Koen v. Southern Seven Health Department
ORDER. For the reasons explained in the attached Memorandum & Order, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint and Supporting Memorandum of Law (Doc. 86) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Count I of the Amended Compl aint is DISMISSED with prejudice. By virtue of this ruling, a Status Conference remains scheduled for November 16, 2023, at 10 a.m., and a hearing on the requested preliminary injunction (Doc. 3) remains scheduled for November 20, 2023, at 9 a.m. Signed by Judge David W. Dugan on 11/15/2023. (jnh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
ROBBIE M. KOEN, JORDAN HOLDER, )
RHONDA SUMNLERS, KANEESA )
MALLORY, and ROMELLO ORR,
SOUTHERN SEVEN HEALTH
DEPARTMENT and RHONDA RAY,
Case No. 23-cv-2657- DWD
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
DUGAN, District Judge:
Before the Court is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint and
Supporting Memorandum of Law (“Motion”) (Doc. 86). Plaintiffs filed a Response in
Opposition to the Motion (Doc. 90) and Defendants filed a Reply in Support of the Motion
(Doc. 92). As explained below, the Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
Plaintiffs initiated this case on August 1, 2023, when they filed a Complaint for
Damages for Racial Discrimination and for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (Doc. 1).
That same day, Plaintiffs also filed an Ex Parte Motion for the Entry of a Temporary
Restraining Order Without Notice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(b) (Doc. 3),
which requested a temporary restraining order or, in the alternative, a preliminary
note Plaintiff Holder is identified in the caption of the Amended Complaint, but he is
not mentioned anywhere in the body of the Amended Complaint. (Doc. 86, pg. 6 n. 2). Defendants suggest
Plaintiff Holder was included in the caption of the Amended Complaint by mistake. (Doc. 86, pg. 6 n. 2).
injunction. The Court denied the aforementioned Ex Parte Motion in part and deferred it
in part on August 3, 2023. (Doc. 25). More specifically, the Court denied the request for a
temporary restraining order without notice, but deferred ruling on the request for a
preliminary injunction. (Doc. 25). The Court indicated to the parties that it would
schedule a hearing on the requested preliminary injunction at the earliest possible date.
(Doc. 25). The hearing on that request is now scheduled for November 20, 2023. (Doc. 87).
Over the course of a month, Plaintiffs attempted to serve each Defendant in
advance of a hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction. At a Status Conference
held on September 5, 2023, however, Plaintiffs sought leave to amend the Complaint to
dismiss unnecessary parties. (Doc. 74). That request was granted. (Doc. 74).
On September 14, 2023, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint for Damages for
Racial Discrimination and for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (“Amended Complaint”)
(Doc. 84), dismissing one Plaintiff and all but one Individual Defendant. Plaintiff Koen,
an African American, is an employee of Defendant Southern Seven Health Department
(“Southern Seven”) who has been the site supervisor of the Head Start Facility in Cairo,
Illinois, since 1996. (Doc. 84, pgs. 2-3). Plaintiff Sumnlers, who is not an African American,
and Plaintiffs Mallory and Orr, who are African Americans, have children enrolled at the
Cairo Head Start Facility. (Doc. 84, pg. 2). Defendant Southern Seven is allegedly a body
politic, incorporated under Illinois law and governed by a board of directors, serving
seven counties in Southern Illinois. (Doc. 84, pg. 2). Defendant Ray, as the Executive
Director of Defendant Southern Seven, is one of Plaintiff Koen’s supervisors. (Doc. 84, pg.
3). She reports to Defendant Southern Seven’s Board of Directors. (Doc. 84, pg. 3).
