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Rozumalski v. W.F. Baird & Associates, Ltd.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 22, 2019

Laura L. Rozumalski, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
W.F. Baird & Associates, Ltd., Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued April 15, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 17-cv-523-jdp - James D. Peterson, Chief Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

          WOOD, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Laura Rozumalski was sexually harassed by her direct supervisor, Mark Riedel. That much is undisputed. Also undisputed is that when Rozumalski reported the harassment to her employer, W.F. Baird & Associates, Ltd. ("Baird"), the company responded by swiftly investigating the incident and firing Riedel. But that is not the end of the story. This case is about the aftermath of those events and how they culminated in Rozumalski's loss of her own job.

         Rozumalski claims that Baird dismissed her in retaliation for her role in Riedel's firing, in retaliation for complaining about her supervisor's continued friendship with Riedel, or as a result of sex discrimination. The district court concluded that no trier of fact could find in her favor. We agree with that disposition: while it may be possible for workplace harassment to haunt a victim's ability to succeed long after the incident, the facts that Rozumalski has presented do not support a finding of retaliation. She has similarly failed to create a jury issue on discrimination. We therefore affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment to Baird.

         I

         Rozumalski started out as a water resources engineer at Baird's Madison, Wisconsin, office in 2010. Riedel was her supervisor. For several years she was generally successful in the position. Then, at an out-of-state work conference in July 2012, Riedel tried to kiss and put his arm around Rozumalski in front of clients. He tried more of the same the next day at the airport. Rozumalski reported the behavior to Baird, and Baird immediately assigned two members of its management team to investigate: Lars Barber and Jeffrey Bellile. Following this inquiry, Baird fired Riedel on August 2, 2012, and then promoted Rozumalski to his former position. Her new supervisor, Alex Brunton, worked out of the company's office in Oakville, Ontario (a suburb of Toronto), and so Barber stepped in as a local manager responsible for her non-substantive supervision.

         Rozumalski thrived in her new position. She received positive evaluations, and Baird gave her a significantly larger end-of-year bonus for 2012 than it had expected to award. In the spring of 2013, Rozumalski was promoted again, this time to the position of Leader of Rivers and Watersheds, a more complex job with greater responsibility. She remained under Brunton's supervision for substantive matters and Barber's for local issues.

         These background facts are undisputed. What happened next is not. Rozumalski insists that she received only positive feedback about her work as Leader of Rivers and Watersheds. Baird tells a different story. According to Brunton's testimony, Rozumalski struggled with her business development responsibilities and submitted a report that fell grossly below company standards and required significant reworking. According to Barber, Rozumalski was consistently tardy, often arriving at work an hour after most of her colleagues without excuse.

         Rozumalski expected smooth sailing for her December 2013 evaluation since, she recalled, Brunton told her in advance to expect "all good things." That is not what happened. The written documents identified several areas where Rozumalski needed improvement, including communication, work quality, business development, and maintaining regular office hours. The parties dispute the overall tone of her in-person review. Rozumalski says the in-person review was far more critical and dismissive than the written documents reflect. Baird says the conversation matched the mixed and (what it characterizes as) the constructive tone of the written documents.

         Rozumalski was baffled by what she perceived as a sudden 180-degree shift in Brunton's assessment of her performance. Her confusion cleared away a few weeks later, however, when she learned that when Brunton was in town for her performance review, he had breakfast with none other than Mark Riedel. Rozumalski was convinced that her negative evaluation from Brunton was the result of his breakfast conversation with Riedel. She promptly brought up this suspicion verbally with Barber.

         Two months after the December evaluation, Rozumalski received another negative performance review. Brunton and Barber wrote her a letter dated February 18, 2014, in which they charged that her work continued to suffer in the areas of communication, deliverables, and work quality. They provided specific examples to support these concerns.

         Rozumalski continued to complain to Barber about Brunton. Eventually Barber suggested that she put her complaints in writing. She did so, in a letter to him dated March 20, 2014, where she explained her suspicion that the relationship between Brunton and Riedel-and perhaps something said at the December breakfast-had poisoned Baird's opinion of her and led to the sea-change in its evaluation of her work. The letter further stated that given the way Riedel "violated" and "disrespected" her, Rozumalski was uncomfortable with any continued connections to Baird. She responded to the criticisms of her performance by suggesting that they were inaccurate or the result of personal animus on Brunton's part. According to Rozumalski, Brunton ...


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