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Lalvani v. Illinois Human Rights Commission

July 31, 2001


Appeal from the Illinois Human Rights Commission No. 1990-CA-2502

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gordon


Petitioner Prem Lalvani appeals from an order of respondent Illinois Human Rights Commission dismissing his employment discrimination complaint against respondent Cook County Hospital (the hospital). Lalvani claimed that the hospital discriminated against him because of his race and national origin, in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act, when it failed to promote him in 1989 and again in 1990. The Commission found that there was no discrimination on the part of the hospital.

For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the order of the Commission.


Lalvani filed a charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights in May 1990 alleging discrimination by the hospital on the basis of his age (56), race (Asian) and national origin (Indian). Lalvani, who was employed by the hospital as a social worker, alleged that he was discriminated against by being denied promotion to the position of case worker 5 in 1989 and by being denied promotion to the position of director of the department of social work in 1990. Lalvani also alleged that beginning in September 1989 he was harassed in retaliation for filing a grievance over what he termed the discriminatory promotion of another employee, Janice Simms, to the position of associate director.

In November 1990 the Department of Human Rights filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission elaborating upon the allegations in Lalvani's discrimination charge. According to the amended version of that complaint, whose allegations are essentially the same as those in the initial complaint, Lalvani was hired by the hospital in October 1966 and was working as a divisional director (in the department of social work) at the time of the incidents at issue. In June 1989 the hospital failed to promote Lalvani to the position of Medical Social Worker V (MSW V). Instead it promoted a non-Asian, non-Indian employee, Janice Simms, an African-American, to that position. Prior to Simms' promotion, members of a hiring committee allegedly stated that they preferred a black whose national origin was not Indian for the MSW V position. On September 29, 1989, two days after Lalvani filed a grievance opposing Simms' promotion, the hospital allegedly began harassing Lalvani by, inter alia, reducing the number of employees who worked for him, taking away his office, and denying his vacation request. The following year, the hospital failed to promote Lalvani to the position of director of the social work department, promoting Simms to that position instead. According to the amended complaint, the hospital's earlier, discriminatory failure to promote Lalvani to the MSW V position hindered his chances of subsequently being promoted to the director position. The amended complaint thus alleges that the hospital failed to promote Lalvani because of his race and national origin, and harassed him in retaliation for opposing a discriminatory practice, in violation of sections 2-102(A) and 6-101(A) of the Illinois Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/2-101(A), 5/6-101(A) (West 1993). In its answer to the amended complaint, the hospital averred that its stated reason for not promoting Lalvani was that he was not as qualified as Simms.

A hearing on the amended complaint was begun before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on July 26, 1993, but was not completed within the three days the parties had anticipated. The ALJ presiding over that hearing subsequently left the Human Rights Commission and was not available to hear the rest of the case. As a result, a new hearing was held before a different ALJ starting on May 10, 1995, and concluding on May 18, 1995.

Lalvani testified for petitioner that he began working for Cook County Hospital on October 24, 1966, as a case worker I in the department of social work. He rose through the ranks, and by April 1973 he was a divisional director in charge of medicine and surgery services, in which position he supervised about 23 social workers. In 1976 he requested a transfer to ambulatory services and the request was granted. He remained in ambulatory services, which included the hospital's family practice clinic, an outpatient clinic, and the emergency room, from 1976 to 1988.

Lalvani testified further that his supervisor was William Love, an assistant director in the social work department. In 1987 the department, whose structure changed from time to time, consisted of six divisions under the supervision of two assistant directors, Love and Virginia Wearring. The three divisions reporting to Love at that time were pediatrics, obstetrics-gynecology, and ambulatory services, the latter being the division directed by Lalvani. In August 1987, the social work department had 71 employees, 10 of whom were Asians.

According to Lalvani, in early 1988 Lucille Lopez-Wark was brought into the social work department as an assistant director. Love subsequently left the department, and Lopez-Wark became Lalvani's supervisor. In the fall of 1988, Wearring, who by then was director of the social work department, resigned her position, and Lopez-Wark was named acting director. In November 1988 Lalvani filed a grievance about the appointment of Lopez-Wark to the assistant director and acting director positions, complaining that neither position had been posted and that qualified applicants thus were denied an opportunity to be promoted from within. Lopez-Wark responded that under Cook County policy, positions of grade 20 and above, i.e., the assistant director and director positions, did not have to be posted. Under cross-examination, Lalvani conceded that a hearing was held on this grievance and that the hearing officer denied it on the ground that there were no violations of hospital policies or procedures.

Evidence which was admitted during Lalvani's direct testimony showed that in March 1989 Lopez-Wark reassigned Lalvani and changed his duties, assigning his emergency room responsibilities to Wayne Cebrzynski but leaving Lalvani's outpatient clinic duties intact. Evaluation forms which were admitted into evidence showed that Lopez-Wark ranked Lalvani lower than had Love, who had consistently ranked him superior in nearly every category. In an evaluation dated June 9, 1989, Lopez-Wark checked "no" in answer to the question whether Lalvani possessed management potential, explaining that "[h]e does not show initiative & needs reminders to complete tasks."

Lalvani further testified on direct examination that a Social Worker V (MSW V) position became available in 1989 and that he applied for it. Lalvani indicated that a job description for the position was provided to applicants. According to that job description, one of the desirable work traits for the MSW V position was the "[a]bility to establish and maintain effective professional relationships with staff, other departments, and other institutions/facilities."

Lalvani stated that in late summer 1989 he met with the five-member interview committee to discuss his application for the MSW V position. A memo dated August 31, 1989, informed Lalvani that he had been denied promotion to that position. According to the memo, the candidate who was chosen (Simms) had "scored highest" on an "evaluation tool" used by the interview committee, and that "Ms. Lopez-Wark concurred with the committee judgment." At about the same time, Simms was named acting director of the social work department, replacing Lopez-Wark, who had resigned on August 24, 1989. In September 1989 Lalvani filed a grievance complaining that he had been harassed and "[d]enied deserving promotion to [the] Case Worker V position." The grievance was denied.

Also in mid-1989 the position of director of the social work department became available. Lalvani testified that he applied for that position after receiving a memo dated June 9, 1989, inviting applications for it. Following his interview, he received a memo in August 1989 indicating that all internal candidates had been interviewed and that a national search was to be conducted. In November 1989 Simms, who as noted had been named acting director, reassigned Lalvani to the emergency room and moved his office to an area near the emergency room.

In 1990, following the denial of Lalvani's application for the director position, he filed his charge of discrimination with the Illinois Human Rights Commission, complaining about the hospital's failure to promote him to the MSW V and director positions. The commission notified the hospital of the charge in a letter dated March 6, 1990.

In mid-March 1990 Lalvani was reassigned again, this time as divisional director of centralized services. His new position, required him, inter alia, to inspect nursing homes but did not require that he supervise anyone. Lalvani also indicated that his office was moved to the clerical staff area, and he was told to report to a Mr. Coleman, who was two or ...

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