JOYCE ALDRICH, Complainant
BEST BUY, Respondent
An administrative law judge (ALJ) for the Equal Rights Division of the Department of Workforce Development issued a decision in this matter. A timely petition for review was filed.
The commission has considered the petition and the positions of the parties, and it has reviewed the evidence submitted to the ALJ. Based on its review, the commission agrees with the decision of the ALJ, and it adopts the findings and conclusion in that decision as its own.
The decision of the administrative law judge (copy attached) is affirmed.
Dated and mailed January 12, 2007
aldrijo . rsd : 125 : 9
/s/ James T. Flynn, Chairman
/s/ David B. Falstad, Commissioner
/s/ Robert Glaser, Commissioner
Joyce Aldrich filed a charge of discrimination against the respondent with the EEOC on February 10, 2004. Aldrich alleged that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her sex and age and that she was demoted on March 27, 2003, because of her sex and age. Unable to conclude that the information obtained established a violation of the statutes, on January 14, 2005, the EEOC dismissed Aldrich's charge and informed her of her right to sue in federal or state court.
In March 2005, the ERD sent written correspondence to Aldrich inquiring if she would like the ERD to do an independent investigation of her complaint. Aldrich responded that she would like the ERD to do an independent investigation.
On April 14, 2005, however, Aldrich commenced a federal court action in the Western District of Wisconsin alleging that the respondent discriminated against her in her terms and conditions of employment based on her sex in violation of Title VII, and discriminated against her because of her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). She asserted in her complaint that venue in the Western District of Wisconsin was appropriate because the conduct giving rise to her claim arose in this District. Aldrich alleged, among other things, that the respondent discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and age when it demoted her in March 2003. Aldrich also alleged that she was constructively discharged from her employment in January 2004. On August 15, 2005, the respondent moved for summary judgment.
On September 21, 2005, Judge John C. Shabaz issued a memorandum and order granting the respondent's motion for summary judgment. Judge Shabaz dismissed Aldrich's demotion claim as time barred. He dismissed her constructive discharge claim because she had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies on this claim and because the time for doing so had expired. Judge Shabaz issued an order stating "that judgment be entered in favor of defendant [Best Buy] against plaintiff [Aldrich] DISMISSING her complaint and all claims contained therein with prejudice and costs."
On June 6, 2006, the ERD issued an initial determination concluding that there was probable cause to believe the respondent discriminated against Aldrich in her terms and conditions of employment because of her sex and age. Accordingly, the ERD certified the matter for a hearing on the merits.
On June 19, 2006, the respondent filed a motion with the ERD to dismiss Aldrich's ERD claims. The respondent argued that Aldrich's ERD claims should be dismissed on the grounds of claim preclusion because she has already fully and finally litigated these claims in her federal court action.
The ALJ agreed and dismissed Aldrich's complaint. Aldrich asserts the ALJ erroneously interpreted the doctrine of claim preclusion. She asserts that a correct interpretation of claim preclusion compels a different result than that rendered and that the ALJ's granting of the respondent's motion to dismiss was erroneous. The commission concludes that the ALJ correctly interpreted the doctrine of claim preclusion and correctly granted the respondent's motion to dismiss Aldrich's ERD complaint under this doctrine.
On the matter of claim preclusion, in Kruckenberg v. Harvey, 2005 WI 43, 279 Wis. 2d 520, 694 N.W.2d 879, the court stated:
The doctrine of claim preclusion provides that a final judgment on the merits in one action bars parties from relitigating any claim that arises out of the same relevant facts, transactions, or occurrences. (footnote omitted) When the doctrine of claim preclusion is applied, a final judgment on the merits will ordinarily bar all matters " 'which were litigated or which might have been litigated in the former proceedings.' " (footnote omitted)
. . .
In Wisconsin, the doctrine of claim preclusion has three elements:
"(1) identity between the parties or their privies in the prior and present suits;
(2) prior litigation resulted in a final judgment on the merits by a court with jurisdiction; and
(3) identity of the causes of action in the two suits." (footnote omitted)
2005 WI 43, �s 19, 21.
Despite Aldrich's claim to the contrary, all of the elements required for application of the doctrine of claim preclusion on Aldrich's ERD claims of sex and age discrimination have been met. First, there is an identity between the parties as Aldrich and the respondent, Best Buy, were the parties in the prior federal court action and Aldrich and Best Buy are the parties in the present ERD case.
Second, Aldrich's federal court litigation resulted in a final judgment on the merits by a court with jurisdiction. First, the Western District Court of Wisconsin was a court with jurisdiction because Aldrich asserted that the conduct giving rise to her claim arose in this District and because she filed her complaint within 90 days of receipt of the EEOC's Notice of Right to Sue. Second, Judge Shabaz entered a memorandum and order granting Best Buy's summary judgment motion, stating "that judgment be entered in favor of defendant [Best Buy] against plaintiff [Aldrich] DISMISSING her complaint and all claims contained therein with prejudice and costs." A summary judgment in favor of the defendant is sufficient to meet the requirement of a conclusive and final judgment. Landess v. Schmidt, 115 Wis. 2d 186, 191, 340 N.W.2d 213 (1983), citing DePratt v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Co., 113 Wis. 2d 306, 310-311, 334 N.W.2d 883 (1985). Aldrich asserts, however, that Judge Shabaz's dismissal of her sex and age discrimination claims based on the respondent's summary judgment motion did not reach the merits of those claims because they were dismissed based on a statute of limitations issue. However, as noted by the respondent, "[a] decision by a federal court that a statute of limitations or an administrative deadline bars an action is a decision on the merits for purposes of claim preclusion." Kratville v. Runyon, 90 F.3d 195, 198, (7th Cir. 1996).
