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Donley v. Stryker Corporation

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

January 6, 2017

KELLEY DONLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
STRYKER CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES P. KOCORAS, District Judge

         Now before the Court is Defendant Stryker Sales Corporation's (“Stryker”), incorrectly named Stryker Corporation in the caption of the Complaint, Motion for Summary Judgment against Plaintiff Kelley Donley (“Donley”), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts taken from the record are undisputed, except where otherwise noted. The parties disagree regarding the event that led to Donley's termination. Stryker argues that it “terminated Donley's employment . . . after it came to light that she had taken [photos] of the CEO of one of Stryker's valued vendors [(the ‘CEO')] in a highly intoxicated state in the CEO's private hotel room and then shared” them with coworkers. Conversely, Donley “claims that Stryker terminated her employment in violation of Title VII because she . . . reported to Human Resources alleged [sexual] harassment of” another employee.

         Donley began working for Stryker, a medical technology company, in October 2010, after it acquired Gaymar Industries, which was Donley's previous employer. She worked from home, covering Stryker's Central and Midwest territories. While employed at Stryker, Donley attended a clinical team meeting in Vail, Colorado, which took place from May 21, 2014 through May 23, 2014. The CEO also attended the meeting in Vail. Throughout this time period, attendees stayed overnight at the same “hotel where the meetings were taking place.”

         During one of the nights in Vail, attendees got dinner in groups, and after dinner, they “returned to the hotel bar.” Throughout “the evening, Donley and others, ” including the CEO, consumed alcohol. Because the CEO was slurring her words, and Donley “didn't want to see anything adverse happen, ” Donley testified that “she escorted the . . . CEO up to her hotel room.” At her hotel room, the “CEO washed her face and changed into her [long-sleeved flannel] pajamas” with Donley present.

         While in the CEO's hotel room, Donley took a photo of the CEO “with her Stryker-issued cell phone.” In response to this photo, the CEO stated, “oh, no, no, more pictures.” Donley testified that she then responded, “are you kidding, on a good day where I work hard at it, I don't look half this cute.” Donley also showed the CEO the photo. According to Donley, after seeing the photo, the CEO responded, “oh, I do look cute, don't I[?]” Donley subsequently took another photo. In the second photo, the “CEO blinked such that ‘it might have looked like she was sleeping.'” Prior to leaving the CEO's hotel room, Donley “put a garbage can . . . by the bed in case she got sick in the middle of the night.” Donley then returned to the hotel bar.

         While at the hotel bar, Donley claims that she showed Jeff Thompson (“Thompson”), the Director of Clinical Sales and Donley's supervisor, the second photo of the CEO. Donley alleges that she did this because she wanted to show Thompson that the CEO was okay. To further support her assertion that she showed Thompson the photo on the night that she took it, Donley contends that Stryker stated in a position statement that it “submitted to the EEOC in January of 2015 that [Donley] showed the photos at issue to Thompson on the night she took them.”

         Stryker disputes that Donley showed Thompson any photos on the night that she took them. First, Thompson testified that Donley did not show him any photos of the CEO upon her return to the hotel bar. Thompson also testified that Donley did not tell him that she took any photos of the CEO. Thompson attested that a coworker on his team first informed him that Donley took photos of the CEO, but he did not remember who that person was. Thompson also stated that after he became aware of the photos, he reported them to Stacie Ferschweiler (“Ferschweiler”), Director of Human Resources, who investigates allegations of misconduct. Second, Stryker argues that Thompson did not review the position statement “before its submission to the EEOC, ” and asserts that it “simply stated” that during her exit interview, Ashlee Schexnyder (“Schexnyder”) “told . . . Ferschweiler that . . . Schexnyder was not the only person to whom [Donley] showed [a] video and the photographs . . . . [Donley] also showed the photos and video to . . . Thompson, ” who similarly to Schexnyder, “was unamused and advised [Donley] that she should delete the photos and video.”

