CHICAGO — A federal judge has said two fired white Chicago Transit Authority employees can't sue for racial discrimination, but they can continue to sue their former supervisor for retaliation.
On Feb. 15, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman granted a portion of the defense's motions to dismiss the plaintiff's claims the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employer discrimination based on race, according to her memorandum and order handed down Feb. 15. It wasn't enough for the plaintiffs, both of whom are white, to "merely assert" that their African-American supervisor "became upset with them, Caucasian employees, for their decisions," Coleman said in her memorandum and order.
Plaintiffs Donald A. Miller and John W. McGuire had sued the CTA and a transit authority vice president, seeking damages over allegations the CTA "had a custom or practice of discriminating against people based on race," Coleman said in the order. The two claim that Chicago Transit Authority Vehicle Maintenance Vice President Donald Bonds "personally perpetuated this unlawful discrimination and retaliation against them."
Bonds and the CTA "rebut these claims," arguing the plaintiffs' second amended complaint "fails to adequately plead sufficient causes of action," and separately asked the court to dismiss the case, according to the memorandum and order.
Miller and McGuire, who had been employed by the CTA for 30 and 31 years, respectively, claimed that they began to endure racially motivated discrimination and retaliation in Jan. 2015, when Bonds, who is African American, became CTA's vice president of vehicle maintenance, according to the memorandum and order.
McGuire and Miller allege Bonds discriminated against them and made hiring and promotion decisions based on race, with a clear bias in favor of African Americans, according to the court order.
Both men separately reported to a CTA equal employment officer that Bonds was discriminating against them based on their race, and the CTA officer initiated investigations, according to the memorandum and order. On July 6, 2016, the two were "invited to morning meetings with Bonds," the memorandum and order said.
"When McGuire arrived at his meeting, he found Bonds, the chief transit officer and a human resources representative, all of whom were African American," Coleman said in the order. "Bonds informed McGuire that he was being terminated, effective immediately, but provided no explanation other than that the department was moving in a different direction. When McGuire asked for a reason for his termination, Bonds told him that he was an 'at-will' employee and a reason was not required. McGuire requested that Bonds wait to decide on his employment until after the EEO investigation was complete. The human resources representative responded that the decision was ultimately up to Bonds and the chief transit officer. Both men decided that CTA would move forward with the termination."
Miller was similarly terminated in his separate meeting the same day, according to the memorandum and order.
"Miller was replaced by an African-American manager who he contends had significantly less experience and qualifications than he did," Coleman said in the order.
McGuire and Miller allege Bonds "knew about their EEO complaints and that they were scheduled to meet with the EEO the next morning when he terminated their employment," the memorandum and order said.
In their separate motions to dismiss, Bonds and the CTA claimed that plaintiffs’ "recitals of fact" were "not sufficient to state a plausible claim for racial discrimination" under the Civil Rights Act, and Coleman agreed.
"This Court is not convinced that [the] plaintiffs have demonstrated the background circumstances that implicate reverse discrimination," she said in the court order.
Coleman wrote in the decision that the discrimination allegations do "not rise to the level of baseline circumstances required to reach the plausible inference that CTA was inclined to discriminate unlawfully against white people or treat white employees differently because of their race."
"They have not alleged any organization-sanctioned discriminatory conduct, 'fishy facts,' or even a logical basis for believing that CTA acted discriminately beyond the fact that the offending actors were African American," Coleman said in the order.
Coleman, however, kept alive the portions of the plaintiffs case that alleged violations of anti-retaliation provisions, finding the plaintiffs' claims on those counts to be plausible, according to her memorandum and order.
"[The] plaintiffs genuinely believed that they were terminated because they filed an official complaint about the racial discrimination they believe they suffered at the hand of their supervisor," Coleman wrote. "Whether it is a winnable claim or not, alleging that they lodged a complaint or participating in an investigation into that complaint is protected activity."
The plaintiffs are represented in the case by attorney David Hemenway, of Chicago.
The CTA defendants are represented by attorneys with the CTA Department of Law.