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Maureen Moriarty v. Dyson

October 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman


Plaintiff Maureen Moriarty has brought a six count amended complaint against her former employer, defendant Dyson, Inc., alleging sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. (Counts I & II), defamation (Count III), false light invasion of privacy (Count IV), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V), and constructive discharge (Count VI). Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all six counts pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted on all counts.


Plaintiff was defendant's national account manager from August 2006 to November 2008. Defendant is in the business of designing and selling vacuum cleaners. Plaintiff reported to Jennifer Jones ("Jones"), who was vice president of national accounts from August 2007 until Jones' termination in 2008. Plaintiff and Jones were friends before their employment at defendant, and they subsequently had a close working relationship. Plaintiff accompanied defendant's president Gordon Thom, who was president from September 2006 through August 2007 ("Thom"), on business trips. Plaintiff, Jones, and Thom socialized after business hours. At work, plaintiff spoke openly about the time she spent socializing with Thom. Plaintiff alleges that in late 2007 or early 2008, Jones promised plaintiff a promotion to the Director of National Accounts position. Plaintiff alleges that through its vice president of finance, Maria Tryan ("Tryan"), defendant informed Jones that plaintiff and Thom were engaged in a sexual relationship and that Tryan had repeated this information to defendant's employees. On May 1, 2008, Thom was suspended. The next day, Sarah Wahlstrom, defendant's human resources director, and Jennifer Hale, defendant's general counsel, met with plaintiff to discuss certain expenditures made at a bar during a November 2007 business trip to New York City that she had taken with Thom and retail business strategist Jason Warner. Plaintiff states that during this meeting, defendant insinuated that plaintiff was engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with Thom.

Defendant also questioned Warner regarding the same expenditures during that business trip to New York City. On May 6, 2008, Martin McCourt, defendant's CEO, went to plaintiff's desk and requested to talk to her in one of the meeting rooms, the majority of which had glass walls. McCourt asked plaintiff about the same November 2007 business trip expenditures. Plaintiff alleges that McCourt's behavior and questions about her relationship with Thom caused her to become frightened and anxious. McCourt did not question Warner about the business trip. The next day, defendant terminated Thom. Plaintiff alleges that after Thom's termination, defendant told other employees that plaintiff was engaged in sexual affairs with Thom and Tom Stremleau, one of defendant's district managers.

On or about May 30, 2008, plaintiff, through counsel, reported to the company that she had been subjected to gender discrimination and sexual harassment that created a hostile work environment. Defendant had numerous interviews with plaintiff but, as per defendant's normal policy not to allow outside attorneys to participate in internal affairs, plaintiff was not allowed to have her counsel present during those interviews. According to plaintiff, Thom was allowed counsel during his interviews prior to his termination. Plaintiff alleges that as a result of her report, she was systematically excluded from receiving new assignments or projects related to her employment, denied the ability to meet with and/or excluded from meetings with senior executives to discuss matters relating to her accounts, and not permitted to participate in the company's mentoring program.

On June 2, 2008, Wahlstrom told plaintiff that she could submit a written statement in support of her allegations by June 5, 2010. Plaintiff was unable to provide the written statement by the end of the day on June 5 because of her workload. She provided the statement on June 12, 2008. On June 16, 2008, defendant's outside attorneys interviewed plaintiff about her personal knowledge of certain conduct by Thom. About the same time, Jones was interviewed by outside counsel. Jones admitted that she was not being truthful about her statements, and defendant terminated her on June 18, 2008.

