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Plaintiff v. Graphics

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

April 6, 2016

Delia Saboya Plaintiff,
Segerdahl Group Graphics, Defendant.


          ELAINE E. BUCKLO, District Judge.

         In October of 2009, plaintiff Delia Saboya lost her job in the sales department of the commercial printing outfit Segerdahl Graphics, after her yearly sales-which had been among the company's highest from 2004 to 2006-dropped markedly in 2007 and continued to decline thereafter. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit claiming that defendant fired her not because of her poor performance but because of her sex, and because she complained to defendant's human resources manager about sexual harassment at work. She asserted claims for discrimination, retaliation, and harassment pursuant to Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e.

         Defendant moved for summary judgment on all of plaintiff's claims, and on March 27, 2015, I granted the motion with respect to the harassment and retaliation claims, but I denied it without prejudice with respect to the claim of discriminatory termination. See Mem. Op. and Order of 3/27/15, DN 63. I concluded that plaintiff had come forward with prima facie evidence that she was meeting her employer's legitimate expectations, and that although she was ostensibly terminated for "low sales, " three male employees-Terry McLaughlin, Steve Peshek, and Milt Sousanis-whose sales were lower than hers were not terminated. Id. at 22. See also Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 130. Defendant had argued that none of these individuals was similarly situated to plaintiff, and it produced some evidence to show that plaintiff's termination was based not on her low sales volume per se (which, indeed, was not lower than her putative comparators'), but rather on the significant decline in her sales over time, and the fact that despite successive reductions in her compensation, the "draw" she received against anticipated commissions had consistently outpaced the commissions she actually earned. Because the record did not allow me to examine whether plaintiff's putative comparators had likewise been compensated in excess of their commissions, I ordered defendant to supplement the record so that I could ascertain "whether defendant's stated reasons for plaintiff's termination negate the presumption of discrimination raised by the prima facie case and shift the burden back to plaintiff to show that these reasons were pretextual." DN 63 at 23. I further advised plaintiff that to the extent she disputed defendant's evidence supporting its calculations of her compensation or commissions, she must produce competent evidence to support some alternative calculation. Id. at n. 11.

         The parties have now filed their additional submissions. For the reasons that follow, I conclude based on the totality of the record that plaintiff's evidence is insufficient as a matter of law for her to prevail on her discrimination claim.


         To determine whether summary judgment is appropriate, I must examine the record in the light most favorable to plaintiff, resolve all evidentiary conflicts in her favor, and grant her all reasonable inferences the record permits. Liu v. Cook County, ___ F.3d ___, 2016 WL 1019324, at *1 (7th Cir. 2016). Because my previous summary judgment decision recited the facts of the case in significant detail and considered them under the same legal standard as applies here, I will not narrate the facts exhaustively again. Instead, I will assume familiarity with my previous decision and will focus here on the evidence bearing specifically on plaintiff's claim of discriminatory termination.

         Defendant hired plaintiff into its sales department in 2003 on the understanding that she would bring her preexisting sales accounts-more than two million dollars in business-with her. Saboya Dep. at 14:24-15:1, Pl's SJ Resp., Exh. 1, DN 37-2. Plaintiff's job duties included, in addition to sales, managing and training other sales employees on point of purchase ("POP") sales, a new division plaintiff would launch and develop for defendant. Id. at 15:5-12; Reimers Dep., at 75:6-15, Pl.'s SJ Resp., Exh. 12, DN 46.

         Plaintiff did bring her accounts to defendant, and she continued to exceed two million dollars in annual sales, while also developing defendant's POP division, until 2006. Throughout this time, and until the end of 2007, plaintiff was paid a salary of $300, 000 annually, plus commissions. Saboya Dep. at 25:21-26:2. Effective January 1, 2008, however, her compensation was changed to commission only, and she was paid an annual draw of $120, 000 against commissions for sales she generated. Pl.'s SJ Resp., Exh. 27. Her draw was later reduced a second time to $100, 000 on February 8, 2009.

         In a declaration accompanying defendant's supplemental L.R. 56.1 statements, defendant's comptroller, Ron Richford, states that according to defendant's records, plaintiff's annual sales dropped from over $2 million in 2006 to approximately $1.4 million in 2007, remained at around $1.4 million in 2008, [1] then declined again to around $500, 000 by her termination in October of 2009. Although plaintiff articulates numerous and lengthy objections to Richford's testimony and to defendant's documentary evidence, she does not dispute that her sales took a sharp downward turn in 2007, nor does she claim (or offer affirmative evidence to suggest) that she was compensated in any other amount, or received commissions in any other amount, than defendant asserts. As I noted in my previous summary judgment decision, plaintiff attributes the decline in her sales to defendant's mishandling of print jobs performed for two of her customers, IDL and Media on the Run, which she claims caused her to lose these accounts. See DN 63 at 3-4; Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 118 (plaintiff lost her "steady work" from IDL and Media on the Run based upon "manufacturing errors" and performance problems). See also Saboya Dep. at 76:9-79:2 (attributing her 2009 draw reduction to performance problems on jobs for customers Value City, Niven, Bish, and HALO in the '04-'05 timeframe).

         According to defendant, plaintiff's sales results never justified her compensation. See Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 12. Defendant acknowledges, however, that because of plaintiff's role in starting up the new POP division, it would have been "detrimental" to compensate her on a draw-against-commissions basis "from that startup point." Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 91 and Exh. 12, Reimers Dep. at 75:11-15. Plaintiff's job duties did not change when her compensation structure was changed to commission-only in January of 2008. Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 116. Her sales, however, continued to fall.

         Several of defendant's witnesses testified that plaintiff's unsatisfactory sales were a frequent topic at weekly and monthly management meetings. These meetings were generally attended by defendant's president, Rick Joutras, and other senior managers including Hans Kollinger, Gary Gardner, Paul White, Jeffrey Reimers, and Terry McLaughlin. Joutras testified that concerns about plaintiff's sales were discussed as early as "in the second year of her being with the company, " and he stated that she would have been terminated before October of 2009 had he not prevented her termination because of her personal circumstances. Joutras Dep. at 134:12-136:7, 144:12-19, Pl.'s SJ Resp., Exh. 10. Joutras explained that at some point before plaintiff's termination:

[E]verybody in the room came to the agreement that we were in such a deficit, that we were so under water with this salesperson, that it was time to let her go, I said no. And I said no because she has cancer, she just had a double mastectomy, she's got - she's a single mother, and she's raising a kid. I said give it time.

Id. at 144:12-19, Pl.'s SJ Resp., Exh. 10.

         Gardner and Reimers confirmed that defendant's weekly and monthly management meetings included discussions about the sales results of individual sales representatives and "whether or not their commissions [were] sufficient to cover their salary or draw, " Gardner Dep. at 67:4-6., Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt., Exh. 5, DN 26-5; see also Reimers Aff. at ¶ 8, Exh. 54 to Reimers Dep., Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt., Exh. 7, DN 26-7, and Gardner testified that plaintiff "was discussed at most meetings because she was short of her draw during the entire time she was there." Gardner Dep. at 117:14-16. Plaintiff acknowledges that her sales declined over the course of her employment, and she concedes that the sales and commissions reports attached to the Richford Declaration facially reflect her dropping sales. She does not dispute that these reports are the business records defendant's managers used to evaluate its salespeople's results at their monthly and ...

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