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Audrey Wessman v. Ddb Chicago

December 13, 2012


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


This matter comes before the Court on the motion of Defendants DDB Chicago, Inc. ("DDB Chicago"), DDB Worldwide Communications, Inc. ("DDB Worldwide"), and Brian Hurley ("Hurley") (collectively "Defendants") to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.


DDB Worldwide is an international marketing company with its principal place of business in New York, New York. DDB Chicago is an advertising agency and a subsidiary of DDB Worldwide. Plaintiff Audrey Wessman ("Wessman") was employed with DDB Chicago for intermittent periods between 1997and 2011.

For the purposes of this motion only, we accept as true the well-pleaded allegations of Wessman's complaint. On February 14, 2011 Wessman returned to DDB Chicago as an independent contractor working on the Wrigley account. Upon completion of her assignment, DDB Chicago offered Wessman a contract employee position as an Account Director, effective March 21, 2011. Wessman signed an employment contract with DDB Chicago, specifying her salary.

Wessman accepted the Account Director position on the condition that she be permitted to work 80% of the hours expected for a full time employee in her position ("prior condition"). In exchange Wessman agreed to accept a starting annual salary of $100,000, 30% lower than the compensation she received as an independent contractor. Wessman was assigned to the Safeway account and reported directly to Hurley, a Senior Vice President/Group Business Director at DDB Chicago. After she began it became apparent that Hurley would not permit Wessman to work the reduced hour schedule she had negotiated. Hurley required Wessman to work extended hours on assignments and projects. Hurley also repeatedly scheduled meetings late in the day, which impacted Wessman's ability to pick up her children.

Hurley also engaged in sexist and degrading conduct. On several occasions Hurley spoke about past and present female employees of DDB Chicago in an inappropriate manner. On May 16, 2011, Wessman reported Hurley's sexually inappropriate conduct to Natalie Sundquist ("Sundquist"),Vice President/Director of Recruiting & Career Development for DDB Chicago, and Don Hoffman ("Hoffman"), Executive Vice President/Global Business Director at DDB Worldwide. Neither Sundquist nor Hoffman expressed any interest in investigating the conduct. Furthermore, Wessman confided in Ewan Paterson ("Paterson"), DDB Chicago's Executive Creative Director, that she was concerned about Hurley's behavior. Paterson cautioned Wessman not to rock the boat because she could get fired.

Recognizing that her concerns would not be remedied, Wessman requested a transfer to the Wrigley account in early June 2011. On June 14, 2011, Wessman elevated her complaints about Hurley to Sundquist's supervisor, Linda Waste ("Waste"), Senior Vice President/Director of Talent Management for DDB Chicago. Wessman discussed with Waste the series of inappropriate conduct perpetrated by Hurley. Waste did not investigate Wessman's allegations. On June 24, 2011 Waste sent Wessman an email stating she was not the right fit for the Wrigley account.

Wessman continued with her complaints to Dick Rogers ("Rogers"), Chairman of DDB North America. Upon hearing of Hurley's conduct, Rogers expressed concern that Hurley's dealings were both unethical and illegal. Rogers implied that he was aware of Hurley's conduct but reminded Wessman that "no one's perfect." Although Rogers implied that he would take care of the matter, to Wessman's knowledge no steps were taken to resolve the problem. Further, Wessman told Hoffman on June 27, 2011 about sexually explicit emails sent by Hurley. No action was taken.

Within days of Wessman's complaints to Waste and Rogers, DDB Chicago's management began exerting pressure on her to resign. Wessman initially succumbed to the mounting pressure to resign, but when she changed her mind, Wessman was abruptly fired on July 5, 2011. Wessman was never given any specific reason for her termination. After her termination, Wessman requested a copy of her personnel file.

Wessman filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on September 26, 2011, alleging that she was retaliated against. Wessman named DDB Worldwide as the employer responsible for the conduct and listed DDB Chicago's address. On May 23, 2012, Wessman received a Notice of Right to Sue, from the EEOC. On October 11, 2012, Wessman filed a two count Amended Complaint alleging 1) Retaliation in Violation of Title VII against DDB Chicago and DDB Worldwide and 2) Breach of Contract against all Defendants. Wessman has met all procedural prerequisites to bring the present suit.


A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is used to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all the factual allegations pled in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Id. Pursuant to Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain "a 'short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' sufficient to provide the defendant with 'fair notice' of the claim and its basis." Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1084 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Additionally, the allegations in the complaint must "actually suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, by providing allegations that raise a right to relief above a speculative level." Tamayo, 526 F.3d ...

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