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Bagwe v. Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc.

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

September 5, 2014

RATNA BAGWE, Plaintiff,
v.
SEDGWICK CLAIMS MANAGEMENT SERVICES, INC., TAMMY LECLAIRE, and ANGELA PAPAIOANNOU, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER

YOUNG B. KIM, Magistrate Judge.

Ratna Bagwe, who was born in India, worked as an operations manager for Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc., under the supervision of Tammy LeClaire and Angela Papaioannou (collectively, "the defendants"), until she was fired in August 2009. The defendants say that they fired Bagwe because she had poor leadership and communication skills, marked by her tendency to engage in distracting and unnecessarily confrontational "email wars" with colleagues. Bagwe claims they fired her because of her national origin and race and to retaliate against her for complaining about discrimination. In April 2011 she filed this discrimination and retaliation lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"), 775 ILCS 5/1-102, et seq. [1] The parties have consented to this court's jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); (R. 33). Currently before the court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. (R. 142.) For the following reasons, the motion is granted:

Background

As an initial matter, it must be noted that although the majority of the facts set forth in the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements are either undisputed or immaterial to the case's outcome, there are repeated instances in which one side states that a fact is disputed, but to demonstrate the dispute, the party either cites record evidence that does not contradict the relevant fact or relies on supposed inferences that could be made to contradict a fact rather than actual conflicting evidence. As an example, Bagwe repeatedly states that a fact is undisputed, but then writes "Plaintiff disputes any inference" that the fact means a particular thing. (See, e.g., R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶¶ 4, 16, 17, 23, 36.) At this phase, Bagwe will enjoy the benefit of every reasonable inference that can be drawn in her favor. See O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). But arguing over the possible inferences stemming from an otherwise undisputed fact does not render that fact in dispute. Where a party has attempted to dispute a material fact without pointing to appropriate supporting evidence or otherwise has tried to manufacture a dispute where none exists, the fact is deemed admitted. L.R. 56.1(b)(3); Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2003). The following undisputed facts are taken from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements of facts (unless otherwise indicated), and will be viewed, as they must be at this stage, in the light most favorable to Bagwe. See O'Leary, 657 F.3d at 630.

Bagwe was born in India and is of Indian descent. (R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 3.) Sedgwick is a company that provides claims management services to employers for liabilities including workers' compensation and disability claims. ( Id. ¶ 1.) Sedgwick hired Bagwe into its Chicago office in March 2001 to help service its account with AT&T. ( Id. ¶ 3.) From 2001 until late 2007, Bagwe reported to Operations Manager DeLaine Simmons. ( Id. ¶¶ 7, 11-12.) In 2005 Bagwe was promoted to the position of Assistant Manager II, receiving a merit increase in her compensation but not a promotional increase. ( Id. ¶ 12.) In 2006 she received a Visionary Performer Award-the highest level award for Sedgwick's company-wide employee recognition program. (R. 166, Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 2.)

From February until September 2007, Simmons was assigned to a project in California, and Bagwe assisted with some of Simmons's duties in the interim. (R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 13.) At the time she did not receive a pay increase for performing these interim functions. When Sedgwick revised its reporting structure for the AT&T account in late 2007 Bagwe was promoted. ( Id. ¶¶ 8, 15.) At that time Simmons stepped into a newly created role as Area Manager for clients other than AT&T, and Papaioannou became the Area Manager for AT&T. ( Id. ¶ 8.) Bagwe, in turn, stepped into Simmons's previous position as Operations Manager III in Chicago, earning her a promotional raise, which was followed by another raise seven months later. ( Id. ¶¶ 8, 15.) In this new role, Bagwe reported to Papaioannou, who reported to LeClaire. ( Id. ¶¶ 4-5, 15.)

A. Bagwe's Complaint About Her Compensation

Throughout Bagwe's tenure with Sedgwick, decisions about her compensation were made by her direct supervisors with approval from management and Sedgwick's human resources office, known within the company as Colleague Resources. ( Id. ¶ 16.) Although budgeting issues meant that yearly compensation increases varied, a 3% increase was considered a standard pay raise and a 5% increase was considered a pay raise reserved for outstanding performance. ( Id. ¶ 17.) During an early April 2008 conference call, Bagwe complained to Papaioannou and Colleague Resources Manager Carla Street about her compensation. ( Id. ¶ 10; R. 166, Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 18.) Specifically, she complained that back in 2005 she did not receive a promotional increase and asserted that she should have received a pay increase in 2007 when she functioned as the Interim Operations Manager during Simmons's absence. (R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 19.)

