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WAGNER v. NUTRASWEET CO.

August 29, 1995

CATHERINE WAGNER, Plaintiff,
v.
THE NUTRASWEET COMPANY, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RUBEN CASTILLO

 On March 25, 1991, the plaintiff, Catherine Wagner ("Wagner"), signed a Separation Agreement and a Release of all liability against her employer, the NutraSweet Company ("NutraSweet" or "Company"), the defendant in this case. Wagner subsequently discovered certain facts giving rise to the present lawsuit. On the eve of trial, the parties are before the Court with a second set of summary judgment motions directed to the allegations pled in the Second Amended Complaint. The current issues are:

 
1. Whether Wagner was terminated on the basis of her sex, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., when Wayne Tompkins, Wagner's male subordinate, assumed a position as Director, Human Resources, of the R&D Group, in late July 1991-approximately three months after Wagner signed a Separation Agreement (which contained a general release of all claims arising on or before March 25, 1991).
 
2. Whether Wagner was terminated on the basis of her sex in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., when NutraSweet's Vice President, Joe Clark, refused to consider her for a director position in the Carbonated Soft Drink/Table Top ("CSD") Group, which was ultimately filled by a male, Mike Vinitsky.
 
3. Whether Wagner was discriminated against with respect to her compensation during her retention period which ran from March 30, 1991 through October 5, 1991, in violation of the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), and Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.

 I. Procedural History

 In a Memorandum Opinion and Order dated October 17, 1994, this Court issued several rulings that are relevant to the issues presently before us. See Wagner v. Nutrasweet Co., 873 F. Supp. 87, reconsideration denied, 873 F. Supp. 101 (N.D. Ill. 1994). With respect to Wagner's compensation claims, the Court previously held that the general release ("Release") signed by Wagner on March 25, 1991, barred any claims arising on or before that date, *fn1" but did not preclude claims arising during the period of Wagner's retention. Id. at 91 n.4, 102. With respect to the "termination" claims, the Court found that any claims regarding the hiring of Mike Vinitsky in April 1991 as the Director, Human Resources, of the CSD Group ["Vinitsky claim"] and the alleged promotion of Wayne Tompkins in July 1991 as the Director, Human Resources, of the R&D Group ["Tompkins claim"] would be cognizable under the "prospective waiver rule," if these claims arose after March 25, 1991, the date Wagner signed the Release.

 The Court then denied NutraSweet's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Wagner on any compensation and termination claims arising after March 25, 1991, and directed Wagner to file a Second Amended Complaint to set forth the remaining claims with more specificity. The parties are now before the Court seeking summary judgment on the three claims alleged in the Second Amended Complaint. For the reasons given below, summary judgment will be granted on the compensation (Count II) and the two termination claims (Count III subparagraph a and b). The Court also grants NutraSweet's request to strike Count I, the class claims, given the Court's previous summary judgment rulings.

 II. Summary Judgment Standards

 Summary judgment is proper only if the record shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue for trial exists only when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). Materiality *fn2" is determined by assessing whether the fact in dispute, if proven, would satisfy a legal element under the theory alleged or otherwise affect the outcome of the case. Id. at 247. The Court must view all the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Valley Liquors, Inc. v. Renfield Importers, Ltd., 822 F.2d 656, 659 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 977, 98 L. Ed. 2d 486, 108 S. Ct. 488 (1987), and draw all inferences in the nonmovant's favor. Santiago v. Lane, 894 F.2d 218, 221 (7th Cir. 1990). If the evidence, however, is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative or merely raises "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348; Flip Side Productions, Inc. v. Jam Productions, Ltd., 843 F.2d 1024, 1032 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 909, 102 L. Ed. 2d 249, 109 S. Ct. 261 (1988). In making its determination, the court's sole function is to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to support a verdict in the nonmovant's favor. Credibility determinations, weighing evidence, and drawing reasonable inferences are jury functions, not those of a judge deciding a motion for summary judgment. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. In an employment discrimination suit, where credibility and intent are crucial issues, these standards are applied with added rigor. Courtney v. Biosound, 42 F.3d 414, 418 (7th Cir. 1994) (quoting Sarsha v. Sears Roebuck, 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir. 1994)).