         Donley admits that, while she was at the hotel bar, “some of her coworkers asked for photos [that she] had taken earlier in the evening, so she gave them her phone[, ] and she thinks they swiped through the photos on her phone.” Donley testified that “nobody” said “a single word” to her about the photos of the CEO.

         Donley claims that Stryker terminated her not because of the events that took place in Vail, but in violation of Title VII because on or around June 27, 2014, “she made a formal complaint of sexual harassment to” Ferschweiler. Donley informed Ferschweiler that Stryker's Midwest Regional Manager “behaved inappropriately toward a female Sales Representative during . . . Stryker's Midwest Regional Meeting” in early June 2014 at the Manager's cabin, “at which Donley had not been present.” Purportedly, the Manager was touching the Representative's leg, “making inappropriate comments about her, ” and the night before the meeting, he invited her to his cabin alone.

         Ferschweiler forwarded Donley's internal complaint to Melissa Lewis (“Lewis”), Senior Director of Human Resources. “Shortly thereafter, Lewis contacted Donley.” Lewis “was very supportive, telling Donley that she appreciated Donley bringing the situation to her and Ferschweiler's attention.” Lewis also emailed Donley to thank her for her time. Lewis advised Donley that “it was a highly confidential matter, ” and informed Donley that she “should not hesitate to reach out to her should she have any questions or additional information.” According to Donley, “Human Resources seemed to take the investigation seriously, ” and Lewis demonstrated empathy. Donley admits that she did not receive “any negative comments” regarding her “report against the . . . Manager, and that no one in management ever made any statements to her that would indicate they had a problem with” her internal complaint against the Manager.

         Human Resources investigated Donley's internal complaint, interviewing multiple individuals, including the Representative and the Manager. “As a result of the investigation, ” Stryker decided to terminate the Manager's employment on or around July 31, 2014. At the time of his termination, Stryker offered the Manager a severance agreement in the amount of $29, 817.00. Stryker claims that it offered the Manager the severance agreement “in exchange for strengthening the non-compete agreement that” he signed with Stryker in 2006 because, as the Manager, he “was aware of and had access to a large amount of proprietary information.” Donley, in contrast, alleges that “[t]he severance agreement d[id] not strengthen the non-compete.” According to Donley, it “merely attached a copy of the previously signed non-compete, required the . . . [Manager] to ‘acknowledge[ ] and affirm[ ] the obligations set forth' therein, and stated that the severance compensation was ‘additional consideration for post-termination obligations.'” Donley argues that she too “signed a Stryker Confidentiality, Intellectual Property, Non-Competition, and Non-Solicitation Agreement in March of 2011.” Donley also claims that she “was aware of and had access to a large amount of [Stryker's] proprietary information.” Nonetheless, Stryker did not offer Donley a severance agreement upon her termination.

         The parties dispute when Ferschweiler first became aware of the events that took place in Vail. Stryker claims that it learned about the events in Vail around August 1, 2014, during Schexnyder's exit interview. As was her standard practice, on “August 1, 2014, Ferschweiler conducted an [exit] interview of” Schexnyder, who was one of Donley's clinical team coworkers. During the exit interview, Schexnyder “stated that Donley had helped the CEO . . . to bed” in Vail, “after the CEO had had some alcoholic drinks, and when Donley returned to the hotel bar . . ., Donley had a video that she had taken of the CEO passed out on her bed with a trashcan beside the bed.” Schexnyder “also told Ferschweiler that Donley had taken photos of the CEO, and that [she] thought that Donley had shown [them] to clinical team members Tracy Wise [(‘Wise')] and Chanda Wiedrick [(‘Wiedrick')].” After Schexnyder's exit interview, “Ferschweiler initiated a disciplinary investigation” to determine whether Donley “had taken compromising photos or videos” of the CEO.

         “Donley admits that she does not know how the photos came to Human Resources' attention.” However, Donley alleges that “Thompson testified that he learned of the photos” before Ferschweiler began the formal investigation, reported them to her, and “asked her to investigate” them. Although “Thompson could not recall specifically when he reported the photos to” Ferschweiler, according to Donley, “he ...


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