Lau v. Abbott Labs., 2-18-0456

CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Citation431 Ill.Dec. 523,2019 IL App (2d) 180456,127 N.E.3d 1056
Docket NumberNo. 2-18-0456,2-18-0456
Parties Anna J. LAU, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ABBOTT LABORATORIES, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date02 April 2019

2019 IL App (2d) 180456
127 N.E.3d 1056
431 Ill.Dec.

Anna J. LAU, Plaintiff-Appellant,
ABBOTT LABORATORIES, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 2-18-0456

Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District.

Rule 23 order filed March 15, 2019
Motion to publish allowed April 2, 2019
Opinion filed April 2, 2019

William M. Walsh, of Law Office of William M. Walsh, LLC, of Chicago, for appellant.

Jon E. Klinghoffer, Meredith S. Kirshenbaum, and Michael K. Chropowicz, of Goldberg Kohn Ltd., of Chicago, for appellee.

JUSTICE SCHOSTOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

431 Ill.Dec. 527

¶ 1 The plaintiff, Anna J. Lau, sued her former employer, the defendant, Abbott Laboratories, alleging that it discriminated against her on the basis of her sex, race, national origin, or age, and that it also retaliated against her for complaining about that discrimination. The trial court granted summary judgment in Abbott's favor, and she appealed. We affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand.


¶ 3 The following facts are drawn from the depositions and statements of fact submitted by the parties in connection with the motion for summary judgment. Except where noted, they are undisputed, at least for our present purpose—considering whether summary judgment is warranted.

¶ 4 Lau was hired by Abbott in 1999 as a senior financial analyst, a Grade 16 position. That same year, she completed an MBA. Over the years, she worked in several different areas of Abbott, including the hospital pharma, point of sales, and acute care sales and forecasting divisions. At some point before 2011, Lau became a supervisor for financial analysis, a Grade 17 position. After that, she held the position of associate manager, quotas and incentives, another Grade 17 position. When that job was outsourced, she was given a separation package, but Abbott rehired her a few weeks later. Although she was rehired as a senior financial analyst, she kept her Grade 17 level, the level she retained for the remainder of her time at Abbott. Lau was not a certified public accountant (CPA).

¶ 5 In 2011, Lau was again given the title of supervisor for financial analysis, reporting to William Covington in the Global Engineering Services (GES) operations group. At the time, GES supported seven business units: Buildings and Grounds (B&G), Utilities, Housekeeping, Maintenance, Maximo/Metrology (M/M), Quality Assurance (QA), and Engineering Operations Administration (EO).

¶ 6 In her position as supervisor for financial analysis in the GES group, Lau's duties included supervising employees and financial analysis of the B&G unit. Lau worked about 50-55 hours per week. B&G had over 70 cost centers, far more than any other unit, and the month-end financial package was almost 30 pages long. Lau also supervised Amy Harter, a Grade 14 financial analyst. Harter handled the Housekeeping unit, which took her 25-30 hours per week, and the QA unit, which took another 5 hours per week. From time to time, Lau also supervised interns.

431 Ill.Dec. 528
127 N.E.3d 1061

¶ 7 Kevin Mix, another Grade 17 supervisor, was responsible for the Utilities unit, a full-time job. He also supervised Lucas Bowden, a Grade 14 financial analyst and CPA who handled the Maintenance and M/M units. Mix reported to Valerie Christophersen, a Grade 19 manager for financial planning and analysis. Christophersen was a CPA who started at Abbott in 2001 and who began working in the GES unit in 2011.

¶ 8 This organizational structure existed through the end of 2012. Lau performed her work and received annual performance reviews from Covington indicating that she had "achieved expectations." Abbott employee performance reviews had four descriptive ratings: expectations "not achieved," "partially achieved expectations," "achieved expectations," and "exceeded expectations."

¶ 9 In January 2013, Covington accepted a different position and Christophersen took over his duties, becoming Lau's supervisor. Lau's job duties did not change from 2012 to 2013. Lau asserts that her job performance also did not change from 2012 to 2013; Abbott disputes this.