 III. The Facts

 The following material and undisputed facts have been taken from the Statements of Material and Undisputed Facts filed pursuant to the Northern District of Illinois' Local Rules 12(M) and 12(N). The relevant period of this lawsuit runs from March 25, 1991 (the date Wagner signed the Release) through October 5, 1991 (the date Wagner's employment with NutraSweet ended). Only those facts pertinent to Wagner's individual claims are relevant.

 A. Introduction

 NutraSweet, a subsidiary of Monsanto Company, manufactures and distributes an intense sweetener, a fat substitute and certain related products. 12(M) P 1. In late December 1990, NutraSweet determined that because certain of its patents were to expire in December 1992, a significant reconfiguration of the Company was warranted. 12(M) P 64. This reconfiguration necessitated the elimination of a substantial number of jobs. Id. Employee terminations resulting from this reconfiguration were announced on March 25, 1991. Id.

 The reconfiguration affected both the structure and the size of the Company's work force. For instance, the reconfigured Company was comprised of only four (rather than five) business units: (1) The Carbonated Soft Drink and Tabletop ("CSD") Group, which is responsible for the sale and marketing of NutraSweet sweetener products for use in the beverage and tabletop categories; (2) The Food Ingredient Group, which is responsible for the sale and marketing of NutraSweet and Simplesse ingredients to food companies; (3) Research and Development; and (4) Corporate Staff. 12(M) P 65. The Research & Development Group was housed at the Mount Prospect, Illinois facility. 12(M) P 5. The Corporate Staff was housed in Deerfield, Illinois. 12(M) P 3.

 B. The 1991 Reconfiguration

 In early 1991, NutraSweet's company-wide reduction in force began to take effect. For instance, the number of employees in the Research & Development Group diminished from 220 to 125. 12(M) P 66. In March 1991, Dr. Mike Losee, the supervisor of the R&D Group, advised Catherine Wagner, then the Director of Human Resources for the R&D Group, that R&D did not need both a director and a manager position. Id. Losee then directed Wagner to determine which position should be eliminated. Id. Wagner subsequently recommended to Losee that the director position be eliminated on the grounds that it would not be a sound business practice to retain a director given the reduced number of employees in R&D. 12(M) P 92. Wagner further recommended that the human resources function be performed by a senior manager. Id. Wagner also recommended to Losee that Wayne Tompkins fill the senior role in the R&D Group. 12(N) PP 66-67. *fn3" After consultation with Vice President, Joe Clark, Losee accepted Wagner's recommendation to eliminate the director position. 12(M) P 68. Losee then offered the senior human resources manager position to Wagner, who declined the offer. Id.; 12(M) 94. Wagner rejected the manager position because she did not want to take a step back in her career. 12(M) PP 66, 94. *fn4"

 On March 25, 1991, the plaintiff, Catherine Wagner, signed a Separation Agreement which contained a general release of all claims against the Company prior to the date it was signed in consideration for receipt of the payments outlined. 12(M) P 70. The letter states:

 
In consideration of the payments set out in this letter, you, for yourself, your executors, personal representatives, successors and assigns hereby release and absolve the Company, its subsidiaries, affiliates, divisions, employees, officers, directors, successors and assigns from any and all claims, charges, demands, or causes of action, known or unknown, asserted or unasserted, in any way arising from your employment, separation of employment or failure to be recalled or rehired by the company, including but not limited to, all claims which would have been raised pursuant to any common law cause of action or pursuant to any federal, state, or local statute, order, law or regulation. In making this Agreement, you and the Company agree that you were an "employee-at-will" of the Company and not employed pursuant to either a written or oral employment contract.

 Id. At the time she signed the Agreement, Wagner understood that the Release was intended to prevent her from suing the company for any claims, known or unknown, ...


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