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Frances R. Karlin v. Mauritzon

November 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel


Plaintiff Frances R. Karlin filed this action against Mauritzon, Inc., an Illinois corporation and Ms. Karlin's former employer. Ms. Karlin alleges, inter alia, that her employment was terminated in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in retaliation for engaging in certain protected activity. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. Defendant now moves for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is denied.


Mauritzon, Inc., is a family-owned, closely held corporation that manufactures, sells and distributes textile products. Alvin Karlin owned the business for over 60 years; when he retired, his sons Steve and Chuck Karlin assumed ownership. At the time that this suit was filed, Steve and Chuck Karlin held all of Mauritzon's stock in equal shares. Sadly, over the last ten years the brothers have been unable to get along, and a dispute over control of the company has ensued in a lawsuit independent of this action.

Plaintiff is Chuck Karlin's daughter; she began working for the company in 2004. Her brother, Sean Karlin, and her cousin, David Karlin, who is Steve Karlin's son, also work at the company. By mid-2007, Plaintiff asserts that she had complained to Steve Karlin on numerous occasions about two principal issues. One complaint related to the sexually disparaging comments Steve Karlin was allegedly subjecting her to during the lunch hour; the other related to her belief that David Karlin was working demonstrably fewer hours, but nevertheless receiving the same salary that she was earning.

In response to his daughter's wage-related complaint, Chuck Karlin made an allegedly unilateral decision to lower David Karlin's salary in September 2007. Upon learning of this decision, Steve Karlin is alleged to have reacted violently. An argument ensued between the two brothers, culminating in the police being called to the Mauritzon office and Steve Karlin being briefly taken into custody. The next day, Steve Karlin ordered that Plaintiff would begin working remotely from home, rather than in the office.

In April 2009, Plaintiff asserts that she went to the Mauritzon office and informed Steve Karlin that she would be filing formal charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") for sex-based wage discrimination. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff was terminated along with several other employees. Shortly after that, a "standstill agreement" was negotiated between Steve and Chuck Karlin providing in part that Plaintiff would be reinstated at a significantly reduced salary -- $200 per week as opposed to her previous salary of $1100 per week. Defendant asserts that this reduction reflected the very limited amount of work Plaintiff was actually doing for the company at this time. Plaintiff asserts that the reason she was doing less work was because Steve Karlin had "banned her" from the office and was not giving her assignments to complete.

Plaintiff alleges that, in December 2009, Steve Karlin threatened Chuck Karlin that Plaintiff would be fired if she did not drop the EEOC charges. She also alleges that Steve Karlin threatened Sean Karlin that Sean himself would be fired if he did not persuade Plaintiff to drop the EEOC charges. Later that month, Plaintiff formally filed charges with the Illinois Department of Labor, and in April 2010, Plaintiff formally filed charges with the EEOC. By August 2010, the standstill agreement had expired, and Plaintiff was fired for the second time. Plaintiff asserts that she was terminated in retaliation for bring the EEOC complaint against the company. Defendant asserts that Plaintiff's termination was prompted by a dramatic downturn in company profits, as well as the disruptiveness Plaintiff's presence in the office is alleged to have caused in connection with the broader Karlin family dispute.

In March 2011, Plaintiff filed a second and supplemental charge of sex discrimination and retaliation with the EEOC. She was issued a right to sue letter later that month. Plaintiff seeks back-pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages.


A. Legal Standards

Summary judgment should be granted 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 triable fact exists only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Pugh v. City of Attica, Ind., 259 F.3d 619, 625 (7th Cir. 2001).

Once the moving party has set forth the basis for summary judgment, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party who must go beyond mere allegations and offer specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323--24 (1986). The nonmoving party must offer more than "[c]onclusory allegations, unsupported by specific facts" in order to establish a genuine issue of material fact.

Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 773 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)). A party will be successful in opposing summary judgment only if it presents "definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion." EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 233 F.3d 432, 437 (7th Cir. 2000). I consider the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002). I will accept the non-moving party's version of any disputed ...

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