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Patterson v. Avery Dennison Corp.

February 26, 2002

KIM PATTERSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
AVERY DENNISON CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No. 98-C-513--Rudy Lozano, Judge.

Before Coffey, Easterbrook and Williams, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coffey, Circuit Judge.

Argued SEPTEMBER 17, 2001

Kim Patterson brought this suit against her former employer, Avery Dennison Corporation, alleging gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court granted Avery's motion for summary judgment, and Patterson appeals. We affirm.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Defendant-Appellee Avery Dennison Corporation ("Avery") is a diversified manufacturing company with headquarters in Pasadena, Cal., and facilities in more than 200 locations around the world. Plaintiff-Appellant Kim Patterson ("Patterson") was formerly employed at one of Avery's offices in Schererville, Ind., where she was hired as a general accounting manager of the decorative films division in 1985. Two years later, Patterson was promoted to the position of manager of financial planning analysis, and she continued in this capacity until 1995. At that time, as part of a reorganization of the Schererville plant, Patterson was transferred into a temporary "logistics task force." The objective of the task force was to facilitate the merger of Avery's two logistics divisions into a single, more efficient department. Charles Fridley, the general manager of the facility, outlined two primary job responsibilities for Patterson in her new position. Specifically, she was expected to: (1) design a new computer system to regulate logistics at the company; and (2) issue a recommendation concerning how the logistics department could best be restructured for the future.

Patterson successfully designed and implemented the new computer protocol. When the work of the logistics task force was completed, Patterson recommended that Avery restructure the logistics department and create a new managerial position to oversee the department. Fridley met with company executives to determine who they wished to hire to fill this newly-created position. Patterson was considered for the job but ultimately she was advised that the position required a person with more experience and training in logistics. Patterson was also advised that the company had no other job openings commensurate with her experience and training, and thus she was terminated on January 10, 1997.

One week after her discharge, Patterson filed a complaint with the EEOC, alleging that she was the victim of gender discrimination and disability discrimination.*fn1 Patterson received a right-to-sue letter in June 1998, and she filed her complaint three months thereafter, alleging that her termination amounted to discrimination on the basis of gender in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000e et seq.

During discovery, Patterson asked Avery to produce several witnesses for deposition, among them the company's corporate vice president and controller, Thomas Miller, who worked at the company's headquarters in Pasadena, Cal. Avery objected to the deposition of Miller, stating that "the information [sought from Miller] is obtainable from sources more convenient, less burdensome and less expensive." Patterson thereafter filed a motion to compel Miller's deposi tion, arguing that she wished to inquire into Miller's rationale for sending a certain e-mail message to Derek Jones, Avery's director of human resources. In the message, Miller stated that "I have had a few people coming to me about Kim's plight" and further asked Jones to "take a second look at what is going on here." Avery opposed the motion to compel, arguing that Miller neither participated in nor had first-hand knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Patterson's termination. Avery noted that Miller's only involvement with personnel activities at the Indiana facility was to write the e-mail asking Jones "to look into the matter." Avery went on to state that some of its mid-level supervisors, including Jones, were available to be deposed on any topic related to Patterson's adverse employment action. After reviewing these materials, the district court entered an order denying Patterson's motion to compel Miller's ap pearance for deposition.

Following the close of the discovery process, Avery moved for summary judgment. The district court granted Avery's motion, finding that Patterson failed to present a prima facie case of gender discrimination because she had failed to establish that she was treated less favorably than any similarly-situated male employee.

II. ISSUES PRESENTED AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

We address two issues raised by Patterson on appeal: (1) whether the trial court erred by concluding that Patterson failed to present a prima facie case of gender discrimination; and (2) whether the trial court erred when it denied Patterson's motion to compel the deposition of Thomas Miller. We review the court's grant of summary judgment de novo, asking whether the facts viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Greer v. Board of Educ., 267 F.3d 723, 726 (7th Cir. 2001). We review the court's handling of discovery matters under the abuse of discretion standard and will reverse only upon a clear showing of an abuse of discretion. Jurcev v. Central Comm'y Hosp., 7 F.3d 618, 627 (7th Cir. 1993). Further, we shall not disturb a trial judge's exercise of discretion "unless it is established that the denial of the requested discovery would result in actual and substantial prejudice to the complaining litigant." Id.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Gender ...


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