Slater v. McKinsey & Company, Inc. United States

Decision Date30 March 2021
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 1:19-cv-04623-AT
Citation530 F.Supp.3d 1318
Parties Catherine SLATER, Plaintiff, v. MCKINSEY & COMPANY, INC. UNITED STATES, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Georgia

Mari Lynn Myer, The Myer Law Firm, Decatur, GA, for Plaintiff.

Susan Wallis Pangborn, Leah Marie Farmer, Noelle A. Abastillas, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, LLP, Atlanta, GA, for Defendant.

ORDER

AMY TOTENBERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter is before the Court on the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation ["R&R," Doc. 41] which recommends granting Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts I–V of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 29.). For the following reasons, the R&R is adopted in part.

I. BACKGROUND
A. Alleged Facts

In late July 2016, following completion of her Master's in Business Administration at Harvard Business School, Plaintiff, Catherine Slater ("Plaintiff" or "Slater"), became an employee of the Defendant, McKinsey & Company, Inc. ("Defendant" or "McKinsey").1 (Amended Complaint, Doc. 17 at 1.) McKinsey is "in the business of providing a variety of consulting services for clients worldwide." (Id. at 4.)

Plaintiff alleges that "[d]uring 2016 and the first half of 2017, [she] received positive feedback from McKinsey personnel who supervised her on projects." (Doc. 17 at 6.) Plaintiff alleges that in July 2017, she "raised concerns within McKinsey about a situation in which a client was likely to be overbilled for some duplicative work. As a result, the McKinsey partner in charge of the project that Ms. Slater had raised concerns about became angry with her and complained about her performance to other high-level McKinsey personnel." (Id. at 7.) Slater also alleges later in her Amended Complaint that when she raised this issue, the partner stated "during his angry tirade.... that the situation would have been different had she been a man ...."2 (Id. at 27.) Although she previously had no problem finding new assignments to work on, Plaintiff alleges that after the partner became angry at her, she "began having difficulty receiving new project assignments." (Id. at 7. )

In September 2017, Plaintiff alleges that McKinsey warned her that she was "at risk of being counseled to leave McKinsey if she was unable to find projects on which to be staffed." (Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that "counseled to leave" is a turn of phrase that means "termination on the basis of unsatisfactory performance." (Id. ) That same month, Plaintiff alleges that she was assigned to a project with tight deadlines that would require long hours in a stressful environment. (Doc. 17 at 7.) Plaintiff alleges that she was concerned about the stress of this project, but felt that she had no choice but to accept it "in light of McKinsey's threat to counsel her to leave." (Id. )

In her personal life, Plaintiff alleges that she had been attempting to become pregnant during the Summer of 2017. (Id. at 8.) She also alleges that she "had previously disclosed to McKinsey that she had certain serious medical conditions [and that] some McKinsey personnel were aware that [she] was attempting to become pregnant." (Id. ) She also alleges that McKinsey had been aware of her liver condition since hiring her as a full-time associate. (Id. at 31.) Plaintiff alleges that because of her medical conditions, her physicians had advised her to limit her work schedule and to avoid the "grueling schedule to which McKinsey sometimes expects its junior personnel to submit." (Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that her treating physicians also "instructed her to reduce or avoid stress in order to both manage her other medical issues and improve her odds of being able to become pregnant and carry the baby to term." (Id. )

Plaintiff alleges that on or around September 15, 2017, she learned that she was pregnant. (Id. ) A few days later, on September 19, 2017, Plaintiff alleges that McKinsey ordered her to complete some deliverables associated with the time-sensitive project by the morning of September 21, 2017. (Doc. 17 at 9.) Plaintiff alleges that on September 20, 2017 she realized it was not possible for her to complete the deliverables unless she worked overnight. (Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that, due to concern about her pregnancy and other health issues, she "requested that McKinsey afford her additional time to complete the project deliverables[,]" and that she explained "that her health could not handle overnight work." (Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that her supervisor responded and ordered her to work overnight to complete the deliverables. (Id. ) Plaintiff continued to work through the night and did complete the deliverables on time. (Id. )

Plaintiffs alleges that even though she worked through the night and timely completed the project, she "was subsequently chastised by her staffing manager, Katy O'Shea, for having asked to be relieved from working overnight. Ms. O'Shea warned Ms. Slater that she must never again refuse to work overnight when instructed to do so." (Id. at 10.)

