Roberto G. Alamo, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Charlie Bliss, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
November 10, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:12-cv-04327 -
Sharon Johnson Coleman, Judge.
Ripple, Manion, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.
Ripple, Circuit Judge.
case arises from a series of incidents that occurred while
Roberto Alamo, the plaintiff, was a Chicago firefighter. The
operative complaint contains claims against the City of
Chicago, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42
U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and against Lieutenant Charlie
Bliss, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for various forms of
discrimination on the basis of national origin; a failure to
accommodate claim against the City, under the Americans with
Disabilities Act ("ADA"); and two state tort claims
against the City and Captain Stefan. The City of Chicago,
Lieutenant Bliss, and Captain Stefan moved to dismiss for
failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court granted the motion,
dismissing all of Mr. Alamo's federal claims with
prejudice and declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction
over his state law claims.
Alamo asks us to reverse the district court's dismissal
of his complaint. He contends that he sufficiently pleaded a
hostile work environment claim, a disparate treatment claim,
and a retaliation claim against the City under Title VII, and
a hostile work environment claim against Lieutenant Bliss
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We agree, and, for the reasons
set forth in this opinion, we reverse the district
court's dismissal and remand this case for further
Alamo began his service as a firefighter in the Chicago Fire
Department in 2006. According to the allegations of his
complaint, in 2009, shortly after his transfer to Engine
Company 55, other firefighters began verbally and physically
harassing him. The complaint asserts that firefighters called
him "spic" and "f-king Puerto
Rican." It also describes incidents involving
firefighters stealing Mr. Alamo's food or throwing his
food away. This treatment began in 2009 and "continu[ed]
throughout 2010 and 2011." Mr. Alamo also alleges that the
number of times on which he was "detailed, " or
assigned to work at different locations, was excessive when
compared to the assignments given to his non-Latino
colleagues during the same time.
Alamo complained to his immediate supervisor, Lieutenant
Bliss, about this treatment. According to the complaint, Mr.
Alamo brought these concerns to Lieutenant Bliss's
attention in July, August, and November of 2010, and again in
April, July, and August of 2011. Lieutenant Bliss did not
remedy the behavior. The complaint details a handful of
specific incidents that occurred after Mr. Alamo initially
complained to Lieutenant Bliss. For example, in March 2011,
fellow firefighter Dan Sheahan made derogatory comments to
Mr. Alamo about his Puerto Rican national origin and then
physically assaulted him. Mr. Alamo alleges that he again
complained to Lieutenant Bliss following the incident. He
also alerted Battalion Chief Curt Annis, but asserts that
nothing was done to remedy the discrimination.
complaint also details a September 13, 2011 incident. On that
day, Mr. Alamo reported to work but was not feeling well due
to allergies and informed Lieutenant Bliss and a colleague
that he would be in the television room and might be
sleeping. About an hour later, Captain Stefan, a captain on a
different truck from Mr. Alamo's, woke Mr. Alamo up,
yelled profanities at him, and stated, "I don't like
your kind, you better put in a transfer and get out of this
firehouse because I don't want you
here." Captain Stefan then chest bumped Mr.
Alamo, used more profanity, and threatened further physical
that day, Captain Stefan again pushed Mr. Alamo against a
wall, an incident witnessed by Lieutenant Bliss. Mr. Alamo
called 911 for assistance and spoke to police officers when
they arrived, but he did not press charges. Mr. Alamo alleges
that he did not take the matter further because he received a
call from Chief Chickorotis, the Fire Chief assigned to
Engine 42 Headquarters, who "pleaded with Alamo" to
wait for him to arrive before doing anything. When Chief
Chickorotis arrived, he repeatedly asked Mr. Alamo not to
bring charges and to let him resolve the incident without
involving the police. Chief Chickorotis also said that he
would help Mr. Alamo with the harassment at the firehouse if
Mr. Alamo did not press charges. Mr. Alamo agreed, but asked
the police to document the incident with Captain Stefan.
that evening, Chief Chickorotis brought Mr. Alamo to a
different firehouse and they met privately. Chief Chickorotis
asked Mr. Alamo, "What can we do to make this all go
away?" Mr. Alamo said he wanted the Fire
Department to "do the right thing." Chief Chickorotis
became angry and said he was done talking to him. Mr. Alamo
later learned that the responding police officers had a
private meeting with Captain Stefan, Chief Chickorotis, and
others, and that the police report was inaccurate.
next day, September 14, 2011, at 6:00 a.m., Mr. Alamo ended
his shift and took the bus home. Mr. Alamo exited the bus
after a few blocks because he was experiencing chest pain,
dizziness, and a migraine. He called a friend to pick him up
and take him to the hospital where he explained to an
emergency room physician that he had been chest bumped and
pushed at work the day before. The physician diagnosed him
with a work-related chest contusion, work-related stress, and
possibly post-traumatic stress disorder. Mr. Alamo met with
his primary care physician the next day; he referred Mr.
