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McInerney v. Careerbuilder, LLC

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

December 3, 2019

LORI MCINERNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAREERBUILDER, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John J. Tharp, Jr., United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Lori McInerney brings her Amended Complaint alleging unlawful treatment at the hands of her employer, defendant CareerBuilder, LLC (“CareerBuilder”). McInerney asserts claims of a hostile work environment and retaliatory discharge in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as well as state law claims of retaliatory discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress. CareerBuilder moved to dismiss much of the basis for the Title VII claims, as well as the state law claims in their entirety. For the reasons set forth below, CareerBuilder's motion to dismiss is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         In considering the motion to dismiss, the Court accepts the well pled facts in McInerney's Amended Complaint as true and draws all permissible inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Agnew v. NCAA, 683 F.3d 328, 334 (7th Cir. 2012).

         McInerney worked for CareerBuilder for more than a decade. Am. Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 16. She was first hired in September 2002 and was ultimately fired in March 2017. At some point during that period, McInerney left CareerBuilder to raise her children. In September 2015, at the urging of CareerBuilder's Chief Financial Officer, McInerney returned as the Director of Strategic Initiatives. The events presently at issue all arose between her return in late 2015 and her termination in early 2017.

         Twice during this period, McInerney was subject to unwanted sexual advances by co-workers. On January 23, 2016, the last night of a customer event, McInerney and several others, CareerBuilder senior sales executives and CareerBuilder customers, were in a hotel bar. As McInerney bid the group goodnight, Douglas Hoodack, a senior sales executive, whispered to her, “I'm coming to your room.” Id. ¶ 11. Under the impression he was joking, McInerney ignored the comment until she noticed that Hoodack was following behind. At this point, she also observed John Smith, CareerBuilder's Chief Sales Officer, give Hoodack a “smiling nod of approval.” Id. ¶ 12. Hoodack continued to follow McInerney, repeating, “you know you want it, I'm coming to your room.” Id. ¶ 3. McInerney protested, telling Hoodack “no” multiple times. Hoodack replied, “What the f*ck are you going to do? I'm not leaving.” Id. ¶ 13. Eventually, a customer walked by and Hoodack relented.

         The second episode took place at a sales team gathering after the CareerBuilder holiday party the following year.[1] In the presence of “several other employees and senior executives, ” Jason Lovelace, a senior sales executive, asked McInerney, “Would you f*ck a married guy like me?” Id. ¶ 16. McInerney left the party immediately.

         McInerney decided not to report either of these events to Human Resources. McInerney reasoned that “this behavior was very common at CareerBuilder”[2] and it was “common knowledge” that reporting such incidents led only to the employee being “fired or red-flagged as a problem employee.” Id. ¶¶ 14, 17. Further, in both instances, McInerney had reason to believe that executives high in the corporate hierarchy were already aware of the behavior and no responsive action had been taken. McInerney figured that reporting would be “futile and detrimental to her career.” Id. ¶ 14.

         In addition to the unwanted sexual advances, a few months after her return to the company McInerney was encouraged to take a new position under Mary Delaney, a supervisor who “had a reputation for being particularly hard on female employees.” Id. ¶¶ 19-21. In February 2016, CareerBuilder's Chief Financial Officer, Kevin Knapp, approached McInerney about a position as Director of Marketing of Aurico, a company owned by CareerBuilder. McInerney “expressed reservations” to Knapp, because McInerney would be reporting to Delaney. Id. ¶ 20. Knapp reassured McInerney, saying that her “job [would] never be in jeopardy” and that CareerBuilder would not tolerate abusive or discriminatory conduct. Id. ¶ 21. In the end, McInerney accepted the position.

         According to McInerney, Delaney's “abusive and discriminatory conduct was pervasive” during their year working together. Id. ¶ 22. Delaney made disparaging comments about McInerney's status as a divorcee and single mother, as well as commenting on her physique- specifically her breasts. Notably, Delaney did not make similar comments to male employees.

         Delaney also subjected male and female employees to different performance standards. Delaney repeatedly gave McInerney difficult and time-consuming tasks that were not part of her job duties. Male employees were not subject to the same treatment. According to McInerney, Delaney bragged about her efforts to make female employees cry and touted this practice as a means of “toughen[ing] up” the female employees. Id. ¶ 23. Specifically, in September 2016, Delaney told McInerney that she tried to make McInerney cry on multiple occasions and that she did not use this tactic with male employees. Id. ¶ 22.

         These experiences took their toll. McInerney sought out medical attention for the stress-induced migraine headaches she began experiencing shortly after joining Delaney's team.[3]Initially, she discussed the problem with her general practitioner, who prescribed medications. Nonetheless, the headaches worsened-one especially acute migraine sent her to the emergency room. At the suggestion of the emergency room staff, she sought the attention of a neurologist, Dr. Armita Bijari. Dr. Bijari recommended that McInerney stop working for Delaney. As of filing the Amended Complaint, McInerney continues to take medicine to prevent and cope with her migraines.

         McInerney discussed Delaney's conduct with multiple CareerBuilder personnel. She spoke with Ben Goldberg, Aurico's Chief Executive Officer, and Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder's Chief Human Resources Officer. Both Goldberg and Haefner acknowledged Delaney's history of “abusive conduct towards women.” Id. ¶ 28. In a February 2017 conversation, Haefner noted that she had previously spoken with Delaney about her “disparate treatment of female employees.” Id. Haefner also stated that while Human Resources was aware of Delaney's current behavior, Delaney would not be punished due to her worth to the company.

         On March 15, 2017, not long after these conversations, Haefner informed McInerney of her termination. McInerney notes that prior to the termination, she had received uniformly “above average” reviews. Id. ΒΆ 41. At the time of McInerney's termination, Haefner told her that CareerBuilder was eliminating several marketing positions, including the ...


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