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Appeals Court Upholds Lower Court’s Ruling in Dismissal of Collection Agency Employee

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has upheld a lower court’s decision that a collection agency was justified for firing an employee who stole personnel documents after the employee claimed she was not being paid as much as her male co-workers.

A copy of the ruling in the case of O’Donnell v. Caine Weiner Company LLC can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff believed she was being paid less than her male peers, a discrepancy that she claimed was a result of her gender. She told the company she was going to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Coincidentally, the plaintiff, who shared a desk with her supervisor, found performance evaluations of some of her male colleagues in a drawer. She made copies of the documents and was preparing to use them in her claim. The defendant learned that she had taken and copied the reports without authorization and suspended her before deciding to terminate her employment. The plaintiff filed suit, claiming the termination was in retaliation for her complaints about her pay, alleging the defendant violated sections of the Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. The defendant sought summary judgment, which was denied by a District Court judge.

Ultimately, the case went to trial and a jury found for the defendant. The plaintiff claimed the instructions provided to the jury were confusing and improper and sought a new trial, which was denied. She subsequently appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

The plaintiff’s claims — saying the jury instructions and verdict forms administered by the District Court were legally erroneous and confusing, and that the District Court abused its discretion when it excluded her damages expert’s testimony — related to the issue of damages and not to the issue itself.

“A jury determined that Caine Weiner was not liable to O’Donnell based on her discrimination and retaliation claims,” the Seventh Circuit wrote. “But the errors she now alleges all relate to damages. The jury did not address the issue of damages because it found no liability, so no error alleged could have prejudiced her case.”

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