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ADUSUMILLI v. PALLIATIVE CARE CTR & HOSPICE OF THE N. SHORE

December 8, 2004.

INDIRA ADUSUMILLI, Plaintiff,
v.
PALLIATIVE CARE CENTER AND HOSPICE OF THE NORTH SHORE, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOAN H. LEFKOW, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Indira Adusumilli ("Adusumilli") brings this pro se action alleging that her former employer, Palliatative Care Center and Hospice of the North Shore ("Hospice"), discriminated against her on the basis of race, national origin, and sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-1 et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and on the basis of her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. Adusumilli further alleges that she was discharged in retaliation for pursuing an internal grievance. The court's jurisdiction is invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Before the court are Hospice's motion for summary judgment and motion for sanctions. For the reasons stated below, the court grants both motions.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

  Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). To determine whether any genuine fact exists, the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed R. Civ. P. 56(c) Advisory Committee's notes. The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). In response, the nonmoving party cannot rest on bare pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to designate specific material facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). A material fact must be outcome determinative under the governing law. Insolia, 216 F.3d at 598-99. Although a bare contention that an issue of fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 492 (7th Cir. 2000), the court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party as well as view all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).

  FACTS STATED IN A LIGHT MOST FAVORABLE TO PLAINTIFF

  Adusumilli worked as an administrative assistant for Hospice from March 5, 2003 until her termination on August 8, 2003. Her duties during this period included assessing foundations and charitable organizations for grants, updating information for Hospice's Tree of Life participants, answering donation calls, and providing administrative support for Hospice's fundraising event held in July 2003.

  According to Adusumilli, she was subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment because three of her co-workers, Chuck Allworth ("Allworth"), Rebecca Petrek ("Petrek"), and a maintenance worker, inappropriately ogled various parts of her body, including her legs, knees, groin, and breasts, on fewer than ten occasions. (Def. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 25). Two female coworkers looked at her shoes in a "dirty" manner. (Def. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 27). On another occasion, Adusumilli's office manager "inappropriately" served her a piece of pizza. (Def. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 32). Similarly, Heidi Schelling ("Schelling"), Hospice's Vice President of Business Development, "inappropriately" served Adusumilli a piece of cake. (Def. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 32). Adusumilli also faced "slights" in the workplace: Hospice's CEO did not greet her properly on one occasion, Schelling corrected her pronunciation on one occasion, and her supervisors claimed that they were unable to understand Adusumilli's spoken English on two occasions. (Def. L.R. 56.1 ¶¶ 37, 39, 41). In addition, Schelling asked Allworth to "go get some wine" at a party held outside of work. (Def. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 43).

  In July of 2003, Hospice held a fundraising event at Ravinia for which Adusumilli provided administrative support. Adusumilli's responsibilities for this event included sending confirmation letters to donors who had ordered tickets to the event. Although Adusumilli had been instructed to use the husband's name when sending letters to married couples, several donors complained that their confirmation letters were addressed to the wife's name rather than the husband's name (e.g., Mr. and Mrs. Jane Doe). Several donors also voiced complaints to Petrek about Adusumilli's telephone skills. In addition, Adusumilli assisted in preparing name tags for the event. When preparing a name tag for one of Hospice's major donors and his guest, Adusumilli created a name tag for the donor's deceased wife. She incorrectly presumed that the donor would be accompanied by his wife because she did not have the name of the donor's guest. The donor informed Hospice management that the name tag error ruined his evening.*fn1 On August 8, 2003, Allworth, Hospice's Director of Development, and Schelling terminated Adusumilli. Allworth informed Adusumilli that she operated on "a higher wavelength" than Hospice's other employees and was unable to "get connected" to her coworkers. (Pl. Resp. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 13). That same day, Adusumilli filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights in which she alleged that she was subjected to sexual harassment and discriminated against because of her race, national origin, sex, and age. Adusumilli concedes that she made errors in her work and that on more than one occasion she accused others of using her password to change her work. (Def. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 15; Pl. Resp. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 15). She further admits that she never complained of sexual harassment at any time during her employment with Hospice.

  Following her termination, Adusumilli claims that Petrek refused to provide an employment reference for her in retaliation for filing the charge of discrimination. It is the policy of Hospice to provide employee references from its Human Resources Department consisting only of the employee's job title and dates of employment.*fn2 Adusumilli never received a copy of this policy during her employment with Hospice. Petrek received two reference inquiries for Adusumilli and referred both inquiries to the Human Resources Department. The Human Resources Department provided references for Adusumilli on both occasions in accordance with its employee reference policy. Adusumilli concedes that she has no personal knowledge that any potential employer was denied an employment reference. (Pl. Resp. L.R. 56.1 ¶¶ 48-49). DISCUSSION

  Hospice moves for summary judgment on the merits of Adusumilli's claims and on the grounds that Adusumilli's response to Hospice's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Uncontested Facts fails to comply with either the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or the Local Rules of the Northern District. The court will first examine the merits of Adusumilli's claims.

  I. Hostile Work Environment

  Hospice argues that it is entitled to summary judgment as to Adusumilli's claim of hostile work environment sexual harassment because Adusumilli's allegations fail to come even close to constituting severe or pervasive behavior. The court agrees.

  "[A] plaintiff may establish a violation of Title VII by proving that discrimination based on sex has created a hostile or abusive work environment." Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67, 91 L. Ed. 2d 49, 106 S. Ct. 2399 (1986). In order for Adusumilli to make out a prima facie case of a hostile work environment, she must show that "(1) she was subjected to unwelcome sexual harassment in the form of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature; (2) the harassment was based on [her] sex; (3) the sexual harassment had the effect of unreasonably interfering with [her] work performance in creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment that affected seriously the psychological well-being of the employee; and (4) there is a basis for employer liability." Hall v. Bodine Elec. Co., 276 F.3d 345, 354-55 (7th Cir. 2002), quoting Parkins v. Civil Constructors of Ill., Inc., 163 F.3d 1027, 1032 (7th Cir. 1998).

  Although the conduct in question is judged by both an objective and subjective standard, as the Seventh Circuit has made clear, "isolated and innocuous incidents will not support a hostile environment claim." Doe v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 42 F.3d 439, 444 (7th Cir. 1994), citing Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21, 126 L. Ed. 295, 114 S. Ct. 367 (1993)). Under the subjective standard, the court gives "proper weight to the employee's injury in fact, acknowledging the different ways in which a plaintiff initially responds to or copes with harassment." Daniels v. Essex Group, Inc., 937 F.2d 1264, 1272 (7th Cir. 1991). Under the objective standard, the court evaluates "the work environment and the instances of harassment against a reasonableness standard," id., by considering "the ...


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