Thomas v. Coach Outlet Store et al
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order Signed by the Honorable John Z. Lee on 1/27/17.Mailed notice(ca, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
COACH OUTLET STORE,
UNKNOWN COACH OUTLET
STORE MANAGER, and
16 C 3950
Judge John Z. Lee
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Michelle Thomas has sued Coach Outlet Store, an unknown Coach
Outlet Store Manager, and Coach, Inc. (collectively, “Defendants”). She alleges race
discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count I) and Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count II), and she also brings state
law claims for negligent supervision (Count III) and intentional infliction of
emotional distress (Count IV).
Defendant Coach Inc. (“Coach”) has moved to
dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6). 1
For the reasons stated herein, Coach’s motion to
dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.
Coach Outlet Store and the unknown Coach Outlet Store Manager have not joined
Coach’s motion to dismiss. Coach has taken the position that Coach Outlet Store is not a
separate legal entity and should therefore be voluntarily dismissed by Thomas. See Def.’s
Mem. Supp. at 1 n.1, ECF No. 18. The Court notes that process was served on Coach Outlet
Store on May 2, 2016. See Summons, ECF No. 8. If Defendants take the position later in
these proceedings that the Court should dismiss Coach Outlet Store on the ground that it is
not a separate entity, Defendants will have to support this position with sufficient evidence.
Plaintiff Michelle Thomas is an African American woman who resides in
Illinois. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 9, ECF No. 1. In 2014, she was employed as a security guard
by SOS Security. Id. ¶ 9. SOS Security entered a contract with the Coach Outlet
Store in Aurora, Illinois, to provide an overnight security guard at the store while
the store was in the process of being remodeled. Id. ¶ 10. In connection with this
contract, Thomas was assigned to work as the overnight security guard at the Coach
Outlet Store for three nights, beginning the night of May 1, 2014. Id. ¶¶ 11–12.
Thomas’s claims arise from an incident that took place on the second night of
her assignment. On May 2, 2014, a Coach Outlet Store manager arrived at the
store where Thomas was working. Id. ¶ 15. According to Thomas, the manager
proceeded to immediately—and falsely—accuse Thomas of stealing items from the
Id. ¶¶ 16–17.
The manager then physically patted down Thomas and
“roughly searched” through her belongings, “holding up [Thomas’s] intimate apparel
and other items in front of people in the store.” Id. ¶¶ 18–19.
The manager’s search did not reveal any stolen items.
Id. ¶ 20.
Nevertheless, the manager e-mailed various individuals after the incident,
including Thomas’s supervisor at SOS Security, and told them Thomas had stolen
something from the store. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24. The manager then terminated Thomas
from the remainder of her assignment. Id. ¶¶ 23, 25. Thomas alleges that she was
falsely accused of theft and terminated from her employment at the Coach Outlet
Store on account of her race. Id. ¶¶ 25, 30, 35, 37.
To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must
“state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows 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). The complaint “need only provide a short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,
sufficient to provide the defendant with fair notice of the claim and its basis.”
Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008); see also Fed. R. Civ. P.
8(a)(2). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must accept as true all wellpleaded allegations in the complaint and must draw inferences in the plaintiff’s
favor. See Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1081.
Coach has moved to dismiss all four counts of Thomas’s complaint for failure
to state a claim pursuant under Rule 12(b)(6). First, Coach contends that Thomas’s
§ 1981 and Title VII claims should be dismissed because Thomas has not
sufficiently alleged the existence of an employment contract or employment
relationship with Coach. Next, it seeks dismissal of Thomas’s negligent supervision
claim because Thomas has not alleged that Coach knew or should have known the
Coach Store Outlet manager posed a danger to Thomas. Coach also argues that
Thomas’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress should be dismissed
on the ground that Thomas has not sufficiently alleged extreme and outrageous
conduct to support her claim. The Court will address each of these arguments
Count I: Race Discrimination Under 42 U.S.C. § 1981
Under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, all persons, regardless of race, are guaranteed “the
same right . . . to make and enforce contracts.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). This guarantee
protects the rights to enter, perform, modify, and terminate contracts, as well as to
enjoy “all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship.”
Id. § 1981(b).
Section 1981 therefore offers a basis for relief “when racial
discrimination impairs an existing contractual relationship, so long as the plaintiff
has or would have rights under the existing . . . contractual relationship.” Domino’s
Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470, 476 (2006).
Coach argues that Thomas has failed to state a claim under § 1981 on the
ground that Thomas has not alleged the existence of a contractual relationship
between Thomas and Coach.
Def.’s Mem. Supp. at 3.