Plaintiff alleges that she "miscarried her baby a few days after working overnight." (Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that a few weeks later, on November 3, 2017, McKinsey told her "that she was being counseled to leave effective January 12, 2018." (Id. )

Plaintiff alleges that the "counseled to leave" designation and delayed termination date allow her to continue to hold herself out to the public as a "current" employee of McKinsey while she searched for a new job. (Id. at 10–11.) This designation also allegedly permitted Plaintiff,

to receive the bonus for which all then-current McKinsey personnel were eligible on December 1, 2017; health insurance, fertility treatments, and other employee benefits for 90 days beyond January 12, 2018; access to the password-controlled McKinsey Transitions Website and online McKinsey Alumni Center; secretarial staff for her job search; and other outplacement assistance, all at McKinsey's expense.

(Doc. 17 at 11.)

Four days later, on November 7, 2017, Plaintiff alleges that her termination was recharacterized as "a termination for cause[.]" (Id. ) Accordingly, with this change, Plaintiff lost access to all of the benefits mentioned above. (Id. ) Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that "[b]ecause McKinsey characterized [her] termination as one for cause, [she] has lost her TS/SCI security clearance" and is unlikely to be able to regain that clearance. (Id. ) Plaintiff alleges in the Amended Complaint that she had held a TS/SCI security clearance3 continuously from 2010 until 2017, because her previous employment in the government and aerospace sector required it. (Doc. 17 at 3–4.)

Plaintiff alleges that after being terminated by McKinsey she has applied for "several positions for which she was qualified" but that she was rejected for many of these positions. (Id. at 12.) Plaintiff further alleges that because she lost her security clearance, she cannot return to work in the aerospace industry. (Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that "[p]rospective employers that rejected her told her that McKinsey had told the employers that they should not hire her." (Id. ) As a result, Plaintiff alleges that she "has been forced to seek employment that is not commensurate with her skills, education,4 and experience." (Doc. 17 at 13.)

B. Procedural History

On April 1, 2020, Plaintiff filed her Amended Complaint, alleging nine counts relating to her time as an employee of the Defendant:

Count I – Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Count II – Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
Count III – Tortious Interference with Employment Opportunities
Count IV – Tortious Interference with Security Clearance
Count V – Breach of Contract
Count VI – Title VII Discrimination on the Basis of Sex
Count VII – Failure to Accommodate Disability in Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Count VIII – Retaliation in Violation of Title VII
Count IX – Retaliation in Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act

(Amended Complaint, Doc. 17.)

On June 26, 2020, Defendant moved to dismiss Counts I–V only of the Amended Complaint. (Motion to Dismiss, Doc. 29.) Plaintiff Responded in opposition and Defendant Replied in support. (Docs. 31, 35.)

On December 9, 2020, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending that this Court grant the Motion to Dismiss Counts I–V. (R&R, Doc. 41.) The Plaintiff filed Objections to some aspects of the R&R, the Defendant Responded to those Objections, and the Plaintiff Replied in support of her own Objections. (Docs. 43, 44, 45.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court reviews the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation for clear error if no party objects and may "accept, reject, or modify" the Magistrate's findings and recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Where the parties do not file any objections, § 636 does not require the district court to review any issue in dispute de novo; however, the statute "does not preclude further review by the district judge, sua sponte or at the request of a party, under a de novo or any other standard." Thomas v. Arn , 474 U.S. 140, 154, 106 S.Ct. 466, 88 L.Ed.2d 435 (1985). On the other hand, if a party does file objections, the district court must determine de novo any part of the Magistrate Judge's disposition that is the subject of a proper objection. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b) ; 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).

Plaintiff filed timely objections to the Magistrate Judge's R&R. Accordingly, the Court reviews the issues raised in these portions of the R&R de novo.5 This matter was before the Magistrate Judge on a Motion to Dismiss. This Court may dismiss a pleading for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A pleading fails to state a claim if it does not contain allegations that support recovery under any recognizable legal theory. 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1216 (3d ed. 2002) ; see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal ,...

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