Collectively, Plaintiffs allege “Defendants herein decided to close the Cairo Head
Start facility for reasons motivated by race as opposed to the implementation of objective
criteria.” (Doc. 84, pg. 1). According to Plaintiffs, Cairo, Illinois, “is predominately
African-American in its racial make up.” (Doc. 84, pg. 3). Further, as to Plaintiff Koen,
Plaintiffs allege she “received regular raises and bonuses,” and was considered “a
valuable employee,” before 2018. (Doc. 84, pg. 3). Around that time, however, Defendant
Ray allegedly joined Head Start. (Doc. 84, pg. 3). She and two other individual employees
allegedly made Plaintiff Koen’s “life…substantially more difficult.” (Doc. 84, pg. 3).2
Specifically, Defendant Southern Seven’s treatment of the Cairo Head Start
Facility, generally, and Plaintiff Koen, specifically, changed in the following ways:
(1) Plaintiff Koen “was met with a caustic response” when, in late 2019 or early 2020, she
asked the Head Start administrator about a directive regarding the number of enrolled
students, “plainly indicating that she was not welcome to ask questions” despite being
urged to ask questions about the program in the past; (2) “a campaign of harassment”
began against Plaintiff Koen, in July 2020, after learning that a staff member contracted
COVID-19 and she, but not Defendant Ray or the Head Start administrator, wanted to
inform other employees of that reported illness; (3) Plaintiff discovered the maintenance
department was “ignoring work orders,” including a work order to replace the windows
in the classrooms at the Cairo Head Start Facility, that were delivered to the Head Start
administrator; (4) the Cairo Head Start Facility was “consistently” short staffed when
two other individual employees are identified as the Head Start administrator, Jennifer Parks,
and the human resource administrator, Emily Boyd. Neither Ms. Parks nor Ms. Boyd are named as
Defendants in the Amended Complaint. (Doc. 84, pg. 3).
employees called in sick because the Head Start administrator “routinely” decided not to
send temporary replacements to fill in; (5) after Plaintiff Koen learned, on May 1, 2023,
that Defendant Southern Seven planned to close the Cairo Head Start Facility, the Head
Start administrator, in a conversation with Plaintiff Koen, the human resource
administrator, and a parent, informed the parent that “she and other administrators were
unable to speak with Koen and other Cairo staff because Koen had filed grievances and
had complained about the closing of the” Cairo Head Start Facility; (6) Plaintiff Koen filed
an internal grievance against Defendant Ray on July 26, 2023, after Defendant Ray, “in an
aggressive manner and in an attempt to harass and intimidate” Plaintiff Koen, “put her
finger near Koen’s face and falsely charged her with calling Senators, Representatives,
and other stakeholders” to come and view the Cairo Head Start Facility; and (7) Plaintiff
Koen was given notice that she was laid off, effective August 4, 2023. (Doc. 84, pgs. 3-5).
Plaintiffs allege Defendant Southern Seven, which operates nine other Head Start
facilities in southern Illinois where “[t]he children enrolled…are predominantly white in
racial background,” gave no consideration to closing any of the nine other Head Start
facilities. (Doc. 84, pg. 3, 5). Also, “substantial repairs have been and are being done at”
the Egyptian, Metropolis, Mounds, and Vienna Head Start Facilities. (Doc 84, pg. 5).
Despite budgeted funds for the Cairo Head Start Facility, however, “money is not being
spent for repairs in Cairo.” (Doc 84, pg. 5). Based on the above allegations, “Plaintiffs
allege…[the Cairo Head Start Facility] would still be operating if [it] were located in a
city that was predominately white, where the children enrolled are predominantly white,
and where the Site Supervisor was also white.” (Doc. 84, pg. 5).
Relatedly, Plaintiffs allege discrimination “against Plaintiff Koen because she is a
confident, articulate, and strong woman of African-American descent.” (Doc. 84, pg. 5).
That discrimination is also allegedly related to “the advocacy she took in relation to her
questioning [of] Defendants’ decision to close…[the Cairo Head Start Facility] by
reaching out to elected officials to come and inspect” the Facility. (Doc. 84, pg. 5). In
Plaintiffs’ view, “Southern Seven employees and officials were resentful of the fact that
Plaintiff Koen stood up for the rights of persons of African American descent with regard
to…[the] treatment of” the Cairo Head Start Facility. (Doc. 84, pg. 6). Plaintiffs brought
their claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 (Count I) and 1983 (Count II). (Doc. 84, pgs. 6-8).
Defendants filed the Motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on
September 28, 2023. Plaintiffs’ Response was filed on October 26, 2023, and Defendants’
Reply was filed on November 9, 2023. Therefore, the Motion is fully briefed and ripe for
a ruling. The parties’ specific arguments as to the Motion are incorporated below.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires “a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). A motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the complaint due to a failure to state a claim for
which relief may be granted. See Firestone Fin. Corp., 796 F.3d 822, 825 (7th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Camasta v. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc., 761 F.3d 732, 736 (7th Cir. 2014)). To survive
the motion, which tests the sufficiency of the complaint but not the merits of the case, a
plaintiff must allege enough facts to state a facially plausible claim for relief. See Kloss v.
