. 2014). Freeman began working for
the District in May 2015 as an operator of a treatment plant.
The District is a municipal corporation. See 70 ILCS 2605/1.
Freeman's job involved the collection and transportation
of temperature-sensitive water samples across the mile-long
plant. Although operators typically transport these samples
in District-owned vehicles, the job description does not
require a driver's license. In his first year, Freeman,
like all new hires, was a probationary worker, employed at
will. Id. at 2605/4.11. Once he completed his first
year, the District would be able to fire him only for cause.
three months after Freeman was hired, he was arrested for
driving under the influence of alcohol and his license was
suspended for six months. Freeman began seeing a
substance-abuse counselor for his alcohol problem. As
required by his job contract, he also told the District about
the license suspension and his counseling. To ensure that
concerns about his alcohol problem or license suspension did
not interfere with his job, he did three things: (1) he
bought a bike and a cooler to transport samples around the
plant, (2) he asked if he could use a John Deere go-cart,
which does not require a driver's license on private
property, and (3) he applied for an occupational driving
permit from the state that would permit him to drive a
company vehicle while working. (The state authorized his
permit conditional on the District's approval, but the
District refused to grant his request.) The District fired
Freeman while he was on probation, asserting
"unsatisfactory performance." Freeman alleges that
this explanation is pretextual; the District's real
reason for firing him he said, was because of his race and
because it regarded him as an alcoholic.
sued the District for employment discrimination. Its path in
the district court was a rocky one, and the case presented
some managerial challenges for the district court. At the
outset of the suit, the court recruited an attorney to
represent Freeman. That relationship broke down and the
attorney was excused; three additional attorneys followed.
Each one moved to withdraw because of disagreements with
Freeman about litigation strategy. Second, while proceeding
pro se, Freeman filed three sprawling amended
complaints, each over 70 pages. On the District's
motions, the judge dismissed two of these filings for failure
to comply with the requirement under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8(a) calling for a "short and plain statement
of the claim." Freeman withdrew the third iteration.
operative complaint-the fourth amended version- raises claims
of race and disability discrimination and of retaliation, in
violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, id. § 2000e-2,
and the Americans with Disabilities Act, id. at
§ 12112. He alleges that the District fired him
"due to his race" (African-American) and
"disability" (alcoholism). He next asserts that the
District failed reasonably to accommodate his alcoholism by
refusing to let him travel around the grounds of the plant
without using a car. He also accuses the District of
retaliating against him by firing him after he sought
reasonable accommodations. Finally, he alleges that the
District fired him under an unconstitutional policy.
district court dismissed Freeman's complaint with
prejudice for failure to state a claim. Its opinion began
with Freeman's assertion that the District fired him
because of his alcoholism. The court reasoned that Freeman
pleaded neither that his alcoholism caused "substantial
limitations" to major life activities nor that it caused
his firing. Next, the court said, Freeman's retaliation
and reasonable-accommodations claims failed because he had
requested accommodations only for his license suspension, not
his alcoholism. Turning to Freeman's race-discrimination
claims under § 1983 and Title VII, the court ruled that
Freeman "fail[ed] to plead the final element"-that
he was treated less favorably than at least one colleague who
was not African-American. Freeman had no claim under §
1981 because, the court explained, that statute generally
does not allow a private right of action against public
actors. Finally, the court concluded that Freeman had not
stated a "policy" claim under Monell
because he had not identified the policy or practice that he
appeal Freeman (still acting pro se) contends that
his complaint sufficiently states each of his claims. He
argues that the district court erroneously "judg[ed] the
truth of [his] factual allegations/' including his
allegation that the District's decision to fire him for
"unsatisfactory performance" was pretextual.
conclude that the district court erred by demanding too much
specificity in Freeman's complaint. A plaintiff alleging
race discrimination need not allege each evidentiary element
of a legal theory to survive a motion to dismiss.
Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510-14
(2002); Ta-mayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081
(7th Cir. 2008). Rather, to proceed against the District
under § 1983 or Title VII, Freeman needed only to
allege-as he did here-that the District fired him because of
his race. Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1084; see also
Bennett v. Schmidt 153 F.3d 516, 518 (7th Cir. 1998)
('"I was turned down for a job because of my
race' is all a complaint has to say."). His failure
to plead the evidentiary element about comparable coworkers,
therefore, is not fatal.
Freeman has stated a claim for disability and retaliation
claims under the ADA. The general rule in federal court calls
only for notice pleading, see Erickson v. Pardus,
551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007), but some theories of recovery require
more detail than others in order to give the required notice.
That is why we noted in Tate v. SCR Medical
Transportation, 809 F.3d 343, 345 (7th Cir. 2015), that
a plaintiff advancing a claim under the ADA must allege that
he is disabled but, with or without reasonable accommodation,
can still do the job. Normally he also must allege what
exactly makes him disabled.
district court here faulted Freeman for not alleging that his