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Foster v. Principal Financial Group

July 13, 2006

DIANE FOSTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PRINCIPAL FINANCIAL GROUP, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on Defendant's, Principal Financial Group ("Principal"), motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

We only consider those relevant facts that are presented in conformity with Local Rule 56.1 ("L.R. 56.1"). The alleged facts not properly before us or unsupported by the record have been disregarded. See Brasic v. Heinemann's Inc., 121 F.3d 281, 284 (7th Cir.1997) (refusing to consider the plaintiff's additional facts where not supported by specific references to the record).

Plaintiff, Diane Foster ("Foster"), was born on June 13, 1952 and is a resident of Aurora, Illinois. Principal is registered to do business in Illinois and has an office located in Oak Brook, Illinois.*fn1 Principal acquired the Oak Brook office in September 1999, when it purchased Old Northwest Agents ("ONA"). At all relevant times Principal's Oak Brook office was in the business of selling employee benefit programs and it houses two divisions, a group sales division and the financial division. Foster was initially hired as the Oak Brook Office Manager by ONA and continued her employment after the purchase by Principal. Foster primarily worked within the group sales division of Principal, until she was terminated on August 8, 2003.

Foster's responsibilities as Office Manager included working on proposals, submitting new cases to the home office, and making sure that the administrative staff performed the necessary tasks to assist the sales representatives. Foster was not responsible for meeting sales goals or developing sales strategies, and had very little contact with either outside brokers or customers. However, according to Foster's affidavit, she became familiar with all of the positions at the Oak Brook office by helping to train employees and substituting for absent employees.

In the later part of 2002, Principal conducted a reduction in force ("RIF") and, consequently, terminated Vicki Moss ("Moss"), a marketing support employee, who was 60 years old at the time of said termination. Foster, as Office Manager, was directly involved in this RIF. Prior to Moss' termination, David Kapustka ("Kapustka"), Vice President of Group Sales, informed Foster of this impending RIF and directed Foster to begin to document Moss' job performance, in particular Moss' difficulty in learning new job requirements.*fn2 After said documentation, Kapustka instructed Foster that he wanted Moss terminated; however, Kapustka never indicated that Moss' age was a factor in this decision. Moreover, while conferring with Principal's Human Resource Generalist, Rhonda Kilkenny ("Kilkenny"), Foster never indicated that she thought Moss was being terminated because of her age.

While employed by Principal, Foster's superiors annually reviewed her job performance. According to Foster's 1999 performance review, several areas in which Foster could improve were noted including, but not limited to, building her relationship with the home office, providing better training for the employees that she supervised, and improving customer service. In 2002, Foster scored 2.8 out of 4.0 on her performance review. The reviewing manager, admitted that Foster had improved in several areas*fn3, but noted that Foster still had some attitude problems and difficulty managing some of the employees' time.

Also in early 2003, Principal terminated another Office Manager, Pat Heath ("Heath") who, like Foster, worked in the Oak Brook office. Heath, however, had an entirely separate job from Foster, which other than sharing the same general title had little or nothing else in common. Heath reported to Stace Hilbrandt, not Kapustka, and Heath's job dealt with Retirement Services, not employee benefits as Foster dealt with. In addition to having jobs requiring a differing knowledge set, Heath chose to accept the severance package upon her termination.

In late 2002 or early 2003, Principal decided to replace the Office Manager position with two newly created positions and, as a result, the Client Services Director ("CSD") and Regional Client Services Director ("RCSD") positions were created. Applicants for the RCSD position were evaluated on: (1) job experience; (2) leadership skills; (3) understanding of the underwriting process; and (4) home office relationships. Principal was mostly concerned with the applicant's experience in working with clients, brokers and the home office.

Three individuals applied for the Oak Brook RCSD position, Foster, Denise Conner, and Cindy Close ("Close"). Principal's Regional Vice Presidents: Mike Robinson; Tom Nicholl ("Nicholl"); Steve Ursler; Andy Frantzl and Greg Mollman ("Mollman") made the RCSD hiring decision. Nicholl and Mollman conducted the RCSD interviews with Foster and the other candidates. Close was the unanimous choice for the position because she had been with Principal for over 8 years, starting as an underwriter and, subsequently, managing an underwriting team. The hiring Vice Presidents found that Close had strong relationships with the home office and had also worked with customers and brokers on tough renewals. In his deposition, Mollman indicated that Close possessed good leadership skills and fully understood the pricing process.

The CSD position, although similar to the office manager position, required a majority of the CSD's time to be devoted to face-to-face contact in the field with customers and brokers. According to the job description, the CSD was required to manage daily office operations, including the supervising of the sales staff and organizing the office. Additionally, as much as 65% of the CSD's time would be devoted to working outside the office and spending the night in other locations.

Both Foster and Sandra Medicino ("Medicino") applied for the CSD position. Medicino was then an Account Executive who delivered renewals, worked with sales representatives to help deliver proposals to agents, and made sure that clients understood contract language. According to Close's deposition, she interviewed both individuals; however, Foster contends that the position was never advertised on the internet, nor was she made aware of the position. Close found Medicino to be the best candidate for the position because of her relationship with the home office, her ability to work renewals, and the mutual respect between herself, the sales staff and the agents.

Subsequently, in late January 2003, Foster accepted a position as the Senior Marketing Consultant in Principal's United Healthcare segment, a position that had been open since August 2002. As the Senior Marketing Consultant of United Healthcare, Foster worked with only one other employee, Vinee Nanda. Foster's duties as Senior Marketing Consultant included: providing marketing support for the sales representatives through daily contact, ...


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