28 F.3d 1216 (7th Cir. 1994), 94-1176, Ballmer v. Nicolet Instrument Corp.

Docket Nº:94-1176.
Citation:28 F.3d 1216
Party Name:Catherine A. BALLMER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. NICOLET INSTRUMENT CORP., Alan Perry, Richard Maier, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:July 11, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 1216

28 F.3d 1216 (7th Cir. 1994)

Catherine A. BALLMER, Plaintiff-Appellant,


NICOLET INSTRUMENT CORP., Alan Perry, Richard Maier, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 94-1176.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 11, 1994

Editorial Note:

This opinion appears in the Federal reporter in a table titled "Table of Decisions Without Reported Opinions". (See FI CTA7 Rule 53 regarding use of unpublished opinions)

Argued June 15, 1994.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, No. 93-C-251-S; John C. Shabaz, Judge.



Before ESCHBACH, EASTERBROOK and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.


Catherine Ballmer appeals from the grant of summary judgment in favor of her former employer, Nicolet Instrument Corporation and various supervisory employees of Nicolet, on her claim of retaliatory discharge. At issue is whether Ballmer presented enough evidence to establish that the defendants' proffered nondiscriminatory reason was pretextual.


Ballmer accepted a position in sales administration with Nicolet after her position as a sales support specialist had been eliminated. Both Ballmer and her supervisor, Hale, conceded that their relationship "got off on the wrong foot" and continued to be "problematic" at times. On February 11, 1992, Ballmer filed a discrimination complaint, alleging that Nicolet had discriminated against her on the basis of sex in failing to promote her to the position of sales engineer when her position as sales support specialist was eliminated. Shortly after filing the complaint, Ballmer informed Hale and Hale told her supervisor, Dawn Flagstad. Sometime in March of 1992, Nicolet decided that additional cost reductions were necessary. Hale and Flagstad recommended Ballmer as one of two individuals to be laid off. Ballmer was 40 years old at the time and was selected "because of her problematic relationship with Ms. Hale and the substantial emotional stress she was causing Ms. Hale." Both individuals were terminated on April 1, 1992 and neither was replaced.

The district court initially denied the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the claim of retaliation, finding a genuine issue of fact concerning the establishment of a prima facie case. Having conceded a prima facie case of retaliation, the defendant's moved for reconsideration. After accepting the defendants' non-discriminatory reason for discharge--Ballmer's problematic relationship with her supervisor--the court focused on whether Ballmer had shown that this was a pretext for retaliation. Because the evidence demonstrated that a problematic relationship existed both before and after the filing of the failure to promote claim, the district court concluded that Ballmer had failed to raise a genuine issue concerning the truthfulness of the proffered reason.


In reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, we must view the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. 1 Holland v. Jefferson Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 883 F.2d 1307, 1313 (7th Cir.1989). For the purpose of summary judgment, the defendants conceded that the plaintiff had established a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII. The court looked to the evidence advanced by the defendants and found that the existence of a problematic relationship was sufficient to establish a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for Ballmer's discharge. Thus, the summary judgment decision turned on whether Ballmer had presented evidence which raised a genuine issue concerning the sincerity of the articulated nondiscriminatory reason.

Pretext may be established directly with evidence that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer, or indirectly by showing that the employer's proffered explanation is not credible. Texas Dep't. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 256 (1981); Mechnig v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 864 F.2d 1359, 1365 (7th Cir.1988). Under the indirect method, the plaintiff must counter the specific reasons articulated by the defendant to support its action. Lenoir v. Roll Coater, Inc., 13 F.3d 1130, 1133 (7th Cir.1994). An employee may prove that the employer's reasons are not worthy of...

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