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Bonnevier v. Amoena USA Corporation

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

February 10, 2014

GERALDINE A. BONNEVIER, Plaintiff,
v.
AMOENA USA CORPORATION, a domestic for profit corporation registered in the State of Georgia and doing business in the State of Illinois, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT W. GETTLEMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Geraldine Bonnevier sued her employer, defendant Amoena USA Corporation, for denying her a promotion because of her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. Defendant has moved to transfer this case to the Northern District of Georgia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and in the interest of justice. For the reasons stated below, the motion to transfer is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 66 year-old resident of Illinois. Defendant is a Georgia corporation with its corporate offices in the Northern District of Georgia and its principal place of business in Kennesaw, Georgia. The complaint does not describe the nature of defendant's business. Plaintiff has worked for defendant for 23 years and currently is National Sales Manager. Plaintiff chooses to work out of a home office in Illinois. However, she has national job responsibilities and must often travel to other states, including Georgia.

Plaintiff's allegations of age discrimination focus on three incidents. First, plaintiff alleges that, in December 2012, Ronny Lemmes, the Managing Director and CEO of Amoena Worldwide (presumably an affiliate of defendant), attended a national sales meeting in Key Largo, Florida. At this gathering, Lemmes allegedly told Philip Sporidis, defendant's CEO, that plaintiff was "past her prime" and "too old to be working" for defendant. Second, on July 11, 2013, plaintiff met with Paula Schneider, who replaced Sporidis as CEO, in Georgia. At this meeting, Schneider informed plaintiff that she would be terminated, effective in six months, because of a corporate reorganization. Schneider then asked plaintiff about consulting for defendant, and allegedly said, "Some of these [consulting] projects will keep you busier in retirement." About three weeks later, plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Defendant was notified of the EEOC charge before plaintiff's termination became effective, and defendant reinstated her.

Third, following Ms. Schneider's resignation in August 2013, defendant promoted Marcie Peters, a 37 year-old recent hire, to CEO instead of plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges she satisfied defendant's legitimate expectations and was more qualified than Peters. Specifically, plaintiff allegedly had more experience, received merit-based raises and multiple promotions, and was never disciplined by defendant. Plaintiff also alleges that, when hiring Peters, defendant circumvented its policy regarding the posting of employment positions. The parties dispute whether the decision to the hire Peters was made in Georgia or Germany. These three instances form the basis of plaintiff's ADEA claim.

DISCUSSION

Defendant has moved to transfer this case to the Northern District of Georgia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). In ruling on this motion, the court must consider the convenience of the parties and witnesses and the interest of justice. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The court may transfer the case only if: "(1) venue was proper in the transferor district, (2) venue and jurisdiction would be proper in the transferee district, and (3) the transfer [would] serve the convenience of the parties and the witnesses as well as the interests of justice." Lewis v. Grote Indus., Inc. , 841 F.Supp.2d 1049, 1052 (N.D. Ill. 2012) (quoting United Airlines, Inc. v. Mesa Airlines, Inc. , 8 F.Supp.2d 796, 798 (N.D. Ill. 1998)). The moving party, the defendant in the instant case, bears the burden of proving that the transferee forum is "clearly more convenient." Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., Inc. , 883 F.2d 1286, 1293 (7th Cir. 1989) (quoting Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works , 796 F.2d 217, 219-20 (7th Cir. 1986)). In ruling on a motion to transfer, the court has "broad discretion, " id., and must engage in a "flexible and individualized analysis." Research Automation, Inc. v. Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l, Inc. , 626 F.3d 973, 978 (7th Cir. 2010).

In the instant case, neither party denies venue and jurisdiction in both the Northern District of Illinois or the Northern District of Georgia. Rather, the parties dispute only the balancing of the private and public factors.

Turning first to the private factors, the court must consider: "(1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the situs of material events; (3) the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (4) the convenience of the witnesses; and (5) the convenience to the parties of litigating in the respective forums." Genocide Victims of Krajina v. L-3 Servs., Inc. , 804 F.Supp.2d 814, 823 (N.D. Ill. 2011).

Plaintiff claims her choice of forum, the first private factor, should be given substantial weight. Defendant correctly asserts, however, that her choice is due only minimal deference because Illinois has no connection to plaintiff's claim. "When the conduct and events giving rise to the cause of action did not take place in the plaintiff's selected forum, the plaintiff's preference has minimal value even if it is his home forum." Boyd v. Snyder , 44 F.Supp.2d 966, 970 (N.D. Ill. 1999) (quoting Dunn v. Soo Line R. Co. , 864 F.Supp. 64, 65 (N.D. Ill. 1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted). See also Genocide Victims of Krajina , 804 F.Supp.2d at 823. This litigation is not based on plaintiff's work in her Illinois home office. Rather, plaintiff's claim is based on three specific instances of alleged discrimination that occurred in Florida, Georgia, and possibly Germany. Clearly, none occurred in Illinois.

Faced with these facts, plaintiff argues that the court's inquiry should focus on her place of employment, and cites Cox v. Nat'l Football League , 1997 WL 619839 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 29, 1997). In Cox, the commissioner of the NFL, based in New York, decided to fine a Chicago Bears player who then sued the NFL in Illinois. Id. at *1. The NFL claimed venue was improper and moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, transfer pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). The court determined venue was proper in Illinois and denied the motion. Id. at *2. In reaching its conclusion, the court looked to "the place where the decisions and actions concerning the employment practices occurred." Id . Specifically, the court found venue was proper because both the team's actual imposition of the fine and the player's payment occurred in Illinois. Id. at *1-2.

Plaintiff's reliance on Cox is inappropriate because the case is both inapplicable to and distinguishable from the instant case. Cox is inapplicable because it resolved a challenge to venue that was governed by Title VII's unique venue provision, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). Cox has no relevance to a § 1404(a) transfer where defendant does not dispute that venue is proper in both districts, but merely argues an alternative forum is more convenient. Cox is also distinguishable because in, in the instant case, there is no dichotomy between defendant's decisions and actions. According to plaintiff's own allegations, all three instances of alleged discrimination involved decisions made and actions taken outside of Illinois. Even the position as CEO, which plaintiff claims defendant unlawfully denied her, was a Georgia-based job. Therefore, the events giving rise to plaintiff's discrimination claim did not occur in Illinois, and the first private factor only minimally weighs against transfer.

The second private factor, the situs of material events, focuses on the three alleged instances of discrimination. The first instance, Lemmens' comments, occurred in Florida. The second instance, the meeting with Schneider, occurred in Georgia. The third instance, the decision to hire Peters, occurred in either Georgia or Germany. It is clear Georgia was the situs of more ...


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