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Kozlowski v. Greenridge Farm, Inc.

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

June 22, 2018

PAULINA KOZLOWSKI, Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant,
v.
GREENRIDGE FARM, INC. and MICHAEL SHANNON, Defendants/Counter-Plaintiffs.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GARY FEINERMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Paulina Kozlowski sued her former employer, Greenridge Farm, Inc., and her former supervisor at Greenridge, Michael Shannon, alleging that Greenridge violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and that both defendants violated the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), 775 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq., when they demoted and then terminated her after learning she was pregnant. Doc. 1. Greenridge counterclaimed, alleging that Kozlowski unlawfully defamed it and tortiously interfered with its business when she told its customers that she had been fired because she was pregnant. Doc. 21. Shannon now moves under Civil Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss Kozlowski's claims against him, Doc. 23, while Kozlowski moves under Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss Greenridge's counterclaim against her, Doc. 31. Shannon's motion is granted and Kozlowski's is denied.

         Background

         In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court assumes the truth of the operative pleading's well-pleaded factual allegations, though not its legal conclusions. See Zahn v. N. Am. Power & Gas, LLC, 815 F.3d 1082, 1087 (7th Cir. 2016). The court must also consider “documents attached to the [pleading], documents that are critical to the [pleading] and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice, ” along with additional facts set forth in the nonmovant's brief opposing dismissal, so long as those additional facts “are consistent with the pleadings.” Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714 F.3d 1017, 1019-20 (7th Cir. 2013). The facts are set forth as favorably to the nonmovant as those materials allow. See Pierce v. Zoetis, Inc., 818 F.3d 274, 277 (7th Cir. 2016). In setting forth those facts at this stage, the court does not vouch for their accuracy. See Jay E. Hayden Found. v. First Neighbor Bank, N.A., 610 F.3d 382, 384 (7th Cir. 2010). Given these principles, the court rejects Kozlowski's argument, which she advances to support dismissal of Greenridge's counterclaim, that Greenridge's answer to her complaint contradicts certain allegations in its counterclaim, Doc. 33 at 3-4, as the argument effectively asks the court to draw inferences against Greenridge as the nonmovant.

         A. Kozlowski's Complaint

         Beginning in September 2009, Kozlowski worked in sales for Greenridge, a meat distributor. Doc. 1 at ¶ 9. Kozlowski learned that she was pregnant on July 21, 2016, and informed Shannon, her supervisor, two weeks later. Id. at ¶¶ 11-12. On August 24, Shannon met with Kozlowski to let her know that he was reassigning her to an “inside sales” position. Id. at ¶¶ 14-15. Her annual salary would be reduced from $78, 000 to $40, 000, and her existing customers reallocated to other sales personnel. Id. at ¶ 15. Kozlowski objected that she was being demoted because of her pregnancy; Shannon responded that the decision was final. Id. at ¶ 16. Kozlowski hired an attorney, who sent a letter to Shannon asserting that she had been unlawfully demoted. Id. at ¶ 17.

         On August 26, Kozlowski discovered that the password she used to log-in to Greenridge's email system had been changed, preventing her access. Id. at ¶ 18. Kozlowski reported the issue to Shannon, who told her to “go home” and “not do any work until Greenridge's attorney responds to your lawyer.” Id. at ¶ 19. On September 7, Kozlowski received a letter from Greenridge stating that she was being terminated because she had not returned to work since August 26. Id. at ¶ 23. On September 12, Kozlowski traveled to Greenridge's facility to return her company car, laptop, and uniforms. Id. at ¶ 24. Later that day, she received a letter threatening her with a defamation suit. Ibid.

         B. Greenridge's Counterclaim

         Greenridge's counterclaim disputes material portions of Kozlowski's account of the events leading up to her termination. It alleges that Kozlowski first met with Shannon on June 15, 2016 to discuss an “action plan” to put one of her accounts “back on track.” Doc. 21 at ¶ 7. Kozlowski and Shannon met a second time on July 21, with Shannon telling Kozlowski that Greenridge was planning to restructure the sales department and that she would be responsible for new accounts. Id. at ¶ 8. Shannon promised that Kozlowski's earning potential-including salary, bonus, and commissions-would be higher than her then-current salary. Ibid.

         When Shannon and Kozlowski again met on August 24, Shannon said that he was putting in place the restructuring plan and that Kozlowski would be transitioning to a position as a “new account specialist.” Id. at ¶ 10. Shannon acknowledged that Kozlowski would receive a lower base salary, but noted that she would receive a $200 bonus for each new store she opened and a commission on all new accounts. Ibid. Kozlowski refused the offer, protesting that it was a pregnancy-related demotion-which Shannon disputed-and stating that she would “rather sit at home than work for this money.” Id. at ¶¶ 11-13. The next day, Kozlowski's attorney told Greenridge that she would return to work, but only in her previous position. Id. at ¶ 14. From August 24 through at least September 14, Kozlowski told Greenridge's customers that she had been fired because she was pregnant. Id. at ¶ 17. Greenridge alleges that Kozlowski knew that charge to be untrue. Id. at ¶¶ 17-19.

         Discussion

         I. Kozlowski's Claims Against Shannon

         Kozlowski's complaint has two counts, both arising under Title VII and the IHRA as to Greenridge and only under the IHRA as to Shannon. Count I alleges that Greenridge and Shannon unlawfully demoted and then terminated Kozlowski because she was pregnant. Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 26-42. Count II alleges that Greenridge and Shannon retaliated against Kozlowski by first telling her not to return to work and then terminating her after she complained that her demotion was due to her being pregnant. Id. at ¶¶ 43-55. As noted, Shannon seeks dismissal of the claims against him.

         A. IHRA Pregnancy ...


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