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Baines v. Walgreen Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 12, 2017

Regina Gwynn Baines, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Walgreen Co., Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued March 28, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 15-CV-258 - Nancy Joseph, Magistrate Judge.

          Before Flaum, Kanne, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          Hamilton, Circuit Judge.

         This appeal provides an example of circumstantial evidence that allows a reasonable inference that an employer acted with unlawful intent. Plaintiff Regina Baines alleges that when her former employer Walgreens refused to rehire her in 2014, it intentionally retaliated against her for complaining about race discrimination several years earlier. Baines sued Walgreens for retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court granted summary judgment for Walgreens. The court said it found no evidence linking Baines' protected activity (filing EEOC charges) and Walgreens' adverse employment actions (failing to rehire her).

         We reverse. While Baines did not offer direct evidence of a causal link, she offered sufficient circumstantial evidence to satisfy the summary judgment standard. She offered evidence that the manager who handled her earlier EEOC charges intervened in the 2014 decision not to rehire her, and that she did so in ways that deviated significantly from Walgreens' standard hiring procedures. Walgreens offers no explanation for this unusual behavior. It insists instead on its own version of events. That approach might work in a trial, but it cannot sustain summary judgment. Other circumstantial evidence includes missing records of Baines' application and her interview scores, a decision to hire instead someone less qualified, and dishonest answers from Walgreens decision-makers when asked to explain their decisions. If a jury believes Baines' evidence, it could reasonably find that Walgreens unlawfully retaliated against her.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         A. Employment and EEOC Charges in 2007-2009

         On appeal from a grant of summary judgment, we accept as true the evidence offered by the non-moving party and we draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009). In February 2005, Regina Baines began working as a pharmacy technician at a Walgreens store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She worked there until approximately October 2008, when she received authorization to transfer to a Walgreens location in Atlanta, Georgia. When she arrived in Atlanta, however, there was "no work."

         Baines filed her first EEOC charge against Walgreens in July 2007 when she was working at a Milwaukee store. Baines is black, and she alleged that Walgreens discriminated against her because of her race. After she filed the charge, several Walgreens managers met with her to discuss the matter. The meeting was tense. Baines testified in her deposition that a pharmacy supervisor said that "what I had done was bigger than me, and that I didn't know what I had done." The supervisor said that she had "messed up" and that "this is much bigger" than Baines realized.

         One manager at the meeting was Michelle Birch, the district manager responsible for the Milwaukee store where Baines worked. Birch supervised approximately twenty or thirty stores for the company, and she generally focused on retail operations, not pharmacy management. During the meeting, Birch asked Baines what she wanted. Baines said she wanted to be promoted to "senior technician" and transferred to a different store in Milwaukee. Baines received neither, and in October 2007 she filed a second EEOC charge, this time alleging retaliation.

         Baines later sought and received approval to transfer to a Walgreens location in Atlanta, Georgia. When she arrived and found no work, though, Baines filed her third EEOC charge in January 2009, this time with the EEOC in Georgia. She alleged that Walgreens was retaliating against her because of her previous EEOC filings. The record does not explain how any of these EEOC charges were ultimately resolved. Baines later moved back to Wisconsin.

         B. Failure to Rehire in 2014

         In July 2014, Baines applied for a pharmacy technician position with Walgreens in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. The Wau-watosa store was looking for pharmacy technicians, and pharmacy supervisor Hannah Ruehs managed the hiring process. Ruehs was generally permitted to hire candidates for these jobs at her sole discretion.

         Baines called and discussed the pharmacy technician opening with Ruehs by telephone on July 23, 2014. Ruehs said that she would review Baines' application and contact her if she had done sufficiently well on her assessment test. Ruehs called her back, and Baines interviewed with Ruehs and another Walgreens employee the next day. The day after that, ...


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