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CRNOKRAK v. EVANGELICAL HEALTH SYS. CORP.

March 31, 1993

DIANE M. CRNOKRAK, Plaintiff,
v.
EVANGELICAL HEALTH SYSTEMS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.


MORAN


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MORAN

Plaintiff Diane Crnokrak (Crnokrak) brings this action against defendant Evangelical Health Systems corporation (EHS) alleging employment discrimination in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.. Plaintiff claims that she was demoted from a supervisory position with EHS because of her sex -- specifically because she was pregnant -- and that EHS retaliated against her after she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). EHS now moves for partial summary judgment.

 BACKGROUND

 In reviewing EHS' motion for partial summary judgment, this court assumes the truth of the facts asserted by Crnokrak. EHS is an Illinois corporation that provides health care services and sells health care products. In February 1990, Crnokrak was employed as an office manager at Midwest Respicare, an operating division of EHS located at 3521 East 106th Street in Chicago, Illinois. She had worked for Midwest Respicare or its parent company, South Chicago community Hospital, since 1983, having started as a part-time secretary and worked her way up. Crnokrak's duties as office manager included accounting, computer work and, most importantly, supervision of the drivers, equipment technicians and clerical staff. As a manager, Crnokrak was entitled to a higher salary than those in non-managerial positions. She reported directly to the general manager of the office, Brian Patterson (Patterson).

 Although different employees within the office enjoyed different levels of authority, there were few sharp divisions of labor among staff members. Employees often were "cross-trained," and despite Crnokrak's supervisory status she shared duties with several of her subordinates, including Karen Koziarski (Koziarski) and Lisa Chavez (Chavez). A total of fifteen to twenty employees worked at Midwest Respicare, and three of them, Crnokrak, Koziarski and Chavez, handled all of the order-taking for the office.

 In approximately September 1989, Crnokrak learned that she was pregnant and promptly informed Patterson. He asked her if she expected to return to work after she had her baby and she said she did -- her plan was to return to work as soon as she was physically able and she would not take an extended "maternity leave" as some mothers do to care for their newborn infants. Patterson responded that that was "good enough" for him and congratulated her. Over the next few months they occasionally discussed her plan to take a pregnancy leave. During one conversation Patterson told Crnokrak that she was allowed only two weeks' leave and said that he hoped she would "hurry up and get back" to work after the baby was born. In the same conversation he threw a key chain with a condom attached to it at Crnokrak and said, "Make sure after you have this baby you use this so that we won't have to worry about you going on maternity leave again."

 Crnokrak's last day of work before her pregnancy leave was February 16, 1990. She gave birth to a child on March 7, 1990. In April 1990 she returned to the office to pick up her paycheck, and from that point on returned every other week, on alternating Thursdays, when paychecks were issued. During her visits she spoke with many co-workers, including Patterson, none of whom indicated to her that her job was in jeopardy. Unfortunately, her pregnancy leave lasted longer than initially expected because of a post-partum bleeding condition. In late April or early May 1990 Patterson asked her to provide a note from a doctor describing her condition so that she could maintain her eligibility for EHS disability benefits. During that conversation Crnokrak indicated that she would return to work by June 1, 1990, and Patterson responded that that was "fine." On May 8, 1990. when she brought in the note from her doctor, no one told her that she was going to lose her job.

 On May 10 or 11, 1990, approximately three weeks before Crnokrak was scheduled to return, Chavez tendered her resignation and two-week notice. Chavez's job involved less responsibility than Crnokrak's, and Chavez's salary was lower than Crnokrak's. Chavez informed various coworkers that she wanted to leave because she felt underpaid, she wanted to spend less time entering data on the office computer, and she had a good job offer elsewhere. On May 17 or 18, 1990, Patterson offered Crnokrak's job to Chavez, effective May 21, 1990. Chavez accepted the offer and decided to remain with EHS.

 Crnokrak returned to the office on May 22 or 23, 1990, with a note from her doctor indicating that she could return to work on May 29, 1990. When she arrived Patterson informed her that he had given her job to Chavez. He told her that she had been "in the wrong place at the wrong time," and that had she not been out on pregnancy leave she would not have been replaced. He also indicated he had heard a rumor that she was not going to return. He then offered her Chavez's old job. Crnokrak subsequently was advised that there were no jobs then available at EHS that were comparable in salary to the one she had lost. On July 18, 1990, Crnokrak's employment with EHS was terminated because she refused to accept Chavez's old job with its concomitant reduction in pay.

 Crnokrak also alleges that EHS failed to observe official company policy when it demoted her. Under EHS policy then in effect, the company was required to take temporary measures, if possible, before filling a position held by an employee on disability leave. In consultation with the EHS human resources director, the department manager was supposed to attempt to cover the duties and responsibilities of the absent employee through reassignment of duties, hiring of temporary employees, or other means. The human resources director could authorize the replacement of the employee on leave, but only if there was a business necessity to do so. Crnokrak asserts that standard job-posting and candidate interviewing procedures were not followed when EHS decided to promote Chavez into her position, and that Patterson and the human resources director, Mark Senesac (Senesac) never discussed the possibility of hiring temporary help. When Crnokrak reported what had happened to the EHS corporate director of management planning and recruitment, David Anderson (Anderson), Anderson responded that Patterson's actions were "outrageous."

 On May 29, 1990, before she was terminated, Crnokrak filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She contends that, in retaliation for her filing the complaint, the company refused to give her severance benefits to which she was entitled. Ultimately, the EEOC found that the evidence obtained during its investigation did not establish discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. On October 24, 1991, Crnokrak filed her complaint in this court.

 DISCUSSION

 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e ...


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