United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Z. Lee United States District Judge.
Tad Van Pelt worked as a National Sales Representative for
BonaDent, Inc., a dental laboratory. Van Pelt has sued
BonaDent for breach of contract, fraudulent inducement,
retaliatory discharge, violations of the Illinois
Whistleblower Act, post-termination retaliation, and common
law defamation. Defendants have moved to dismiss the
complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6). For
the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to
dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.
following facts are alleged by Van Pelt and presumed true for
the purposes of the motion to dismiss. See Manistee
Apartments, LLC v. City of Chi., 844 F.3d 630, 633 (7th
relationship between Van Pelt and BonaDent began when
BonaDent contacted Van Pelt and offered him a sales job. 2d
Am. Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 32. When Van Pelt rejected the
officer, BonaDent's Chief Executive Officer, Bruce
Bonafiglia, then told Van Pelt that BonaDent would create a
role for him as National Sales Director. Id. ¶
and Van Pelt met on several occasions to discuss the
position, including the salary and work environment.
Id. According to Van Pelt, during these
conversations, Bonafiglia concealed the fact that, within the
previous twelve months, he had fired two other employees who
had served in the National Sales Director position.
Id. ¶ 11. Bonafiglia withheld this information
despite the fact that Van Pelt told him that Van Pelt already
had a great job and would only accept the offer if the
position at BonaDent was in his and his family's best
interest. Id. ¶ 16. Along these lines, during
their discussions, Bonafiglia stated that Van Pelt would be
have the position for a long time. Id. ¶ 13.
eventually offered Van Pelt the position. Id.
¶¶ 9-10. After discussing the opportunity with his
wife, Van Pelt accepted the offer. Id. ¶¶
11, 14. Van Pelt acknowledged the employment relationship by
signing a letter on November 16, 2015, that provided details
about the job description and compensation plan. Id.
¶ 14. His yearly salary was $140, 000.00. Id.,
Ex. 3, 6/28/17 Employment Verification, ECF No. 32-3, at p.
Pelt began working for BonaDent on November 30, 2015.
Id. ¶ 15. As National Sales Director, he
supervised employees, constructed a sales marketing plan,
travelled, and attended meetings. Id.
December 2015, BonaDent purchased a laboratory in Chicago,
and Van Pelt was instructed to have a desk at the lab in
order to supervise the operations. Id. ¶¶
20-21. In addition to his other duties, Van Pelt also was
asked to perform human resources responsibilities at the lab.
Id. ¶ 22. During the course of fulfilling his
responsibilities at the lab, Van Pelt came to believe that
some of the lab workers lacked the proper documentation to
work in the United States. Id. He expressed his
concern to Bonafiglia, who told him that one of the workers
was in the process of obtaining citizenship by marrying a
United States citizen and that Van Pelt should continue his
role at the lab. Id.; id. ¶ 23. Van
Pelt continued to work at the lab and perform his assigned
duties, but he refused to fulfill his human resources role
with regard to those employees who he believed were working
occasion, Van Pelt smelled the odor of gas at the lab,
informed other employees that there must be a gas leak in the
area, and left to work offsite because he felt uncomfortable
working at the lab. Id. ¶ 24. Bonafiglia
reprimanded Van Pelt and stated that he had showed poor
leadership by leaving the lab and his fellow employees.
Id. ¶ 25.
working for BonaDent for sixty days, Van Pelt received a
performance review on February 9, 2016. Id. ¶
27. The written review, which is attached as an exhibit to
the second amended complaint, has been redacted to the point
of being practically illegible. See id., Ex.,
BonaDent 60 Day Review, ECF No. 32-2 at pp. 38-39. To the
extent that it can be read, the review states that Van Pelt
was still developing and learning about the BonaDent culture
and work environment. Id. at p. 38. The portion
addressing “areas needing development” is
redacted. Id. at p. 39. One sentence out of three
paragraphs of the “overall evaluation” portion of
the review is legible and states: “The team remains
confident that Tad is going to be a good fit for the position
of National Sales Director.” Id.
days later, during a telephone call between Bonafiglia and
Van Pelt on February 19, 2016, Van Pelt brought up the gas
odor incident and told Bonafiglia that he felt that he was
being put in the awkward position of having to justify why he
had left a work environment that he believed was unsafe.
Id. ¶ 28. Van Pelt alleges that he told
Bonafiglia that he would not work in an unsafe environment.