Acuant, Inc., 462 F. Supp. 3d 873, 876 (7th Cir. 2020) (quoting McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch
& Co., Inc., 694 F.3d 873, 878 (7th Cir. 2012)); Fosnight v. Jones, 41 F.4th 916, 921-22 (7th Cir.
2022) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility
means enough facts are pled to draw reasonable inferences as to liability. See Fosnight, 41
F.4th at 922 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)); see also Taha v. Int’l
Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 781, 947 F.3d 464, 469 (7th Cir. 2020) (“When a complaint’s
facts ‘do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the
complaint has alleged—but has not “shown”—“that the pleader is entitled to relief.” ’ ”).
Thus, a complaint need not allege “detailed factual allegations,” but it must state
enough facts to lift the claim above the speculative level. See Kloss, 462 F. Supp. 3d at 876
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Threadbare recitals” of the elements, supported by
mere conclusions, do not suffice, and “a complaint must plead ‘more than an unadorned,
the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.’ ” See Trivedi v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.,
609 F. Supp. 3d 628, 631 (N.D. Ill. 2022) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678); Taha, 947 F.3d at
469. Likewise, a complaint does not suffice if it “ ‘tenders “naked assertions” devoid of
“further factual enhancement.” ’ ” See Taha, 947 F.3d at 469 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
The Court accepts all well-pled facts as true and draws all inferences for Plaintiffs, but,
again, it may reject “sheer speculation, bald assertions, and unsupported conclusory
statements.” See Trivedi, 609 F. Supp. 3d at 631 (quoting Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d
1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008)); accord Kloss, 462 F. Supp. 3d at 874-75; Taha, 947 F.3d at 469.
Notably, in Kaminski v. Elite Staffing, which involved discrimination in the
employment context under Title VII, the Seventh Circuit found the plaintiff failed to
allege enough facts to plausibly infer discrimination based on her protected
characteristics. See 23 F.4th 774, 776-77 (7th Cir. 2022). In that case, “[a]t a high level of
generality,” the plaintiff alleged a discharge due to her age, race, and national origin.
See id. at 776. The Seventh Circuit found “Rule 8 requires more,” as the plaintiff
“include[d] no factual allegations directly or indirectly connecting the termination with
her national origin, age, or race.” See id. The complaint invoked a policy that allegedly
resulted in the plaintiff’s firing, but it stated “nothing allowing…[the Seventh Circuit] to
see a link between any aspect of that policy and her contention that the agency discharged
her because she [wa]s Polish, white, or over 50.” See id. at 777. Therefore, it was not
enough for the complaint to observe that federal law bars adverse employment actions
on those grounds, as there had to be facts rendering the allegation of a wrongful discharge
plausible. See id. at 776 (citing Doe v. Columbia College Chicago, 933 F.3d 849, 855 (7th Cir.
2019), which noted “[a] plaintiff cannot rely on…generalized allegations alone…but must
combine them with facts particular to his case to survive a motion to dismiss”).
With these pleading requirements in mind, the Court turns to the Motion.
A. Count I—42 U.S.C. § 1981
As to Count I, Defendants argue § 1981 “does not allow a right of recovery from
state actors based on alleged constitutional violations.” (Doc. 86, pg. 2). The prohibition
allegedly applies to both governmental entities, such as Defendant Southern Seven, and
individuals acting under the State’s authority, such as Defendant Ray. (Doc. 86, pg. 2). As
such, Defendants argue Plaintiffs’ only remedy lies under § 1983. (Doc. 86, pg. 2).
In Response, Plaintiffs “reluctantly agree” that the Motion should be granted as to
Count I. (Doc. 90, pgs. 1-2). In doing so, Plaintiffs cite the same binding authority, relied
upon by Defendants, from the Supreme Court and Seventh Circuit. (Doc. 90, pgs. 1-2).
Upon review of those authorities, the Court FINDS it must dismiss Count I.
