Madison - St. Clair Record

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Pro se plaintiff’s discrimination suit against AFSCME can proceed in federal court

Federal Court

By The Madison County Record | Mar 26, 2020


EAST ST. LOUIS – Jennifer Dunkley of Greenville, an African American without a lawyer pursuing a discrimination suit against a powerful union, survived a motion to dismiss it. 

On March 6, Chief U. S. District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel found her complaint against the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees wasn’t clearly written but it was well pled. 

Rosenstengel found Dunkley stated a claim for relief that was plausible on its face and furnished the union fair notice of what the claim was. 

Dunkley claims the union failed to represent her when employees of the state human services department in Montgomery County discriminated against her. 

She filed the suit in December 2018, against the department and the union. She moved to recruit counsel, and Magistrate Judge Reona Daly advised her to submit statements of three lawyers who turned her down. 

Dunkley proceeded alone and amended her complaint twice last year. 

Her suit seeks an order for defendants to carry out policies, practices, and programs that provide equal representation; relief necessary to eradicate the effects of unlawful practices; and compensation for past and future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment, and humiliation. 

It also seeks an order for the union to train stewards, managers, and employees regarding discrimination. 

The human services department and the union moved to dismiss the complaint. 

Rosenstengel granted the department’s motion, finding the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars suits against states in federal courts. 

Against the union, she allowed claims of hostile environment, harassment, negative evaluations, forced transfer, failure to promote, and failure to implement policies. 

She wrote that the complaint contained detailed descriptions of the union’s alleged illegal conduct. 

“Dunkley provided in depth factual allegations to support the claims of racially based discrimination,” she wrote. 

She found Dunkley clearly alleged the union treated her worse than similarly situated white employees. 

She found Dunkley suggested union representative Lisa Eden acted in concert with Dunkley’s superior to affect her negative experience. 

“This factual allegation in particular seems to rise above the level of conduct that would be equal to failing to effectuate changes in the workplace,” she wrote.   

Union counsel Melissa Auerbach of Chicago requested an extension of time to answer the complaint, and Rosenstengel set an April 3 deadline. 

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U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois