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Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Center

March 14, 2008

DANIELLE PICKETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SHERIDAN HEALTH CARE CENTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rebecca R. Pallmeyer United States District Judge

Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Plaintiff Danielle Pickett, who works in the housekeeping staff at Defendant Sheridan Health Care Center ("Sheridan"), alleges that she was sexually harassed by residents at Sheridan and discharged in June 2006, in retaliation for her complaints about the harassment. Sheridan rehired Plaintiff some months later. In this action under Title VII, Sheridan has moved for summary judgment and, for the reasons explained here, the motion is granted in part, and denied in part.

FACTS*fn1

Defendant, Sheridan Health Care Center, operates a nursing home in Zion, Illinois. LR 56.1 ¶ 1.) Plaintiff was hired to work at Sheridan in January 2005 as a dietary aide; in September 2005, she was transferred to a housekeeping position at her own request. (LR 56.1 ¶¶ 4-6.) At the time of the events at issue here, her hourly rate was $7.65. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶1.)

Three distinct incidents are the bases for Plaintiff's sexual harassment claim, each one involving a nursing home resident. The first incident occurred in November 2005, while Plaintiff was cleaning the room of a resident ("R1") who lived on the second floor and was confined to a wheelchair. (LR 56.1 ¶ 11.) Plaintiff asserts that R1 made inappropriate sexual comments to her:

he told her that he "would love to go down on a black woman," suggested that "[m]aybe we can hook up sometime, maybe we can have sex, satisfy each other's needs," and asked her if she was wearing "panties" as she exited his room. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 4-6.) When questioned, the resident denied making any inappropriate statements, and there were no other witnesses to this incident. (LR 56.1 ¶¶ 10, 12.) It is undisputed, however, that in response to Plaintiff's allegations, Defendant conducted an investigation, counseled R1 about the alleged inappropriate behavior, and directed Pickett not to enter R1's room by herself. (LR 56.1 ¶¶ 12, 13.) Plaintiff was in fact accompanied by another staff member on three occasions; after about three weeks, however, Plaintiff became unwilling to wait for another staff member to accompany her into R1's room and instead adopted the practice of cleaning his room when R1 was not there. (LR 56.1 ¶ 15; Ans. to LR 56.1 ¶ 15.)*fn2

The second incident of harassment occurred in either December 2005 or January 2006 and involved a second resident, "R2," who resides on the fourth floor. (LR 56.1 ¶¶ 16-17.) As Plaintiff entered a room to clean it, R2 stated to her, "Let me go in there and bang you." (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 16.) When Plaintiff stepped back out of the room, R2 turned to another resident and said, "She was watching me have sex with [another resident] and she wanted to join in. She liked it and wants me to do it with her." (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 17.) As Pickett continued her cleaning duties, R2 said, "Come here, let me squeeze that," followed Pickett in an aggressive manner despite her protests, and chased her down the hall. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶18-20.) Another housekeeper stopped R2, and a pregnant Certified Nursing Assistant told R2 to leave Plaintiff alone. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 21, 22.) He responded by saying, "Shut up before I bang bang bang you and make you have that baby." (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 22.) The situation appeared to have subsided in response to intervention from some nurses, but as Plaintiff bent down to help a resident open a soda, R2 approached her from behind and grabbed her crotch. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 23-24.)

Plaintiff claims that when she reported this incident to her immediate supervisor, he asked her what it was that she was doing to prompt the inappropriate behavior. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 25-26.) She acknowledges, however, that Sheridan staff counseled R2 regarding his misconduct, put him on a monitoring program, reported the incident to his physician (who adjusted his medication in response), and instructed Plaintiff that she was not to clean R2's room again. (LR 56.1 ¶ 18.) Plaintiff did in fact clean R2's room on some occasions later when R2 was away at a daytime workshop. (Id.)

The third incident of harassment also involved a nursing home resident, "R3." (LR 56.1 ¶ 20.) On June 24, 2006, just 11 days after R3 was admitted to the nursing home, R3 "stuck his finger out and aimed it at [Plaintiff's] breast" while she was cleaning his room. (LR 56.1 ¶¶ 20-21; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 28.) Then, as she was leaving his room, R3 rubbed a yellow "smiley face" sticker on her breast, and when she slapped his hand away, R3 grabbed her waist and squeezed her buttocks. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 29, 30.)

Staff reported this incident to the police, and a police investigator spoke to Plaintiff the following day. (LR 56.1 ¶ 22(c); Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 32, 33.) In addition, Defendant's staff counseled R3, and sent him to a hospital for evaluation. (LR 56.1 ¶ 22(a), (d).) Defendant directed its female staff to provide no care or services to R3 when alone, and reassigned Plaintiff herself to the first floor administrative office area, where there are no resident rooms. (LR 56.1 ¶ 22(e).)

On June 27, 2006, a meeting took place to discuss this incident. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 38.) Plaintiff, her union steward, Diane Lee; Ross Zeller, the facility administrator; and Craig Barnes, Plaintiff's direct supervisor, were present. (Id.) The parties dispute what happened at this meeting. According to Plaintiff, Mr. Zeller told her that because she had not left the room after R3 touched her the first time she was, in effect, giving R3 permission to touch her again. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 39.)

Zeller denies having stated or implied that inappropriate touching was acceptable; he recalls telling her that she should have left the room after the first incident of touching for her own safety and should report inappropriate conduct immediately to her supervisor. (Def.'s Resp. 56.1 ¶¶ 39, 41, citing Supplemental Declaration of Ross Zeller.)

On June 28, 2006, Pickett reported to work at approximately 7:00 am for her first scheduled day to work on the first floor. (LR 56.1 ¶ 23.) During a meeting, she told Zeller that "she did not feel safe, and felt as though she had been deceived regarding how offenders would be dealt with." (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 44.) In response, she claims that Zeller told her that if she could not handle "what is going on," she should find another job. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 44-46.) Pickett began to cry because she felt Zeller was dismissing her concerns. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 47-48.) At approximately 8:00 a.m., Plaintiff, upset, left work for the day without telling anyone. (Pl.'s 56,1 ¶¶ 47-48, LR 56.1 ¶ 24.) Defendant asserts that Plaintiff was terminated on June 30, 2006 for "walking off the job" on June 28. (LR 56.1 ¶ 26.) Plaintiff recalled, however, that Zeller called her at 9:50 a.m. and told her "I don't feel comfortable with you employed here since you aren't comfortable with what is doing on." He stated, further, that "Maybe it's best if you seek other employment," ...


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