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Smith v. Cook County

January 26, 1996

MCCURLEY SMITH,

PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

COOK COUNTY, DOING BUSINESS AS COOK COUNTY HOSPITAL,

DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 93 C 1939--Marvin E. Aspen, Chief Judge.

Before POSNER, Chief Judge, and CUDAHY and COFFEY, Circuit Judges.

CUDAHY, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED OCTOBER 31, 1995

DECIDED JANUARY 26, 1996

Plaintiff Smith appeals a grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Cook County Hospital (the Hospital). Smith alleged that the Hospital violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. sec. 621 et seq., in terminating his employment on December 15, 1991. The district court found that, even assuming that Smith could make a prima facie case of discrimination, he had given the court "no basis to conclude that the legitimate business reason for Smith's termination proffered by Cook County Hospital is merely pretext for age discrimination." Mem. Op. at 7. See Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981). We affirm.

Factual Background

In the fall of 1991, Smith was employed by the Hospital as a Management Analyst IV within the Hospital Information Systems (HIS) department. At that time Smith was 48 years old. In this position Smith was responsible for several projects involving the implementation of computer software for the Hospital's use. His main project was to work with the clinical departments in the Hospital to develop a detailed list of services and their respective costs. This compilation was called a Charge Master and could be used with the Hospital's computerized billing program (PATCOM). The parties dispute whether Smith was performing this task adequately.

Smith lost his job as part of a reduction-in-force (RIF), which involved 154 employees. He was notified of the termination on December 2, 1991 and it became effective on December 15, 1991. The RIF was part of a general effort to reduce the Hospital's budget for 1992 pursuant to the requirements of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. At about the same time that the RIF was ordered, plans were also being made to reorganize the HIS department. These plans were the result of a study of the department by an outside computer consulting firm, the Foster Group. The problems pointed out by the Foster Group led the Hospital management to decide to hire the Foster Group on a contract basis to manage the HIS department. This agreement was entered into in December 1991.

According to the Hospital, the pending reorganization of the HIS department led to a decision to terminate, as part of the RIF, any employees who were not vital to the operation of HIS. Seven employees were terminated, five of whom, Smith included, were serving as systems managers. The other terminated employees were aged 52, 49, 48, 40, 38, and 36. Only three employees who worked on software applications were retained. One of these, Solomon Appavu, was 45 years old at the time and was the director of the HIS department. The other, Vasanta Doss, to whom Smith reported in his work on the Charge Master, was 32 years old at the time and was the project director for PATCOM. The remaining individual, Kathleen Shay, although working in the HIS department, was being paid out of the budget of the Nursing department, which did not experience any layoffs during the RIF.

Analysis

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo and affirm only 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). On appeal, Smith argues that there is an issue of material fact whether the reasons for his termination proffered by the Hospital are pretextual.

When an employee has no direct evidence of discrimination under the ADEA, the burden-shifting approach of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), is employed. Visser v. Packer Engineering Assoc., Inc., 924 F.2d 655 (7th Cir. 1991). Under this approach, the plaintiff has the burden of making out a prima facie case of discrimination. If this burden is met, the employer must articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the termination. Once the employer has offered such a reason, the plaintiff "must raise some doubt as to the genuineness of the given reasons for a termination." Anderson v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 965 F.2d 397, 403 (7th Cir. 1992).

In a case involving a RIF, the elements of the prima facie case which Smith must prove are: i) that the plaintiff was in the protected age group, ii) that he was performing according to his employer's legitimate expectations, iii) that he was terminated and iv) that others not in the protected class were treated more favorably. Robinson v. PPG Industries, Inc., 23 F.3d 1159, 1163 (7th Cir. 1994). The employees who were more favorably treated must ...


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