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Downing v. Foley & Lardner LLP

April 9, 2010

KRISTY J. DOWNING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FOLEY & LARDNER LLP, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Denise Page Hood

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE, TRANSFERRING ACTION TO THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN AND CLOSING CASE IN THIS DISTRICT'S DOCKET

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Transfer Venue, filed on November 25, 2009. Plaintiff filed a Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Transfer Venue on December 15, 2009.*fn1 On December 22, 2009, Defendants filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition.

II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

On November 5, 2009, Plaintiff, Kristy J. Downing, filed the instant action alleging employment discrimination based on gender and race, harassment, and constructive discharge in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) ("EPA"), the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1991a, and the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act, Wis. Stat. § 111.31 et seq.

Defendant, Foley & Lardner LLP ("Foley") is a limited liability partnership under the laws of Wisconsin and has its main office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Plaintiff alleges that sometime in March 2005, she interviewed with the Detroit, Michigan office of Foley. Compl., ¶ 5. Upon request, Plaintiff also interviewed with Foley's Milwaukee, Wisconsin office. Id. Plaintiff began her employment as an associate attorney in the 2004 Class at Foley's Milwaukee office on July 5, 2005. Id. Plaintiff was assigned to the Intellectual Property Department. Id.

Plaintiff alleges that in October of 2005, Foley implemented a policy to increase the salary of the associates hired in the Class of 2004 from $125,000.00 to $130,000.00. Id. at ¶¶ 7-9. Plaintiff was only paid $125,000.00. Id. at ¶10. Plaintiff brought her concerns regarding the discrepancy in her salary compared with her colleagues to her direct supervisor, James Morrow. Id. at ¶¶ 12-13. Mr. Morrow informed Plaintiff that Foley had not implemented a policy to increase the salary of the Class of 2004 associates. Id. at ¶ 14. Plaintiff also raised her concerns regarding the disparity in her salary to other partners at Foley, but each informed her that no policy for a salary increase had been implemented. Id. at ¶¶ 15-22. Plaintiff alleges that Foley informed other associates to not disclose to Plaintiff the discrepancy between her salary and their salaries. Id. at ¶ 24.

Plaintiff further alleges that Foley limited her employment opportunities within the firm. She claims that summer associates, as well as regular associates were routinely assigned various work projects, such as drafting freedom-to-operate/invalidity opinions, appeal briefs with the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences, and other litigation related documents. Id. at ¶¶ 29-35. Plaintiff argues that Sharon Barner, a partner and Chair of the Intellectual Property Department, and Jeanne Gills, a partner and Vice-Chair of the same department at Foley's Wisconsin office, discouraged members of that department from assigning Plaintiff work projects such as drafting freedom-tooperate/invalidity opinions, appeal briefs with the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences, and other litigation related documents. Id. at ¶¶ 38-42, 44-51. Plaintiff also avers that Mrs. Barner encouraged other members of the Intellectual Property Department to give Plaintiff poor performance reviews. Id. at ¶ 43. Plaintiff brought her concerns regarding the apparent sabotage of her work assignments to her supervisors, but nothing was done to correct this. Id. at ¶¶ 54. Plaintiff maintains that Foley's actions in limiting her work assignments and opportunities was based on the fact that she is an African-American female. Id. at ¶¶ 55-56.

Plaintiff also claims that she was retaliated against for raising her concerns regarding her salary and work assignments. After March 2006, partners and employees of Foley actively worked towards removing the volume of work that Plaintiff was assigned so that she could not meet her billable hours requirement of a minimum of nineteen hundred hours per year. Id. at ¶ 97. Plaintiff asserts that she was removed from projects involving Johnson Controls, one of Foley's clients. Plaintiff was also given performance evaluations that mischaracterized her work product. Id. at ¶¶ 59-63. Plaintiff reported these misleading evaluations to Marilyn Lagerman, a manager of Foley's Human Resources Department. Id. at ¶ 64. Ms. Lagerman referred Plaintiff to Maureen McGinnity, Chair of Foley's Diversity Committee. Id. at ¶ 65. After a few meetings, Ms. McGinnity informed Plaintiff that the instances of discrimination and retaliation were 'all in her head.' Id. at ¶¶ 67.

Plaintiff also experienced harassment and threats to her safety in retaliation for her reports regarding her salary, work assignments, and performance evaluations. Id. at ¶¶ 80-81. Another associate working in the Intellectual Property Department at Foley assaulted Plaintiff with his vehicle, nearly missing driving over Plaintiff's foot, as he intentionally drove his vehicle into the pedestrian crosswalk where Plaintiff was standing. Id. at ¶ 96. Plaintiff submits that she was also harassed and teased by her colleagues about her lack of work assignments. Id. at ¶¶ 91-95.

On May 19, 2008, Plaintiff submitted a two-week notice of resignation. Id. at ¶ 81. She was told to reconsider her decision by the manager of one of the practice groups within the Intellectual Property Department, Andrew Rawlins. Id. at ¶¶ 72, 81. When Plaintiff attempted to contact Mr. Rawlins to inform him that she wanted to rescind her letter of resignation, he failed to respond to her for two days and on May 29, 2008, told her that she was discharged from employment at Foley.

Id. at ¶ 82. Plaintiff thereafter relocated to Michigan, and is now working as a solo-practitioner. Plaintiff avers that Foley continues to harass her by hiring agents to interfere with her personal and professional relationships. Id. at ¶ 85. Plaintiff believes that Foley has also prevented her from being hired by any local firms. Id. at ¶ 83.

III. APPLICABLE LAW & ...


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