Downing v. Abbott Laboratories, No. 21-2746 (7th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Downing, an African-American woman, had significant sales experience when she was hired in 2002 by Abbott. In 2009 she became one of four Regional Sales Managers. Abbott came under financial pressure in 2012 and reduced its workforce. Downing’s new director, Farmakis, included detailed criticisms in Downing’s 2013 review. Downing and another employee reported to Abbott’s Employee Relations Department that Farmakis was discriminating based on race and gender. Farmakis was coached to improve his management style. Throughout 2013, Abbott’s business faltered, resulting in layoffs and realignment of its sales teams. Abbott placed Downing on a performance improvement plan, the last step before termination. Downing then retained counsel and gave notice that she intended to file discrimination claims. Abbott cut Downing’s stock award in 2014. Downing filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC. Abbott had another reduction in force in 2015. All four Regional Sales Manager lost their jobs when that position was eliminated. Farmakis was also terminated. Abbott invited Downing to apply for the position of Regional Commercial Director. Abbott did not select Downing or Farmakis and ultimately hired an African-American man.
Downing filed suit under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of Abbot, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings, the exclusion of Downing’s expert witness, the jury instructions, the testimony of her former manager, and the sufficiency of the evidence for her disparate-impact claim.