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Hilgers v. Rothschild Investment Corp.

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

September 20, 2017



          John Z. Lee, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Heather Hilgers (“Hilgers”) has filed suit against her former employer, Rothschild Investment Corporation (“Rothschild”), and one of its employees, Eric Kolkey (“Kolkey”). She brings claims for hostile work environment, quid pro quo sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1 et seq. Rothschild and Kolkey (together, “Defendants”) have filed a motion for summary judgment as to all claims. For the reasons stated herein, the motion is denied.

         Factual Background

         In May 2013, Hilgers interviewed for a summer position with Rothschild, a Chicago-based investment management firm that employs approximately fifty individuals. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶¶ 1-2, ECF No. 136. At the time, Hilgers was twenty-two years old and was in her second year of law school. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 1, ECF No. 148.

         Hilgers interviewed with Luke Novak (“Novak”) and Bart Bonga (“Bonga”). Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 3. According to Hilgers, Novak and Bonga told her during the interview that they were looking for a candidate they could hire for a permanent position at the end of the summer. Id. ¶ 8. Accordingly, Novak asked Hilgers what her salary requirements would be if the firm were to eventually offer her a permanent position. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 1. Hilgers told Novak that she was seeking an annual base salary of $75, 000, and, according to Hilgers, Novak responded by saying: “That's absolutely doable, not a problem.” Id.

         A few days after the interview, Hilgers received an offer to join Rothschild's 401(k) practice group as a summer intern from May 20 to August 30, 2013. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶¶ 5, 7; see Defs.' Ex. D, Offer Letter, at 1, ECF No. 136-5. At the time Hilgers joined the group, it consisted of Novak, Bonga, Eric Kolkey (“Kolkey”), and an administrative staff member. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 11. Novak and Bonga are partners in the group, each with a fifty-percent interest. Id. ¶ 10. They supervise Kolkey, whose title is “Business Development.” Id. ¶¶ 12-13. Kolkey's job responsibilities include bringing in business by calling and arranging appointments with potential clients. Id. ¶ 12. As of May 2013, Kolkey was fifty-two years old and married. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 4.

         Hilgers began working at Rothschild in the 401(k) practice group on May 20, 2013. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 7. She attests that, as a member of the group, she reported to Novak, Bonga, and Kolkey. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 2. At various times over the summer, Kolkey assigned work to Hilgers, asked her to work late, and asked whether she wanted to move her desk into his office so that she could learn business development tasks. Id.

         Three days after Hilgers started working at Rothschild, Kolkey sent her an e-mail with links to his Facebook page and a website for his social club, the Union League Club of Chicago. Id. ¶ 15. He also sent Hilgers a “friend request” on Facebook, which she accepted. Id. ¶ 16. On May 30, 2013, upon Kolkey's invitation, Kolkey and Hilgers went to the Union League Club for lunch. See Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 21. After the lunch, Kolkey sent Hilgers a Facebook message asking her to give him her cell phone number. Id. Hilgers responded by providing her number. Id.

         On June 11, 2013, Kolkey invited Hilgers to have lunch with him in his office. Id. ¶ 24. According to Hilgers, Kolkey told her over lunch that he had “influence” with Novak and Bonga and that she would not be hired into a permanent position at Rothschild unless she got a “sign-off” from Kolkey, as well as from Novak and Bonga. Pl.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 16. Kolkey also told Hilgers during this lunch that “she looked like she walked out of Central Casting, ” that “she looked like [she was] from a TV show, ” and that she was “ethereal, ” by which he meant “other-worldly” or “attractive.” Id.

         The next day, on June 12, 2013, Hilgers agreed to have a drink with Kolkey at the Union League Club after he repeatedly invited her to do so. Id. ¶ 17. Hilgers initially intended to have one drink while she waited for her boyfriend's flight to arrive from out of town. Id. When the flight was canceled, however, she accepted Kolkey's invitation to stay at the club for dinner. Id. According to Hilgers, Kolkey told her during the dinner that she was “beautiful” and “ethereal” and that her boyfriend “did not deserve her.” Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 32. Furthermore, Hilgers claims that Kolkey told her he had dreams about her, including a recurring dream in which her hair tasted like candy. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 18. Kolkey also purportedly told Hilgers he “would do anything” to taste her hair and asked whether her hair did, in fact, taste like candy. Id.

         After dinner, according to Hilgers, she and Kolkey walked by a chocolate counter, and Kolkey asked her whether she wanted some chocolate. Id. ¶ 19. Hilgers says that she declined, but Kolkey bought her one of each chocolate at the counter anyway. Id. For his part, Kolkey claims that Hilgers asked him to buy her the chocolates. Id. After buying the chocolates, Kolkey hugged Hilgers. Id. ¶ 20. According to Hilgers, because of Kolkey's relatively short height, his head was on her chest when he hugged her. Id. Defendants deny this assertion on the basis that, although some evidence indicates that Kolkey's head was indeed on Hilgers's chest, other evidence indicates that his head was only “on her chest level” and not actually touching her. Defs.' Resp. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 20, ECF No. 148. After Hilgers and Kolkey left the Union League Club, Kolkey walked Hilgers home while holding an umbrella over her head. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 35. The next day, Hilgers purchased chocolates for Kolkey. Id. ¶ 37. In her deposition, she explained that she had purchased the chocolates “to lessen the obligation [she] felt towards [Kolkey] because he had already paid for dinners and chocolates.” Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶ 37.

