LINDSEY v. WALGREEN CO. (August 11, 2010)

Katie Lindsey had worked as a Walgreens pharmacist for only a few years when district supervisor Connie Jenkins promoted her to manager. Her management career did not go well or last long. Lindsey admitted to multiple violations of company policy and was demoted to staff pharmacist and transferred to another store. Jenkins warned her that additional violations could result in her discharge. Lindsey claims that she was the target of age-related disparagement at her new assignment, including from her direct supervisor. Shortly after her transfer, Lindsey filled a prescription although she was aware of a potentially serious interaction the drug could have with another medication that the customer was taking. She had to manually override the pharmacy's warning system in order to dispense the drug. Her supervisor reported the incident to Jenkins, who independently reviewed the prescription history, the customer's medical history, and the threat of interaction. Jenkins concluded that Lindsey violated company policy and terminated her employment. Lindsey brought suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). Judge Leinenweber (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to Walgreens. Lindsey appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Bauer, Ripple, and Kanne affirmed. Lindsey relies principally on the "cat’s paw" theory of recovery, under which the bias of another employee can be attributed to an unbiased decision maker. The Court noted that the record contained evidence of inappropriate age-related remarks by her supervisor but did not include evidence that Jenkins relied on the supervisor or was presented with false or incomplete information. The undisputed evidence is that Jenkins conducted an independent investigation and did not rely solely on information conveyed by the supervisor. Without such evidence, the Court stated that a cat's paw theory could not survive. The Court added that even with such evidence, Lindsey's claim would fail. ADEA requires evidence that age was a determinative factor, not just a motivating factor. Lindsey cannot meet that threshold, given the undisputed evidence that Jenkins fired Lindsey because of her violation of company policy.