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Wynne v. Loyola University of Chicago

December 21, 2000


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice South

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Judith Cohen, Honorable Sophia Hall, Judges Presiding.

Plaintiff, Martha Ellen Wynne, filed this lawsuit seeking damages based upon claims for defamation per se (count I), defamation per quod (count II), false light (count III), public disclosure of private information (count IV), intentional infliction of emotional distress (count V) and negligent infliction of emotional distress (count VI). Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment which was granted in favor of all defendants on all six counts. Plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider and that motion was denied. Plaintiff appeals both of these orders, as well as the denial of her motions to reopen discovery, a motion to reconsider that ruling and to obtain additional discovery pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 191(b) (134 Ill. 2d R. 191(b)).

The issues presented for review are (1) whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on all six counts of plaintiff's second amended complaint; and (2) whether there was a manifest abuse of discretion in the trial court's refusal to extend discovery past the cutoff or in the denial of plaintiff's motion for additional discovery pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 191(b).

In 1989, defendant Robert Roemer joined Loyola as the Dean of the School of Education and served in that position until 1996. As dean, Roemer was responsible for managing the School of Education, which also included the resolution of disputes between faculty members. He reported directly to Loyola's vice president and Dean of Faculties, James Wiser. One of Wiser's responsibilities was to help deans and department chairs resolve faculty disputes. Wiser was assisted with these responsibilities by Lorraine Serwatka, the Associated Vice President for Faculty Administration.

In the fall of 1993, Loyola was considering a reorganization of its School of Education to centralize all programs related to teacher education into one department, to be called the "Curriculum Instruction and Educational Psychology Department" (CIEP Department). Among the subjects being discussed was the selection of a chairperson for the new department.

Dean Roemer thought Wynne would be a good department chair for the new CIEP Department and asked if she was interested. Although Wynne said that she was not, Roemer stated that he hoped to change her mind.

In January 1994, Loyola formally announced its plans to reorganize the School of Education and, among other things, create the CIEP Department. The change would take effect in the fall term of 1994. Both Wynne and defendant Joy Rogers taught core courses central to the teacher-education curriculum and both were assigned to CIEP.

Sometime in January 1994, Rogers heard from one of her CIEP colleagues, Ronald Morgan, that Wynne was interested in becoming the chair of the CIEP Department and had Roemer's support. Rogers then called another CIEP colleague, Jack Kavanagh, who also told Rogers that he had heard about Wynne's possible candidacy for chair. Rogers then spoke with a senior member of the CIEP Department, Barney Berlin, who confirmed that he had heard similar talk.

Rogers believed that Wynne would be an unsuitable chair and wanted to inform new members of the CIEP Department the reasons for her belief. On or about February 2, 1994, Rogers composed a memorandum to Barney Berlin about Wynne's fitness to serve as chair of the CIEP Department. She addressed the memorandum to Berlin because he was to be the most senior professor in the CIEP Department and knew many of the newer faculty members who would be asked to assess Wynne's candidacy.

The memorandum discussed how, over the 15 years that Rogers and Wynne worked at Loyola, Wynne brought personal problems, including her fertility and psychiatric difficulties, into the workplace and how, in Roger's opinion, Wynne could not work well with colleagues. Rogers reported that Dr. Hablutzel told her about calls from Wynne requesting that she and Dr. Harding come to her home and chase her around to give her injections of a fertility drug. Rogers stated that Wynne had called her, as well as Drs. Harding and Hablutzel, informing them that she was on the inpatient psychiatric unit at Evanston Hospital due to a sleep disorder. When Wynne appeared at work within a day or two after these calls, she stated she had signed herself out of the hospital because they had failed to help her sleep. Wynne asked Rogers to provide her with a copy of the Illinois Mental Health Code Confidentiality Act which Wynne stated was for the purpose of learning how to obtain copies of her psychiatric records. Rogers also complained about Wynne's stewardship of a new M.Ed. program in the CIEPS department, which Rogers stated was never approved by CIEPS. Rogers also discussed what she saw as Wynne's longtime tendency to "wheedle, persuade, nag, and domineer for incremental changes ***," although "nothing ever seemed to satisfy her." Rogers believed that "[t]here seemed no room for compromise or consensus building." Rogers concluded by listing those traits which she considered essential for effective leadership of a department and concluding that Wynne lacked those traits.

