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Milligan-Grimstad v. Stanley

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

November 29, 2016

Kerrie Milligan-Grimstad, Plaintiff,
Morgan Stanley; Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, Defendants.


          Honorable Thomas M. Durkin United States District Judge.

         Kerrie Milligan-Grimstad alleges that her former employer Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“MSSB”) fired her on account of her gender and subjected her to unlawful harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff has also sued MSSB's parent company Morgan Stanley. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. R. 47. For the following reasons, that motion is granted.

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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 Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Court considers the entire evidentiary record and must view all of the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Ball v. Kotter, 723 F.3d 813, 821 (7th Cir. 2013). To defeat summary judgment, a nonmovant must produce more than “a mere scintilla of evidence” and come forward with “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Harris N.A. v. Hershey, 711 F.3d 794, 798 (7th Cir. 2013). Ultimately, summary judgment is warranted only if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).


         Plaintiff worked at the Chicago branch of MSSB for 11 years.[1] During that entire time, the office was predominantly staffed and managed by men.

         Plaintiff began as a sales assistant in 2001. She completed financial advisor training, and became a financial advisor in 2003. Beginning in 2005, she began working in partnership with a more senior financial advisor, John Mitchell, on a number of accounts. The partnership agreement between Mitchell and Plaintiff was renewed annually and subject to termination at any time by either.

         From 2003 to 2009, Plaintiff was subjected to a number of discriminatory and harassing comments, undue criticism of her job performance, and unwanted sexual advances by a number of male employees, including a financial advisor named David Brendza. She never reported any of these incidents to Human Resources as MSSB's harassment policy required because she felt that reporting in a male-dominated culture would cause her career to suffer. She does not claim, and the record does not reflect, that Mitchell engaged in any inappropriate conduct toward or around her during this time period.

         However, in 2011, Mitchell “talk[ed] regularly in the office about the revealing outfits worn by a CNBC news anchor” and occasionally commented to male co-workers “about women they saw coming up the escalator in their short skirts.” Plaintiff also testified that around the time she got married in April 2012, Mitchell, who at that time spent two-thirds of the year in Arizona and one-third in Chicago, repeatedly asked her to plan her pregnancies around his snowbird schedule.

         As Mitchell approached retirement, a topic he frequently raised, Plaintiff testified that management encouraged her and Mitchell to consider partnering with Brendza and his brother Richard to manage Mitchell and Plaintiff's book of business. Mitchell remembers it differently, and testified at his deposition that the idea of bringing the Brendzas into the partnership was his and Plaintiff's jointly, and that they'd all but agreed, together, that they would recruit the Brendzas to facilitate Mitchell's retirement. David Brendza's recollection is similar. He testified that he and his brother were approached by Mitchell and Plaintiff, who asked if they would be interested in working on some of Mitchell and Plaintiff's accounts as a team.

         Mitchell testified that management was not initially involved in the discussions about a potential partnership with the Brendzas, but acknowledged that he did speak about the partnership with management after Plaintiff was fired. Brendza likewise testified that he never discussed the possibility of a partnership with management before Plaintiff's termination. Their recollections are consistent with those of Branch Manager Troy Mooyoung and Complex Manager Mark Evans, who both testified that they were not aware of any potential partnership until after Plaintiff left MSSB.

         On September 19, 2012, the Brendzas joined Plaintiff and Mitchell in a meeting with a significant client. According to Mitchell, he and Plaintiff jointly agreed to work with the Brendzas on the account. Plaintiff testified that during the meeting, David Brendza commented on her recent marriage and alluded to her plans to start a family, suggesting that she might not be available to the client going forward or fully-committed to his account. Plaintiff submitted evidence through third party affidavits that David Brendza made similar comments to other clients of hers, though he flatly denies having done so. According to Plaintiff, she told Mitchell after the meeting that she would never partner with the Brendzas. Mitchell has no recollection of any such comment, but, as with every other contested statement made by Plaintiff, for the purposes of this ruling, the Court considers her version of the events to be true.

         A few months before that meeting, on July 16, 2012, Plaintiff processed a $36, 900 wire transfer request to a person and an account and a bank she was not familiar with. The request for transfer was made by an imposter pretending to be the husband of one of Plaintiff's clients. The client's real husband was not an authorized signatory on the account; only the client was. MSSB requires financial advisors to confirm all transfer requests with the client by telephone-not by email or fax or any other method-prior to processing the request. Plaintiff admitted that she believed the imposter she spoke with was the husband of her client, and not the client herself. She also admitted that her client's husband was not authorized in accordance with firm policy to issue directives on the account. Still, she processed the transfer, thinking that an email purportedly in the name of the client and her husband allowed her to do so.

         Plaintiff and MSSB became aware that the transfer request was fraudulent on Friday, August 10, 2012. Evans immediately began to investigate the circumstances of the transfer. Over the course of the next several weeks, he met with Plaintiff, who he says admitted she knew in retrospect it was improper to take the transfer instruction from her client's husband rather than her client. He also spoke with Mooyoung, MSSB fraud prevention and compliance officers, and in-house counsel. Evans also reviewed documents, e-mails and notes related to the fraudulent transfer and made internal inquiries about Plaintiff's disciplinary history, which included a one week suspension in 2008 for signing an elderly client's name to a letter of authorization (which she self-reported), and a letter of education in 2009 for adding information to a blank form previously signed by the client. These policy violations took place prior to Evans becoming complex manager. Evans conferred with the supervisor who issued Plaintiff the 2009 letter ...

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