On April 9, 2008, Papaioannou emailed LeClaire a summary of Bagwe's compensation concerns, including Bagwe's belief that her pay and others' pay was not "equitable." (R. 166, Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 19.) Two days later Bagwe followed up on the conversation by sending a memo to Street that she had prepared for Papaioannou's attention describing her concerns about her compensation and other employees' pay. ( Id. ¶ 21.) Bagwe's memo does not reference her race or national origin nor does it assert that any pay disparity was the product of discrimination. (R. 163, Pls.' Facts, Ex. 24.) Much of the memo addresses Sedgwick's application of the 3% merit increase guidelines and questions the breakdown of merit increases awarded to other employees. (Id.) Nowhere in that discussion does she mention the race, national origin, or any other protected category as it applies to those employees. (Id.) Nor does she identify what specific salary or increase she was seeking. Bagwe's compensation complaints were based partly on her assertion that Simmons had not fulfilled her promise of a promotional increase in 2005. (R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶¶ 19, 22.)

Bagwe's assertion regarding Simmons's unfilled promise was the subject of several emails between the two, beginning with Simmons's email denying having promised any such deal. She wrote to Bagwe that "it is not always what we say but how we say it" and that "the manner in which you have chosen to pursue these issues is unprofessional and a disservice to our colleagues." (R. 163, Pl.'s Facts, Ex. 25.) Simmons asked Bagwe to forward further concerns or issues about her to Colleague Resources. (Id.) Bagwe then responded to Simmons stating that "I will respond to you with a lot more documents and to all your statements." (Id.) Simmons responded by telling Bagwe she was "done with this" and that whatever further discussion Bagwe wanted to engage in should be sent to her supervisors or Colleague Resources. (Id.) Bagwe responded to her again, saying "I can't believe a simple request has turned into this bitterness and attack on me." (Id.)

At that point, Simmons sent Regional Colleague Resources Director Stephanie Simpson an email making a formal complaint against Bagwe, saying she felt that Bagwe had attacked her personal integrity. (Id.; R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 26.) According to Simmons, Bagwe's complaint was offensive because Simmons had never promised her any "side deal, " had compensated her within the required budget constraints, and because she expected any compensation complaints to be raised in a timely manner. (R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 25.) After Simmons sent the email, LeClaire encouraged her to withdraw the complaint, and Simmons did so the same day. ( Id. ¶ 26.)

B. Bagwe's Heated Conversation with Colleagues

Eleven months after she raised her compensation concerns, on January 7, 2009, Bagwe and a colleague named Ann Coyle got into a heated conversation near Bagwe's office. ( Id. ¶ 59.) According to Bagwe, Coyle began grilling her about problems with reports and diary submissions. (Id.) At some point AT&T Account Executive Charles French heard the raised voices and joined the conversation. ( Id. ¶¶ 9, 60.) Coyle told French that Bagwe had accused her of making an inappropriate comment about another colleague. (Id.) French asked Bagwe to describe the remarks and to identify the person who ascribed them to Coyle, but Bagwe did not do so. (Id.) Following the conversation, French reported to Street that Bagwe had accused Coyle of making inappropriate comments and voiced the opinion that Coyle's behavior was inappropriate. ( Id. ¶ 62.) French told Street that he was concerned that Bagwe had made vague accusations and that he was upset that she had not reported the accusations against Coyle to Colleague Resources when she first heard them. (Id.)

The day after the confrontation, Bagwe emailed Papaioannou and copied French requesting a meeting to discuss Coyle's behavior. (R. 166, Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 31.) On February 10, 2009, Bagwe, French, and possibly Street met to discuss Bagwe's allegations about Coyle. (R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 63.) During the meeting, Bagwe said that on June 17, 2008, she, LeClaire, and Coyle were at a bar during a business trip to Atlanta, when they began discussing LeClaire's divorce. ( Id. ¶ 64.) According to Bagwe, during that conversation LeClaire made a comment advising Bagwe to get rid of her "old Indian husband, " and Coyle offered to help her find a white man. (Id.) Bagwe also disclosed that during a work-related evening with a client at a bar in Texas, Coyle had made fun of a co-worker's homosexuality with a "clapping-type hand gesture." ( Id. ¶ 65.) Bagwe did not report the incidents to anyone at the time. (Id.)

C. The Performance Improvement Plan

From mid-2008 through Bagwe's termination, LeClaire observed that Bagwe tended to deflect criticism by making allegations about other employees. ( Id. ¶¶ 30-31.) LeClaire and Papaioannou also testified that they were aware that Bagwe engaged in what they described as "email wars" with other employees. ( Id. ¶ 33.) They testified that experiences with Bagwe sending "confrontational and escalating" emails caused some employees to avoid basic correspondence with her. (Id.) For example, in April 2008 one of Bagwe's team members, Tanya Warner, complained to Papaioannou that Bagwe was not providing her with the information she needed to do her job and that Bagwe's communications with her were unnecessarily confrontational in style. ( Id. ¶ 56.) Papaioannou reassigned Warner so that she no longer reported directly to Bagwe. (Id.)

