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Williams v. Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

May 12, 2017

PATRICIA ANN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT, Defendant. PATRICIA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPT. OF WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT and DEPT. OF ADMINISTRATION, Defendants. PATRICIA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPT. OF WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT, Defendant. PATRICIA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPT. OF WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          BARBARA B. CRABB District Judge.

         These four cases filed by plaintiff Patricia Williams are before the court for two reasons. First, case nos. 17-cv-253-bbc, 17-cv-254-bbc and 17-cv-255-bbc need to be screened in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915 to determine whether the complaint in each case states a claim upon which relief may be granted. (The court screened case no. 16-cv-830-bbc on February 2, 2017. Dkt. #8.) Second, plaintiff has filed a motion to consolidate all of the cases. For the reasons explained below, I am allowing plaintiff to proceed on a claim in case no. 17-cv-254-bbc that the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development refused to hire her for a permanent position because she is disabled; I am dismissing case nos. 17-cv-253-bbc and 17-cv-255-bbc without prejudice for plaintiff's failure to provide fair notice of her claims, as required by Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; and I am denying plaintiff's motion to consolidate as premature.

         OPINION

         I. SCREENING CASE NO. 17-CV-253-BBC

         Plaintiff alleges that employees in the Department of Workforce Development and the Department of Administration “were involved in printing, forging and cashing DVR Training Grant Checks by using [plaintiff's] identity.” She also says that the same employees “discriminated” and “retaliated” against her because of her “disability” and “for exercising her First Amendment rights.” She asserts claims under the First Amendment, Rehabilitation Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

         Plaintiff's allegations do not state a claim upon which relief may be granted. As to plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim, a threshold problem is that a state agency such as the Department of Workforce Development or the Department of Administration cannot be sued for constitutional violations. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 65-66 (1989); Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society v. Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources, 584 F.3d 719, 721 (7th Cir. 2009). Rather, the plaintiff must sue individual defendants who were personally involved in violating the plaintiff's First Amendment rights, explaining what each individual did. Kuhn v. Goodlow, 678 F.3d 552, 555-56 (7th Cir. 2012). Although plaintiff includes the names of individual employees in the body of her complaint, she did not include their names in the caption of her complaint, which is what she must do if she wants to name them as defendants, Myles v. United States, 416 F.3d 551, 551 (7th Cir. 2005), and she did not explain how each of them was personally involved in violating her rights, which is what she must do to provide fair notice to defendants. She cannot simply list individuals and state in conclusory fashion that they collectively retaliated against her. Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 778 (7th Cir. 2008) (plaintiffs may not rely on "[v]ague references to a group of ‘defendants, ' without specific allegations tying the individual defendants to the alleged unconstitutional conduct").

         Even setting aside plaintiff's failure to name a proper party, this claim has other problems. To prevail on a First Amendment retaliation claim, a plaintiff must prove three things: (1) she engaged in conduct that is protected by the First Amendment; (2) the defendant subjected the plaintiff to adverse treatment because of the plaintiff's constitutionally protected activity; and (3) the defendant's conduct was sufficiently adverse to deter a person of "ordinary firmness" from engaging in the protected activity in the future. Gomez v. Randle, 680 F.3d 859, 866-67 (7th Cir. 2012); Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 555-56 (7th Cir. 2009). Plaintiff's allegations are not sufficient to satisfy any of these elements.

         First, plaintiff does not identify her speech or other conduct that is protected by the First Amendment. Second, plaintiff does not allege that anyone took a particular act against her because of any protected conduct. Third, because plaintiff does not identify any alleged actions, it is impossible to tell whether she was subjected to an adverse act that would deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising her rights.

         A state agency may be a proper defendant under the Rehabilitation Act, e.g., Wagoner v. Lemmon, 778 F.3d 586 (7th Cir. 2015), but plaintiff's claim is deficient in other respects. To prevail on an employment discrimination claim under the Rehabilitation Act claim, a plaintiff must prove four things: (1) she is disabled within the meaning of the statute; (2) she was otherwise qualified for the job in question; (3) she was subjected to an adverse employment action solely because of her disability; and (4) the employment program of which her job was a part received federal financial assistance. Whitaker v. Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 849 F.3d 681, 684 (7th Cir. 2017). Perhaps some of these elements could be inferred from the complaint, but plaintiff does not identify any way that the Department of Workforce Development discriminated against her, so she has not stated a claim under the Rehabilitation Act.

         Plaintiff's Title VII claim fails for the simple reason that the only type of discrimination plaintiff alleges is disability discrimination. Title VII applies to discrimination because of sex, race, national origin and religion. Because plaintiff does not allege that type of discrimination, I am dismissing the Title VII claim.

         Plaintiff's RICO claim against the state agencies is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Chaz Construction, LLC v. Codell, 137 Fed.Appx. 735, 743, 2005 WL 1313841, at *7 (6th Cir. May 11, 2005); Bair v. Krug, 853 F.2d 672, 674-75 (9th Cir.1988); Doe v. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois, 429 F.Supp.2d 930, 941 (N.D. Ill. 2006). Further, a civil RICO claim can be brought only when the plaintiff is claiming an injury to her business or property, RWB Services, LLC v. Hartford Computer Group, Inc., 539 F.3d 681, 685 (7th Cir. 2008), something that plaintiff has not alleged. See also DeGuelle v. Camilli, 664 F.3d 192, 198 (7th Cir. 2011) (plaintiff's injury must be caused by conduct of enterprise in interstate commerce through pattern of racketeering activity).

         Because plaintiff's allegations do not state a claim upon which relief may be granted, I am dismissing this complaint. However, I will give plaintiff an opportunity to file an amended complaint that addresses the problems identified in this order.

         I remind plaintiff that an amended complaint must be able to replace the original complaint. In other words, plaintiff must include all the facts related to a particular claim that she wants the court to review when considering whether she has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. If plaintiff chooses to file an amended complaint, she should review the elements of her claims and draft her complaint with those elements in mind. She should also ...


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