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PISKOREK v. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES

May 21, 2003

EILEEN M. PISKOREK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Defendant Illinois Department of Human Services ("IDHS") has moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff Eileen Piskorek's claims. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the 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.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of triable fact exists only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Pugh v. City of Attica, 259 F.3d 619, 625 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)).

The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The party that bears the burden of proof on a particular issue, however, may not rest on its pleadings but must affirmatively demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553. A mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position is insufficient. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. at 2512. A party will be successful in opposing summary judgment only if it presents "definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion." EEOC v. Roebuck & Co., 233 F.3d 432, 437 (7th Cir. 2000).

The Court "considers the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor." Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 E.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002). The Court accepts the non-moving party's version of any disputed facts but only if it is supported by relevant, admissible evidence. Bombard v. Fort Wayne Newspapers, Inc., 92 F.3d 560, 562 (7th Cir. 1996).

BACKGROUND

Ellen Piskorek, who is Caucasian, is a registered nurse with the IDHS. (See R. 28-1, Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A) Resp., ¶ 3.) Piskorek joined the IDHS in 1986, and since October 1998, she has worked at the Tinley Park Mental Health Center ("Tinley Park"). (Id.) Piskorek's supervisor at Tinley Park was Maxine Collins, who is African-American. (Id., ¶ 5.)

In December 1998, Piskorek requested and was granted a medical leave of absence. (See R. 28-1, Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A) Resp., ¶ 6.) She returned to work for two weeks in January 1999 before she requested and was granted another medical leave of absence. (Id., ¶ 7.) Piskorek returned to work from this second medical leave of absence in February 2000. (Id., ¶ 9.) On March 28, 2000, Piskorek was placed on administrative paid leave and informed that she would have to obtain medical clearance before returning to work. (Id., ¶¶ 11, 13.)

The parties dispute who was involved in the decision to place Piskorek on medical leave effective March 28, 2000. Piskorek contends that Collins was the supervisor who said that she wanted Piskorek to leave, but she admits that Collins lacked the authority to place her on administrative or medical leave. (See R. 28-1, Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A) Resp., ¶¶ 11, 43-44.) IDHS suggests that numerous individuals were involved in this decision, including Katie Jackson-Tiberi, the Director of Nursing; Patricia Dal Ponte, the Associate Director of Nursing; Janice Thomas, the Hospital Administrator; Mike Ally, the Manager of Labor Relations; and Brenda Hampton, the Facility Director/Network Manager. (See R. 23-1, Def.'s L.R. 56.1(a) Statement, ¶ 11.) Except for Hampton, all of these administrators are Caucasian. (See R. 28-1, Pl's L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A) Resp., ¶ 12.)

Ally arranged for Dr. David Hartman to examine Piskorek on April 3, 2000 to evaluate her fitness to return to work. (See R. 28-1, Pl's L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A) Resp., ¶ 13.) Hartman reported that Piskorek was "unable to return to work in any effective capacity as a Registered Nurse, or within the mental health system generally." (Id., ¶ 14. See also R. 23-1, Def.'s L.R. 56.1(a) Statement, Ex. H.) Following Hartman's examination, IDHS again placed Piskorek on medical leave, this time through June 17, 2000. (Id., ¶ 16.)

As this medical leave period was due to expire, Piskorek contacted Ally, requesting permission to return to work. (See R. 28-1, Pl's L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A) Resp., ¶ 17.) Ally arranged for Hartman to conduct a second examination on August 15, 2000. (Id. ¶ 18.) Hartman reported that Piskorek was not fit to return to duty. (Id. ¶ 19. See also R. 23-1, Def.'s L.R. 56.1(a) Statement, Ex. 1.) Accordingly, IDHS again placed Piskorek on medical leave, this time through March 1, 2001. (Id., ¶ 20.)*fn1

In March 2001, Piskorek again requested permission to return to work. (See R. 28-1. Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A) Resp., ¶ 21.) Hartman examined her a third time and again concluded that she was "unable to return to work in any effective capacity as a Psychiatric Nurse, or within the mental health system or nursing care generally." (Id., ¶ 22. See also R. 23-1, Def.'s L.R. 56.1(a) Statement, Ex. J.) Piskorek submitted a handwritten note and a typewritten letter from her personal physician suggesting that she was fit to return to work. (See R. 28-1, Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A) Resp., ¶¶ 20, 23, 24; see also R. 29-1, Pl's Exhibits to L.R. 56.1 Statement, Ex. 5.) Piskorek remained on medical leave while the question of her fitness for duty was under review. (See R. 28-1, Pl's L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A) Resp., ¶ 26.)

Sometime in March or April 2001, Piskorek filed a grievance through her union representative, arguing that IDHS should have accepted her physician's assurances that she was fit to return to work. (See R. 28-1, Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A) Resp., ΒΆ 38.) The IDHS hearing officer denied her grievance, however, determining that there had been no violation of the relevant ...


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