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Nwokocha v. County of Cook

March 9, 2007

JERLEAN NWOKOCHA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF COOK, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 50). For the reasons stated below, the court grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment in favor of Defendant in regards to Jerlean Nwokocha's retaliation claim, which is hereby dismissed with prejudice. The court denies Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment in regards to Jerlean Nwokocha's breach of contract claim and relinquishes its supplemental jurisdiction over the claim, dismissing the breach of contract claim without prejudice.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Previous to this lawsuit, in June, 2002, plaintiff Jerlean Nwokocha ("Nwokocha") filed a separate lawsuit against her employer, defendant John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County ("Defendant" or "Hospital"), alleging that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her sex and a perceived disability, as well as in retaliation for opposing such discrimination. (See Dkt. No. 1; Case No. 02 C 4111). On June 24, 2003, after Nwokocha voluntarily dismissed her sex discrimination claim, the two parties entered into a Settlement Agreement and the case was dismissed with prejudice on July 17, 2003. (Dkt. No. 20; Case No. 02 C 4111).

In the case before this court, Nwokocha alleges that Defendant subjected her "to a pattern of disparate treatment, harassment, and discipline" in retaliation for the claims alleged in her earlier lawsuit, and that Defendant also breached the Settlement Agreement that had been reached in the earlier case. (First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 25, 27; Case No. 05 C 1240).

LEGAL STANDARDS

Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "if 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). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Omega Healthcare Investors, Inc. v. Res-Care, Inc., 475 F.3d 853, 857 (7th Cir. 2007). However, a party bearing the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The evidence relied upon must be competent evidence of a type otherwise admissible at trial, including affidavits based upon personal knowledge. Juarez v. Menard, Inc., 366 F.3d 479, 484 n.4 (7th Cir. 2004). Summary judgment will be granted in favor of the moving party if there are no genuine issues as to any material fact, such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

Nwokocha brings her retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee who has "opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because [she] has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Nwokocha may proceed with her retaliation claim under either the direct or indirect method of proof. Roney v. Ill. Dep't of Transp., 474 F.3d 455, 459 (7th Cir. 2007).

"Under the direct approach, the employee must show evidence that he engaged in a statutorily protected activity (such as bringing a Title VII claim) and as a result, suffered an adverse action." Id. A plaintiff in Nwokocha's position can either rely upon an admission of retaliatory motive or she can demonstrate "sufficient circumstantial evidence such that a jury could infer retaliation." Phelan v. Cook County, 463 F.3d 773, 788 (7th Cir. 2006); see also Sylvester v. SOS Children's Vill. of Ill., 453 F.3d 900, 902-03 (7th Cir. 2006). In this case, Nwokocha relies upon the "convincing mosaic" approach of circumstantial evidence. Sylvester, 453 F.3d at 903. Nwokocha makes no attempt to engage in the indirect method of proof.*fn1

BACKGROUND

It is not disputed that Nwokocha engaged in a statutorily protected activity when she filed her original complaint in case number 02 C 4111. At issue in this case is whether Defendant subjected Nwokocha to any adverse employment actions because of Nwokocha's attempt to enforce her Title VII rights in the earlier case. By way of background, the parties do not dispute that they entered into the following terms as part of their Settlement Agreement:

2. Pursuant to the terms and conditions of this Agreement, Jerlean Nwokocha, shall be transferred from the Emergency Room Unit to the Endoscopy Nursing Unit at John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County. Said transfer is subject to the terms and conditions list below:

a. Jerlean Nwokocha is currently employed by Cook County as a CN2 nurse (charge nurse 2) in the Emergency Room department of John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County. It is understood, by and between the parties, that upon execution of this Agreement, Jerlean Nwokocha shall be transferred from the Emergency Room Unit to the Endoscopy Unit at the John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County.

b. It is understood, by and between the parties, that pursuant to the transfer that is the subject of this Agreement, that Ms. Nwokocha shall be assigned as a CN2 in the Endoscopy Unit. That pursuant to her duties, her work shift shall be a flex time schedule ...


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