United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MARIA N. GRACIA, Plaintiff,
SIGMATRON INTERNATIONAL, INC., GARY FAIRHEAD, and LINDA FRAUENDORFER, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Z. Lee United States District Judge.
Maria N. Gracia has brought this suit against her former
employer, SigmaTron International, Inc.
(“SigmaTron”), as well as Gary Fairhead and Linda
Frauendorfer in their capacity as corporate officers of
SigmaTron. Plaintiff's claims arise from statements made
by Defendants in disclosures mandated by the Securities and
Exchange Commission (SEC). Plaintiff alleges (1) retaliation
by SigmaTron in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964 as amended (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-3(a), and the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA), 775
Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/6-101(a); (2) defamation per se
against all Defendants; and (3) false light invasion of
privacy against all Defendants. For the reasons stated
herein, the motion  is granted in part and denied in
is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of
business in Elk Grove, Illinois. Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1.
It manufactures circuit board assemblies. Id. ¶
6. Plaintiff began her employment at SigmaTron in 1999.
Id. ¶ 5. In 2008, Plaintiff filed a charge of
discrimination against SigmaTron with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Id. ¶ 8.
SigmaTron received a copy of this charge on November 19,
2008, and Plaintiff was fired sixteen days later.
Id. ¶ 10.
litigation that ensued (“Gracia I”)
Plaintiff claimed, inter alia, that SigmaTron
violated Title VII by terminating her employment in
retaliation for filing of the EEOC charge. Id.
¶ 13. At trial, Greg Fairhead, executive vice president
of SigmaTron and the brother of Defendant Gary Fairhead,
testified that Plaintiff was fired for intentionally
permitting an assembler working under her supervision to use
lead-free solder instead of leaded solder and being
indifferent when confronted about it. Id. ¶ 14.
For her part, Plaintiff asserts that she did not knowingly
allow the assembly line to run, nor did she openly admit that
she had done so, but rather she claims she stopped the
employee as soon as the error came to her attention.
Id. ¶ 31. On December 18, 2014, a jury returned
a verdict in favor of Plaintiff against SigmaTron and,
eventually, after several post-trial motions by SigmaTron,
the court entered a judgment in Plaintiff's favor in the
amount of $374, 478.14, which was affirmed on appeal.
Id. ¶¶ 16, 21; Gracia v. SigmaTron
Int'l, Inc., 842 F.3d 1010 (7th Cir. 2016).
is a publicly traded corporation and, therefore, is required
to make regular disclosures to the SEC. Compl. ¶ 2. From
November 2008 to December 2014, while Gracia I was
being litigated, SigmaTron included language in their
quarterly disclosures that the company did not expect the
legal proceedings with Plaintiff to have any material adverse
impact on share values; it did not refer to the Plaintiff by
name. Id. ¶ 24. However, in a July 2015 filing
signed by Fairhead and Frauendorfer, SigmaTron for the first
time identified Plaintiff by name, stating, “[o]n
December 5, 2008, Ms. Gracia's employment . . . was
terminated after she knowingly permitted an assembly line to
run leaded boards in a lead-free room with lead-free solder,
contrary to the customer's specifications and prohibited
by Company policy. . . . Ms. Gracia openly admitted to
permitting this to take place.” Id., Ex. E.
case before this Court (Gracia II) arises not from
Plaintiff's termination, but from Defendants' SEC
disclosures. Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge forming the basis
of this complaint on September 2, 2015, asserting SigmaTron
had retaliated against her by publishing the above statements
regarding her professional competence-which she claims are
false-in its SEC disclosures. Id. ¶ 36.
Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants, after learning of
these charges on September 3, 2015, repeated the statements
regarding her termination in another SEC disclosure on
September 14, 2015, in response to the charges she filed.
Id. ¶ 39; id., Ex. H.
November 23, 2015, Plaintiff's counsel sent a
cease-and-desist letter to Greenberg Traurig, the law firm
that oversees SigmaTron's SEC filings, insisting
SigmaTron stop publishing the statements that Plaintiff
claims are false, but SigmaTron never responded. Id.
¶¶ 42-45. Subsequently, on December 15, 2015, and
March 15, 2016, SigmaTron again referenced Plaintiff by name
in its SEC disclosures. Id. ¶¶ 46, 49.
asserts that SigmaTron's SEC disclosures, as authorized
by Fairhead and Frauendorfer, falsely described her actions
with regard to the assembly-line events that gave rise to
Gracia I. Accordingly, Plaintiff claims Defendants
defamed her and invaded her privacy by portraying her in a
false light, and in doing so, SigmaTron retaliated against
her for engaging in activities protected under Title VII and
motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the
complaint. Christensen v. Cty. of Boone, 483 F.3d
454, 457 (7th Cir. 2007). Under federal notice pleading
standards, “[a] plaintiff's complaint need only
provide a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief, sufficient to provide the
defendant with fair notice of the claim and its basis.”
Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir.
2008) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also
Fed R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). When considering a motion to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must “accept[ ] as true
all well-pleaded facts alleged, and draw[ ] all possible
inference in [the plaintiff's] favor.”
Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1081.
a complaint must allege “sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). For a claim
to be facially plausible, the plaintiff must plead facts
allowing the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged in the
complaint. Id. Accordingly, “[t]hreadbare
recitals of the elements of the cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”
Id. Finally, the plausibility standard is not akin
to a probability requirement but, rather, asks for more than
a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully.