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BAXTER v. TRINITY SERVICES

DAISY BAXTER, Plaintiff,
v.
TRINITY SERVICES, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES NORGLE, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Before the court is Defendant Trinity Services, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

  Plaintiff Daisy Baxter, an African-American female, began her employment with Defendant Trinity Services ("Trinity") in November 2000. Trinity is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving individuals with mental retardation and mental illness. Baxter worked as a Qualified Mental Retardation Professional ("QMRP") for the duration of her employment with Trinity. As a QMRP, Baxter's duties consisted of, inter alia, monitoring the treatment of Trinity's clients, developing a personal relationship with the clients and their legal guardians, and coordinating staffing. During her employment with Trinity, Baxter's supervisors were Anthony Di Vittorio, Director of CILA-East, and Diane Peterson, Associate Director of CILA-East.*fn2 Baxter's tenure at Trinity was marked by deficiencies in her job performance, including improper billing and treatment procedures, failure to attend training sessions, failure to properly fill out Social Security forms, and her alleged involvement in the falsification of another Trinity employee's High-School Equivalency Certificate.

  After approximately two years, Trinity fired Baxter. Baxter filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981,*fn3 alleging that Trinity subjected her to a racially hostile work environment, disparate terms and conditions of employment based on her race, and that her discharge by Trinity was both discriminatory and retaliatory. Baxter also filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Trinity, acting as a state actor, violated her civil rights. In response, Trinity asserts that Baxter alleges no instances of hostility or discrimination that can be directly attributed to her race, that it had a valid, non-discriminatory reason for discharging Baxter, and that it is not liable under § 1983, as it is not a state actor.

  To support her claims, Baxter first directs the court's attention to the following series of events. In April 2001, Peterson instructed Baxter to deliver a money allowance to Eric Johnson, a bipolar client of Trinity, who lived in one of Trinity's group homes. Because the allowance was a day late, Johnson became upset, and began swearing and punching holes in the wall of his room with an ice-pick. Johnson also indicated that he had dreams of killing Baxter. Concerned, Baxter immediately telephoned Peterson and informed her of Johnson's behavior, and recommended that Johnson be hospitalized. Based on her history with Johnson, Peterson decided not to hospitalize him, explaining to Baxter that he would most likely calm down. Johnson did calm down, and remained calm for the rest of the day. Baxter asserts that Peterson's decision not to hospitalize Johnson was based on her race, noting that in an earlier incident in which Johnson became similarly agitated, Peterson accepted the recommendation of a white QMRP to hospitalize Johnson. In that incident, however, Johnson had been depressed for a long period of time, was threatening suicide, and would not "de-escalate."

  Two separate incidents occurred during trips to national QMRP conferences. During August 2001, Baxter shared a hotel room with Trinity employees Laura Rodgers and Judith Sokolowski (both white) at a QMRP conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Baxter alleges that Rodgers ordered Baxter to sleep on a cot, while Rodgers and Sokolowski slept on beds, and that Rodgers and Sokolowski used all the counter space in the bathroom, as well as all the towels. In August of 2002, these three women again shared a hotel room, this time at a QMRP conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Baxter alleges that Rodgers and Sokolowski brought a male QMRP into the hotel room while Baxter was in the shower, intending to embarrass Baxter because of her race. Upon Baxter's request, Rodgers and Sokolowski escorted the male QMRP out of the room.

  During September 2001, Trinity was involved in an accreditation process. Every three years, Trinity undergoes accreditation with the Council on Quality and Leadership ("the Council"). Based on its prior experience with this accreditation process,*fn4 Trinity decided that only its degreed professionals and leadership staff would meet with the Council. Di Vittorio stated that he did not want "those people" to speak with the Council, based on the type of language "those people" used. Baxter asserts that by "those people," Di Vittorio meant blacks. Trinity indicates that Di Vittorio was referring to support staff, and notes that one of the members of Trinity leadership staff was Lois Tate, an African-American. In addition, Baxter alleges that not only was she not given an opportunity to participate in this accreditation process, she never even received training in how to do so. White QMRPs received such training, she asserts. In response, Trinity points out that this accreditation process occurs only once every three years, and that during the time in question, QMRPs were represented by Sokolowski. Sokolowski was then the "lead Q," the most highly experienced QMRP at Trinity. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3) Stmt. of Material Facts, Ex. G Sokolowski dep. at 24-25.

  Baxter also directs the court's attention to various other incidents of alleged shoddy treatment by Trinity employees throughout the course of her employment, which she asserts were based on her race. Baxter focuses much of her attention on the manner in which she alleges she was treated by her supervisor, Di Vittorio. Di Vittorio allegedly called Baxter "ignorant" four times during a meeting regarding problems with Baxter's billing procedures. He allegedly told Baxter to stop wearing a hat while other white workers were allowed to wear hats. He asked Baxter whether she could read, called her a liar, and threatened her future in his department. Di Vittorio later sent Baxter a memo apologizing for calling her a liar and threatening her future. Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. of Material Facts, Ex. E Baxter dep., ex. 20. Di Vittorio allegedly ordered Baxter to perform the low-level task of taking clients to the doctor and dentist more often than other QMRP's. Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. of Material Facts, Ex, E Baxter dep. at 181-82. Trinity, however, asserts that Baxter volunteered for such duties, and notes that Baxter's willingness to undertake these duties was admirable. Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. of Material Facts, Ex. G Di Vittorio aff. ¶ 35. Baxter also alleges that Di Vittorio scrutinized her work more closely than other white QMRP's, and yelled obscenities at black workers. Finally, Baxter asserts that her workload was higher than white QMRPs, that she was given lower-level duties than other QMRPs, and that she was denied formal performance reviews that were tied to increases in pay.

  Baxter also alleges instances of shoddy treatment by a Trinity nurse, Teresa Viebach, and another Trinity employee, Debbie Stichman. Stichman allegedly scrutinized company loans made to African American employees much more carefully than she scrutinized company loans made to white employees. Trinity, however, asserts that it was their policy to give these loans to any employee who needed one, as long as that employee had not received such a loan in the past ninety days. Stichman also allegedly removed leave paperwork from Baxter's mailbox, and filled it out improperly. Viebach allegedly instructed her niece to be rude to Baxter.

  The events leading to Baxter's termination from Trinity began in November 2002. Viebach indicated to Di Vittorio that one of Trinity's employees, Margaret Reeves, seemed to lack basic reading skills. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3) Stmt. of Material Facts, Ex. D Di Vittorio dep. at 67-69. Reeves claimed to hold a GED (a High-School Equivalency Certificate), and Viebach and Di Vittorio expected that someone with a GED would have basic reading skills. Id. Later, as Di Vittorio was discussing this problem with another Trinity employee, Baxter volunteered that Reeves had obtained her GED "at the same place that I got mine." Id. at 71. Baxter denies saying this. Based on Reeves lack of basic reading skills, and Baxter's alleged statement, Di Vittorio began to investigate the matter. Di Vittorio examined Reeves' and Baxter's GEDs, and determined that they were remarkably similar, based on his observation that the certifying signatures and the GED format were identical. Id. Di Vittorio then referred the matter to Sharon Parker, Director of Employee Services at Trinity, for a fuller investigation.

  Baxter, now suspected of helping Reeves falsify her GED, received a letter from Parker, dated December 1, 2002, which officially placed her on leave due to her suspected participation in this scandal. Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. of Material Facts, Ex. E Baxter dep. at 106-107, ex. 11. The letter also indicated that an investigation was pending, that Baxter had possibly violated Illinois statutory law, and that Baxter was welcome to make a statement or meet with Parker. Id. On the advice of counsel, Baxter chose not to cooperate into Trinity's investigation.

  The investigation determined that Reeves' GED, purportedly from Cook County, dated February 22, 2002, did not match the format of a legitimate Cook County GED, dated March 27, 2002, held by another Trinity employee. Reeves' GED did, however, match the format of Baxter's Cook County GED, dated March 10, 1981. The investigation also determined that Reeves' and Baxter's GEDs were virtually identical. See Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. of Material Facts, 2. The format was the same, the certifying signatures were the same, and the upper state seal was placed identically in both GEDs. Id. The investigation ultimately culminated in an admission by Reeves that she had indeed falsified her GED. Reeves, however, asserts that she did not implicate Baxter in this scheme; in fact, Reeves asserts that she implicated a cousin who formerly worked for the Cook County Board of Education. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3) Stmt. of Material Facts, Ex. C Decl. of Margaret Reeves, ¶¶ 6-7. In addition, Reeves denies Baxter participated in this scheme. Id. at ¶ 8. Based on her cooperation in the investigation, Reeves was given the option of resigning her position with favorable references or being terminated; ...


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