The Seventh Circuit,
however, has made clear that a defendant “can be liable under § 1981 for interfering
with the plaintiff’s relationship with his employer,” even when the plaintiff has no
direct contractual relationship with the defendant itself. Sklyarsky v. Means-Knaus
Partners, L.P., 777 F.3d 892, 896 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Muhammad v. Oliver, 547
F.3d 874, 878 (7th Cir. 2008); Thanongsinh v. Bd. of Educ., 462 F.3d 762, 782–83
(7th Cir. 2006)).
In other words, a defendant’s “tortious interference with [the
plaintiff’s] contract rights violates section 1981 when the motivation for the
interference is racial,” regardless of whether the defendant itself was a party to the
contract at issue.
Muhammad, 547 F.3d at 878.
The lack of an employment
relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant thus does not preclude the
plaintiff from prevailing on a § 1981 claim. See id; Deets v. Massman Const. Co.,
811 F.3d 978, 984 (7th Cir. 2016).
Here, Thomas has alleged that she had an employment relationship with
SOS Security. Compl. ¶¶ 9, 11. She further alleges that Defendants interfered
with this employment relationship by terminating Thomas’s assignment to work at
the Coach Outlet Store and by falsely reporting to Thomas’s supervisor at SOS
Security that Thomas had stolen items from the store. Id. ¶¶ 22–25. Because these
allegations amount to a claim that Defendants interfered with Thomas’s
employment relationship with SOS Security, and because Thomas attributes this
interference to racial motivation, see id. ¶¶ 28–31, Thomas has sufficiently stated a
claim to relief under § 1981 against Coach.
See Sklyarsky, 777 F.3d at 896;
Muhammad, 547 F.3d at 878. Coach’s motion to dismiss Count I is accordingly
Count II: Race Discrimination Under Title VII
Coach also argues that Thomas’s Title VII claim should be dismissed because
Thomas has alleged that her employer was SOS Security rather than Coach. Def.’s
Mem. Supp. at 2–3. Thomas disagrees, contending that she has alleged sufficient
facts to support her Title VII claim under the theory that SOS Security and Coach
were her joint employers. Pl.’s Resp. at 4–6, ECF No. 23.
A plaintiff may pursue a Title VII claim against an entity under the theory
that the entity was one of her joint employers. Sklyarsky, 777 F.3d at 896. In
considering whether an entity is a joint employer for purposes of Title VII liability,
courts consider five factors: “(1) the extent of the [entity’s] control and supervision
over the employee; (2) the kind of occupation and nature of skill required, including
whether skills were acquired on the job; (3) the [entity’s] responsibility for the costs
of operation; (4) the method and form of payment and benefits; and (5) the length of
the job commitment.” Love v. JP Cullen & Sons, Inc., 779 F.3d 697, 702 (7th Cir.
2015) (citing Knight v. United Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 950 F.2d 377, 378–79
(7th Cir. 1991)). As the Seventh Circuit has explained, these five factors help to
structure the court’s determination of “whether the putative employer exercised
sufficient control, and whether the ‘economic realities’ are such that the putative
employer can be held liable under Title VII.” Id. Accordingly, the first of these
factors—that is, the extent of the employer’s control over the employee—is “the
‘most important’ consideration in ascertaining the existence of an employeremployee relationship.” Id. at 703 (quoting Knight, 950 F.2d at 378).
The issue of whether an entity is a joint employer is generally unsuitable for
resolution on the pleadings because it involves “a fact-intensive inquiry that
typically requires further development through discovery.”
Penteris v. Citgo
Petroleum Corp., 104 F. Supp. 3d 894, 900 (N.D. Ill. 2015) (applying the five jointemployer factors to determine a putative employer’s status in the context of an ADA
claim). As such, courts routinely refuse to dismiss Title VII claims at the pleading
stage as long as the plaintiff’s factual allegations support the theory that the
defendant exercised sufficient control over the plaintiff to be her joint employer.
See, e.g., Pruitt v. Pers. Staffing Grp., LLC, No. 16 C 5079, 2016 WL 6995566, at *4
(N.D. Ill. Nov. 30, 2016) (holding that plaintiffs stated plausible Title VII claims
against defendant as their joint employer when allegations showed that defendant
“had certain control over Plaintiffs’ employment”); Tritsis v. BankFinancial Corp.,
No. 16 C 02052, 2016 WL 5171785, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 21, 2016) (holding that
plaintiff, an executive officer at a bank, sufficiently alleged that an entity was her
joint employer when she alleged that the entity “exerted a significant degree of
control” over her employment by determining bank executives’ eligibility for stock
options); Leone v. Naperville Prof’ls, Inc., No. 14 C 9583, 2015 WL 1810321, at *4
(N.D. Ill. Apr. 17, 2015) (holding that plaintiff sufficiently alleged that defendant
was her joint employer where defendant had the power to terminate plaintiff’s
employment for failure to follow defendant’s policies).
