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DECKER v. ANDERSON CONSULTING

August 19, 1994

MARITA DECKER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDERSEN CONSULTING, Defendant.


ALESIA


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES H. ALESIA

Plaintiff Marita Decker ("Decker") filed a four-count complaint against Defendant Andersen Consulting ("Andersen") alleging Title VII violations based on sex and pregnancy discrimination and retaliation and two pendent state claims for breach of contract and promissory estoppel. In response, Andersen filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, Andersen's motion is denied.

 I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 In ruling on Andersen's motion for summary judgment, this court must construe the record in a light most favorable to Decker, the non-movant, and accord her the benefit of all reasonable inferences. See, e.g., Kirk v. Federal Property Management Corp., 22 F.3d 135, 138 (7th Cir. 1994); Jaskowski v. Rodman & Renshaw, Inc., 842 F. Supp. 1094, 1096 (N.D. Ill. 1994). Consequently, the Court sets out the facts of this case as they are alleged in Decker's complaint and sworn to in her affidavit, and as further set out in the parties' documentation supporting the motion.

 Andersen is a partnership involved in the delivery of management consulting services to its clients and is affiliated with the worldwide firm of Arthur Andersen & Co. Andersen is engaged in an industry affecting commerce within the meaning of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000(e) et seq. Decker joined Andersen's Chicago office in 1982 and left in 1984, when she moved to Springfield, Illinois. From 1984 to 1986, Andersen retained Decker as a paid consultant. Upon returning to Chicago in 1986, Decker was reemployed by Andersen and was promoted from her former position as a "senior" (the highest non-managerial position) to the level of manager. Throughout her years at Andersen, Decker's work was consistently evaluated as outstanding and she was identified early on by her supervisors as a likely candidate for partner. Decker received glowing formal evaluations from her superiors and was eventually promoted to "associate partner," one level below partner, in September 1991.

 Andersen's management structure consists of multiple levels. Decker reported to Carla Paonessa, the head of Andersen's Change Management Services (CMS) division. In turn, Paonessa reported to Dean Taylor, managing partner of Andersen's Chicago office. Taylor reported to Stephan James, managing partner of the Central Region of Andersen's four Americas regions. During the relevant time period, John Kelly was the managing partner of the Americas Operations Group ("AOG"), a team of partners who manage the Americas regions.

 In addition to her work in CMS, Decker also contributed a significant amount of time in Andersen's Technology Services (TS) division, serving as Andersen's liaison to the Institute for Learning Sciences (ILS), a joint venture between Andersen and Northwestern University. Her superiors on that assignment were Bruce Johnson and Alain Legendre, both of whom reported to James Fischer, managing partner of TS.

 One criterion Andersen uses to evaluate candidates for partner is "chargeable" hours (hourly billings to clients). Decker's chargeable hours were lower than those of other managers, primarily because her work on the ILS joint venture was not chargeable. Yet, hours worked on ILS are significant to Andersen, even if they are not chargeable.

 In the spring of 1991, Fischer urged Decker to transfer from CMS to TS so she could concentrate her efforts on the ILS joint venture. However, Paonessa urged Decker to remain in CMS and said that a transfer would hurt Decker's chances to make partner in 1992. Decker then sought advice from Taylor, who suggested she formally remain in CMS but devote 80 percent of her time to TS.

 Decker asked Taylor about the effect transferring full-time to TS would have on her chances of making partner, since her work at ILS was not chargeable. Taylor told Decker that chargeability would not be an issue when she was considered for partnership and that he would inform the appropriate persons who would be reviewing her candidacy for partnership that he had made this commitment. Decker then met with Charles Winslow, the world-wide managing partner of CMS. Winslow told Decker to remain in CMS and said words to the effect that her career at Andersen would be through if she decided to transfer. After discussing the matter with Fischer and Paonessa, Decker again spoke with Taylor. She stated that partnership was important to her and wanted reassurance from Taylor that chargeability would not be held against her. Once more, Taylor told Decker that chargeability would not be an issue in her partnership consideration.

 As agreed, Decker began working under the 80/20 format but remained formally assigned to CMS. In October 1991 Decker learned she was pregnant. Around that time, Paonessa proposed Decker for partnership admission in September 1992. Decker's candidacy was approved by the Chicago office, which submitted Decker and seven other candidates to the Central Region. In January 1992, James approved Decker and five other persons; Decker was ranked fourth out of six.

 In January 1992 Decker was becoming visibly pregnant and informed Paonessa and Legendre that she was pregnant. Paonessa requested that Decker not inform any other partners about the pregnancy. On February 7, 1992, Charles Winslow, managing partner for CMS, left Decker a voicemail message in which he reproached her for not being more forthcoming about her pregnancy. Later that month, Decker was asked to schedule a screening interview (the final interview of the partnership process) with Skip Battle. The interview was scheduled for March 4, 1992.

 In late January 1992, however, the top partners of the AOG, including Winslow, Taylor and James, met and discussed Decker as a candidate for partner. Defendants assert that the AOG withdrew Decker's candidacy at that time. Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, at 9-10, PP 52-55; James Dep., Tab 1 to Defendant's Evidentiary Materials in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, at 53-54. Decker disagrees and asserts that she was not withdrawn as a candidate until February or March. According to Decker, Paonessa informed her on March 4, 1992, that she had been withdrawn as a candidate for partner and that her interview with Battle, scheduled for later that day, had been cancelled. Paonessa explained that Decker was withdrawn because she was only a "six-year" candidate and lacked chargeability. Decker immediately went to Taylor for his explanation. Taylor told Decker that she was ranked fourth out of the six candidates recommended by the Central region, and the other five were still under partnership consideration. Taylor said, among other things, that Decker was withdrawn because of her low chargeability.

 Decker also met with Fischer on March 4. After hearing the reasons Decker had received from Paonessa and Taylor, Fischer said the partnership decision seemed unfair and suggested that discrimination might be the reason she was withdrawn. Over the next few weeks, Decker met with several different people and received several different explanations for her partnership denial.

 On May 5th, Decker again met with Fischer, who said he would resubmit Decker for partnership admission in 1993. At Fischer's suggestion, Decker transferred full-time to TS after returning from maternity leave in September 1992. Upon her return, Decker worked on the ILS project for Legendre and on other projects with Joe Carter, a partner in TS. In November, Decker told Fischer and Paonessa that she intended to file a pregnancy discrimination claim in connection with her partnership denial. Bob Prince, Andersen's managing partner of human resources, met with Decker to discuss her claim. Andersen agreed to waive the 300-day limitation period so that Prince could have time to respond to Decker's complaint.

 Discussions between Decker and Prince, however, did not resolve the dispute. On January 27, 1993, Decker filed sex and pregnancy discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued her a right-to-sue letter in August 1993. Until July 1993 Decker continued working at Andersen as an associate partner. In July, Andersen offered Decker partnership. Decker met with several Andersen partners but ultimately declined to accept the offer because of unacceptable conditions that Andersen allegedly created. After Decker met with ...


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