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HACKETT v. GUNDERSON

November 1, 2004.

CHRISTINA HACKETT, Plaintiff,
v.
CLIFTON GUNDERSON, L.L.C., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MATTHEW KENNELLY, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Christina Hackett has sued her former employer, Clifton Gunderson, L.L.C. ("CG"), for three claims based on CG's decision to terminate Hackett while she was on maternity leave. Hackett alleges the termination constituted unlawful pregnancy discrimination in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; failure to return Hackett to work in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq.; and unlawful retaliation in violation of the FMLA. This case is before the Court on CG's motion for summary judgment.

This case is also before the Court on Hackett's motion for summary judgment on CG's counterclaim. In its counterclaim, CG requests an award of the attorneys' fees incurred in successfully defending all or part of Hackett's lawsuit, as it argues is prescribed by the fee-shifting provision in Hackett's Employment Agreement.

  For the reasons outlined below, the Court denies both motions for summary judgment. Facts

  CG is an accounting and consulting firm with offices in fourteen states and Washington, D.C. Hackett began working as a technology consultant at CG's Oakbrook, Illinois office on March 19, 2001. At the time Hackett was hired, CG serviced clients using both Blackbaud accounting software and its competitor, MIP software.

  Hackett was initially hired and trained to provide consulting services to clients using Blackbaud in CG's Oak Brook location. But approximately one week into her job, Hackett elected to transfer with Michelle Scheffki, a partner, and two MIP consultants, Jacqueline Van Nice and Kim Backe, to the company's newly formed Joliet, Illinois office to provide consulting services to clients using MIP. Seven consultants remained in the Oak Brook office servicing Blackbaud clients. Scheffki, who was also the firm-wide Director of Technology Consulting, was the immediate supervisor of the Joliet consultants, including Hackett.

  Hackett became pregnant with her second child a few months after she started working for CG, and in the fall of 2001, she announced her pregnancy to Scheffki. According to Hackett, Scheffki questioned her several times during her pregnancy about whether she would return to work after the birth of her second child, each time showing skepticism when Hackett announced her intent to return to work after taking maternity leave. Scheffki also allegedly expressed concern to Van Nice about Hackett's ability to handle two children and a job and what impact Hackett's pregnancy might have on the team.

  Hackett continued to work until the birth of her daughter on April 2, 2002, when she began a twelve-week FMLA maternity leave. Hackett was scheduled to return to work on July 1, 2002. However, on June 27, 2002, Scheffki informed Hackett that the Joliet office was being consolidated into the Oak Brook office, and as a result, Hackett was being terminated. At the time of her termination, Hackett was the sole consultant assigned to the Joliet office. Backe had resigned in March 2002, and Van Nice had resigned in June 2002. Joliet's MIP clients were transferred to the Oak Brook office.

  CG asserts that Hackett was terminated due to the downsizing of the Oak Brook and Joliet technology practice and a neutral determination by Jim Thomas, a partner in the Oak Brook office, that the consultants employed in the Oak Brook office were capable of handling the transferred MIP clients in addition to their Blackbaum clients. Hackett alleges that CG was not experiencing a significant downturn in business at this time and that her termination was the result of pregnancy discrimination.

  Discussion

  Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). To determine whether or not a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court views the record in the light most favorable to Hackett, the non-moving party in this case, drawing reasonable inferences in her favor. Id. at 322.

  1. Pregnancy Discrimination Claim

  Hackett claims that CG violated Title VII because its decision to terminate her was motivated by her pregnancy. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII to establish that pregnancy discrimination falls within the ambit of Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination. Clay v. Holy Cross Hosp., 253 F.3d 1000, 1005 (7th Cir. 2001). The Act provides that "women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). Hackett can prove a pregnancy discrimination claim through either direct or indirect proof. Venturelli v. ARC Community Servs. Inc., 350 F.3d 592, 599 (7th Cir. 2003). Because the Court finds that Hackett has provided sufficient evidence to defeat summary judgment under the indirect method, we need not address the merits of her arguments under the direct method.

  Under the indirect approach, also known as the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting method, a plaintiff must initially establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. at 602; McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 441 U.S. 792 (1973). To meet this burden, Hackett must provide evidence that (1) she was pregnant, and her employer knew it; (2) she was performing her duties satisfactorily; (3) she was discharged; and (4) similarly situated employees not in the protected class were treated more favorably. Clay, 253 ...


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