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Woman loses appeal of discrimination lawsuit against employer

July 8, 2014

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court that a pharmaceutical company did not discriminate against a sales representative based on her age or retaliate against her for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Julia Hutt worked as a sales rep for Solvay Pharmaceuticals since 2001. In 2008, she was issued a performance improvement plan and placed on informal warning status by supervisors Brian Lozen and Jeff Westfall based on uncompleted administrative tasks. Hutt was issued another PIP in 2008 and also warned two more times that year based on her performance. Because of her employment status, she was not eligible for any bonuses.

In 2009, she filed her complaint with the EEOC. She was taken off of final warning status in April 2010, retroactive to December 2009. Based on her status, she was ineligible for incentive pay and bonuses for seven consecutive quarters.

The District Court ruled in favor of Solvay, now known as AbbVie Products LLC, finding Hutt failed to identify a similarly situated comparator to show discrimination and retaliation. And because she was ineligible for bonus payments while on warning status, she has no cause of action under the Indiana Wage Payment Statute as she had alleged. Hutt was 54 at the time the court granted summary judgment for her employer.

Hutt only stated a claim for discrimination under the direct method, and the 7th Circuit found that her claim fails because it lacks both direct and circumstantial evidence. She provided no evidence that Westfall, Lozen or any other employee admitted to discriminating against her based on her age. They also found there was no evidence, as Hutt claimed, that the treatment of her and another employee, who was 59 and also put on warning status and later fired, had anything to do with their ages.

Her retaliation claim fails because she doesn’t assert a causal connection between the filing of the EEOC charge and Solvay’s adverse employment actions. She was already on formal warning status at the time her EEOC charge was filed.

“Her chosen legal theory – retaliation – calls for evidence of adverse employment actions linked to a protected activity, not just evidence of problematic hostility,” Judge John Tinder wrote.

Hutt also failed to develop her bad-faith argument regarding her Wage Payment Statute claim and cannot now raise it for the first time on appeal, the court held in Julia Hutt v. AbbVie Products LLC, 13-1481.
 

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