The Fifth District Appellate Court held that the St. Clair County Circuit Court is the appropriate venue in a pharmaceutical sales representative’s lawsuit alleging sexual and age discrimination against Eli Lilly and Company.
Justice Bruce D. Stewart delivered the opinion March 26, reversing and remanding St. Clair County Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot’s order transferring the case to Jackson County based on improper venue.
“On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the circuit court of St. Clair County erred in granting the defendants’ motion to transfer this case to Jackson County based on improper venue. We agree,” Stewart wrote.
According to Shari Terada’s five-count complaint, she claims she began working as a sales representative for Eli Lilly selling diabetic methods of treatment to doctors in several southern Illinois counties, including St. Clair County, in 2000.
However, she claims she was unlawfully terminated on Dec. 15, 2011, based on her age, national origin and sexual orientation.
Terada alleges she was treated differently than the other sales reps. She explains that her “30-year-old heterosexual supervisor refused to drive with her on sales calls, refused to be with her on certain occasions and refused to cooperate, assist and promote her work as a salesperson” due to her sexual orientation.
As a result, Terada made discrimination complaints to her employer’s human resources department, which she argues is the reason she was terminated.
The plaintiff accuses Eli Lilly of retaliating against her for making the discrimination complaints. She also accuses defendant Lori Trentacosti, an independent contractor patient educator for Lilly, of defamation for “intentionally making false statements to third parties … which resulted in her termination,” the opinion explains.
The defendants in the case filed a joint motion to transfer the case, arguing that St. Clair County is improper because they are not residents of that county.
The defendants argue Eli Lilly received an anonymous complaint on its ethics hotline regarding Terada’s promotions practices. The company investigated the claims and found that the plaintiff engaged in misconduct, which they say resulted in her termination.
In Terada’s response, she asserts that St. Clair County is still proper because a majority of her work was done there. The appellate court agreed.
The Fifth District concluded that Terada successfully showed that her alleged discrimination, retaliation and whistleblowing occurred in St. Clair County, because most of her work occurred there and she was on a phone conference there during her last interview with human resources before termination.
“In summary, there is a multitude of acts that occurred in St. Clair County from which the plaintiff’s causes of action for discrimination, retaliation and retaliatory discharge arose,” Stewart wrote.
Because the defendants focused their arguments on facts related to the defense of the discrimination claims rather than the plaintiff’s forum connection, transfer is improper, the opinion states.
“Those alleged facts are the basis of the defendant’s defense as to why the plaintiff was terminated. The facts of the defendant’s defense, however, are not relevant to whether venue is improper,” Stewart wrote.
“Based on the nature of this case – an employment discrimination and retaliation case where the majority of the plaintiff’s work for defendant Lilly was performed in St. Clair County and where some of the illegal discriminatory and retaliatory conduct allegedly committed by Lilly, which forms the factual basis of the plaintiff’s complaint, occurred in St. Clair County – the defendants did not satisfy their burden of proving that the plaintiff’s selection of venue in St. Clair County was improper,” he added.
Justices Richard P. Goldenhersh and S. Gene Schwarm concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Susan M. Andorfer of Belleville represents the plaintiff.
Troy A. Bozarth of HeplerBroom in Edwardsville represents Eli Lilly.
T. Christopher Bailey, Edward S. Bott Jr. and Kathi L. Chestnut of Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale in St. Louis represent Trentacosti.
St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 12-L-458