On June 14, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of a complaint in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant terminated his employment because of his race and disability, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Freeman v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, No. 18-3737 (7th Cir. June 14, 2019). The plaintiff, an African-American man who suffers from alcoholism, sued his former employer for firing him because of his race and disability. The district court dismissed his complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Seventh Circuit, however, concluded that the plaintiff has pleaded enough to state his claims.
The plaintiff’s complaint raises claims of race and disability discrimination and of retaliation, in violation of Title VII and the ADA. He alleges that he was fired due to his race (African-American) and disability (alcoholism). He also alleges that his former employer failed to reasonably accommodate his alcoholism by refusing to let him travel around the grounds of the plant without using a car. He further claims that the defendant retaliated against him by terminating his employment after he exercised his right under the ADA to request reasonable accommodations. The district court dismissed his complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim. The Seventh Circuit disagreed, concluding that the district court erred by demanding too much specificity in the plaintiff’s complaint. “A plaintiff alleging race discrimination need not allege each evidentiary element of a legal theory to survive a motion to dismiss.” It was sufficient for the plaintiff to only allege, as he did, that the defendant terminated him because of his race. His failure to plead the evidentiary element that similarly situated coworkers outside of his protected classification were treated more favorably, therefore, is not fatal to his complaint.
Similarly, the plaintiff has adequately stated claims for disability discrimination and retaliation under the ADA. The general rule in federal court requires only notice pleading. The plaintiff’s complaint plausibly alleged that the defendant regarded him as an alcoholic because of his suspended license for driving under the influence of alcohol, and then concluded from his suspension that his alcoholism impaired his ability to work at any job that involves safely moving items across a facility. Because that activity includes a broad range of work, a jury could conclude that it is a major life activity. The plaintiff also alleged that he could perform his job duties with a reasonable accommodation, but that the defendant terminated him anyway due to his alcoholism and his accommodation requests. These allegations, the Seventh Circuit concluded, state claims for disability discrimination and retaliation.