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Dean v. Eli Lilly and Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

August 13, 2019




         This cause is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 58], filed on September 7, 2018. Plaintiff Christina Dean brings this action against her former employer, Defendant Eli Lilly and Company (“Lilly”), alleging that she was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her military service and terminated in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”). For the reasons detailed below, we GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Factual Background

         I. Plaintiff's Military Service and Employment History

         Ms. Dean has served in the National Guard of the United States almost continuously since August 1996. She began working for Lilly in November 1999 as a contract employee and was hired as a full-time Lilly employee one year later, in November 2000, as a Study Drug Coordinator. In 2004, Ms. Dean became a Project Management Associate with Elanco Animal Health, then a division of Lilly. In March 2007, she joined Lilly's Consumer Product Quality Assurance (“CPQA”) group as a Quality Assurance Associate. Although her title was later changed to Associate Consultant Quality Assurance (“Quality Associate”), her duties did not change, and she remained in this same role throughout her employment with Lilly.

         While she worked as a Lilly employee, Ms. Dean had regular National Guard obligations on the weekends and occasionally on the weekdays. Additionally, Ms. Dean took two extended leaves of absence from Lilly for overseas deployments, the first from November 2008 to October 2010 and the second from April 2011 to February 2014. Ms. Dean testified that she had no complaints with the manner in which Lilly handled her leaves of absence. Upon her return from her second overseas deployment in February 2014, Ms. Dean resumed her role with Lilly as a Quality Associate.

         II. Comments from Plaintiff's Coworkers and Supervisors Regarding Military Service Between Her First and Second Deployments

         According to Ms. Dean, in the sixth-month period between her first and second deployments, a number of her coworkers and supervisors made disparaging comments about her military service. In October 2010, approximately two months after Ms. Dean returned from her first overseas deployment, one of her supervisors at the time, Eric Ballman, indicated on a performance management form that she would undergo training as a “new employee” despite the fact that, apart from her deployment, she had been working for Lilly at that point for approximately ten years. When Ms. Dean complained about the wording on the form, the reference to her being a new employee was removed.

         Around this same time, another supervisor, Andy Minor, overheard Ms. Dean on a telephone call regarding an upcoming military drill weekend she was scheduled to attend. When she hung up the telephone, Mr. Minor inquired, “Are you still doing that stuff?” Dean Dep. at 131. After Ms. Dean confirmed that he was referencing her military commitments, she answered in the affirmative. Mr. Minor responded, “Oh, that's too bad because, you know, I was just about to consider you for a lead position.” Id. Ms. Dean told Mr. Minor that her military career had never affected her job performance at Lilly and that his comment was inappropriate. Id. It is not clear whether any lead positions were open at that time, but Ms. Dean testified that she was not interested in a lead position and it is undisputed that she never applied for one. Id. at 138-39.

         On another occasion, after a coworker reportedly saw Ms. Dean crying in the bathroom about her divorce proceedings, Mr. Ballman approached Ms. Dean and indicated that her coworker was concerned that she was suicidal. He then stated, “I know the military's stressful. I know you are going through a lot with the military.” Dean Dep. at 122. Mr. Ballman apparently reported this incident to Mr. Minor who, in turn, reported to HR that Ms. Dean was suicidal because of the military and also told Ms. Dean's coworkers to pray for her because she had tried to commit suicide. The HR representative then contacted Ms. Dean and recounted her daughter's negative experience in the military, stating that she knew “how bad they treat women in the military” and that she was “really sorry” for Ms. Dean. Id. at 142.

         According to Ms. Dean, a number of other coworkers made anti-military comments to her during the six months between her first and second deployments. One coworker in particular, Karen Johnson, would ask Ms. Dean questions about the military and would then roll her eyes or start talking with other coworkers when Ms. Dean started to answer the questions. Dean Dep. at 144.

         Ms. Dean also testified that, although she could have taken military leave to fulfill her National Guard training commitments, she eventually stopped doing so because she received “feedback that, well, you shouldn't get military leave and vacation.” Id. at 66, 71.

         At some point following these incidents but before she requested her second leave of absence in April 2011, Ms. Dean reported to Lilly's Human Resources (“HR”) department “on the way [she] had [been] treated in [her] short return back and some of the negative comments made to [her] about the military ….” Dean Dep. at 120. She believed that because of her military service she had been “presented in a negative light.” Id. Nothing was done following her complaints. Id. at 67.

         In April 2011, Ms. Dean requested a leave of absence to begin on April 26, 2011 so that she could return to duty, despite having returned from her first deployment only six months before. Ms. Dean said she requested that leave because of the manner in which she was treated at Lilly regarding her military service. Id. at 120-21.

         III. Comments from Plaintiff's Supervisor Following Second Deployment

         In February 2014, after she had completed her second overseas deployment, Ms. Dean returned to her position with Lilly as a Quality Associate. Ms. Dean was uncertain about returning to work at Lilly because she had been told that other Lilly employees, particularly Mr. Ballman and Raegan McGraw, had continually made negative comments about her military service while she was deployed. Upon her return, Ms. Dean was supervised by Ms. McGraw.

         During Ms. Dean's one-day training period following her second deployment, Ms. McGraw entered the room on several occasions and each time would either state that she was going to join the military or would made negative comments about the military or about Ms. Dean's military service. Dean Dep. at 272. Every time Ms. Dean's military service was mentioned, Ms. McGraw would look at anyone who was nearby and roll her eyes or throw her head back and laugh. Dean Dep. at 253-54, 272. Ms. Dean felt that Ms. McGraw's behavior was “a taunting kind of thing in front of other people.” Id. at 253-54.

         On one occasion shortly after she returned from her second deployment, Ms. McGraw came into Ms. Dean's office and began to talk about the military, stating that she was thinking about joining and inquiring how Ms. Dean had enlisted and how she had become an officer. Ms. Dean responded that Ms. McGraw was over the age limit to join the military and that her job was not one that was needed by the military at that time. Ms. McGraw stated that she was going to try to join anyway so that she could receive the benefits. When Ms. Dean told her that she would have to become an American citizen to do that, Ms. McGraw stated that she was “just going to stay a Canadian citizen” and would “just try to get unemployment.” Dean Dep. at 250-52. According to Ms. Dean, Ms. McGraw's behavior during this exchange was “passive-aggressive” and “catty.” Id. at 252-53. On another occasion, Ms. McGraw asked Ms. Dean why she joined the military, and then said, “I'm Canadian, and we don't agree with a lot of that.” Id. at 273.

         Finally, in early 2015, Ms. McGraw instructed Ms. Dean to remove “military related items” from her performance review. Lilly's performance review forms include a section where employees can list outside experience or education either as goals or achievements. In that section, Ms. Dean “always put a blurb … about how [her] military training related to [her] job at Lilly.” Dean Dep. at 201. She believed the information she included regarding her military service “was important to [her] work at Lilly” because it “was related to leadership, development, developing others, mentoring others, or being mentored” and “also involved writing standardized operating procedures.” Id. at 202-04. According to Ms. Dean, she included on her performance review any military experience “that she could transfer over into [her] Lilly experience or [her] Lilly growth, ” such as “how [she] related to different cultures [and her] leadership skills.” Id. at 269. However, Ms. McGraw instructed Ms. Dean to remove these military references ...

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