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Tellez v. Waukegan Illinois Hospital Co. LLC

November 13, 2008

JASMINE M. TELLEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WAUKEGAN ILLINOIS HOSPITAL COMPANY LLC D/B/A VISTA HEALTH SYSTEM, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Jasmine Tellez (hereinafter, the "Plaintiff" or "Tellez") filed a two-count complaint against her former employer, Defendant Waukegan Illinois Hospital Company LLC d/b/a Vista Health System (hereinafter, the "Defendant" or "Vista"). In Count I of her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges sexual discrimination based upon her pregnancy. In Count II, Plaintiff alleges interference with, and retaliation for, exercise of her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (the "FMLA"). Defendant now moves for summary judgment on all counts, and also moves to strike portions of Plaintiff's responses and affidavit. For the reasons stated below, the Motion to Strike is granted in part and denied in part, and the Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Jasmine Tellez was hired by Defendant in May 2002 as a patient registrar, and she worked both in the emergency room and outpatient sections of the hospital. In that position, Plaintiff received training about the proper access and disclosure of protected health information. Tellez also signed both the Vista Health Confidentiality Agreement and the CHS Code of Conduct, in which she agreed to access and use patient information only when necessary to perform her job.

In July 2006, Defendant determined that Plaintiff had accessed a patient's medical records for reasons unrelated to her job duties. Tellez provided an explanation for her conduct and disputed any conclusion of wrongdoing, but Vista nonetheless issued an Employee Disciplinary Action Notice on August 11, 2006, stating that Plaintiff's improper access of confidential patient information was a serious violation of hospital policy. It further stated that the notice was a final written warning and that "any further... policy infraction or unprofessional behavior will result in [Tellez's] termination." Vista presents evidence that it investigated three other registrars for similar misconduct and provided each with similar final written warnings.

Shortly after receiving this final written warning, Tellez discovered that she was pregnant. (Though the parties dispute whether she found out August 15 or September 21, 2006, both sides agree that Tellez's pregnancy was unknown to both Plaintiff and Defendant at the time of the August 11 disciplinary notice). Tellez informed her immediate supervisor, Ellen Anderson ("Anderson"), about the pregnancy as soon as she found out, and Anderson told Tellez to fill out FMLA paperwork if she wanted to take leave for the birth of her child. Tellez had a certification form filled out by her doctor on November 9, 2006; she submitted her paperwork on November 11; and her request for FMLA leave was granted November 17.

The FMLA approval was dated back to September 28, in order to encompass two periods of absence (September 28 through October 1, 2006 and October 10 through October 16, 2006) resulting from complications with Plaintiff's pregnancy. Tellez believes that other absences and instances of tardiness during October and November were also due to complications with her pregnancy, but she fails to identify specific dates for which complications were the actual cause of her absence, or provide medical documentation of such absences. Yet, Plaintiff's FMLA doctor certification form does note the possibility of intermittent absences, and Tellez claims she advised Anderson that she might need to be late in the future due to such complications. Plaintiff further claims (but Defendant disputes) that she made a request for light duty in November 2006, which was granted periodically, but then removed after a period of a few weeks, or on occasion after just one day.

In late November 2006, a patient contacted Vista to complain about her interactions with Tellez during a recent emergency room visit. Ginger Johns ("Johns"), Director of Patient Access, states that she investigated the matter by interviewing Tellez, all other registrars, and the patient complainee. Plaintiff, by contrast, claims that Johns refused to let Plaintiff tell her side of the story before imposing discipline, and that her interactions with the patient were entirely appropriate. Johns completed a Corrective Action Form dated November 29, 2006, noting the patient's complaint and Tellez's episodes of absenteeism and tardiness. Although Johns only intended to issue a warning, she was informed by human resources of Plaintiff's earlier final written warning, and Vista made the decision to terminate Tellez.

Following her termination, Tellez proceeded with Vista's internal grievance process. During that process, Vista removed the notations of absenteeism and tardiness from the Corrective Action Form "so they would not be improperly interpreted as a basis for [Tellez's] termination, as several of the episodes could have been related to Jasmine Tellez's pregnancy." Vista treated all of Tellez's absences and instances of tardiness as excused, but upheld Tellez's termination on the basis of the August 11 final written warning and the subsequent patient complaint.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Motion to Strike

The majority of Defendant's motion to strike attacks responses by Plaintiff which are merely conclusory or unresponsive. Responses such as these, which dodge the actual statement presented, or provide a kind of "yes, but" explanation, are clearly impermissible under Local Rule 56.1(b). See Flores v. Chicago Transit Authority, 2006 WL 2868904, at *1 (N.D.Ill., Oct. 4, 2006). But they are not uncommon. (Indeed, Defendant commits the same transgression). The Court has ample experience identifying such unresponsive answers and deeming the unrebutted facts admitted. The above statement of facts fully accounts for the Court's review of the parties' submissions, and no further explication of these factual statements is necessary.

While unresponsive answers result in a statement of fact being deemed admitted, the Court should strike the affidavits upon which those answers rely only if the statements in the affidavit are inherently contradictory to the affiant's prior deposition testimony. See Bank of Illinois v. Allied Signal Safety Restraint Systems, 75 F.3d 1162, 1169 n.10 (7th Cir., 1996). Very few of Plaintiff's responses meet this standard of actual contradiction.

For example, in paragraphs 14, 45, and 49, Defendant seeks to bind Plaintiff to her earlier acknowledgment of the existence of disciplinary notices and the reasons stated therein. Yet, the actual language of those paragraphs reaches much further, by claiming that the discipline was "for," "in order to," and "based on" underlying conduct which Plaintiff disputes. Plaintiff's earlier acknowledgment of Defendant's stated reasons does not bind her now to admit that such underlying conduct was the actual basis or motivation for the discipline imposed. Her responses, and the corresponding portions ...


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