EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – Chief Judge David R. Herndon of the Southern District of Illinois issued an order on January 22 denying the motion of the hardware store chain Menards for summary judgment in a sex / pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
In its lawsuit, filed September 22, 2008 (EEOC v. Menard, Inc., 08-0655-DRH, S.D. Ill.), EEOC alleges that Menard, Inc. discriminated against a female employee at its Effingham, Ill., store on the basis of her sex by demoting her from her department manager position because she underwent surgery to prepare her for in-vitro fertilization, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
On September 21, 2009, Menards filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that it was entitled to an immediate judgment in its favor and without trial because, it contended, there were no disputed issues of fact, and the employee was demoted for good cause. The EEOC argued that, to the contrary, the employee was meeting job expectations and had never been informed otherwise. According to the court’s opinion, “EEOC presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether [she] was satisfying Menards’ legitimate expectations at the time of her demotion.” (Memorandum Opinion and Order, No. 08-0655-DRH, S.D. Illinois, J. Herndon, entered 1/22/2010.)
The court also indicated the timing of the employee’s demotion and the selection of a male co-worker as her replacement might be considered “suspect.” Menards, the EEOC alleged, notified her male successor the same day that she underwent surgery to assist her in becoming pregnant. The court denied Menards’ motion for summary judgment in its entirety.
The EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago, John Hendrickson, said, “Whatever else one might say about this case, it has appeared from the start that Menards and the EEOC seriously disputed the facts surrounding what happened to this employee. Accordingly, one has to wonder what anyone thought might be gained by investing resources in a motion for summary judgment. But that’s done now. The court has spoken. The woman involved is going to have her day in court, and the EEOC very much looks forward to getting her case in front a jury.”
The EEOC litigation team is being led by Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane I. Smason and Trial Attorney June Wallace Calhoun of the Chicago District Office.
Calhoun said, “Employment discrimination cases such as this one are frequently highly fact-intensive and, therefore, often cannot be readily resolved on summary judgment. Finally resolving those issues of fact is what juries do. That’s what is going to happen here, and we at the EEOC will be ready for it.”
Menards, headquartered in Eau Claire, Wis., is a major home improvement retailer with hundreds of stores spread throughout the Midwest, including in Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.