Section 1983 “remains the exclusive remedy for violations of § 1981 committed by state
actors,” like Defendants Southern Seven and Ray in this case. See Campbell v. Forest
Preserve Dist. of Cook County, Ill., 752 F.3d 665, 671 (7th Cir. 2014) (stating this rule and
discussing how Jett v. Dallas Indep. School Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 735 (1989), which held that
§ 1983 provides the exclusive federal damages remedy for state-actor violations of the
rights guaranteed by § 1981, remains good law after the Civil Rights Act of 1991);
accord Barnes v. Bd of Trustees of University of Illinois, 946 F.3d 384, 389 n. 1 (7th Cir. 2020)).
As such, the Motion is GRANTED as to Count I, which is DISMISSED with prejudice.
B. Count II—42 U.S.C. § 1983
Section 1983, in part, states: “Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State…subjects, or causes to be subjected,
any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws,
shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper
proceeding for redress.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see also Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of
New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978) (concluding “[l]ocal governing bodies,” like Defendant
Southern Seven, allegedly a body politic, “can be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary,
declaratory, or injunctive relief where…the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional
implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially
adopted and promulgated by that body’s officers”). The Equal Protection Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment bars racial discrimination by state and local officials, so persons
subjected to such discrimination may seek relief under § 1983. See Taylor v. Ways, 999 F.3d
478, 487 (7th Cir. 2021) (citing Majeske v. Fraternal Order of Police, Local Lodge No. 7, 94 F.3d
307, 311 (7th Cir. 1996); Ratliff v. City of Milwaukee, 795 F.2d 612, 624 (7th Cir. 1986)).
A prima facie claim of this nature requires Plaintiffs to show (1) they are members
of a protected class, (2) they are similarly situated to members of an unprotected class,
(3) they were treated differently than members of the unprotected class, and
(4) Defendants acted with a discriminatory intent. See McPhaul v. Bd of Comm’rs of Madison
Co., 226 F.3d 558, 564 (7th Cir. 2000), overruled on other grounds, Hill v. Tangherlini, 724 F.3d
965 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing Greer v. Amesqua, 212 F.3d 358, 370 (7th Cir. 2000); Jackson v. City
of Columbus, 194 F.3d 737, 751-52 (7th Cir. 1999)); accord Moore v. Freeport Comm. Unit
School Dist. No. 145, 570 F. Supp. 3d 601, 611 (N.D. Ill. 2021); McDorman v. Smith, 437 F.
Supp. 2d 768, 775 (N.D. Ill. 2006). For Monell liability, Plaintiffs must show a constitutional
violation caused by Defendant Southern Seven, allegedly a body politic that “may be held
liable for its own violations of the federal Constitution and laws,” such as through an
express policy, a widespread practice or custom, or a final policymaker. See Moore, 570 F.
Supp. 3d 601, 611 (N.D. Ill. 2021) (citing Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 120
(1992); Spiegel v. McClintic, 916 F.3d 611, 617 (7th Cir. 2019)); First Midwest Bank Guardian
of Estate of LaPorta v. City of Chicago, 988 F.3d 978, 986 (7th Cir. 2021). And, as Defendants
note with respect to the individual liability of Defendant Ray, officials in § 1983 lawsuits
may only be held accountable for their own misconduct. See Hess v. Garcia, 72 F.4th 753,
767-68 (7th Cir. 2023) (citing Kemp v. Fulton County, 27 F.4th 491, 497-98 (7th Cir. 2022));
accord Taylor, 999 F.3d at 493. In other words, the officials must be personally involved in
the constitutional violation and have the specific intent to commit the discrimination.
See Taylor, 999 F.3d at 493; see also Thomas v. Chmell, 569 F. Supp. 3d 732, 737 (N.D. Ill.
2021) (“Individual liability requires personal involvement in the constitutional violation
and ‘depends on each defendant’s knowledge and actions.”).
Now, Defendants argue Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim “falls short in several respects.”
(Doc. 86, pg. 5). First, Defendants note what Plaintiffs appear to concede—Plaintiff
Sumnlers is not a member of a protected class. (Doc. 86, pg. 5). The Amended Complaint
“makes abundantly clear [that] the ‘protected class’ of people…are African-Americans,
which the lawsuit claims were illegally treated differently from whites,” so Defendants
argue Plaintiff Sumnlers claim “fails in the most basic sense.” (Doc. 86, pgs. 5-6).
