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SZYMANSKI v. COOK

December 9, 2005.

EVELYN J.D. SZYMANSKI, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF COOK, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REBECCA PALLMEYER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On October 27, 2003, Plaintiff Evelyn Szymanski, a nurse practitioner, filed a two-count complaint alleging that her former employer, Defendant Cook County, retaliated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 2000(e)-3(a) (Count 1) and interfered with her prospective economic advantage (Count II). Both of these claims rest on Plaintiff's assertion that a County Hospital official "blacklisted" her by giving negative references to prospective employers, effectively preventing her from obtaining appropriate employment at various area hospitals. Both parties have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted and Plaintiff's motion is denied.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff's Tenure at Cook County and Earlier Litigation

  Plaintiff, a registered nurse and licensed nurse practitioner, was hired by Cook County Hospital on January 3, 1983 and assigned to the Hospital's Adult Screening Unit in the Fantus Health Center. (Plaintiff's Local Rule 56.1(a) Statement, hereinafter "Pl.'s 56.1(a)," ¶ 4.) In January 2000, she filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that the Hospital discriminated against her on the bases of race and national origin by denying overtime hours, excessively scrutinizing her work, and failing to provide her with business card. (Id. ¶ 5.) See Szymanski v. County of Cook, No. 00 C 4737, 2002 WL 171977, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 1, 2002). Her subsequent federal lawsuit alleged, in addition, that managers retaliated against her for filing the charge by assigning her to clean patient education files. Id. at *7. On April 3, 2002, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendant on those claims. Just three weeks later, on April 23, 2002, Plaintiff was terminated by Cook County. She promptly filed another charge of retaliation. See Szymanski v. County of Cook, No. 01 C 9588, 2002 WL 31509780 (N.D. Ill. May 8, 2002) (denying summary judgment on Plaintiff's second retaliation suit).

  At the time of Plaintiff's termination, Dr. John Raba was the medical director of Fantus Health Center. (Deposition of Dr. John Raba ("Raba Dep."), Exhibit 6 to Pl.'s 56.1(a), at 7.) At some point in early 2001, nurse practitioners in Cook County came under Dr. Raba's administrative control as a result of budget changes in the Department of Medicine. (Id. at 9.) Dr. Raba testified that Plaintiff was terminated from her position as nurse practitioner in April 2002 because she failed to enter into a "collaborative agreement" with a licensed physician, as required by an Illinois statute enacted in 2001. (Id. at 23; see also Deposition of Evelyn Szymanski, hereinafter "Szymanski Dep.," Ex. 1 to Defendant's Local Rule 56.1(a) Statement, hereinafter "Def.'s 56.1(a)," at 15.) Dr. Raba was responsible for record keeping with respect to collaborative agreements; he was the person who formally terminated Plaintiff, but testified that he was merely "follow[ing] the rules of the county" and that it was the county board that made hiring and firing decisions. (Id. at 11, 19.)

  Plaintiff contends she did have a collaborative agreement at the time she was fired, with Dr. Glen Harrison, (Szymanski Dep., at 112, 114), and that Dr. Raba acted improperly in refusing to approve that agreement or in interfering with her efforts to secure a collaborative agreement with other physicians. Judge Coar denied summary judgment on this claim, and it was tried to a jury in January 2003. This time, the jury returned a verdict in Plaintiff's favor. Judge Coar entered a judgment for a period of front pay in lieu of reinstatement; he reasoned that "given the history of distrust and strained relations between the Plaintiff and her supervisors at [Fantus Health], it is highly likely that reinstatement will result in future complaints about the implementation of and compliance with the order." Szymanski v. County of Cook, No. 01 C 9588, 2003 WL 259141, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 29, 2003). Judge Coar ordered, further, that Defendant "expunge any reference to plaintiff's suspension and termination from her personnel file, as well as reference to any other disciplinary action taken against her related to the issues in this case." (Szymanski Dep., Ex. 1 to Def.'s 56.1(a).)

  Dr. Raba retired from his position as Director of the Clinic on October 1, 2003 but continues as a consultant for the County at Cermak Health Services. (Raba Dep., at 15.)

  Plaintiff's Subsequent Employment

  Some months after her termination, in September 2002, Plaintiff was hired to work as a staff nurse at Little Company of Mary Hospital. (Pl.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 13.) She remained employed there as of the date of her deposition on November 3, 2004. Plaintiff, who contends in this lawsuit that negative references have compromised her employment prospects, surmises, without any evidentiary foundation, that Little Company of Mary Hospital hired her without seeking any employment references because the hospital was "desperate for help' and checked only to find out the dates of Plaintiff's previous employment and whether she had a criminal record." (Szymanski Dep., at 31.) Plaintiff's Claim of Negative References

  Plaintiff believes that from January 23, 2003 to the present she has been "blackballed" by Cook County from obtaining employment as a nurse practitioner. (Def.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 3.) Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that Dr. Raba intentionally advised prospective employers that she was responsible for initiating litigation against Cook County and falsely reported that she was terminated for cause. (Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, hereinafter "Pl.'s Motion," at 3.) As a result of these statements, Plaintiff contends, she was denied employment as a nurse practitioner at several institutions, including Advocate Hospitals, Cook County Hospitals, Northwestern University, Rush University, Loyola University, and The University of Chicago Hospitals, and through agencies that provide nurses on a contract basis, specifically Interim Healthcare and Integrated Health Solution. (Szymanski Dep., at 39.) Her efforts to find work, and the results of those efforts, are described below.

  1. Advocate, Loyola, Northwestern, UIC

  The circumstances relating to Plaintiff's applications at several institutions are similar and can be discussed briefly, as there is no evidence that Dr. Raba communicated with any of these institutions in connection with those applications. Advocate Health Center Group is a group of hospitals that includes Christ Medical Center, Good Shepherd, Illinois Masonic, and Dwyer. (Def.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 15.) In response to an on-line application, Plaintiff interviewed in July 2003 at Illinois Masonic Hospital for a position at any of the hospitals under the Advocate umbrella. (Szymanski Dep., at 45; Def.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 16.) Plaintiff provided Dr. Raba's name as an employment reference and signed a waiver permitting Advocate officials to contract him. (Def.'s 56.1 (a) ¶ 17.) After her initial interview, Plaintiff testified, Illinois Masonic failed to return her calls. (Szymanski Dep., at 49.) Plaintiff applied on-line to Good Shepherd Hospital and submitted applications to the other hospitals within the Advocate Health Center Group, as well, (id. at 52), but was not hired by any of them. (Szymanski Dep., at 76.) She has no independent knowledge, however, that Advocate contacted Cook County, that Cook County received the release that she signed, or that Cook County sent a referral on her behalf to any of the Advocate hospitals. (Id. at 77-78; Def.'s 56.1(a) ¶¶ 22-23.)

  Plaintiff applied with Loyola University Hospital ("Loyola"), (Def.'s 56.1(a) ¶ 26), Northwestern University Hospital ("Northwestern"), (id. ¶ 32), and University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital ("UIC"), (id. ¶ 39) for a position as a nurse practitioner in 2002, 2003, and 2004; the specific dates of these applications are not in the record, nor is there any evidence that there were openings for such positions at the time Plaintiff applied. Plaintiff authorized all three hospitals to contact Cook County for employment references. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27, 33-34, 39-40.) None of the three hospitals invited her for interviews. ...


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