Third, there is an identity of the causes of action in Aldrich's federal and ERD cases. Aldrich alleged in her federal court action that the respondent discriminated against her in her terms and conditions of employment based on her sex and age. Aldrich does not dispute that this is her same claim before the ERD. Nor does she dispute that she is using the same alleged facts asserted in her federal court action to support her ERD claims.
What Aldrich does assert, however, is that claim preclusion is not applicable in this case because there is not an identity of the causes of action because federal judgments do not have claim preclusive effect on WFEA claims, as the claims could not have been brought in federal court. Aldrich cites Taylor v. St. Michael Hospital (LIRC, 05/21/01), as support. However, as the commission made clear in Rogers v. Wisconsin Knife Works (LIRC, 12/22/05), the Taylor decision is in error to the extent that it holds that federal judgments on claims that could generally be brought under both state and federal anti-discrimination statutes do not have claim preclusive effect on WFEA claims. Aldrich could have brought her sex and age discrimination claims under either the federal anti-discrimination statutes or the WFEA but chose to pursue her claims under federal anti-discrimination statutes, resulting in a final judgment on the merits on such claims.
Further, Aldrich has asserted that if claim preclusion is applicable, policy reasons exist to allow an exception to the doctrine. Noting that pursuant to the Restatement (Second) of Judgments, Section 26(1), six different exceptions to the general rule of claim preclusion exist as a possible basis for a second action by the plaintiff against a defendant, Aldrich asserts that the exceptions under 26(1)(c) and 26(1)(d) are applicable. Those exceptions state as follows:
(c) The plaintiff was unable to rely on a certain theory of the case or to seek a certain remedy or form of relief in the first action because of the limitations on the subject matter jurisdiction of the courts or restrictions on their authority to entertain multiple theories or demands for multiple remedies or forms of relief in a single action, and the plaintiff desires in the second action to rely on that theory or to seek that remedy or form of relief; or
(d) The judgment in the first action was plainly inconsistent with the fair and equitable implementation of a statutory or constitutional scheme, or it is the sense of the scheme that the plaintiff should be permitted to split his claim...
Aldrich's asserted basis for the applicability of § 26(1)(c) is that she could not assert her WFEA claims in the federal case as the Equal Rights Division has exclusive jurisdiction over these claims. Aldrich's assertion fails. Aldrich's claim is that she was discriminated against on the basis of her sex and age and her claims of alleged sex and age discrimination could have been brought under either the federal anti-discrimination statutes or the WFEA.
Finally, Aldrich asserts that the exception under § 26(1)(d) is applicable because she believes Judge Shabaz's determination that the statute of limitations barred her claims is inconsistent with what the determination would be on this issue under the WFEA. This assertion also fails. As noted by the respondent, citing Krison v. Nehls, 767 F.2d 344 (7th Cir. 1985), where the plaintiff requested an exception to claim preclusion because, in his view, the court's "decisions underlying the judgment were incorrect", the Seventh Circuit rejected his request stating, "[e]ven if that were so, it would not alter the preclusive effect of the judgment under Wisconsin law." Id. at 350. The Seventh Circuit held that the plaintiff's decision to pursue his claim to a final judgment on the merits in one forum precluded him from maintaining his claim in a different forum. Id. The Seventh Circuit did not create an exception because Krison felt the law may be interpreted differently in another forum. The commission reached the same conclusion in Reed v. Great Lakes Company Inc. (LIRC, 11/21/05). In Reed, the complainant asserted that the ALJ's dismissal of his complaint under the doctrines of claim and issue preclusion should be reversed because he believed the federal district court had misapplied or misconstrued some of the evidence. The commission rejected this assertion stating, "The complainant had an opportunity to litigate his complaint in federal district court and to obtain a review of the district court's decision by the court of appeals. The fact that he disagrees with the federal court decisions issued in his case does not entitle him to relitigate the same claims before the Equal Rights Division."
Accordingly, the commission has affirmed the administrative law judge's dismissal of Aldrich's complaint.
Attorney Peter M. Reinhardt
Attorney Shalanda D. Ballard
Appealed to Circuit Court. Reversed, June 17, 2007. Appealed to the Court of Appeals. Circuit Court decision affirmed, Joyce Aldrich v. LIRC, 2008 WI App 63, 310 Wis.2d 796, 751 N.W.2d 866. LIRC decision on remand, May 21, 2009.
[ Search ER Decisions ] - [ ER Decision Digest ] - [ ER Legal Resources ] - [ LIRC Home Page ]