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YACOBELLIS v. SPRI PRODUCTS

March 25, 2003

BARBARA YACOBELLIS, KATIE KOUBA, AND ELIZABETH HUGHES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SPRI PRODUCTS, INC.,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ronald A. Guzman, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Barbara Yacobellis, Katie Kouba, and Elizabeth Hughes ("Plaintiffs") have sued SPRI Products, Inc. ("SPRI") for sexual harassment ("Count I") and retaliation ("Count II") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.SC. § 2000(e) et seq. and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. Before the Court is the Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Count II. For the reasons provided in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is denied.

FACTS

Defendant, SPRI Products, Inc., is an Illinois corporation wit its principle place of business in Libertyville, Illinois (although at the time related to the allegations in the Complaint, its principle place of business was Mundelein, Illinois) engaging in the business of fitness product distribution. (SPRI's Statement of Facts, ¶ 10) Since January 1976 Scott Swanson ("Swanson") has been the Vice-President and second most senior manager of SPRI and, as such, has had the authority to terminate employees. (Id. ¶ II). During 2000, Phil Trotter ("Trotter") was engaged as a consultant and made decisions regarding the management of the customer service department, including hiring and firing. (Id. ¶ 12).

BARBARA YACOBELLIS

The Plaintiffs are three former employees of SPRI. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 5, 8). Plaintiff Barbara Yacobellis ("Yacobellis") was hired as a customer service representative in February 1998. (Id. ¶ 2). She was moved into marketing and international sales and was then promoted to customer service supervisor on June 1, 1999. (Id. ¶ 3).

During 2000, Yacobellis repeatedly complained about the persvasive atmosphere of sexual harassment prevalent at SPRI to Phil Trotter (Marketing Manager) and to Scott Swanson (Vice President and Owner). (Plt. Yacobellis Affidavit ¶ 4). SPRI claims, and Plaintiffs deny, that Yacobellis was demoted to customer service representative on July 1, 2000 with a pay decrease from 529, 5 (10 per year to $25,000 per year. (SPRI's Statement of Facts, ¶ 3; Pls.' Reply to Def.'s Statement of Facts, ¶ 3). The demotion was allegedly due to her poor performance, negative attitude, and her inability to deal with the customer service staff (Id.). On or about August, 2000, Yacobellis threatened Scott Swanson with a sexual harassment claim, if he did not stop sexually harassing her, and thereafter she even refused to go into his office. (Plt. Yacobellis Affidavit ¶ 5).

On September 14. 2000, Yacobellis was terminated from her employment with SPRI. (SPRI's Statement of Facts, ¶¶ 2, 14). Trotter directed the termination of Yacobellis and participated in her termination. (Id. ¶ 15). Yacobellis was not told that she was being terminated because she was complaining or not putting up with harassment (Id. ¶ 17) nor were titer any contemporaneous allegations of misconduct by SPRI made as to Yacobellis' performance. (Plt. Yacobellis Affidavit ¶ 4).

Plaintiffs contest SPRI's contention that. Trotter decided to terminate Yacobedis as part of changes being made in the customer service department. (SPRI's Statement of Facts, ¶ 16; Pls.' Reply to Def.'s Statement of Facts, ¶ 16). Plaintiffs also contest the SPRI's allegation that Yacobellis was terminated because of her negative attitude, poor performance, rudeness, and lack of cooperation, or because her attitude was causing problems with the performance of others. (SPRI's Statement of Facts, ¶¶ 3. 16; Pls.' Reply to let's Statement of Facts, ¶¶ 3, 16). In addition. Plaintiffs deny SPRI's claim that Trotter was not motivated by any desire to retaliate against Yacobellis and was not even aware of her allegations of sexual harassment. (SPRI's Statement of Facts, ¶ 16; Pls.' Reply to Pet's Statement of Facts, ¶ 16).

ELIZABETH HUGHES

Plaintiff Elizabeth Hughes ("Hughes") was hired on April 26, 1999 as a receptionist. (SPRI's Statement of Facts, ¶ 9). She was then promoted to the customer service department as an account executive on July 1, 2000. (Id. ¶ 9). During 2000, Ms. Hughes also began complaining to senior managers and owners at SPRI about the offensive and pervasive atmosphere of sexual harassment. On one occasion, Ms. Hughes heard Barbara Yacobellis complaining to Scott Swanson about the sexual harassment, to which Swanson replied: "You have two options, put up with it or you're fired)." (Plt. Hughes Affidavit ¶ 6).

On September 14, 2000, Hughes was terminated from her employment with SPRI. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 18). Trotter directed the termination of Hughes and participated in her termination. (Id. ¶ 19). Hughes was never given a reason for her termination. (Id. ¶ 21).

Plaintiffs deny SPRI's claim that Trotter decided to terminate Hughes as part of changes being made in the customer service department. (SPRI's Statement of Facts, ¶ 20; Pls.' Reply to bet's Statement of Facts, ¶ 20). Plaintiffs also deny that Trotter terminated Hughes because of her poor performance and uncooperativeness with staff outside of her department. (SPRI's Statement of Facts, ¶ 9; Pls.' Reply to Def.'s Statement of Facts, ¶ 9). In addition, Plaintiffs deny SPRI's claim that Trotter was not motivated by any desire to retaliate against Hughes and was not even aware of her allegations of sexual harassment. (SPRI's Statement of Facts, ¶ 20; Pls.' Reply to Def.'s Statement of Facts, ¶ 20).

Plaintiffs also contest SPRI's claim that Trotter was hired to evaluate and implement a new business plan for SPRI. (SPRIs Statement of Facts, ¶ 3; Pls.' Reply to Def's Statement of Pacts, ¶ 3). SPRI's claims, and Plaintiffs deny, that Trotter was involved in changes regarding the transition of a paperwork heavy customer service department focusing on administration to an aggressive, sales oriented department focusing on selling the product, relocating the department and furnishing the department with new equipment. (SPRIs Statement of Facts, ¶ 13; Pls.' Reply to Def.'s Statement of Facts, ¶ 13). Plaintiffs deny, as Well, that Trotter had determined that the department as a whole was inadequate in performance and could not be saved and that he attempted to save some personnel and terminated others. (Id.). In addition, Plaintiffs deny that by September 2000 all employees felt to be inadequate in performance and attitude turned over (due to transfer or termination) except Yacobellis and Hughes. (Id.). Plaintiffs also reject ...


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