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SHRADER v. PALOS ANESTHESIA ASSOCIATES

September 24, 2004.

ELIZABETH S. SHRADER, Plaintiff,
v.
PALOS ANESTHESIA ASSOCIATES, S.C. and MICHAEL SOBCZAK, M.D., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD GUZMAN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Elizabeth S. Shrader ("Shrader") brings this action against her former employer Palos Anesthesia Associates ("PAA") and its president Michael Sobczak, M.D. ("Sobczak") for wage discrimination and retaliation for engaging in statutorily protected activity in violation of the Equal Pay Act ("EPA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 206(d) and 215(a)(3).

Shrader first claims that she suffered wage discrimination on the basis of gender when she received reduced bonuses from PAA in August 1998 and December 2000. She further claims that she was subjected to the following adverse employment actions in retaliation for complaining about the reduced bonus she received in August 1998: (1) reducing her bonus in December 2000; (2) reducing her base compensation; (3) refusing to assign her work unless she reported daily to Sobczek; (4) attempting to secure her resignation; (5) communicating with her via certified mail; (6) excessive monitoring of her work; (7) refusing to accommodate her health needs; (8) refusing to speak to her; and (9) denying her shareholder status in PAA. Before the Court are Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendants' Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Declaration. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Declaration is granted in part and denied in part, and their Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

  FACTS

  Shrader began her employment as an anesthesiologist with PAA in November 1996. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 5.) PAA provides anesthesia services to Palos Community Hospital (the "Hospital"). (Id. ¶ 3.) Sobczak is Chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at the Hospital and is President of PAA. (Id. ¶ 2.)

  Shrader's normal work hours at PAA varied and could range from forty to eighty-plus hours a week. (Id. ¶ 13.) Shrader was off work for two weeks in July 1998 due to a back injury and then worked reduced eight-hour shifts until approximately October 1, 1998, after which she resumed the normal schedule. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) ¶ 15.) Plaintiff was paid a full salary in July and August, but her salary was decreased by 33% in September due to the decreased work schedule. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 16.) Plaintiff agreed to the salary reduction. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) ¶ 1.)

  In August 1998, Shrader received a bonus of $5,000. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 19.) At the same time, Drs. Andoniadis and Peterson, two other anesthesiologists at PAA who started at the same time she did, received bonuses of $42,000 each. (Id. ¶ 20.) Shrader learned of the higher bonuses received by other doctors at PAA from Andoniadis in November 1998. (Id. ¶ 23.) After Shrader learned of the difference between her bonus and those of other PAA doctors, she spoke with Dr. Kathleen Drinan, a physician on staff at the Hospital. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) During this conversation, Shrader told Drinan that she had received a much lower bonus than the rest of the group and needed the number of an attorney. (Id. ¶ 24.) Following this conversation, Drinan spoke with Sister Margaret Wright, the Chief Executive Officer of the Hospital, about the discrepancy in Shrader's bonus. (Id. ¶ 26.) Wright testified that Drinan had told her Shrader was unhappy, but she does not remember the "particulars" of the discussion, including whether Drinan said that Shrader felt discriminated against. (Id. ¶ 27; Wright Dep. at 36, Defs.' App. at 76.)*fn1 Neither Drinan nor Wright discussed Shrader's bonus with Sobczak. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶¶ 28-29.)

  Thomas Lavery, Vice President of Medical Affairs for the Hospital, eventually told Sobczak that Shrader was unhappy with the reduction in her August 1998 bonus.*fn2 (Id. ¶ 30.) Sobczak then confronted Shrader about her complaint, telling her that it was "like a Linda Tripp scenario" because she had expressed her unhappiness to someone outside of the group, and the outsider then relayed Shrader's unhappiness to yet another individual. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) ¶ 30.) Sobczak told Shrader that she had caused irreparable damage to the anesthesia group that would take years to fix, that the group could lose its contract with the hospital, and that loose lips sink ships. (Id.) Nevertheless, Shrader was given an additional $20,000 bonus in November 1998 in response to her complaint. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 31; Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) ¶ 31.)

  In 1999, Shrader was experiencing difficulty conceiving a child and wanted to begin seeing a fertility specialist on a regular basis. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶¶ 101-02.) In January 2000, Shrader approached Sobczak about working a reduced schedule, and he requested that she "fill out a wish list" of the perfect job. (Id. ¶¶ 33-34.) The job description she returned to him specified working 35 to 40 hours a week and receiving benefits, an annual salary between $160,000 and $165,000, six weeks of vacation, some portion of a bonus, and $100 an hour for any time accrued over 40 hours a week. (Id. ¶ 35.) In a letter dated January 10, 2000, Shrader was informed that a part-time position was not available for her or anyone else for the foreseeable future. (Id. ¶ 36.) None of the doctors at PAA had this sort of work schedule. (Id. ¶ 37.) Sr. Wright testified at her deposition that after several conversations with Shrader during this period in which Shrader complained about needing more time off, Wright eventually told Shrader that she would have to find such a schedule someplace else because the schedule Shrader wanted was more appropriate for a surgery center. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40, 42.)

  In November 2000, Sobczak informed Shrader that the members of the anesthesiology department had decided that Shrader should not be a shareholder in PAA. (Id. ¶ 71.) Sobczak states that the reasons for this decision were concerns about Plaintiff's patient care based on a series of three problems that occurred from June 2000 to October 2000 and her failure to discuss these issues with him. (Id. ¶¶ 72-74.)