In response to plaintiff's May 30, 2008, complaint, Wahlstrom interviewed several employees. Wahlstrom's interviews with Tryan and Jones revealed that Tryan had asked Jones about plaintiff's relationship with Thom for work-related reasons. On June 16, 2008, Wahlstrom interviewed Stremleau, who said that his manager, Patrice Compernolle, had called him at Thom's request when Thom learned that Streamleau and plaintiff were joining employee Forest Priest to visit the same customers within two days of each other in the Austin area. Wahlstrom also individually interviewed Compernolle and Jill Foldenaur, who worked in the Field Sales Department. Foldenaur said that she had been told that Compernolle had called Stremlau and asked about an affair. After interviewing several other employees, Wahlstrom and Hale met with plaintiff on June 23, 2008, and told her that it would be best to move forward. Plaintiff was not disciplined.

Plaintiff filed a charge of gender discrimination and retaliation with the EEOC on August 13, 2008. On or about September 23, 2008, defendant promoted Cheryl Cotterman to the Director of National Accounts position. Plaintiff alleges that she was never notified of the position and was not given an opportunity to apply.

In May 2008 plaintiff became engaged to a man who was living in New York City. In July or August 2008, plaintiff told defendant that she intended to be in New York by September 1, 2008. In October 2008, plaintiff accepted a job offer in New York City and submitted a written resignation to defendant.


Defendant has moved for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 on all six counts. Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admission 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(a). "This standard is applied with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where content and credibility are crucial issues." Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir. 1993). The court must consider the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-movant, and any doubts as to whether a genuine factual dispute exists must be resolved in favor of the non-moving party. New Burnham Prarie Homes, Inc. v. Village of Burnham, 910 F.2d 1474, 1477 (7th Cir. 1990). Once the movant has satisfied its initial burden, the nonmoving party then has the burden of offering evidence demonstrating that there is a genuine issue to be tried to the factfinder. Id.

Count I: Title VII Discrimination and Harassment

In Count I plaintiff alleges that defendant discriminated against her on the basis of gender, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Title VII provides that it is unlawful for an employer "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). To establish a claim for intentional discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff has two options: she may satisfy her burden through the direct method of proof, or she may demonstrate discriminatory intent indirectly by following the burden-shifting framework. See Adams v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. 324 F.3d 935, 938 (7th Cir. 2003). To survive summary judgment under the direct method of proof, a plaintiff must present either direct evidence of discriminatory intent, such as an admission, or enough circumstantial evidence to create a "convincing mosaic" that would allow a rational jury to infer that discriminatory intent motivated the adverse action. Silverman v. Bd. Of Educ. Of City of Chicago, 637 F.3d 729, 733-34 (7th Cir. 2011). Whatever circumstantial evidence a plaintiff presents "must point directly to a discriminatory reason for the employer's action." Adams, 324 F.3d at 939. Because there is no direct evidence of discrimination, plaintiff attempts to establish her claim under the indirect method.

Under the McDonnell Douglas approach, a plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by supplying evidence from which a jury could conclude that: (1) "[s]he is a member of a protected class; (2) [s]he was qualified for the position; (3) [s]he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) a similarly situated employee not of the protected class was treated more favorably." McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973); Hughes v. Brown, 20 F.3d 745, 746 (7th Cir. 1994). If the plaintiff meets this burden, the burden of production shifts to defendant to produce evidence of a legitimate, non discriminatory reason for the adverse actions. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 142, 120 S.Ct. 2097 (2000). If the defendant meets that burden, the plaintiff must produce evidence that the employer's proffered reason is a pretext for discrimination. Traylor v. Brown, 295 F.3d 783, 788 (7th Cir. 2002).

Defendant argues that plaintiff's claims fail under the indirect method because she cannot demonstrate that: (1) she suffered an adverse employment action; (2) defendant treated similarly situated males differently; and (3) defendant's legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for its actions are pretextual. An "adverse employment action" is one that is manifested by significantly diminished responsibilities, material loss of benefits, and a less distinguished title, to name a few." Crady v. Liberty Nat'l Bank and Trust Co., 993 F.2d 132, 136 (7th Cir. 1993). The adverse action "must materially alter the terms and conditions of employment." Stutler v. Ill. Dept. of Corr., 263 F.3d 698, ...

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