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SMITH v. COOK CTY.

October 25, 1994

McCURLEY SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
COOK COUNTY, d/b/a COOK COUNTY HOSPITAL, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARVIN E. ASPEN

 MARVIN E. ASPEN, District Judge:

 Plaintiff McCurley Smith brings this one-count complaint alleging violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. Presently before the court is defendant Cook County's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Cook County's motion is granted.

 I. Background1

 On April 26, 1982, plaintiff McCurley Smith was hired by defendant Cook County Hospital to serve as a supervisor in the General Accounting department, which is a division of Financial Services. Eighteen months later, he was transferred to the Management Systems department to do special projects within that department. In 1985, Smith was again transferred, this time to the Hospital Information Systems ("HIS") department, also a division of Financial Services. In the HIS department, Smith was not responsible for a particular computer software application. Instead, Smith was assigned projects on an ad hoc basis. The primary project for which Smith was responsible was developing a "Charge Master" for the PATCOM system, the software system with financial applications. *fn2" For reasons disputed by the parties, the Charge Master project was not completed by December, 1991, when Smith was laid off. Cook County Hospital ultimately retained a consulting firm, Unison Consulting Group, Inc., to develop the Charge Master.

 In July, 1991, Lacy Thomas, the Chief Financial Officer of Cook County Hospital, began to investigate the reason for repeated problems with the hospital's computer systems. Specifically, he retained an outside consultant, The Foster Group, to help him identify the source of the operational problems. Following a one and one-half month investigation, in August and September, 1991, The Foster Group concluded that one of the problems in the HIS department was the "general lack of data processing knowledge and technical experience on the part of the HIS project managers." As a result, after consulting with various personnel, Thomas recommended that the hospital hire a facilities management team to run the HIS department. The Director of Cook County Hospital, Ruth Rothstein, authorized Thomas to solicit a contract proposal from The Foster Group. The Foster Group submitted its proposal on October 9, 1991, and entered into a contract with the hospital approximately two months later.

 During this same period, the Cook County administration announced that the 1992 budget for the hospital would have to be reduced, and that the hospital should cut as many employees as possible from its staff. Rothstein told Thomas to consider any HIS employee not vital to the department for layoff, particularly in light of the decision to hire an outside facilities management team to oversee much of the HIS department. Accordingly, Thomas retained only those HIS employees who Thomas believed had a particular expertise in one or more of the software applications, or experience with maintaining the computer hardware equipment, i.e., technically skilled employees. Based upon these criteria, only two HIS employees were retained to serve a support function in the 1992 budget: Solomon Appavu, who had served as director of HIS before the involvement of The Foster Group, and Vansanta Doss, who had extensive knowledge of all of PATCOM's applications. *fn3" The seven remaining HIS employees, including Smith, were informed on December 2, 1991, that they were being laid off, effective December 15, 1991. Smith was 48 years old at the time. *fn4"

 II. Summary Judgment Standard

 Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and . . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). This standard places the initial burden on the moving party to identify "those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986) (quoting Rule 56(c)). Once the moving party has done this, the non-moving party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must read all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986); Griffin v. Thomas, 929 F.2d 1210, 1212 (7th Cir. 1991).

 III. Discussion

 Smith alleges that Cook County Hospital violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., when it laid him off in December, 1991. In the present motion, the parties have focused on the familiar burden shifting standard for discrimination cases originally set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973). Under McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff must first make out a prima facie case of discrimination. In Oxman v. WLS-TV, 846 F.2d 448 (7th Cir. 1988), the Seventh Circuit identified a four-prong test for claims of age discrimination in reduction-in-force ("RIF") cases. To establish a prima facie case, the plaintiff must demonstrate

 
that he was in the protected age group, that he was performing according to his employer's legitimate expectations, that he was terminated, and that others not in the protected class were treated more favorably.

 Id. at 455. If the plaintiff is successful in this endeavor, the defendant must then articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating the employee. Id. at 453. Once the defendant satisfies this burden of production, the ball returns to the plaintiff's court; he must then prove that the reasons proffered by the defendant are pretextural. The plaintiff can do so "by showing either that a discriminatory reason more likely than not motivated the employer or that the employer's proffered explanation is incredible." Id. (citation omitted).

 As noted above, the parties have spent considerable effort debating whether Smith can make out a prima facie case, and particularly, whether he was performing to the hospital's legitimate expectations. Much of this debate focuses on the Charge Master project, and Smith's inability to complete it prior to his termination. We need not resolve whether Smith can establish a prima facie case, however, ...


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