         A week later, on June 19, 2013, Kolkey asked Hilgers to come to his office after work for a “surprise.” Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 21. Hilgers believed that the “surprise” would be related to a formal offer of permanent employment. Id. When she arrived at Kolkey's office, she asked him what the surprise was. Id. ¶ 22. According to Hilgers, Kolkey responded: “Well, the surprise was I brought you here to kiss you.” Id. He then asked whether he could kiss her, and she told him no. Id. He also asked whether she would go out for drinks with him, and, likewise, she told him no. Id.

         What happened next is a matter of considerable dispute. For her part, Hilgers described the rest of the scene in Kolkey's office as follows:

I wrapped up the conversation as quickly as I could. I stood up, got ready to go out the door. He . . . extends his arm wide for a hug. I just hugged him to try and get it over with, but he grabs my shoulders and pushes me back and says, you know, promise me we'll get together in our next lifetime. And I said, okay. And he, you know, raised on his toes, kissed me on the cheek, and I got out of the office.

Id. ¶ 23 (quoting Pl.'s Ex. A, Hilgers Dep., at 101:6-14, ECF No. 144-2). Kolkey denies grabbing Hilgers by the shoulders or kissing her. Id.

         On June 24, 2013, Hilgers e-mailed Bradley Drake (“Drake”) to report the incident in Kolkey's office. Id. ¶ 25. Drake is Rothschild's Chief Compliance Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and Executive Vice President. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 43. Hilgers's e-mail described the events in Kolkey's office on June 19, as well as Kolkey's previous comments about her appearance and his dreams about her. Id. In response to the e-mail, Drake met with Kolkey for about forty-five minutes and also met with Novak and Bonga for another forty-five minutes. Id. ¶ 47. Then, he met with Hilgers and told her that Mr. Kolkey had “admitted” to everything. Id. ¶ 48. Hilgers told Drake that, going forward, she wanted Kolkey to limit his interactions with her. Id. ¶ 49. After this discussion with Hilgers, Drake met with Kolkey a second time, reminded him to conduct himself professionally, and advised him to interact with Hilgers only when necessary. Id. ¶ 52. In addition, Rothschild required Kolkey to undergo sexual harassment training and placed him on “six months' probation.” Id. ¶ 56. At some point after June 24, 2013, Kolkey approached Hilgers in Rothschild's lunchroom with tears in his eyes and told her he was “very sorry” for what had happened. Id. ¶ 57; Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 35.

         Although Kolkey is the only Rothschild employee about whom Hilgers formally complained to Drake, he is not the only employee whose conduct gives rise to this lawsuit. Most notably, the suit is also based upon the conduct and statements of Novak, Vice President Charles Callahan (“Callahan”), and Vice President Dan Hord (“Hord”). First, according to Hilgers, Novak told her in June 2013 that he was having a “really tough time” supervising her and was “uncomfortable” having her work in the office because he was not used to working with women. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 67. Novak also told Hilgers that she was the first woman Rothschild had ever hired in a non-administrative capacity, that he had been “adamantly against hiring her, ” and that she should avoid dressing “like a secretary.” Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 3.

         With regard to Callahan, Hilgers claims that Callahan told her she should wear a loose tie and a low-cut shirt because that would be a “sexy look.” Id. ¶ 50. On another occasion, Callahan purportedly told her that she would “look great in a burlap sack.” Id. ¶ 51. Additionally, after Hilgers reported the incident in Kolkey's office, Callahan stopped by her desk, dropped off an article entitled “Fired for Being Beautiful, ” and told her that the same thing would happen to her. Id. ¶ 52. During his deposition, Callahan denied making these comments about Hilgers, but he admitted to leaving the article on her desk. Id. ¶¶ 50-52.

         Finally, Hilgers attests that, throughout her employment at Rothschild, Hord regularly ogled her while making slurping noises. Id. ¶ 49; Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶ 68. During her deposition, Hilgers characterized this behavior as inappropriate, and she stated that the ogling and slurping started a few weeks into her time at Rothschild and occurred regularly until she left the firm. Hilgers's Dep. at 91-93; see Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 49. In addition, sometime in July, Hord told Hilgers that she should be a “trophy wife.” Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 78.

         On August 20, 2013, Hilgers sent Novak and Bonga an e-mail to ask whether they had given any further thought as to whether they would be extending her a full-time offer. Id. ¶ 83. The next day, Novak and Bonga met with Hilgers and told her that, although she was a very good employee, she would not be receiving a full-time offer because her requested salary of $75, 000 was unacceptable. Id. ¶ 84; Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 44. Novak and Bonga later testified that they would have made Hilgers a full-time offer if she had been willing to accept a base salary of approximately $40, 000 per year. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 85. According to Hilgers, however, no one at Rothschild ever made her any kind of full-time offer or mentioned anything about a salary around $40, 000. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶ 85 (citing Pl.'s Ex. W, Hilgers Decl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 144-24). Hilgers's last day of work at Rothschild was August 28, 2013. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 86.

         On February 13, 2014, Hilgers filed charges of sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) against Rothschild and Kolkey. Id. ¶ 97. The IDHR dismissed the claims on November 5, 2015. Id. ¶ 98. In the meantime, Hilgers filed the present lawsuit.

         Legal Standard

         “The 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); accord Shell v. Smith, 789 F.3d 715, 717 (7th Cir. 2015). To survive summary judgment, the nonmoving party must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), and instead must “establish some genuine issue for trial such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in her favor, ” Gordon v. FedEx Freight, Inc., 674 F.3d 769, 772-73 (7th Cir. 2012). The Court gives the nonmoving party “the benefit of conflicts in the evidence and reasonable inferences that could be drawn from it.” Grochocinsk ...

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