Id. Van Pelt also alleges that, during the
conversation, he iterated his concerns about the presence of
illegal workers and refused Bonafiglia's request to be
involved in any documentation of them. Id. According
to Van Pelt, Bonafiglia terminated his employment, told him
that he would be hearing from human resources, and abruptly
hung up the phone. Id. On February 19, 2016, Van
Pelt received a termination letter from Jenna Crandall,
BonaDent's Director of Human Resources, stating that he
had been terminated effective February 16, 2016.
Id., Ex., 2/19/16 Termination Letter, ECF No. 32-2
at p. 40.
employment verification form dated October 3, 2016,
BonaDent's Human Resource Coordinator, Michelle Grillone,
stated to an employment verification company that Van Pelt
was eligible for rehire, and she made no mention of any
attendance issues. Id., Ex. 2, 10/3/16 HireRight
Employment Verification Form, ECF No. 32-2, at p. 43. Van
Pelt alleges that subsequently, however, BonaDent's
Payroll Administrator, Autumn Jennex, made a false statement
about him to an employment verification company that caused
harm to his reputation and career. Id. ¶ 75;
id., Ex. 3, 6/28/17 Employment Verification, ECF No.
32-3, at p. 2. Although Jennex rated Van Pelt's
attendance as “Satisfactory”, she also stated on
the same form that he was “not eligible for rehire due
to attendance issues.” Id.
motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the
plaintiff's complaint. Christensen v. Cty. of
Boone, 483 F.3d 454, 457 (7th Cir. 2007). The federal
notice pleading standard requires a complaint to
“contain 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 (2009)). A complaint must provide only
“enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of
what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, and,
through his allegations, show that it is plausible, rather
than merely speculative, that he is entitled to
relief.” Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074,
1083 (7th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).
evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, all well-pleaded
allegations in the complaint are accepted as true, and courts
must draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's
favor. Cole v. Milwaukee Area Tech. Coll. Dist., 634
F.3d 901, 903 (7th Cir. 2011); Justice v. Town of
Cicero, 577 F.3d 768, 771 (7th Cir. 2009). In a motion
to dismiss, a complaint's factual allegations may be
supplemented by “documents that are attached to the
complaint, ” as well as “documents that are
central to the complaint and are referred to in it.”
Williamson v. Curran, 714 F.3d 432, 436 (7th Cir.
2013); Geinosky v. City of Chi., 675 F.3d 743, 745
n.1 (7th Cir. 2012); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c). In a
diversity case governed by Illinois law, a court must
“ascertain the substantive content of state law as it
either has been determined by the highest court of the state
or as it would be by that court if the present case were
before it now.” Allstate Ins. Co. v. Menards,
Inc., 285 F.3d 630, 637 (7th Cir. 2002).
Breach of Contract
Count I, Van Pelt alleges that he had an oral employment
contract for an unspecified duration with BonaDent and that
BonaDent breached the contract by terminating him. BonaDent
argues that Van Pelt has failed to allege the formation of an
oral contract for a particular duration, and the Court
law presumes that employment is at-will where the employee is
hired without a fixed term. Duldulao v. St. Mary of
Nazareth Hosp. Ctr., 505 N.E.2d 314, 318 (Ill. 1987).
Absent a contract to the contrary, either the employee or the
employer may terminate the relationship at any time, for any
reason or no reason. Harris v. Eckersall, 771 N.E.2d
1072, 1075 (2002). Accordingly, an employee bears the burden
of overcoming the presumption of at- will employment by
showing that the parties contracted otherwise.
Kiddy-Brown v. Blagojevich, 408 F.3d 346, 363 (7th
Cir. 2005). And generally speaking, “oral
employment contracts . . . are viewed with more skepticism
than their formal, written counterparts.” Tolmie v.
United Parcel Serv., 930 F.2d 579, 581 (7th Cir. 1991).
Illinois law, oral employment contracts must satisfy the
traditional requirements of contract formation. See
McInerney v. Charter Golf, Inc., 680 N.E.2d 1347, 1349
(Ill. 1997) (citing Duldulao, 505 N.E.2d at 318).
When an “alleged contract is based upon oral
assurances, the plaintiff must establish that the offer was
‘clear and definite' and supported by adequate
consideration.” Taylor v. Canteen Corp., 69
F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 1995) (quoting Kercher v. Forms
Corp. of Am., Inc., 630 N.E.2d 978, 981 (Ill.App.Ct.
1994)). An offer's terms are clear and definite “as
long as ‘an employee would ...