Wednesday, January 14, 2015

7th Circuit Finds Employer That Included Employee's EEOC Complaint in SEC Filings Enough to Show Retaliation

In a case out of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has reversed a grant of summary judgment in a case whereby a plaintiff, Celia Greengrass, sued her former employer, International Monetary Systems Ltd. ("IMS"), alleging that they retaliated against her when they named her in their annual SEC filings and casted her complaint as "meritless," which showed to prevent Greengrass from obtaining new employment.

The district court granted summary in favor of IMS stating that Greengrass lacked evidence showing a causal link between her EEOC filing and the alleged retaliatory act.  In reversing the lower court, the 7th Circuit held that Greengrass did make out a prima facie case of retaliation by demonstrating that she engaged in a statutorily protected activity when she filed her EEOC charge, that IMS engaged in an adverse employment action when it listed her name in its SEC filings, and that there was sufficient evidence for a rational trier of fact to find that IMS listed her name because Greengrass filed the EEOC charge.

As is the case in most employment law cases, the devil lies in the details of the facts and it wasn't JUST the fact that IMS mentioned the plaintiff in their SEC filing that got them in trouble.  In 2008, IMS did not mentioned Greengrass' EEOC complaint in their 2008 SEC disclosures, which, the court believed was due in large part to an email sent by IMS' general counsel whereby the company appeared confident it could avoid a "large damages award," because, without the EEOC's involvement, Greengrass "likely [would not] have the resources for a lengthy court fight."  Thus, the 7th Circuit concluded, a reasonable jury could conclude that IMS decided to retaliate against her not when she filed her charge, but when IMS saw that the EEOC was taking the charge seriously, and that the retaliation occurred in its next scheduled SEC filing in April 2009 when it did name Greengrass' complaint.

The Court also held that Greengrass presented evidence of animus as well because a reasonable jury could interpret IMS' general counsel's email as evincing a disdain for the EEOC process and animus against Greengrass for filing her complaint.

The case is Celia Greegrass v. International Monetary Systems Ltd., Case No. 13-2901 (7th Cir. Jan. 12, 2015)

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