In the present case, Thomas alleges that Defendants terminated her
employment with respect to her assignment to work as a security guard at the
Coach Outlet Store. Compl. ¶¶ 25, 37. Accepted as true, as they must be at this
stage, these allegations suggest that Defendants had some control over Thomas’s
employment because Defendants had the power to terminate Thomas’s employment
assignment at the Coach Outlet Store. Under the federal notice pleading standard,
such allegations suffice to state a Title VII claim under a joint employer theory. See
Pruitt, 2016 WL 6995566, at *4; Leone, 2015 WL 1810321, at *4.
Furthermore, the cases that Coach cites in support of its argument—namely,
Shah v. Littelfuse Inc., 2013 WL 1828926 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 29, 2013), and Jones v. Seko
Messenger, Inc., 955 F. Supp. 931 (N.D. Ill. 1997)—are readily distinguishable from
the facts at bar. In Shah, the court dismissed a Title VII claim with regard to one of
the defendants when the plaintiff had not alleged a single fact demonstrating that
the defendant had exercise any control over his employment. 2013 WL 1828926, at
*3–4. And in Jones, the court dismissed a Title VII claim brought under a joint
employer theory only after the parties had conducted formal discovery on this issue.
955 F. Supp. at 932–34. By contrast, because Thomas asserts that Defendants had
power over the termination of her employment assignment, she alleges that
Defendants exercised some control over her employment. At the pleading stage,
prior to the opportunity to conduct discovery, these allegations suffice to state a
Title VII claim under the theory that Coach was her joint employer. For these
reasons, Coach’s motion to dismiss Count III is denied.
Count III: Negligent Supervision
Next, Coach argues that Thomas’s claim for negligent supervision should be
dismissed because Thomas has failed to allege that Coach knew or should have
known the Coach Outlet Store manager presented a danger to Thomas. Def.’s Mem.
Supp. at 3–4. In response, Thomas concedes this argument and accordingly asks to
“voluntarily dismiss[ ] her claim for negligent supervision.” Pl.’s Resp. at 8. The
Court therefore dismisses Thomas’s claim for negligent supervision without
Count IV: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Under Illinois law, “[t]he tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress
requires proof of four elements: (1) extreme and outrageous conduct; (2) intent or
recklessness to cause emotional distress; (3) severe or extreme emotional distress
suffered by the plaintiff; and (4) actual and proximate causation of the emotional
distress by defendant's outrageous conduct.” Sornberger v. City of Knoxville, Ill.,
434 F.3d 1006, 1030 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Pub. Fin. Corp. v. Davis, 360 N.E.2d 765,
767–68 (Ill. 1976)). Taking issue with only the first of these four elements, Coach
argues that Thomas’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress should be
dismissed because Thomas has failed to allege sufficiently extreme and outrageous
conduct. The Court agrees.
Conduct is extreme and outrageous under Illinois law only if it goes “beyond
all bounds of decency [so as to] be considered intolerable in a civilized community”;
“mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions, or other
trivialities” do not arise to the level of extreme and outrageous conduct required to
support a claim for emotional distress. Honaker v. Smith, 256 F.3d 477, 490 (7th
Cir. 2001) (quoting McGrath v. Fahey, 533 N.E.2d 806, 809 (Ill. 1988)). “Whether
conduct is extreme and outrageous is judged on an objective standard, based on the
facts of the particular case.” Id. (citing Doe v. Calumet City, 641 N.E.2d 498, 507
To determine whether conduct is extreme and outrageous, courts
consider factors such as whether the defendant “stood in a position of power or
authority relative to the plaintiff,” “reasonably believed that his objective was
legitimate,” or knew the plaintiff was “peculiarly susceptible to emotional distress.”
McGrath, 533 N.E.2d at 810–11; see also Honaker, 256 F.3d at 491–92.
In the employment context, Illinois courts have found extreme and
outrageous conduct “where the employer clearly abuses the power it holds over an
employee in a manner far more severe than the typical disagreements or job-related
stress caused by the average work environment.”
Honaker, 256 F.3d at 491
(collecting Illinois cases). In general, however, “Illinois courts have been hesitant to
find intentional infliction of emotional distress in the workplace because, ‘if
everyday job stresses resulting from discipline, personality conflicts, job transfers or
even terminations could give rise to a cause of action for intentional infliction of
emotional distress, nearly every employee would have a cause of action.’” Naeem v.
McKesson Drug Co., 444 F.3d 593, 605 (7th Cir. 2006) (quoting Graham v.
