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Gardner v. Illinois Preferred Real Estate

December 4, 2006

HELEN GARDNER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ILLINOIS PREFERRED REAL ESTATE, LLC, D/B/A PRUDENTIAL PREFERRED PROPERTIES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Helen Gardner brings the present six-count Complaint alleging gender discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., age discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., a violation of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., and a common law tort claim of battery against her former employer Defendant Illinois Preferred Real Estate LLC, d/b/a Prudential Preferred Properties ("Prudential"). Before the Court is Prudential's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Prudential's motion.

BACKGROUND

I. Parties

Helen Gardner ("Gardner") is female and was born on November 6, 1936. (R. 28-1, Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. Facts ¶ 3.) In 2000, the former CEO for Prudential Illinois, Doug Yeaman, recruited Gardner to work for Prudential as an office manager at the Winnetka, Illinois branch. (R. 43-1, Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶¶ 1, 3.)*fn1 In November 2001, Gardner became the office manager of Prudential's branch office in Highland Park, Illinois and in December of 2002 she became the office manager of Prudential's office at 1201 North Clark Street in Chicago. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 6.) Before Yeaman recruited Gardner to work in Illinois, she had worked for Prudential in Connecticut and had 25 years of experience in the real estate business. (Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 2.)

Prudential is a limited liability company organized under the laws of the State of Illinois and does business at, among other places, 1201 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 4.) Prudential is a real estate brokerage company formed in 1999 and currently has ten branch offices throughout the Chicago area. (Id. ¶ 5.)

II. Gardner's Job Responsibilities

As office manager, Gardner's duties included recruiting and hiring sales agents, as well as training and supervising the real estate agents. (Id. ¶ 7.) Gardner also ensured the production and profitability of the office. (Id.) While at the Winnetka office, Gardner recruited over 20 sales agents. (Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 8.) After Yeaman approached her to help manage the Highland Park office, Gardner recruited approximately 20-25 sales agents there, as well. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) In early 2003, Yeaman asked Gardner to run the 1201 North Clark Street office based on her strong recruiting skills and success at the other Chicago area offices. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 14.) While at the 1201 North Clark Street office, Gardner's supervisor gave her excellent feedback and told her she was getting the place "under control." (Id. ¶ 22.)

III. Gardner's Supervisors

During the time period from 2000 until January 2004, Yeaman or Ben Gerstman, another former CEO of Prudential Illinois and present member of the Board of Directors, supervised Gardner's work. (Id. ¶ 4.) On January 12, 2004, a new management team started supervising the Chicago branch office managers, which included Chief Operating Officer David Hanna, President James Roth, and Chief Financial Officer Bill White. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 8.) This new management team handled the day-to-day operations of Prudential and began to review Prudential's branch offices. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 9, Ex. 5, White Dep., at 121-123.)

IV. Gardner's Demotion

On April 5, 2004, Hanna called Gardner into the manager's office at 1201 North Clark Street and demoted her from office manager to recruiter. (Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶¶ 56, 58; Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 46.) While Hanna and Gardner were exiting the manager's office, Hanna pulled Gardner's hair back from her face and asked her if she had gotten a face lift. (Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 59.) Shortly thereafter, Gardner complained about her demotion in an email to Hanna, Roth, and White wherein she explained her many successes at Prudential and indicated that she felt that her "obvious maturity played some role" in her demotion. (Id. ¶ 62; Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 47.) Meanwhile, prior to her demotion, the new management team did not discuss any problems with Gardner concerning her work performance. (Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 55.)

V. Gardner's Termination

On or about May 15, 2004, Hanna advised Gardner that Prudential was terminating her employment effective May 30, 2004. (Id. ¶ 72; Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 60.) Hanna replaced Gardner as office manager of the 1201 North Clark Street branch. (Id. ¶ 61.) Prudential contends it terminated Gardner's employment based on her deficient work performance. (Id. ¶¶ 58, 59.) In his deposition, however, Hanna admits that part of the reason the management team terminated Gardner's employment was that she was not supportive of the changes the management team was trying to make as evidenced by her emails concerning her demotion, including the email in which she indicated that her "obvious maturity played some role" in management's decision. (Id. ¶ 73; Ex. C, Hanna Dep. at 204-07.)

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper when "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court construes the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255. "[W]hen a properly supported motion for summary judgment is ...


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