Second, even though the Amended Complaint adequately alleges that Plaintiffs
Koen, Mallory, and Orr are within the protected class at issue, Defendants argue those
Plaintiffs have not alleged treatment that is any different than the treatment of
individuals outside the protected class. (Doc. 86, pg. 6). Defendants note “the two forms
of alleged discriminatory conduct” in the Amended Complaint, including: as to all
Plaintiffs, the closing of the Cairo Head Start Facility; and as to Plaintiff Koen, the “racist
mistreatment and personal animus” of Defendants. (Doc. 86, pg. 6).
However, Defendants argue it can only be assumed, absent allegations to the
contrary, that the closure of the Cairo Head Start Facility affected African American and
non-African American individuals. (Doc. 86, pg. 7). Defendants suggest Plaintiffs
“essentially concede” this point by arguing Plaintiff Sumnlers, who is not African
American, “was equally impacted by the closure of the facility.” (Doc. 86, pg. 7). To
further illustrate their point, Defendants state this is not a case where “[Plaintiffs] Mallory
and Orr’s children…[were] denied admittance to the Head Start program[,] while white
children were not, or…[where Plaintiffs] Mallory or Orr, as African-Americans, were
denied the opportunity to have their children attend one of the other Head Start
facilities…after the Cairo location closed, while white parents were not.” (Doc. 86, pg. 7).
Defendants stress that Plaintiffs Mallory and Orr merely have children who cannot attend
a Head Start program at a desired location due to the facility’s closure. (Doc. 86, pg. 7).
Further, Defendants note there is no allegation that African American employees
of the Cairo Head Start Facility, like Plaintiff Koen, were treated any differently than
white employees. (Doc. 86, pg. 8). Instead, Defendants maintain, “[o]nce it was decided
to close the facility, all [employees] were in the same boat.” (Doc. 86, pg. 8). Also,
Defendants submit that Paragraph 34 of the Amended Complaint, which details the
treatment of Plaintiff Koen by Defendants, “does not even hint of a race-based animus.”
(Doc. 86, pg. 8). In Defendants’ view, Plaintiff Koen’s allegations of mistreatment reflect
disagreements over employment-related matters and her disapproval of the “tone of
voice” used by certain administrators during those conflicts. (Doc. 86, pg. 8).
Third, Defendants argue Defendant Ray must be dismissed because the allegations
do not suggest she personally engaged in misconduct that violated Plaintiffs’
constitutional rights. (Doc. 86, pgs. 9-10). Again, as to Paragraph 34 of the Amended
Complaint, which details the treatment of Plaintiff Koen, Defendants argue Plaintiffs do
not allege Defendant Ray said or did anything to display a race-based animus, “much
less a violation of Koen’s constitutional rights.” (Doc. 86, pg. 10). Likewise, Defendants
argue Plaintiffs make no mention of Defendant Ray’s role in the closure of the Cairo Head
Start Facility. (Doc. 86, pg. 10). Defendants emphasize that Defendant Southern Seven is
governed by a board of directors and, according to Plaintiffs’ own allegations, Defendant
Ray reports to and carries out the wishes of that board of directors. (Doc. 86, pg. 10).
In their Response, Plaintiffs state “a head start facility is arguably not a school,
[but] the same rules [that apply to schools] should apply to the Cairo Head Start Facility.”
(Doc. 90, pg. 3). That is, Plaintiffs argue the Cairo Head Start Facility, like schools, should
not be closed for reasons related to race. (Doc. 90, pg. 3).
In doing so, Plaintiffs note Defendants do not dispute this proposition but instead
argue the Amended Complaint is inadequately pled under Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. 90, pgs.
3-4). Plaintiffs emphasize, though, the Cairo Head Start Facility allegedly closed while
nine other facilities in “predominantly white communities” did not close. (Doc. 90, pg. 4).
Further, maintenance and repairs were allegedly made at the other facilities but not at
the Cairo Head Start Facility. (Doc. 90, pg. 4). Likewise, substitute personnel were
allegedly sent to the other facilities, but not to the Cairo Head Start facility, when workers
were sick. (Doc. 90, pg. 4). Plaintiffs “concluded from the above facts that they were
discriminated against because of their race,” such that the Amended Complaint suffices
under Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. 90, pg. 4). Whether Defendant Southern Seven intended to
discriminate, Plaintiffs continue, “is a question for another day.” (Doc. 90, pg. 4).
