Cook County Record

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Judge: Hispanic ex-IIT manager can't claim Latino employee meetings were protected activities under civil rights law

By Sara McCleary | Jan 26, 2018

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By Subashikoi - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

CHICAGO – A Chicago federal judge has delivered a split decision in a lawsuit brought against Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology by a 63-year-old former administrator at the school, who claimed he was wrongly fired because of his age, because he was Hispanic, and because the school discovered he was organizing meetings with other Latino faculty and staff to discuss Latino issues at the school.

On Jan. 2, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall largely sided with IIT against plaintiff Andres Garza, asserting Garza did not present enough evidence to back his assertions of discrimination.

Garza filed a complaint against IIT in June after being let go from his position as executive director of the school's Career Management Center in April 2016. IIT said Garza’s position had been eliminated as part of a 24-employee reduction in force.

Garza, however, alleges his employment was terminated because he is Latino, over 40 years of age and had participated in protected activities. Beginning in late 2015, Garza had begun to hold monthly meetings for the university's Latino faculty and staff. Garza said these meetings were an opportunity to discuss Latino-specific issues at IIT, including unfair treatment and a lack of advancement opportunities for the group.

In response to Garza’s complaint, IIT filed a motion to dismiss all the counts against it. 

Judge Kendall, however, said she would allow Garza to continue his claims for racial disrcimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and age discrimination.

“IIT argues that Garza has failed to set forth a prima facie case allege of national-origin discrimination under the McDonell Douglas burden-shifting method and also that he has failed to allege sufficient facts to support such a claim,” Kendall wrote. 

But Kendall determined that Garza has alleged enough for his discrimination claim to continue, as it contains “enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence.”

IIT maintained the same argument in support of its motion to dismiss Count II, and the court applied the same analysis, finding that the plaintiff, to date, had sufficiently pleaded his claim.

Kendall, however, granted IIT’s motion to dismiss Count III, Garza’s claim of race discrimination under a different federal law.

IIT attempted to argue that this claim should be dismissed because he “does not plead race discrimination, but instead pleads national origin discrimination.” The court quickly dismissed this argument, pointing out that law applies to discrimination based on race or national origin. 

However, Kendall found that Garza did not sufficiently allege facts that would entitle him to relief under that legal provision, known as Section 1981.

“Specifically, Garza does not allege that IIT had the intent to discriminate against him on the basis of his race or national origin - the second necessary element of this claim," Kendall wrote. "Not only that, Garza has not pleaded any facts - direct or circumstantial - that could lead the court to infer reasonably that his termination was motivated by intentional prejudice against him as a Latino."

The court also granted IIT’s motion to dismiss Counts IV and V concerning retaliation, pointing out that, just because Garza scheduled the meetings for Latino employees to discuss the topics he mentioned, does not prove IIT was even aware of those meetings or that those meetings had anything to do with his termination. She noted this particularly so, as Garza does not allege he brought any concerns discussed at those meetings to the attention of IIT administration.

“Without the communication of the alleged discriminatory conduct to IIT, the court cannot find that the allegations about monthly meetings to discuss Latino issues constituted protected activity under either statute, and therefore, Garza’s retaliation claims cannot proceed,” Kendall wrote.

Kendall allowed Garza the opportunity to file an amended complaint, which he did on Jan. 18.

Garza is represented in the action by the Mexican American Legal Defense And Educational Fund.

IIT is defended by the firm of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP, of Chicago.

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Illinois Institute of TechnologyU.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois