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Matthews v. Wisconsin Energy Corp.

534 F.3d 547 (2008)

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Matthews v. Wisconsin Energy Corp.

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

534 F.3d 547 (2008)

Facts

Bernadine Matthews (plaintiff) worked for Wisconsin Energy Corp. (Wisconsin Energy) (defendant) beginning in 1980. In 1996, Matthews took a leave of absence after a disgruntled customer injured her, and she never returned to the office. Matthews was then involved in several lawsuits against Wisconsin Energy, including a discrimination claim that settled, a redlining class action, and a pension dispute. In 1999 and 2003, Matthews and Wisconsin Energy entered separation agreements that required Wisconsin Energy to provide employment references for Matthews. Wisconsin Energy’s reference policy was to provide only employment dates, final salary, and final job title. At least once, Wisconsin Energy informed a potential employer that Matthews never worked there, but the error occurred because of record-maintenance issues, and Wisconsin Energy corrected the mistake. In 2005, Matthews hired a consultant, Howard Schwartz, to help her seek employment through a program that allows disabled people to work while continuing to receive social-security benefits. Schwartz requested information from Wisconsin Energy regarding Matthews’s work history and performance and eventually received a call from Lynne English, Wisconsin Energy’s in-house attorney. Schwartz and English provided different accounts of their phone call. According to Schwartz, English asked questions implying that she thought Matthews was gaming the social-security system, and English said the reference request was a sensitive issue because Matthews was involved in at least one legal action against Wisconsin Energy. English claimed that she was genuinely curious about the social-security program, and she told Schwartz she could not provide information over the phone because Wisconsin Energy was in litigation with Matthews regarding how it responds to reference requests. English sent Matthews’s reference information in writing a few days later. Matthews also claimed that Midwest Airlines did not select her for a management position, in part because Wisconsin Energy provided a poor reference. However, Matthews presented no admissible evidence that Midwest Airlines and Wisconsin Energy discussed Matthews’s employment. Matthews sued Wisconsin Energy, claiming its reference behavior was unlawful retaliation and violated the parties’ separation agreement. The district court dismissed Matthews’s claims. Matthews appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Flaum, J.)

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