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Ruedlinger v. Jarrett

February 5, 1997

MARY GOSSMAN RUEDLINGER,

PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

ROBERT L. JARRETT, INDIVIDUALLY AND D/B/A JARRETT MANAGEMENT COMPANY,

DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Evansville Division.

No. 94 C 96 Gene E. Brooks, Judge.

Before FAIRCHILD, CUMMINGS and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED JANUARY 7, 1997

DECIDED FEBRUARY 5, 1997

Plaintiff-appellant, Mary Gossman Ruedlinger, filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000e-3(a) alleging retaliatory employment practices and a breach of pre-determination settlement agreement by defendant-appellee, Robert L. Jarrett, individually and d/b/a Jarrett Management Company. Plaintiff's complaint alleges that she and defendant had entered into a pre-determination settlement agreement resolving a charge of discrimination brought on her behalf by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") against defendant. As part of that settlement agreement, both parties were required to keep all matters relating to the charge confidential. Plaintiff's complaint alleges that defendant thereafter breached the agreement by contacting her subsequent employer and discussing matters that were to remain confidential under the agreement. Plaintiff claims that the disclosure of this information resulted in her termination from her subsequent job.

On January 11, 1996, the district court dismissed both of plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court believed the primary question to be whether a former employer's actions taken after a plaintiff has been terminated are within the scope of the remedies of Title VII. After observing that there is disagreement among the circuits, the district court asserted that "the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has unequivocally held that 'post-termination events are not actionable under sec. 2000e-3(a).' " Ruedlinger v. Regency Club Apartments, Memorandum Opinion at 3 (S.D. Ind. January 11, 1996) (citing Koelsch v. Beltone Electronics Corp., 46 F.3d 705, 709 (7th Cir. 1995), which in turn cited Reed v. Shepard, 939 F.2d 484, 493 (7th Cir. 1991)). Accordingly, the court concluded that because plaintiff had alleged only acts or statements that occurred after the termination of her employment by defendant as the basis for her retaliation and breach of settlement agreement claims, she had no claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000e-3(a).

Plaintiff challenges the district court's dismissal of her claims. In light of this Court's decision in Veprinsky v. Fluor Daniel, Inc., 87 F.3d 881 (7th Cir. 1996), we agree and reverse.

The Retaliation Claim

The plaintiff first asserts that the district court erred by dismissing her retaliation claim. 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000e-3(a), the statutory provision upon which plaintiff relies, provides:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees or applicants for employment . . . because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.

Defendant argues, and the district court agreed, that plaintiff's retaliation claim, which is based on acts occurring only after her employment by defendant was terminated, must fail because this Court has held that post-termination events, like those in this case, are not actionable under sec. 2000e-3(a), citing Koelsch, 46 F.3d 705, and Reed, 939 F.2d 484. Plaintiff essentially conceded this point in her brief and in oral argument before this Court, but she argued that we should overrule those cases and follow the lead of several of our sister circuits, which have taken the opposite position.

However, this Court's decision in Veprinsky v. Fluor Daniel, Inc., 87 F.3d 881, issued subsequent to the district court's memorandum opinion, explicitly contradicts defendant's and the district court's assertions regarding the actionability of post-termination events under sec. 2000e-3(a) and makes review of Koelsch and Reed unnecessary. In that case, the plaintiff asserted that the defendant, his former employer, had, among other things, retaliated against him by disclosing his pending EEOC charge to an employee placement firm and by providing inaccurate information to his new employer that contradicted information the employee had provided to his new employer. The district court granted summary judgment for the former employer, and this Court reversed, holding that "former employees, insofar as they are complaining of retaliation that impinges on their future employment prospects or otherwise has a nexus to employment, do have the right to sue their former employers" under 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000e-3(a). Id. at 891 (emphasis added); see also E.E.O.C. v. CNA Insurance Companies, 96 F.3d 1039, 1045 (7th Cir. 1996) (recognizing the same right). The Veprinsky opinion clearly explains why the holdings of Koelsch and Reed do not lead to a contrary conclusion, and we will not repeat that reasoning here.

Simply put, plaintiff has alleged retaliatory acts that impinge on her "future employment prospects or otherwise ha[ve] a nexus to employment" within the meaning of Veprinsky, and, as a result, plaintiff's allegations regarding defendant's contact with her subsequent employer may be pursued under 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000e-3(a). ...


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