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May 19, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David H. Coar, United States District Judge


This is an employment discrimination and retaliation case. Plaintiff Judy Maxwell-Perkins ("Plaintiff" or "Maxwell-Perkins") alleges that her employer, the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") discriminated against her in her employment with the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Hines ("Hines VA") because of her gender in requiring her to wear a uniform and then retaliated against her for engaging in protected expression. Before this Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

I. Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.Pro. 56(c); see also Schmidt v. Ottawa Medical Center, P.C., 322 F.3d 461, 463 (7th Cir. 2003). When evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and makes all reasonable inferences in her favor. See Haywood v. Lucent Technologies, 323 F.3d 524, 529 (7th Cir. 2003).

It is the moving party's burden to demonstrate the absence of genuine issues of material fact for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Hedberg v. Indiana Bell Tel. Co., 47 F.3d 928, 931 (7th Cir. 1995). If the moving party meets this burden, the non-moving party must set forth specific facts that demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Rule 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. To successfully oppose the motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party cannot rest on the pleadings alone, but must designate specific facts in affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or admissions that establish that there is a genuine triable issue. Selan v. Kiley, 969 F.2d 560, 564 (7th Cir. 1992).

II. Background*fn1

In January 2000, Plaintiff was one of five Housekeeping Aide Section Chiefs — and the only female — in the Environmental Management Service ("EMS") at the Hines VA. The other four chiefs were male: Martin Anderson, Robert E. Dunson, Sandre D. Sparks, and James C. York. Anderson has worked in EMS at the Hines VA for nearly 27 years; Dunson has worked over 31 years; Sparks has worked over 29 years; and York has worked over 25 years.

In July 1998, Plaintiff became a Housekeeping Aide Section Chief. She had worked regularly as a housekeeping aide from June 1985 until December 27, 1990. On December 27, 1990, Plaintiff had an injury on the job, which ultimately resulted in her returning to work several months later with medical restrictions. Her injury occurred while she was working in a room where a piece of duct work from the ceiling fell. Plaintiff experienced a right shoulder rotator cuff tear, stress, and anxiety.

In 1999, Plaintiff was a section chief in the main hospital. Her duties included preparing reports, approving leave, assigning and inspecting the work of the housekeeping aides, and training. Anderson also worked in the mail hospital. Karl Williams, a male, assumed the position of Acting Chief of EMS in November 1999; the section chiefs reported to him. When Williams took over the position, he made several changes. For example, he met directly with the housekeeping staff; moved the service from the basement to an upper floor; developed a control deck and changed the check-in system for the housekeeping aides.*fn2 Williams did not have a background in environmental services and he asked Sparks and Dunson to help him by functioning as liaisons with the housekeeping staff and supervisors. Williams delegated authority to them for various projects. For example, Sparks and Dunson helped him with the flow of information, training, handling of Y2K computer issues, and scheduling matters. As a result, Sparks and Dunson worked flexible shifts, as they also attended meetings in Williams' place and acted as chief in his absence.

On January 6, 2000, Williams issued a Delegation of Authority Memorandum to EMS personnel, which restated the "approved delegation of line authority as it pertain[ed] to the day-to-day operation of EMS." Sparks and Dunson were identified in the Memorandum as the "second line of supervision" under Williams. Maxwell-Perkins acknowledges that, when Sparks and Dunson performed additional duties, they did so because Williams relied on them.

The Uniform Requirement and Detail

The Chief of Services had discretion to require EMS supervisors, including section chiefs, to wear uniforms. For many years, uniforms had been optional for housekeeping section chiefs like Plaintiff and historically, section chiefs did not wear them. After becoming Acting Chief of EMS, Williams changed the uniform practice to require section chiefs to wear uniforms when performing housekeeping duties. According to Williams, he wanted section chiefs to wear uniforms while training staff and performing housekeeping duties in the hospital/clinic areas for identification purposes and uniformity. He also decided that the uniform requirement would help boost the morale of the housekeeping aides and improve the relationship between the supervisors and their staff.

In January 2000, Williams gave initial verbal instruction that section chiefs wear uniforms when he instructed Dunson to inform Anderson and Maxwell-Perkins to begin wearing uniforms. On April 10, 2000, Williams issued a written memorandum, directing all EMS Section Chiefs to be in uniform by April 17, 2000.

Other section chiefs — Anderson, Dunson, and Sparks — wore uniforms. Plaintiff admits that she saw Anderson working in uniform during the period January through March 2000, although she also states that she observed him not in uniform on occasion. Dunson wore a uniform during this same time period when he performed housekeeping duties, and he observed Anderson and Sparks wearing uniforms as well. Plaintiff states that Dunson wore a uniform "sporadically."*fn3 Dunson and Sparks, however, did not wear uniforms when they attended management meetings or worked on other non-routine assignments. York, another section chief, was on detail to engineering in January 2000, so the uniform policy was not an issue for him.

Maxwell-Perkins never complied with the uniform requirement. She believes that Williams required her to wear a uniform because it "was just a personal thing," meaning that he did not like her as a person. She also believes that the uniform requirement goes back "some 15 years ago where this man [Williams] is still being petty because I turned him down back then, and this was his way of getting back for something so long ago."

On January 11, 2000, the day after Dunson told Maxwell-Perkins to get fitted for a uniform, at approximately 10:15 a.m., Plaintiff went to the employee health unit where she reported having an anxiety attack. The nurse recommended that Plaintiff go home and follow-up with her physician. Williams approved Maxwell-Perkins sick leave that afternoon. Sometime thereafter, Plaintiff provided a letter to Williams from her physician, William Sarantos, M.D., stating that she had anxiety over wearing a housekeeping uniform and that he advised her not to wear one. Williams received the letter for consideration.

Following the advice of Claire Hajduk in Human Resources, Maxwell-Perkins asked Williams to extend the date on which she needed to be in uniform so that she could get additional medical evaluation and counseling. Williams gave her the time she requested. Plaintiff began seeing Dr. Patras, a psychologist, who on February 5, 2000, wrote a note stating that Maxwell-Perkins had "depression with anxiety [. . . and it was] necessary for her to be reasonably accommodated."

After conferring with Personnel, Williams sent Plaintiff a letter on March 1, 2000. The letter explained that the medical documentation Maxwell-Perkins submitted was unacceptable because "it did not indicate whether or not [she was] currently being treated or the length of time the accommodation would be required." The letter also outlined the specific medical information required in a physician's statement. The letter informed Plaintiff that a determination on her request could not be made without this medical information, and that, in the interim, Plaintiff would be assigned to the Laundry as a temporary accommodation.

On March 9, 2000, Maxwell-Perkins submitted a statement from Dr. Patras. According to Defendants, the letter did not include sufficient information as stipulated in the March 1 letter. Plaintiff contends that she was never informed that Dr. Patras' statement was insufficient. As of April 17, 2000, Plaintiff believed ...

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