¶ 10 In May 2013, Harter took a three-month leave of absence related to the birth of her child. In August 2013, about a week after Harter returned, Christophersen told Lau that Lau would no longer supervise Harter, who would instead report directly to Christophersen. (A few months after that, Harter left GES to transfer to Abbvie, a spin-off of Abbott.) Christophersen told Lau that her supervision over Harter had been removed so that Lau could focus on her responsibilities as the financial analyst for B&G. Thereafter, Lau did not supervise anyone and instead performed only the duties of a financial analyst. Eduardo Brito, who eventually became Christophersen's supervisor, testified that a Grade 17 supervisor was expected to supervise and manage someone.

¶ 11 At some point between mid-July and late September (the exact date is disputed), Christophersen verbally gave Lau a "mid-year" review. Lau asserts that this is the first time Christophersen told Lau that she found Lau's performance deficient in certain areas. Christophersen's notes from the meeting stated that the expectations for the first six months were "not completely met" and that certain "deliverables" (assignments) were not completed, specifically items for which Harter was responsible that Harter did not complete before taking leave. Thereafter, Christophersen and Lau began meeting weekly.

¶ 12 In February 2014, Christophersen completed annual performance reviews of Lau, Harter, and Bowden. Although Lau had supervised Harter for most of 2013, Christophersen took over the review process and changed the "achieved expectations" rating that Lau would have assigned Harter to "partially achieved expectations" (PA). Christophersen also gave Lau a rating of PA. This was the first time in 14 years of employment with Abbott that Lau had received a rating of PA. Both Lau and Harter believed that their low ratings were inaccurate and unfair, and both filed appeals of their ratings with the Abbott Employee Relations (ER) office.

¶ 13 Christophersen gave Bowden an overall rating for 2013 of "exceeds expectations." Lau and Harter testified that Christophersen was "overly friendly" with Bowden, joking and flirting with him in the office and attending after-work gatherings with him. Harter also testified that Christophersen allowed Bowden to avoid doing work he did not want to do.

¶ 14 In the 2013 annual review, Christophersen gave Lau a rating of 2.0 (adequate) in all sections, rating Lau at 3.0 ("effective") in only one subsection. Christophersen

127 N.E.3d 1062
431 Ill.Dec. 529

stated that "there were some key deliverables not fully understood, causing deadlines to be missed and requiring others in the group to take over and complete tasks." This comment apparently referred to deliverables for which Harter was responsible; Christophersen wrote that Lau did not understand and manage the impact of Harter's leave of absence or update Christophersen about problems caused by Harter's absence. In her written appeal, Lau stated that Harter had started working on the deliverables but had unexpectedly gone into labor two weeks early while at work. Lau noted that she had taken on many of Harter's duties and had trained a summer intern to fill in for Harter at a level that was acceptable to the business unit involved (which Christophersen acknowledged). Christophersen also stated that Lau "was not able to meet the majority of the regular deliverables for her team." Lau disputed this, asserting that she had met all of the deadlines for most of her deliverables. Christophersen wrote that Lau put in "a significant amount of time, just to meet deadlines, leaving little or no time for analysis." Christophersen also rated Lau poorly on her supervisory skills. Christophersen testified that, as Lau was a Grade 17 supervisor, even after her supervisory duties had been removed Christophersen expected her to provide "some kind of leadership mentoring," such as sharing knowledge with the group, pitching in to help out if someone was struggling, and helping people who came to her for guidance. Christophersen admitted that she did not in fact know whether people came to Lau for guidance or mentoring, and that she was not aware of any occasion when Lau failed to share knowledge with the team or to pitch in to assist others. In terms of specific goals that had been identified, Christophersen agreed that Lau achieved 100% of them.

¶ 15 In Lau's appeal, she provided additional facts and explanations challenging Christophersen's view of her performance. For instance, Lau noted that although Christophersen criticized her abilities as a supervisor, she was given an intern to supervise during the summer of 2013, and her supervision and training of him was praised by Christophersen. Lau asserted that one deliverable that she missed was only assigned by Christophersen on a Friday when it was due the following Monday, and it involved much greater work for business units with many cost centers, such as B&G. Regarding the continuity problems caused by Harter's...

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