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Anderson v. Champion Home Builders, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

November 20, 2019

JONATHON ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CHAMPION HOME BUILDERS, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM C. LEE, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Champion Home Builders, Inc. (ECF 11). In response, Plaintiff Jonathon Anderson filed a “Motion to Amend Complaint and Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss” (ECF 12). Champion chose not to file a reply brief and so this matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Champion Home Builders, Inc. (ECF 11) is DENIED and the motion to amend filed by Plaintiff Jonathon Anderson (ECF 12) is GRANTED. The Clerk of the Court is instructed to docket the Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, attached to his motion to amend as Exhibit 1.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “‘A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the viability of a complaint by arguing that it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.'” Savoy v. BMW of N. Am., LLC, 313 F.Supp.3d 907, 913 (N.D. Ill. 2018) (quoting Firestone Fin. Corp. v. Meyer, 796 F.3d 822, 825 (7th Cir. 2015)). When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Bielanski v. County of Kane, 550 F.3d 632, 633 (7th Cir. 2008). The complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the Supreme Court explained that the complaint must allege facts that are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). To be facially plausible, the complaint must allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Although Rule 8(a) requires only a “short and plain statement” of the plaintiff's claims, to survive a motion to dismiss a complaint must consist of more than “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A complaint that contains factual allegations that are “‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability . . . ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Id. at 677 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). The claim must be described “in sufficient detail to give the defendant ‘fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “[C]ourts ‘are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). “‘Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” Tobey v. Chibucos, 890 F.3d 634, 644-46 (7th Cir. 2018) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, and importantly in this case, “a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ‘tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case.'” Tarzian v. Kraft Heinz Foods Co., 2019 WL 5064732, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 9, 2019) (quoting McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 694 F.3d 873, 878 (7th Cir. 2012)).

         DISCUSSION

         Jonathan Anderson filed his Complaint against Champion on March 29, 2019. Complaint (ECF 1). Anderson states that he was employed by Champion for about six months[1] but was discriminated against and terminated in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Anderson alleges as follows:

The Plaintiff, Jonathon Anderson, alleges that he was discriminated against, retaliated against, and discharged on account of his race (African-American), his color (black), his disability (back injury substantially impairing his everyday life activities of walking, lifting, twisting/turning and working), for complaining about discrimination and attempting to engage in the interactive process in requesting reasonable accommodations-all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12111 et. seq. (“ADA”)-all based upon the facts and circumstances alleged in his Charge of Discrimination No. 470-2018- 03647, filed with the EEOC on or about July 25, 2018, a copy of which is attached hereto and made apart [sic] hereof and incorporated herein as Exhibit A.

Id., p. 1. Anderson seeks “judgment against the Defendant, for back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, reasonable attorney's fees and costs[.]” Id., p. 2. It is true, as Champion contends, that Anderson's Complaint and the EEOC Charge incorporated into it, are sparse on factual details and include a host of conclusory allegations and statutory “buzzwords.” But the issue is whether his allegations are sufficient now-at the pleading stage at which the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in Anderson's favor-to put Champion on notice of the claims being asserted against the company. The Court concludes that they are sufficient to meet the Rule 8 and Iqbal/Twombly pleading standards.

         Champion insists that Anderson's Complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Motion to Dismiss, p. 1. Champion argues that “Anderson cites no factual bases to his allegations but only references an attached illegible Charge of Discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission[.]” Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss (ECF 11-1), p. 1. Champion also argues that Anderson's Complaint “fails to specify any facts in support of his allegations of retaliation by Defendant. . . . Nowhere in his Complaint or the attached EEOC Charge, are there facts supporting a claim of illegal retaliation of Anderson's protected conduct. Thus, as a result of Anderson's complete failure to properly plead any facts of retaliation against Champion, Anderson's Complaint, pursuant to Title VII, must be dismissed as a matter of law.” Id., pp. 2-3. Champion also argues that the Complaint fails to establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 because it “fails to provide facts demonstrating that his race provided the reason for Champion's termination[.]” Id., p. 3. Finally, Champion argues that Anderson's Complaint fails to state a claim for violation of the ADA, since “[n]owhere in the Complaint nor EEOC Charge[] does Anderson state he was still qualified to perform the essential function of his job, with or without reasonable accommodations. Rather, it appears that Anderson was unable to perform his essential job functions (i.e., including installing heavy toilets into mobile homes) as he states in his EEOC Charge that on June 11 2018, he attempted to go to work and tried to perform his duties yet had to leave work due to the severity of his disability. . . . Without alleging his ability to continue to perform the essential functions of his job, Anderson has not properly plead a claim pursuant to the ADA.” Id., p. 4. Champion closes its memorandum in support of its motion by reiterating that “[w]hile the Court may consider the incorporated allegations in Anderson's EEOC Charge as part of Anderson's Complaint, said allegations are illegible and as a result Champion cannot decipher many of the allegations stated. Thus, at a minimum, Anderson should be required to legibly plead his claim in order to properly put Champion on notice of said claims.” Id., p. 5.

         In summary, Champion argues that it “cannot decipher” Anderson's claims because the copy of the EEOC Charge attached to his Complaint was illegible, and that he fails to state viable claims under § 1981, Title VII or the ADA because his allegations are too few and too cursory to provide Champion with adequate notice of the factual bases for those claims.

         Champion is correct that Anderson's Complaint is sparse on facts to support his claims. Anderson relies on the statements and assertions in his EEOC Charge to fill in the blanks. In his Charge, Anderson includes the following factual recitation to support his claims:

Complainant alleges that he was discriminated against on account of his disability/perceived disability (back injury causing pain substantially impairing Complainant's everyday life activities of walking, lifting, and working).
Complainant alleges that he was discriminated against by being prohibited to enjoy the benefits of his at-will employment relationship with Respondent unlike similarly situated Caucasians and non-blacks, contrary to 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
Complainant alleges that he was discriminated against and discharged on account of his race and color (African American/black) in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 in that Complainant was one of the few African Americans/blacks working for Respondent (Complainant was the only black person working in his department); from the start of his job with [Champion] Assistant Manager Bruce over scrutinized the Complainant and always “watched” him; Respondent treated Complainant differently with respect to the terms, conditions, benefits and privileges of his employment and treated Caucasian employees better (certainly as to being injured and needing time off work to rehabilitate).
Complainant alleges that he was discriminated against and discharged because of his disability/perceived disability, and was denied the interactive process, and he was denied the reasonable accommodation of staying off work and getting doctor's care for his back injury[.]

         Charge of Discrimination (ECF 1-1), pp. 1-2. As further factual support for his ADA claim, Anderson states in his EEOC Charge as follows:

[Plaintiff] injured his back on or about June 10, 2018; he attempted to go to work on June 11, 2018, and tried to perform his duties, which included lifting and installing heavy toilets in mobile homes; . . . [he] complained to his team leader that he needed to get his back checked out by a physician; the team leader called Bruce ___ (Assistant Plant Manager), who told Complainant to go to a physician and come back with a note; . . . the physician ordered Complainant to be off work for a week; Complainant called his employer and told them that he could not come back that day; Complainant called the next morning and informed the Respondent through voicemail that he would not be returning to work until June 18, 2018[, ] with a doctor's note; when Complainant went to work on June 18, 2018[, ] and presented the doctor's note to Bruce ___, he said to Complainant, “Jon Anderson, what are you doing here, you think you still have a job?” and he said, “you was terminated last week.” Bruce saw the doctor's note in Complainant's hand and asked for it. Complainant gave the note to Bruce ___ and he read it. Bruce ___ also ...

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