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Quinlan v. Elysian Hotel Co. LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

January 4, 2013

Bridget QUINLAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ELYSIAN HOTEL COMPANY LLC, Defendant.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Timothy J. Touhy, Nicholas Swigert Lane, The Law Offices of Nicholas S. Lane, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff.

Jeffrey Scott Nowak, Mark S. Wilkinson, Franczek Radelet P.C., Chicago, IL, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

EDMOND E. CHANG, District Judge.

Plaintiff Bridget Quinlan alleges that her former employer, Defendant Elysian Hotel, fired her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k).[1] Quinlan also claims that Elysian Hotel interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and created a hostile work environment. Elysian moves for summary judgment on all counts. R. 24. For the following reasons, Elysian's motion is granted in part and denied in part: the Title VII claim survives, but the FMLA and harassment claims do not.

I. Factual Background

In deciding this summary judgment motion, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, Quinlan. In May 2008, Elysian Hotel [2] hired Quinlan to be its public relations director. R. 26, Def.'s Stmt. of Facts (DSOF) ¶ 2. At the time, Elysian was an entirely new construction project, and a completely unknown hotel brand. DSOF ¶ 5. As the public relations director, Quinlan was expected to generate positive press, manage Elysian's image, manage photo shoots, entertain media, and coordinate the hotel's charitable outreach. DSOF ¶ 6. Early on, Elysian's director of marketing, Gianna Tetrick, was Quinlan's supervisor. DSOF ¶ 19.

Elysian was expected to open in the spring 2009, but the opening was delayed several times. DSOF ¶ 14. In December 2009, Elysian fired Tetrick, and Joseph Aguilera, vice president of marketing and sales, took over as Quinlan's supervisor. DSOF ¶¶ 9, 19. Mary Beth Malone, one of Elysian's investors who had overseen construction of the hotel, also took on marketing

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duties at that time and eventually became the marketing director. DSOF ¶¶ 8, 21. Later that month, Elysian opened its doors. DSOF ¶ 19.

In February 2010, Quinlan informed her supervisors, Aguilera and Malone, that she was pregnant. DSOF ¶ 26. In the following months, Elysian's occupancy rates began to increase. DSOF ¶ 30. By April, the hotel was extremely busy, and the workloads of Elysian employees increased as well. DSOF ¶¶ 30, 34-35. Quinlan had been juggling her public relations responsibilities along with the marketing work that came her way. DSOF ¶ 35. But Quinlan gradually began to handle more of the marketing responsibilities, and her hours increased to between 50 and 60 hours per week. DSOF ¶ 35-36. In fact, Quinlan was the only employee performing tasks related to marketing work under Aguilera and Malone's supervision. DSOF ¶ 40.

By May 2010, it was clear that Elysian was losing more money in 2010 than originally forecasted, and the hotel began to cut costs. DSOF ¶¶ 44, 46-47. In January 2011, Kevin Robinson (Elysian's general manager) asked the hotel planning committee to identify salaried positions that Elysian could eliminate without affecting the hotel's performance. DSOF ¶¶ 9, 66-67. Aguilera suggested that Elysian could operate without an on-site director of public relations, and the planning committee agreed. DSOF ¶¶ 68, 71-73. Ultimately, Robinson and the hotel's development partners approved of the committee's assessment, and Quinlan was fired in February 2011. DSOF ¶¶ 74-75.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is required " if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56 " mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). All facts, and any inferences to be drawn from them, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Wis. Cent., Ltd. v. Shannon, 539 F.3d 751, 756 (7th Cir.2008).

III. Title VII

Quinlan argues that she was fired because of her sex and pregnancy. See generally R. 37 (Pl.'s Br.). Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). In 1978, Congress amended Title VII by enacting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which explicitly barred discrimination on the basis of pregnancy:

The terms " because of sex" or " on the basis of sex" include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and 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). " The [Pregnancy Discrimination Act] created no new rights or remedies, but clarified the scope of Title VII by recognizing certain inherently gender-specific characteristics that may not form the basis for disparate treatment of employees." Hall v. Nalco Co., 534 F.3d 644, 647 (7th Cir.2008) (citing Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U.S. 669, 678-79, 103 S.Ct. 2622, 77 L.Ed.2d 89 (1983)). " The [Pregnancy Discrimination Act] ‘ made clear that, for all Title VII purposes, discrimination based on a woman's pregnancy is, on

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its face, discrimination because of her sex.’ " Id. (quoting Newport News, 462 U.S. at 684, 103 S.Ct. 2622); see also Griffin v. Sisters of Saint Francis, Inc., 489 F.3d 838, 843 (7th Cir.2007) (stating that " pregnancy is a proxy for gender, and, therefore, discrimination against pregnancy is discrimination against women" ).

Quinlan argues that she has sufficient evidence to show sex discrimination using the direct method of proof.[3] Quinlan presents a series of statements and conduct that she believes create a mosaic of circumstantial evidence of discrimination. Many of these statements are detailed in the affidavit Quinlan submitted in response to Elysian's motion for summary judgment. See R. 36-1 (Quinlan Decl.). Elysian argues that the Court should disregard much of Quinlan's affidavit because it contradicts her previous deposition testimony. R. 39 (Def.'s Reply) at 7-10. Thus, the Court's first task is to determine which of Quinlan's statements can be considered in deciding this summary judgment motion.

Elysian relies on the general ‘ no do-over’ litigation principle: a party cannot defeat summary judgment by having a witness contradict (via an affidavit submitted during briefing) her own prior deposition testimony. Def.'s Reply at 7 (citing Adelman-Tremblay v. Jewel Cos., 859 F.2d 517, 521 (7th Cir.1988)). After all, deposition testimony is given under-oath. But as the Seventh Circuit has recognized, " [a] number of scenarios might explain a change [in testimony]: a confusing deposition question, circumstances indicating a lapse of memory, relevant new information discovered after the original testimony, or ambiguous or incomplete earlier testimony." Patton v. MFS/Sun Life Fin. Distribs., Inc., 480 F.3d 478, 488 (7th Cir.2007) (internal citations omitted). Thus, the Court " must examine the particular circumstances of a change in testimony to see whether it is plainly incredible or merely creates a credibility issue for the jury." Id. Here, Quinlan does not offer any reason for her failure to testify during her deposition about the comments listed in her affidavit. Nor does she explain why some of the information in her affidavit conflicts with her deposition testimony. Although it would have been helpful for Quinlan to ...


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