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Yapp v. Astellas Pharma Global Development, Inc.

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

March 20, 2015

TAMMY-LYN YAPP, Plaintiff,
v.
ASTELLAS PHARMA GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANDREA R. WOOD, District Judge.

Plaintiff Tammy-Lyn Yapp claims that she suffered gender-based discrimination during the course of her employment with Defendant Astellas Pharma Global Development, Inc. ("Astellas"). She also claims that she was terminated in retaliation for her complaints about that discrimination and for exposing fraud by one of the company's contractors. With this lawsuit, she seeks relief for these transgressions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and Illinois common law of retaliatory discharge. Now before the Court is Astellas's motion for summary judgment on all of Yapp's claims. (Dkt. No. 36.) For the reasons detailed below, the Court grants Astellas's motion with respect to Yapp's gender discrimination claim and her state law retaliatory discharge claim, and denies the motion with respect to her Title VII retaliation claim.

BACKGROUND

Yapp was hired by Astellas in January 2009 as a Senior Scientist at the company's Skokie, Illinois research facility. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 4, Dkt. No. 42.) Her specialty was flow cytometry, a procedure that allows examination of microscopic particles by suspending them in fluid and exposing them to laser emissions. (Def.'s Am. Answer ¶¶ 18, 20, Dkt. No. 35.) Flow cytometry technology allowed Astellas to test the effect of its drugs on blood cells. ( Id. ¶ 23.) Before Yapp's employment at Astellas, the company used a third party, MedTox, to perform flow cytometry testing on its drugs. Yapp was hired to establish an in-house lab so that Astellas could perform the initial phases of that testing itself. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 18.) Yapp reported to Charles Van Sant, assistant director of the company's pharmacodynamics group; Van Sant reported to Ala Alak, who supervised the Skokie facility. ( Id. ¶¶ 9-10.)

In May 2010, Yapp received a performance appraisal for the period from April 2009 through March 2010. (Ex. J to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts, Dkt. No. 38-10.) The appraisal was unfavorable: her performance was rated as either "low" or "poor" on a majority of listed objectives, and her overall rating was 2.2 out of a potential 5 points. ( Id. ) Along with the appraisal, Van Sant gave Yapp a performance plan document that purported to detail the improvements she needed to show to keep her position. (Ex. P to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts, Dkt. No. 38-16.) The plan was to extend for four months, with monthly objectives and reviews. ( Id. ) The plan document advised that Yapp could be terminated prior to the plan's proposed September 2010 end date if she failed to show improvement. ( Id. )

On June 7, 2010, Yapp wrote a rebuttal to her appraisal. (Ex. J to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts, Dkt. No. 38-10.) In that rebuttal, she stated that her low ratings came as a surprise to her and further asserted: "I am completely confident to say that I feel I am experiencing harassment due to my gender." ( Id. ) Yapp also claimed that she was expected to work longer hours than the male scientists, that they were given resources to assist them in performing their duties while she was not, and that they received pay raises and bonuses while she did not. ( Id. ) On the same day, she made an appointment with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She went to see an EEOC representative on June 16, but was told that she had not suffered an adverse employment action. (Ex. QQ to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts, Joint Stipulation ¶¶ 4-6, Dkt. No. 38-43.)

On August 6, 2010, Van Sant and Yapp discussed her prospects for continued employment with Astellas. Although their recollections of the conversation differ, they agree that Van Sant expressed doubt that she would successfully complete her performance plan. (Yapp Dep. at 172, Dkt. No. 38-1; Van Sant Dep. at 92-93, Dkt. No. 44-1.) On August 9, 2010, Yapp completed an Astellas "Alleged Fraud and/or Scientific Misconduct Reporting Form, " which she sent to Van Sant, Alak, and other company employees by e-mail two days later. (Ex. DD to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts, Dkt. No. 38-30.) In the form and an accompanying message, Yapp offered her assessment of MedTox's reports of its flow cytometry testing-she asserted that flaws in MedTox's test methods and reporting might have invalidated all of that company's flow cytometry work. ( Id. )

Yapp went on medical leave in mid-August 2010. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 40.) She returned to work on November 4, 2010. ( Id. ¶¶ 40-41.) According to Van Sant, Yapp's performance plan was restarted from the beginning upon her return. (Van Sant Dep. at 111-12, Dkt. No. 44-1.) In or around December 2010, Astellas found evidence that Yapp had used a company credit card for personal purchases. (Aff. of Amy McLean ¶ 17, Dkt. No. 38-40.) Astellas asserted that this conduct violated company policy and terminated Yapp's employment in January 2011. ( Id. ¶¶ 17-19.)

In the present action, Yapp alleges that Astellas violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by subjecting her to disparate treatment because of her gender and by terminating her in retaliation for her complaints about that treatment. She also alleges that she was terminated in retaliation for her criticism of MedTox's flow cytometry testing, and that this action violated Illinois' common law prohibition of retaliatory discharge. Astellas seeks summary judgment on all of Yapp's claims.

DISCUSSION

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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); see also Lee v. Keith, 463 F.3d 763, 767 (7th Cir. 2006). On summary judgment, "[t]he court has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial." Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Walbridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994)). "In evaluating whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, all evidence and inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Scott v. Edinburg, 346 F.3d 752, 755 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Balderston v. Fairbanks Morse Engine Div. of Coltec Indus., 328 F.3d 309, 320 (7th Cir. 2003)).

I. Standing and Judicial Estoppel

In its motion, Astellas contends that Yapp's claims are barred by the doctrine of judicial estoppel. That doctrine has been held to bar a litigant from asserting a claim after she has failed to disclose its existence in a bankruptcy proceeding. Cannon-Stokes v. Potter, 453 F.3d 446, 447-49 (7th Cir. 2006). It is undisputed that on December 22, 2010, Yapp filed a petition for relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. Schedule B of that petition required Yapp to disclose her personal property and explicitly directed her to include in that disclosure "contingent and unliquidated claims of every nature." (Ex. LL to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts at 10, Dkt. No. 38-38.) Yapp's schedule stated that she had no such claims. ( Id. ) Under similar circumstances, the Seventh Circuit has adopted the prevailing view that "a debtor in bankruptcy who denies owning an asset, including a chose in action or other legal claim, cannot realize on that concealed asset after the bankruptcy ends." Cannon-Stokes, 453 F.3d at 448.

But before examining whether a plaintiff's suit should be barred on judicial estoppel grounds, it is appropriate to determine whether she has standing to pursue her claims. Brucker v. Quirk, Inc., No. 13 C 5903, 2014 WL 960800, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 12, 2014). Standing is an issue properly raised on the Court's own motion. G&S Holdings LLC v. Continental Cas. Co., 697 F.3d 534, 540 (7th Cir. 2012). This Court does not have jurisdiction over claims that a ...


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