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CARPANZANO v. COLLEGE OF DUPAGE

February 18, 2004.

CHRISTINA CARPANZANO, Plaintiff,
v.
COLLEGE OF DUPAGE, an Illinois municipal entity, MARY LOU EMAMI, and JOYCE ABEL, individually and in their official capacities as employees of College of DuPage, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GEORGE LINDBERG, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Christina Carpanzano brought this action against defendants College of DuPage ("College"), Mary Lou Emami ("Emami"), and Joyce Abel ("Abel") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a claim of retaliation in violation of plaintiff's rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (Count I), The amended complaint also alleges state law claims of retaliatory discharge (Count II) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count III). Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part. T. Factual Background

Plaintiff was an account manager with defendant College's Center for Corporate Training ("CCT"), a unit of the College's Business and Professional Institute, from May 23, 2000 through March 6, 2003. Defendant Emami is the CCT's Center Manager, and supervises the account managers and support staff employed there. Defendant Abel is the Executive Director of the Business and Professional Institute. Page 2

  The CCT provides training and services to employees of businesses, organizations, and public entities. CCT account managers sell these training services to clients. Account managers are also responsible for completing tracking sheets on their sales, which are used by support staff to prepare contracts.

  In January 2000, the account managers sought to develop a reward/incentive program to promote teamwork and recognize the efforts of the support staff. To that end, the "team fund" was established with the assistance of the College's Finance Department. The team fund was funded by adding a charge of $5,00 to $10.00 to each class sold by the CCT — The money in the team fund was used to buy gift certificates, books, plants, and sweatshirts for the support staff, as well as catered lunches during staff meetings and holidays. Plaintiff was made aware of the team fund and its uses shortly after she started working for the CCT in May 2000.

  During her employment at the CCT, plaintiff sold more contracts than any other account manager. However, according to defendants, starting in November 2000, plaintiff often failed to complete tracking sheets on her sales in a timely manner, and many of the tracking sheets she completed were inaccurate. In addition, during the summer of 2001, members of the support staff complained to Emami that when they tried to obtain information from plaintiff about contracts, plaintiff responded uncooperatively, with sarcasm and criticism. Although plaintiff conceded in her deposition that "completing these forms was not [her] strong point," she contends that problems with paperwork were common to all account managers, and that her problems with the staff were due to the staff members' difficult personalities.

  Abel and Emami met with plaintiff at various times through the first half of 2002, to discuss plaintiffs problems with completing paperwork, her attendance, and her problems relating Page 3 to the staff. However, plaintiffs November 19, 2000 and May 31, 2001 written performance reviews were positive, and do not mention any problems with tracking sheets, attendance, or her treatment of the support staff. Although plaintiffs June 10, 2002 performance evaluation listed "customer service issues" as a barrier to effective job performance and indicated that plaintiff and Emami had discussed "communication with all staff involvement," the evaluation did not indicate that plaintiff was having problems with attendance or with completing paperwork. Plaintiff received regular pay increases while employed at the Business and Professional Institute. Due to plaintiffs "excellent attendance record" from June 2000 through July 2001, and from July 2001 through July 2002, plaintiff twice qualified for the College's attendance incentive of additional vacation time.

  On June 21, 2002, the support staff initiated a meeting with Emami to discuss their continuing problems with plaintiff. The staff members reported that class instructors were complaining to them that the instructors with having difficulties communicating with plaintiff regarding course logistics and invoicing. The staff members also complained that plaintiffs problems with paperwork created accounts receivable issues.*fn1

  On June 26, 2002, an e-mail discussion ensued among CCT employees regarding the team fund, initiated by a reminder to support staff that the team fund was available for their use. During that discussion, plaintiff wrote: "It may be appropriate to mention who generates the funds (i.e. the Managers)." Later that day, account manager Lolly Petusky responded that "I'm sure we're all confident enough that there is no need to pat ourselves on the back to take credit for all Page 4 the work the staff accomplishes to contribute to the success of the center." Plaintiff forwarded Petusky's response to other managers, explaining to a co-worker that:
I think it's important that they are made aware that my effort to at least gain some acknowledgement [sic] of the sales managers for a job well done in a difficult [sic] year is seen as a self-congratulatory activity. Very nice, If I can opt out of the Team fund, consider me out, T will no longer include it in my pricing. Like a lot of things, it's another joke.
On June 27, 2002, plaintiff expanded on her statement in another e-mail:
Everytime [sic] T have read my statement . . . about it may be appropriate to mention who gets the funds . . . I just have to wonder at the entire organizations' [sic] inability to say THANK YOU to us. . . . Many times people just want to be recognized for their contributions. If you follow the thread, I think I'm ASKING someone to say thank you. What T got what [sic] a diatribe on self-congratulatory behavior. If that's how ML [Emami] and JA [Abel] are going to show appreciation to those who make the Team fund happen, I don't want to play the game.
  Also on June 27, 2002, plaintiff asked Sue Benton, in the Human Resources Department, whether plaintiff was required to contribute to the team fund, explaining that she no longer wished to do so. Benton responded that she was unfamiliar with the team fund. According to plaintiff, she explained to Benton that the team fund was funded with $10 from each class sold. According to Benton, plaintiff told her that the team fund was funded through deductions from plaintiffs and other account managers' compensation, Benton responded that the team fund was not sanctioned by the College.

  On June 28, 2002, plaintiff wrote a memorandum to Emami, which was copied to Abel, stating that she would no longer contribute to the team fund. Plaintiff explained in the memorandum that she had

  professional and ethical problems with the arrangement and usage of this fund. It is not a college-approved fund, as we have been led to believe, nor are contributions `mandatory'. There is poor accountability, if any. On several Page 5 occasions, the amount of my contribution designated on my pricing sheets has been changed (increased) without my approval. This is not a professional activity in which I willingly choose to participate.

 Plaintiff later testified that her professional and ethical objections to the team fund were based on her belief that the money contributed to the team fund was taken out of profits that otherwise would have gone to the College. In July 2002, the account managers voted to end the team fund.

  On July 9, 2002, Abel and Emami issued a warning memorandum to plaintiff, indicating that members of the support staff had complained about plaintiff's negative remarks to them, and directing plaintiff to stop this "abusive behavior." The memorandum also observed that plaintiff had failed to come into the office for several days beginning June 27, 2002, which caused problems regarding final grant reports. The memorandum directed plaintiff to be present in the CCT office when not on sales calls or performing contract-related duties. This memorandum was the first written warning plaintiff had received daring her employment with the CCT.

  According to defendants, plaintiffs problems continued, and on December 2, 2002, Emami and Abel issued a second warning memorandum to plaintiff. This memorandum directed plaintiff to immediately cease "disruptive behavior," to be present in the office during regular business hours for a minimum of 35% of the time and any other time she was not on a client call, to demonstrate a cooperative team attitude, to attend meetings unless ...


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