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Latorraca v. Forsythe Technology Inc.

September 7, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wayne R. Andersen District Judge


This case is before the court on defendant Forsythe Technology Inc.'s ("Forsythe") motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiff Maria A. LaTorraca brings discrimination claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"), specifically, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k) ("PDA"), and the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et. seq. ("FMLA"), in connection with her discharge. The plaintiff also seeks relief with breach of oral contract, promissory estoppel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion for summary judgment is denied in part, and granted in part.


The plaintiff worked at Forsythe from December 1996 until January 2005. Forsythe employs over 500 individuals. She began as a full-time employee, though at the time of her discharge, the plaintiff worked part-time (three days per week) in the position of an Inventory Product Specialist ("IPS") responsible for the sale of Hewlett-Packard/Unix servers and peripherals. In connection with the birth of her first child, the plaintiff applied for and was permitted Family and Medical Leave ("FML"). After returning from the FML, she elected to work part time in order to spend time with her child, and was permitted to do so. Later, when her child started school, she was also permitted to change her hours to be at home after school. At the time she was the only part-time employee in her five-person department at Forsythe, supervised by Harry Manos.

In 2004, the plaintiff commenced a second FML in connection with her second child. Before her leave began, she and Manos discussed what would happen to her sales inventory. They decided that it would be put on hold until her return. However, while the plaintiff was on FML, the company underwent restructuring to reduce expenses. The plaintiff's position merged with another IPS position, previously held by Anthony DeFalco who was discharged, and was given to Frances Wisneski. Although Manos stated that the plaintiff's work was most favorable, he did not believe that the plaintiff would accept a full-time position and or be available for the necessary training to learn the new product lines. Thus, he did not offer the modified IPS position to the plaintiff. Wisneski, the employee who assumed the plaintiff's duties and those of DeFalco, previously held a subordinate position, was not pregnant, nor did she have children. Following the defendant's restructuring, plaintiff's department had two part-time employees, one created as a result of the restructuring.

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper "if 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). We must construe the facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Smith v. City of Chicago, 242 F.3d 737, 742 (7th Cir. 2001). Because credibility and intent are central issues in employment discrimination cases, motions for summary judgment must be approached "with added rigor." Collier v. Budd Co., 66 F.3d 886, 891 (7th Cir. 1995). "The moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law where the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e).


a. Title VII Civil Rights Act (Count I)

Title VII makes it an "unlawful employment practice" to discriminate "against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment . . . because of such individual's . . . sex." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The PDA amended Title VII to provide 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). In order to avoid summary judgment, the plaintiff may either put "in enough evidence, whether direct or circumstantial, of discriminatory motivation to create a triable issue or by establishing a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas formula." Sheehan v. Daily Racing Form, Inc., 104 F.3d 940 (7th Cir. 1997). The advantage of using the direct method of proof is that the plaintiff need not show that employees not in the protected class were both similarly situated and treated differently or that they absorbed her duties. Taylor v. ADS, Inc., 327 F.3d 579, 581 (7th Cir. 2003); Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 693 (7th Cir. 2000).

After consideration of the plaintiff's efforts to use the direct method of proof, we find them unsuccessful and turn to the indirect method. To avoid summary judgment using the indirect method of proof, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination using the McDonnell Douglas framework. If the plaintiff succeeds, the burden falls upon the defendant to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its employment action, which the plaintiff must then show is pretextual to avoid summary judgment. Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1094, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981); Traylor v. Brown, 295 F.3d 783, 788 (7th Cir. 2002). When, as here, the plaintiff's position was eliminated as part of a reduction in force and the duties absorbed by other employees (the "mini-RIF"), to establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination the plaintiff must show that she: (1) was a member of a protected class, (2) was performing her job satisfactorily, (3) experienced an adverse employment action, and (4) that the employees that absorbed her duties were not members of the protected class. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 693 (7th Cir. 2000).

In this case, the plaintiff could also claim that she was passed over for promotion because of her sex, but chooses not to do so, likely because of the higher burden. See Texas, 450 U.S. at 253. She argues only that Wisneski was promoted into the plaintiff's IPS position because Wisneski was neither pregnant nor had children. As it is clear that the IPS position now held by Wisneski resulted from the combination of two positions, it is not the same position previously held by the plaintiff. Therefore, the "mini-RIF" analysis applies.

The defendant agrees that the plaintiff satisfies the first three prongs of the McDonnell Douglas framework. Because the individual assuming the plaintiff's duties was neither pregnant nor had children, she was not a member of plaintiff's protected class. The court finds that the plaintiff has set forth a prima facie case of discrimination. The burden now turns to the defendant to offer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the plaintiff's discharge.

The defendant submits that plaintiff's discharge was part of a company-wide effort to reduce expenses, which is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason. As part of this effort, both male and female employees besides the plaintiff were discharged. In plaintiff's own department, the other employee in the position of IPS was discharged, his product lines given to Wisneski, as well. Another employee was reduced to part-time from full-time as a ...

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