  Sometime in October, November, or December 2000, after Sobczak received a letter regarding Shrader's pursuit of staff privileges at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, Sobczek had a conversation with Shrader in which he encouraged her to look for another position. (Id. ¶¶ 49-50, 60-62; Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) ¶ 49.) In this same conversation, Shrader asked Sobczak if he would give her a satisfactory recommendation. (Shrader Dep. at 169, Defs.' App. at 26.) Sobczek responded that he would. (Id.) By letter dated November 27, 2000, Lavery, the Hospital's Vice President of Medical Affairs, sent Shrader an application for reappointment to the Hospital's staff for 2001 (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 52.) Shrader never completed this application because she saw no urgency in doing so, as her current appointment extended through March 31, 2001. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) ¶ 53.)

  On December 1, 2000, Sobczek hand-delivered a letter to Shrader asking that she meet with him regarding patient care issues and incidents, further stating that Sobczek was troubled by Shrader's past unwillingness to discuss these issues, and directing Shrader "to do whatever is necessary" to meet with him. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 96.) A meeting was never scheduled by either Sobczek or Shrader, who was out of town at a medical conference the following week and who also felt she could not meet with Sobczek without legal representation present. (Id. ¶ 97; Pl.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 97.)

  Later in December 2000, Shrader received a bonus of $10,000 while another doctor, Dr. Boudeman, received a bonus of $2,500, and PAA's other doctors received bonuses of $34,000. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶¶ 63-65.) At the time the December 2000 bonuses were given, Boudeman was preparing to leave PAA and had been in PAA's employ only a few months before this bonus check was issued. (Id. ¶ 65; Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) ¶ 65.) Sobczak states that both Shrader's and Boudeman's bonuses were decreased because they were planning on leaving PAA. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 65.) Plaintiff avers that she had not yet committed to leaving PAA in December 2000. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) ¶ 30.) In the period between the August 1998 bonus and the December 2000 bonus, Shrader received the same bonuses as the other PAA employees at her level in each quarter bonuses were awarded. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 32; Payroll Journals, Defs.' App. at 95-184.) On January 5, 2001, Shrader attended an orientation meeting for new employees at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 55.) Shrader had informed Sobczak that she would be attending this meeting and that she did not know when she would be returning. (Id. ¶ 56.) Elmhurst Memorial Hospital sent Shrader an employment agreement for her signature by letter dated January 16, 2001. (Id. ¶¶ 57-58.) Although the parties do not specify the date, Shrader ultimately signed the Elmhurst Hospital employment agreement. (Id. ¶ 58.)

  On January 9, 2001, Sobczek sent Plaintiff a letter via certified mail after having called Shrader, as well as her mother. (Id. ¶ 98; Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) ¶ 98.) Shrader was on a two-week vacation when the letter was sent and did not respond orally or in writing. (Defs.' LR 56.1 (a)(3) ¶ 100; Pl.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 98.) This letter expressed Sobczak's concern about whether Shrader planned to return to the Hospital because of her discussions with Elmhurst Hospital and because she scheduled her two-week vacation to start immediately after Friday, January 5, 2001, the date of her meeting at Elmhurst. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 99.) The letter concluded by stating: "You are hereby requested, immediately upon reading this letter, to take all steps, including those which you might consider `heroic measures,' to contact me in live conversation (as distinguished from a phone mail message, or similar means)." (Id.)

  On February 6, 2001, Sobczek sent a letter to Shrader stating that, assuming she continued to be an employee of PAA through May 11, 2001, at which point her employment with the group would be terminated, her compensation would be reduced to $10,000 a month beginning February 9, 2001. (Id. ¶ 103.) In this same letter, Sobczek directed Shrader to report to him for her assignments at the beginning of each regular work day beginning February 12, 2001. (Id. ¶ 93.) On February 11, 2001, Shrader came to Palos Community Hospital to clean out her locker and pick up up her check. (Id. ¶ 106.) She was given a voluntary resignation letter to sign because it was the customary policy of the Hospital to obtain such letters. (Id. ¶ 106-07.) While Shrader agrees that it was the Hospital's policy, she states that she was not an employee of the Hospital. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(A) ¶ 107.) Shrader eventually showed the letter to her attorney, who advised her not to sign it. (Shrader Dep. at 195-96, Defs.' App. at 32.) Shrader began working at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital the next day. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) ¶ 59.)

  DISCUSSION

  Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Declaration

  Before ruling on the merits of the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court will address their Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Declaration.

  Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56(e), "supporting and opposing affidavits shall be made on personal knowledge [and] shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence." Although personal knowledge might include reasonable inferences and opinions, these inferences and opinions must be tied to specific, concrete facts. Davis v. City of Chicago, 841 F.2d 186, 189 (7th Cir. 1988). Thus, self-serving or conclusory affidavits lacking support in the record and based on speculation or conjecture are insufficient. Stagman v. Ryan, 176 F.3d 986, 995 (7th Cir. 1999).

  The following paragraphs of the declaration are stricken: Paragraph 2 (second sentence) lacks foundation and contradicts Plaintiff's deposition testimony; Paragraph 3 (second sentence) contains inadmissible hearsay; Paragraph 5 is inadmissible hearsay; Paragraph 10 contains inadmissible hearsay, and there is no foundation for the last two sentences in the paragraph; Paragraphs 11-12 contain inadmissible hearsay; Paragraph 18 lacks foundation and ...


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