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Adams v. Abbott Laboratories

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

February 26, 2014




Plaintiff, Michelle Adams, filed a complaint alleging sexual discrimination and violation of the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), against her employer Abbott Laboratories ("Abbott"). Abbott moves for summary judgment, arguing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law [51]. Adams abandons her discrimination claim and opposes the motion only on the Equal Pay Act claim. For the reasons stated herein, this Court grants the motion for summary judgment in favor of Abbott.


The facts are not in dispute in this case, except where noted. Adams opposes only three of Abbott's Local Rule 56.1 statements of material fact (¶¶ 21, 23, 25), but fails to pinpoint portions of the record that demonstrate the facts are in dispute. Therefore, this Court will deem those facts admitted for purposes of ruling on this motion. See Cracco v. Vitran Express, Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 632 (7th Cir. 2009).

Adams began her employment with Abbott in May 1999 as a Production Equipment Operator. In 2000, she became a Building Automation Systems Coordinator. Adams applied for Abbott's apprenticeship program, called the STEP Program, and worked as a STEP Rigger from November 2002 through February 2003. In February 2003, Adams became an apprentice electrician in the STEP Program. Prior to entering Abbott's STEP apprenticeship program, Adams had no experience as an electrician. She was promoted from STEP Electrician to Electrician in February of 2005 and to Senior Electrician in 2007. For all but one year and one month, Adams has worked at Abbott's North Chicago facility. Throughout her employment as an electrician at Abbott, Adams has worked the first shift from six a.m. to two-thirty p.m. Since 2006, Mike Orawiec has been Adams' group leader. Since 2003, Terry Ketterling has been Adams' Maintenance Manager.

In January 2007, Adams began questioning the pay she would receive when promoted to a Senior Electrician on February 26, 2007. Adams testified that during a conversation with Terry Ketterling regarding her pay concerns, she asked him how she could earn the same pay as the other Senior Electricians. According to Adams, Ketterling said that she "will never get paid the same as the guys, that the only way is by getting EEs on [her] review." "EE" refers to "Exceeds Expectations, " which is the highest possible performance evaluation rating. An employee's annual merit pay increase is informed by the employee's annual performance review rating. Adams received a $3.00 per hour pay increase in 2007. As of December 31, 2012, Adams' hourly pay rate as a Senior Electrician was $31.21. Senior Electricians' pay is determined by several factors, including the number of years in the position, market forces at the time of hiring, relevant prior experience, and the shift.

As of December 31, 2012, there were twenty-six Senior Electricians at Abbott Park and North Chicago who had a higher hourly rate than Adams. Twenty-one of those Senior Electricians had held their positions longer than Adams and had electrician experience prior to joining Abbott. Of the five remaining Senior Electricians with a higher pay rate than Adams, three (John Westman, Manny Olifanda, Jr., and Carlos Perez) had been employed at Abbott for less time than Adams but had thirty-three, nineteen, and eleven years of electrician experience, respectively, prior to working at Abbott, and two had each been employed as Abbott electricians for more than seventeen years, although the they never worked elsewhere. The hourly pay rate for the Senior Electricians who earn more than Adams ranges from $31.32 to $36.54.

As of December 31, 2012, Adams had a higher rate of pay than three male Senior Electricians: Samuel Martin, Brian Preston, and Michael Schrauth. Samuel Martin was hired by Abbott on September 8, 2009, at a starting rate of $29.00 and as of December 31, 2012, he earned $31.01 per hour. Prior to joining Abbott, Martin had approximately eleven years of experience as an electrician and has an Industrial Electrician Associate Degree. The record contains no specific information on either Brian Preston or Michael Schrauth.

Adams claims that both Tim Mundy and Mike Orawiec were aware that she demonstrated for her more highly paid male co-workers how to do their job, but she testified that had not discussed the allegations in her EEOC complaint with anyone. ( Id. at 69: 17-24). Adams filed a timely charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on August 26, 2010.

Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence shows that there is "no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment has the "initial responsibility" to show that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To do so, the movant must establish that the non-movant's evidence is not such that "a reasonable jury could return a verdict'" in the non-movant's favor. Fitzgerald v. Santoro, 707 F.3d 725, 730 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). To avoid summary judgment, the non-movant "cannot merely allege the existence of a factual dispute" Basith v. Cook County, 241 F.3d 919 (7th Cir. 2001), but must provide enough factual evidence showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Warren v. Solo Cup Co., 516 F.3d 627, 629 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Vanesco v. Nat'l. Louis Univ., 137 F.3d 962, 965 (7th Cir. 1998)). The court views all facts and makes all reasonable inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Allen v. City of Chicago, 351 F.3d 306, 311 (7th Cir. 2003).


Abbott moves for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed facts demonstrate that non-discriminatory reasons for the alleged pay disparity exist that are not pretext for unequal pay based on Adams' sex. The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying workers of one sex less than those of the opposite sex for work that requires "equal skill, effort and responsibility" and is "performed under similar working conditions." 29 U.S.C. §206(d). Pay disparity is not improper if it is the result of "a seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earning by quantity or quality of production, or a differential based on any other factor than sex." Id.

Adams bears the initial burden of showing that Abbott pays "workers of one sex more than workers of the opposite sex for equal work, the burden [then] shifts to [Abbott] to show that the differential is justified." Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, 417 U.S. 188, 196 (1974). Abbott must persuade the court that the pay disparity is based on one of the four affirmative defenses provided within the Act. Warren v. Solo Cup Co., 516 F.3d 627, 630 (7th Cir. 2008). "In effect, the provisions of the Equal Pay Act establish a rebuttable presumption of sex discrimination such that once an employee has demonstrated that an employer pays members of one sex more than members of the opposite sex, the ...

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