Commonwealth Edison Co., 742 N.E.2d 858, 867 (Ill. 2000)). As such, Illinois courts
have found behavior in the workplace to rise to the level of extreme and outrageous
conduct only when the behavior is truly egregious. See, e.g., Pavilon v. Kaferly, 561
N.E.2d 1245, 1251–52 (Ill. 1990) (finding extreme and outrageous conduct where
employer offered plaintiff money for sexual favors, fired her after she refused, and
subsequently threatened to rape and kill her); Milton v. Ill. Bell Tel. Co., 427 N.E.2d
829, 833 (Ill. 1981) (finding extreme and outrageous conduct where employer
engaged in extensive harassing conduct to coerce plaintiff into falsifying work
reports); see also Naeem, 444 F.3d at 605 (finding extreme and outrageous conduct
under Illinois law where employer endangered plaintiff’s safety by forcing her to
climb up an unstable metal stairway while pregnant in order to connect computer
equipment and sabotaged her computer to deny her access to work files).
In light of these principles, “Illinois courts have held that even a wrongful
discharge based on a prohibited category . . . is not sufficiently outrageous or
extreme to sustain a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Bogie v.
PAWS Chi., 914 F. Supp. 2d 913, 917 (N.D. Ill. 2012) (internal quotation marks
Conceding this point, Thomas acknowledges that her allegations of
discrimination cannot support her claim for intentional infliction of emotional
distress on their own. Pl.’s Resp. at 10. But she argues that other allegations in
her complaint suffice to show extreme and outrageous conduct, pointing in
particular to her allegations that the Coach Outlet Store manager falsely accused
her of theft, patted her down, and searched her belongings. Id.
Although Thomas’s interaction with the Coach Outlet Store manager may
have been insulting and embarrassing, the manager’s acts did not constitute
extreme or outrageous conduct capable of supporting a claim for intentional
infliction of emotional distress under Illinois law.
First, the manager’s false
accusations against Thomas fall far short of being extreme and outrageous. False
accusations of illegal activity or poor work performance do not give rise to a claim
for intentional infliction of emotional distress, even when those accusations are
made to third parties. See Socorro v. IMI Data Search, Inc., No. 02 C 8120, 2003
WL 1964269, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 28, 2003) (dismissing claim for intentional
infliction of emotional distress under Illinois law where defendant fired plaintiff
based on erroneous report that plaintiff had committed a crime and where
defendant then relayed this false information to third parties); Layne v. Builders
Plumbing Supply Co., 569 N.E.2d 1104, 1109 (Ill. 1991) (no extreme and outrageous
conduct where defendant falsely told police that plaintiff had harassed, assaulted,
and threatened a coworker); see also Ogbolumani v. Young, No. 1-14-1930, 2015 WL
1284064, at *13 (Ill. App. Ct. Mar. 20, 2015) (supervisor’s conduct was not extreme
and outrageous where he made false and detrimental statements in plaintiff’s work
The pat-down search and the search of Thomas’s belongings also do not
constitute extreme and outrageous conduct. While Illinois courts have held that a
decade-long pattern of physical abuse and injury amounts to extreme and
outrageous conduct, see Feltmeier v. Feltmeier, 798 N.E.2d 75, 83 (Ill. 2003), a onetime physical contact of the type at issue here does not. See Miller v. Equitable Life
Assurance Soc’y of the U.S., 537 N.E.2d 887, 888–90 (Ill. 1989) (male coworker’s
offensive touching of female plaintiff’s breasts, shoulders, and head was not extreme
and outrageous conduct); see also Love v. City of Chi., No. 09 C 03631, 2015 WL
2193712, at *13 (N.D. Ill. May 7, 2015) (dismissing claim for intentional infliction of
emotional distress because allegations that defendants improperly searched and
detained plaintiff did not show extreme and outrageous conduct under Illinois law).
It is likewise insufficient that the manager conducted the search in a humiliating
way by holding up the “intimate apparel” she found among Thomas’s belongings,
because such conduct merely “create[s] some distress and embarrassment” and
therefore is not extreme and outrageous.
Layne, 569 N.E.2d at 1109; see also
Ponticiello v. Aramark Unif. & Career Apparel Servs., Inc., No. 05 C 1137, 2006 WL
2699416, at *12 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 19, 2006) (no extreme and outrageous conduct under
Illinois law where plaintiff endured “offensive and humiliating taunts and jokes”
from her coworkers over the course of three and a half years).
In sum, the Court finds that Thomas has not alleged conduct amounting to
extreme and outrageous conduct under Illinois law. As such, Thomas has not stated
a plausible claim to relief for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Count IV
is thus dismissed.
For the reasons stated herein, Coach’s motion to dismiss  is granted in
part and denied in part.
The Court dismisses Thomas’s claims for negligent
supervision (Count III) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV).
In all other respects, Coach’s motion to dismiss is denied.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
John Z. Lee
United States District Judge
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