Sloan v. Am. Brain Tumor Ass'n, 18-1103

Citation901 F.3d 891
Decision Date27 August 2018
Docket NumberNo. 18-1103,18-1103
Parties Jennifer SLOAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. AMERICAN BRAIN TUMOR ASSOCIATION, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)

901 F.3d 891

Jennifer SLOAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,

No. 18-1103

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

Argued May 15, 2018
Decided August 27, 2018

Abigail R. Durkin, John P. Madden, Attorneys, O'Malley & Madden, P.C., Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Michael L. Resis, Attorney, SmithAmundsen, LLC, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before Easterbrook, Sykes, and Barrett, Circuit Judges.

Sykes, Circuit Judge.

901 F.3d 893

Jennifer Sloan sued her former employer, the American Brain Tumor Association ("the Association"), for unlawful retaliation in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA" or "the Act"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. The district judge dismissed the complaint and we affirm. Sloan’s allegations, even generously construed, do not remotely support a claim that the Association retaliated against her for asserting rights protected by the Act.

I. Background

This case comes to us from a dismissal on the pleadings, see FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), so we recount the facts as alleged in the complaint and the documents described in it, giving Sloan the benefit of all reasonable inferences in her favor, Deppe v. NCAA , 893 F.3d 498, 499 (7th Cir.2018).

Sloan began working for the American Brain Tumor Association in September 2014. She had early success, receiving multiple merit raises and strong performance reviews. In February 2016 she was promoted to the position of Director of Corporate and Community Engagement, making her an exempt salaried employee under the FLSA. 29 U.S.C. § 213.

Soon after her promotion, Sloan’s relationship with Elizabeth Wilson, the president and CEO of the Association, began to deteriorate. Wilson became confrontational, unfairly criticized Sloan, and antagonized her in front of colleagues. The simmering friction boiled over on February 23, 2017, when Wilson arranged a meeting with Sloan to "air her own personal grievances." One such grievance was that Sloan "bring[s] [her] personal problems to work." Sloan told Wilson that she was "uncomfortable being attacked this way." She also complained that the Association did not have a human-resources department to help resolve the conflict. Wilson sent Sloan home for the day.

The next morning Wilson informed Sloan that she was suspended for six days without pay. Sloan vehemently objected. She again commented on the lack of a human-resources department and stated, "I don’t even know if you can do this." Wilson replied: "I’m the President [and] CEO[;] I can do whatever I want."

On Saturday, February 25, Sloan emailed four members of the Association’s Board of Directors. The first paragraph of her email stated: "I’m not sure if you’re aware of the disciplinary action Elizabeth [Wilson] threatened against me yesterday[,] but it is my understanding that it is against federal law. I am reaching out to you in hopes that the Board will investigate this further." In the second paragraph, Sloan said she was "taking a huge risk" by contacting the Board directly but that it was necessary in "the absence of any HR." The final two paragraphs attacked Wilson’s leadership of the Association.

Sloan did not receive an immediate response from the Board. In the meantime, she hired Attorney John Madden, and on March 2, 2017, he emailed a four-page letter to the Board, explaining that he had "been retained by Ms. Jennifer Sloan for advice and representation regarding recent employment actions taken against her in the workplace and potential legal claims arising from her employment."1 He reiterated Sloan’s "objections to the actions of

901 F.3d 894

Ms. Wilson, her belief in the illegal nature of the actions and discipline, and [her concern] about the lack of Human Resource personnel with whom she could address Ms. Wilson’s conduct." He also warned that if Wilson repeated her false comments about Sloan to others, he "would consider such repetition by Ms. Wilson to be actionable defamation." The letter concluded with a request to "preserve the professional reputation of Ms. Sloan" by "facilitat[ing] an exit for her that is in keeping with her status as a Director of Corporate & Community Engagement."

The following day a Board member forwarded the letter to Wilson, who immediately sent an email to the entire staff stating: "Effective immediately, Jennifer Sloan is no longer employed by the [Association]."

Sloan responded with this lawsuit alleging that she was fired in violation of the FLSA’s antiretaliation provision, which makes it unlawful to discharge an employee "because such employee has filed any complaint ... under or related to [the FLSA]." 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3). The Association moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. The judge granted the motion, holding that...

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