Further, with respect to Plaintiff Sumnlers, Plaintiffs argue she does not have to be
African-American in order to be entitled to relief. (Doc. 90, pgs. 4-5). Plaintiffs analogize
this situation to the situation where a white lessor has had standing to assert the right of
a black lessee to be free of racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1982. (Doc. 90, pg. 5);
see Sullivan v. Little Hunting Park, Inc., 396 U.S. 229 (1969)). Plaintiffs also note, in the
context of § 1981, “[c]losely-related claims…accord standing to non-minority plaintiffs
like Sumnler[s].” (Doc. 90, pg. 5). Therefore, Plaintiffs argue Plaintiff Sumnlers should be
permitted to remain in the case, as she “is not some disinterested person who has only an
intellectual stake in the suit.” (Doc. 90, pg. 6). Rather, Plaintiff Sumnlers and her children,
like the other Plaintiffs and their children, is suffering a direct injury because of the
alleged race-based decision to close the Cairo Head Start Facility. (Doc. 90, pg. 6).
Here, under the liberal notice-pleading standard contemplated by Rule 8, the
Court finds Plaintiffs have adequately demonstrated the prima facie case necessary for
Count II, such that it can survive the Motion under Rule 12(b)(6). At base, Plaintiffs allege
Defendant Southern Seven’s decision to close the Cairo Head Start Facility, which
purportedly serves children in a “predominantly African-American” community, for
race-based reasons. (Doc. 84, pgs. 1-3, 5). The Court agrees, at this early stage, Plaintiffs’
baseline allegation is factually enhanced by the allegations that Defendants did not
consider closing any of the nine Head Start facilities in “predominantly white”
communities, ignored work orders and required maintenance at the Cairo Head Start
Facility despite budgeted funds for that purpose and the “substantial repairs” underway
at other facilities, and “routinely” declined to temporarily staff the Cairo Head Start
Facility when employees were sick. (Doc. 84, pgs. 3-5). In light of these factual allegations,
the Court can draw reasonable inferences as to Defendant Southern Seven’s liability.
The Court is of the same opinion as to Defendant Ray, despite Defendants’
argument that she is only liable for her own misconduct. As an initial matter, it would be
inappropriate for the Court to assess liability at this stage. Also, as with Defendant
Southern Seven, the Court finds the baseline allegation of racial discrimination against
Plaintiff Koen is factually enhanced by the allegations that she “received regular raises
and bonuses,” and was considered “a valuable employee,” before 2018, when Defendant
Ray allegedly joined Head Start and made Plaintiff Koen’s “life…substantially more
difficult.” (Doc. 84, pg. 3). To be sure, at times, certain of Plaintiffs’ allegations are
conclusory in nature. In sum, though, the Court finds reasonable inferences as to
Defendant Ray’s liability may be drawn from the properly alleged facts. (Doc. 84, pgs. 35). After all, Plaintiff Koen’s life was allegedly made “substantially more difficult” due
her race as well as her advocacy against closing the Cairo Head Start Facility, which,
again, purportedly serves a “predominantly African-American” community. (Doc. 84,
The Court stresses, on this procedural posture, it is not concerned with the
evidence or merits of the case. The time will come when Plaintiffs must prove their case
and rebut Defendants’ legal arguments. For now, though, Plaintiffs were merely required
to allege enough facts to state a facially plausible claim for relief. As discussed above, the
Court finds they have done so and, notably, this is not a case where the claim is doomed
to fail due to “a high level of generality” and the total absence of factual enhancements.
See Kaminski, 23 F.4th 776-77; see also Freeman v. Metro. Water Reclamation Dist. of Greater
Chicago, 927 F.3d 961, 965 (7th Cir. 2019) (concluding, in the context of a § 1983 claim for
racial discrimination by a public employer against a public employee, the district court
erred by “demanding too much specificity” in the complaint, where “[a] plaintiff alleging
race discrimination need not allege each evidentiary element of a legal theory to survive
a motion to dismiss” under Rule 12(b)(6) and instead “need only allege…[the defendant]
fired him because of his race). Accordingly, the Motion is DENIED as to Count II.
For the foregoing reasons, the Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
Count I of the Amended Complaint is DISMISSED with prejudice. By virtue of this
ruling, the hearing on Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction will proceed as
scheduled on November 20, 2023.
Dated: November 15, 2023
s/ David W. Dugan
DAVID W. DUGAN
United States District Judge
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