In late 2008 or early 2009, French began noticing what he considered to be problems with Bagwe's team's performance, error rate, supervision, and diary completion. ( Id. ¶ 35.) He raised the issues with Bagwe and Papaioannou at that time. (Id.) In January 2009 French sent Papaioannou an email expressing his opinion that Bagwe's team was suffering from poor leadership and negativity. ( Id. ¶ 36.) He forwarded the email to Coyle, commenting that the "[g]loves are off." ( Id. ¶ 38; R., 163, Pl.'s Facts, Ex. 53.) In February 2009 French prepared a memorandum addressed to LeClaire, with copies to Street and Papaioannou, outlining his issues relating to Bagwe's performance, including specific examples of what he perceived as deficiencies in her operations, communications, and judgment. (R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 38.) He wrote that he had called a meeting with Bagwe and her team regarding performance issues, but felt that the team "failed to take ownership of the current issues and they failed to provide one action plan to address the deficiencies." (R. 145, Defs.' Facts, Ex. I, French Dep., Ex. 80 at 1.) He also wrote about the meeting in which Bagwe accused Coyle of making discriminatory comments about another colleague but failed to provide any specifics when French asked for them. ( Id. at 2.) He wrote that he told Bagwe to address such issues "immediately and not wait months or a year to bring them up." (Id.) He summarized his position by writing that:

Overall I believe that [Bagwe] demonstrates poor leadership skills in trying to support the leadership on the program and for not taking appropriate actions to address issues that are brought to her attention. She is very re-active and defensive on her positions and rarely makes any suggestions or attempts to be pro-active in her role as the Operations Manager in Chicago. She has a tendency to divide the teams rather than unite them toward a common goal.

(Id. at 3.)

LeClaire, Papaioannou, and Street met to discuss Bagwe's performance and decided to prepare a written Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP"). (R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 40.) The PIP referenced French's concerns and Papaioannou's disappointment with how Bagwe handled the team meeting referenced in his memo. (R. 145, Defs.' Facts, Ex. O, Bagwe Dep., Ex. 17 at Sedgwick 1225.) The PIP also noted that Bagwe had complained via email that Coyle made disparaging remarks during a staff meeting, but that Papaioannou had to ask Bagwe several times to provide the names of those examiners before she complied. ( Id. at Sedgwick 1226.) Papaioannou called Bagwe's participation in that email exchange "challenging, accusatory, inappropriate and insubordinate." (Id.) Papaioannou criticized Bagwe for failing to provide specifics after making accusations about Coyle's comments and for failing to address such issues when they arise as opposed to "a year later." ( Id. at Sedgwick 1227.) The PIP required Bagwe to attend leadership training and to meet weekly with Papaioannou to discuss her progress in meeting the identified goals. (R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 44.) It also explicitly instructed that "[i]f any portion of the corrective action required does not occur immediately or during the specified timeframe given, immediate termination of employment may occur without further notice." (R. 145, Defs.' Facts, Ex. O, Bagwe Dep., Ex. 17 at Sedgwick 1228.)

Papaioannou and LeClaire presented the PIP to Bagwe during a meeting on March 12, 2009. (R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 41.) At one point the meeting became confrontational, with both Bagwe and LeClaire raising their voices. (Id.) According to Bagwe, LeClaire pointed her finger at Bagwe and told her to "be careful." (Id.)

On April 1, 2009, Bagwe presented Papaioannou, Simpson, and Street with an 18-page, single-spaced written rebuttal to the PIP along with a binder full of documents. ( Id. ¶ 45.) She used the word "retaliation" once in her rebuttal, in reference to a meeting French and Papaioannou convened after she asked to discuss Coyle's behavior. (Id.; R. 145, Defs.' Facts, Ex. O, Bagwe Dep., Ex. 17, at Sedgwick 1231.) Nowhere in the memorandum did Bagwe mention her race or national origin or say that she believed the PIP itself to be an act of retaliation. (R. 162, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Facts ¶ 45.) LeClaire and Papaioannou reviewed the memorandum but concluded that Bagwe's rebuttal did not warrant the removal of the PIP. ( Id. ¶ 47.)

D. Bagwe's Discrimination Complaints

On April 3, 2009, two days after she presented her PIP rebuttal, Bagwe sent Simpson a written complaint regarding discrimination. ( Id. ¶ 50.) She wrote that she had endured "discrimination, harassment, bullying, and a hostile work environment" and felt she was "left with no choice" but to come forward after Papaioannou and LeClaire gave her the PIP. (R. 145, Defs.' Facts, Ex. O, Bagwe Dep., Ex. 17 at Sedgwick 1247.) Bagwe wrote that LeClaire "made a huge leadership issue" in retaliation against her 2008 complaints about her compensation. (R. 166, Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Facts ¶ 43.) She said that during the PIP meeting LeClaire "blatantly said You think you are good but you are no good.'" (Id.; R. 145, Defs.' Facts, Ex. O, Bagwe Dep., Ex. 17 at Sedgwick 1247.) She wrote that she felt "threatened" and that Papaioannou and LeClaire "are out to get" her. (R. 145, Defs.' Facts, Ex. O, Bagwe Dep., Ex. 17 at Sedgwick 1247.) Simpson opened a discrimination investigation and ...


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