Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


July 30, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: George Marovich, Senior District Judge


Plaintiff Marina Tanzer ("Tanzer") filed a one-count Complaint against The Art Institute of Chicago (the "Art Institute") alleging a claim for retaliatory discharge. The Art Institute now moves to dismiss the lawsuit pursuant to Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.


The Complaint alleges the following relevant facts which, for purposes of deciding this motion, are taken as true. Hishon v. Kemp & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984). Tanzer was an employee of The Art Institute from October 8, 2000 through June 7, 2001. Tanzer served as the Assistant Director of Development for the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (the "Film Center"). In April 2001, Bill Siskel offered a donation to the Film Center in honor of his late brother, Gene, on behalf of the Siskel family. Bill Siskel specified that his gift would require all of the family members' names to appear on the Film Center's donor wall. Tanzer knew that having all of the family members' names on the donor wall would have been contrary to the Art Institute's policy of "one gift, one name". Before she committed to the Siskel family's wish, she asked Tony Jones, President of the School of the Art Institute, Barbara Scharres ("Scharres"), Director of the Siskel Film Center, Elizabeth Range Kiely ("Kiely"), Vice President of Development, Alice Dubose, Vice President of Development of the Art Institute, and Ed Horner, Executive Vice President of Development if this would be acceptable. None of these individuals objected to this request, so Tanzer notified the family it would be permissible to have all of the family names' on the wall.

On May 29, 2001, two days before the dedication of the film center, Kiely, Tanzer's direct supervisor berated her for having all of Bill's family members' names on the donor wall. Kiely instructed Tanzer to have the wall designer remove most of the names before the ceremony. Scharres requested that Tanzer "steer . . . Gene Siskel's widow. . . . away from the donor wall during the press preview." (Compl. ¶ 24). Tanzer was instructed to contact the family members before the dedication ceremony and inform the family that most of the names would have to be removed. If any family members inquired about their names not being on the dedication wall, Tanzer was instructed to tell them "the names just fell off." (Compl. ¶ 26).

Tanzer refused to do what Kiely and Scharres instructed her to do, citing personal and ethical reasons. Tanzer then advised Kiely and Scharres that what they were asking her to do was wrong and violated the Associated Fundraising Professional Guidelines ("AFPG"). (The AFPG required that there be time for the Siskel family to meet and discuss any alterations that might be made to their gift.) However, these requests were ignored, and on the day of the dedication Tanzer was instructed to leave the premises. Tanzer's employment with The Art Institute was suspended and she was subsequently terminated "for failing to follow work related instructions." (Compl. ¶ 40).


I. Standard for a Motion to Dismiss

When considering a motion to dismiss, a court must view the complaint's allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and all well-pleaded facts in the complaint must be accepted as true, Wilson v. Formigoni, 42 F.3d 1060, 1062 (7th Cir. 1994). Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a complaint must identify the basis of jurisdiction and contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief". Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G., 953 F.2d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir. 1992). Dismissal is proper only if it appears beyond a doubt that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of a claim which would entitle her to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Plaintiff is not, however, entitled to allege mere legal conclusions. Kunick v. Racine County, 946 F.2d 1574, 1579 (7th Cir. 1991). To withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts which sufficiently set forth the essential elements of the cause of action. Gray v. County of Dane, 854 F.2d 179, 182 (7th Cir. 1988). However, the complaint does not need to contain all of the facts that will be necessary to prevail. Hoskins v. Poelstra, 320 F.3d 761, 764 (7th Cir. 2003). With these principles in mind, we turn to the motion presently before the court.

II. Retaliatory Discharge

The single count of Tanzer's Complaint alleges that she was discharged from her employment with the Art Institute in retaliation for her refusal to comply with their instructions that she remove the family members' names from the donor wall. "Illinois follows the common-law doctrine that employment-at-will means termination-at-will and is presumed to exist whenever an employee is hired without a fixed term." O' Regan v. Arbitration Forums, Inc., 121 F.3d 1060, 1063 (7th Cir. 1997). In Illinois, the tort of retaliatory discharge is a narrow exception to that rule. Id. It requires three elements: (1) the plaintiff was discharged; (2) the plaintiff's discharge was in retaliation for her activities; and (3) the discharge violated a clear mandate or public policy. Id. Tanzer and the Art Institute agree that Tanzer was discharged in retaliation for her activities. The Art Institute does not believe, however, that the discharge violates a clear mandate of public policy.

Although there is no precise definition of the term public policy, the Illinois Supreme Court has stated:

"In general, it can be said that public policy concerns what is right and just and what affects the citizens of the State collectively. It is to be found in the State's constitution and statutes and, when they are silent, in its judicial decisions . . . [A] matter must strike at the heart of a citizen's social rights, duties, and responsibilities before the tort will be allowed."
Palmateer v. Int'l Harvester Co., 421 N.E.2d 876, 878 (1981).

Illinois has recognized retaliatory discharge claims when employees are fired for filing workers' compensation claims or for blowing the whistle on clear-cut law violations. O'Regan, at 1064. The Illinois Supreme Court first carved out a retaliatory discharge exception for the Workers' Compensation Act in Kelsay v. Motorola, Inc., 74 Ill.2d 172 (1978), and has now expanded that exception to include cases where individuals have aided law enforcement agencies or reported the illegal or improper ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.