Alamo to a psychologist and a psychiatrist and ordered
medical leave due to the incident with Captain Stefan.
same day, Mr. Alamo reported to the Chicago Fire Department
that he was beginning medical leave. At that time, Sylvia
Tienda was the Medical Section Chief and had authority to
decide whether firefighters could return to work after
medical leave. Ms. Tienda told Mr. Alamo she would not
consider his injury work-related, and the Chicago Fire
Department would not pay for any hospital or medical
treatment because he did not report the incident while on
March 13, 2012, after Mr. Alamo had been on medical leave for
six months, Ms. Tienda informed Mr. Alamo that his medical
leave was expiring and that he would need to get a release
from his treating physician to return to duty. The next day, Mr.
Alamo met with his treating physician, who gave him written
authorization to return to work without restrictions. On
March 16, when Mr. Alamo gave Ms. Tienda this authorization,
she requested new information, including a prescription for a
functional capacity evaluation. Mr. Alamo obtained the
prescription and delivered it to Ms. Tienda on March 19. A
few days later, on March 21, another employee in the Medical
Section, Dr. Issac Morcos, told Mr. Alamo that he needed
progress notes from all of his treating physicians before
clearing him to return to work. Mr. Alamo's treating
physicians forwarded their progress notes on March 22 and
March 26, 2012.
March 26, Ms. Tienda confirmed receipt of these documents.
The same day, Mr. Alamo met with his union representative
"regarding why the [Chicago Fire Department] would not
allow him to return to work when he had been cleared by his
treating physicians." On March 30, 2012, Mr. Alamo
filed an inquiry with Ms. Tienda about his work status and
received a response from her on April 3, 2012. That day, Mr.
Alamo learned, for the first time, of another requirement: he
needed to provide medical records dating back to 2009 and
undergo further medical evaluation, including two days of
psychological tests, before he could be cleared for work. The
next day, April 4, 2012, Mr. Alamo filed a charge against the
Chicago Fire Department with the U.S. Equal Employment
that filing, on April 19, 2012, Ms. Tienda scheduled Mr.
Alamo for a two-part psychological test on May 1 and 24,
2012. Mr. Alamo attended the May 1 session, but was told by
the doctor's office that the Chicago Fire Department
would be in touch with Mr. Alamo regarding the second session
because the May 24 date had to be rescheduled.
8, another doctor in the Chicago Fire Department's
Medical Section asked Mr. Alamo "for several more
medical records dating back several
years." Mr. Alamo, now represented by counsel,
asked about the necessity of these records and when the
second part of the testing would take place. Over the course
of the next month, Mr. Alamo's attorney asked the Medical
Section several more times why the additional records were
needed, what else Mr. Alamo needed to provide, and when the
second day of testing would be scheduled. The attorney
received no response. On June 4, 2012, Mr. Alamo filed this
3, 2012, Mr. Alamo received a letter from Adrianne Bryant,
the Fire Department's Deputy Commissioner of Human
Resources, explaining that his leave time was exhausted and
that, if he did not return to work, resign, or go on a leave
of absence, he would be designated as "absent without
authorized leave." On July 6, 2012, the Fire Department
stopped paying Mr. Alamo his salary and benefits. Several
months later, however, Mr. Alamo was reinstated as a
firefighter. Mr. Alamo contends that non-Latino firefighters
did not face these hurdles after medical leave.
case comes to us on Mr. Alamo's third amended complaint.
That complaint sets forth three Title VII national-origin
discrimination claims against the City: a hostile work
environment claim; a disparate treatment claim; and a
retaliation claim. The complaint also includes a hostile work
environment claim against Lieutenant Bliss under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983; a failure to accommodate claim under the ADA
against the City; and two state tort claims against the City
and Captain Stefan. The defendants moved to dismiss for
failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil
28, 2015, the district court granted the motion. It dismissed
all of Mr. Alamo's federal claims with prejudice and
declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his state
law claims. The court concluded that the allegations in Mr.
Alamo's complaint did not allege "severe or
pervasive" harassment, as required to state a hostile
work environment claim. With respect to Mr. Alamo's Title
VII disparate treatment and retaliation claims, the court
ruled that both claims failed because neither
"detailing" nor "hurdles and challenges"
in returning to work constituted adverse employment actions
and because Mr. Alamo "failed to allege any causal link
between his reports of harassment to Bliss and the subsequent
actions of the medical section personnel."
review de novo the district court's decision to dismiss a
complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Abcarian v. McDonald, 617
F.3d 931, 933 (7th Cir. 2010). In our review, we must
"accept as true all factual allegations in the amended
complaint and draw all permissible inferences in [the
plaintiff]'s favor." Bible v. United Student Aid
Funds, Inc., 799 F.3d 633, 639 (7th Cir. 2015). A
complaint will survive a motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim if it "contain[s] sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Ail.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). That is,
"[w]hile a plaintiff need not plead detailed factual
allegations to survive a motion to dismiss, she still must
provide more than mere labels and conclusions or a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action for her
complaint to be considered adequate." Bell v. City
of Chicago, 835 F.3d 736, 738 (7th Cir. 2016) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
stated the general principles that govern our inquiry, we now
apply these principles to the particular circumstances of
this case. We first address Mr. Alamo's hostile work
environment claims under Title VII and Section 1983; we then
turn to his Title VII disparate treatment and, finally, his
Title VII retaliation claim.
VII forbids an employer
(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual,
or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with
respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges
of employment, because ...