Rogers faxed the memorandum to Berlin at the department fax machine in the Loyola Skyscraper Building. This machine was used by Loyola faculty and Loyola employees who worked in the building.

The memorandum was retrieved from that fax machine by Sister Mary Wojnicki, a Loyola staff member in the School of Education. Wojnicki telephoned the chair of her department, Judith Ingram, at home that same evening to report finding the memorandum. Wojnicki copied the memorandum and placed the original in a blue "confidential" envelope for Barney Berlin, the intended recipient. Ingram arranged to meet Wojnicki the next morning to retrieve the one copy.

The next morning, prior to Ingram's meeting with Wojnicki, Ingram received a phone call from Wynne. Wynne informed Ingram that another Loyola employee, Janet Pierce-Ritter, had found the first page of the Rogers memorandum in the copy machine and had telephoned Wynne to report the discovery. Wynne directed Ingram to place the entire Rogers memorandum in a blue "confidential" envelope and give it to Pierce- Ritter for delivery to Wynne, which Ingram did.

After speaking with Wynne, Ingram called Roemer to report the incident. Roemer was attending a meeting with Wiser and other administrators at Loyola's Water Tower Campus. After conferring with Lorraine Serwatka, Loyola's Associate Vice President of Faculty Administration, Roemer asked Ingram to fax a copy of the memorandum to Serwatka, who waited over the fax machine to receive it. Roemer himself did not see the Rogers memorandum until he returned to the School of Education. At that time, he reviewed the memorandum with Ingram, but Ingram kept the one copy.

Wynne called Roemer to complain about the content of the Rogers memorandum and the method by which it had been transmitted. Roemer expressed his view that the Rogers memorandum said more about Rogers than it did about Wynne. When Wynne still remained upset, Roemer conferred with Wiser about how to allay Wynne's concerns. He explained the circumstances generally but did not give Wiser a copy of the memorandum.

Roemer met with Rogers, who brought her colleague, Professor Jack Kavanagh, to the meeting. During the meeting, Rogers maintained that the statements in the memorandum were true. Roemer informed Rogers that he viewed the method of transmission as inappropriate.

Wynne claims that after she learned of the existence of the memorandum, it was difficult to work around CIEP co-workers. In fact, she became nauseated to the point of vomiting because she thought her co-workers had read the memorandum. Wynne's symptoms worsened during the spring of 1994, abated over the summer months but worsened again when Loyola's next semester started in the fall of 1994. On August 24, 1994, Wynne skipped the faculty meeting for the School of Education because she felt ill.

At this time, Wynne and Professor Allan Ornstein, the Acting Chair of the CIEP Department, developed a disagreement. They met once, shortly after the August 24, 1994, faculty meeting and argued about whether Wynne should be required to attend department meetings, which Wynne claimed made her "symptomatic." Wynne never attended a CIEP Department meeting that semester. Ornstein, treated these absences as "unexcused," and Wynne eventually complained to Roemer about Ornstein's insistence that she attend CIEP Department meetings. Roemer granted Wynne an exemption from attendance at department meetings because of her condition. However, her symptoms continued to worsen, and on January 15, 1995, Wynne's psychiatrist requested a medical leave for her.

Wynne filed her complaint on December 21, 1994. In response to defendants' motion to dismiss the original pleading, Wynne withdrew her original complaint. She then filed her first amended complaint on May 9, 1995. Defendants moved to dismiss that complaint and, on November 21, 1995, the trial court granted the motion as to Loyola, ruling that the Illinois Worker's Compensation Act barred ...

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