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Adler v. Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Corp.

December 16, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge


Luba Adler has sued Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Corporation (ENH), asserting claims for national origin and sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and unlawful retaliation under Title VII and the ADEA. ENH has moved for summary judgment on all of Adler's claims. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.


Because ENH has moved for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to Adler and draws reasonable inferences in her favor.*fn1 See, e.g., Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008).

Adler is a woman who was over the age of forty at all times relevant to this action. Though she was a citizen of the United States during her employment at ENH, she was originally born in Ukraine and subsequently moved to the United States. Adler was employed by ENH as a research associate in its pediatrics department from 1987 until 2004, when ENH eliminated her position due to funding problems. Adler has made no claim that her termination in 2004 was unlawful. On April 30, 2005, ENH rehired Adler as a research associate in its Breast Cancer Translational Research Center (BCTRC). Dr. Ruth Lupu was the director of the BCTRC during the time Adler worked there. Lupu and Dr. Javier Menendez, a research scientist at BCTRC, supervised Adler.

On August 31, 2005, Adler submitted a complaint, by letter, to ENH's human resources department (HR), concerning behavior by BCTRC employees, including Menendez. Earlier that day, Menendez yelled at Adler when she asked for guidance regarding her work, and then told her "'I REALLY HATE YOU AND YOUR FACE, AND YOU SHOULD CHANGE YOUR FACE.'" ENH Local Rule 56.1 Statement, Ex. I. Adler informed HR that the incident upset her so much that she was unable to continue working that day. In the letter, Adler also claimed that this incident was just the most recent event in a series by Menendez and two of his assistants, Dr. Luciano Vellon and Adriana Papadimitropoulou. Adler claimed that Menendez, Luciano, and Papadimitropoulou (1) constantly spoke Spanish in front of non-Spanish speakers; (2) made "hateful anti-American comments"; (3) stated Adler was "very American and that all Americans are stupid"; (4) constantly raised the issue of her age and called her "too old"; (5) told Adler she was fat and made comments regarding her appearance; and (6) constantly used profanity that made her uncomfortable (though the profanity was not directed at her). Id. She claimed that Menendez and others suggested that Adler post her resume on a bulletin board so that everyone would know how old she was. On multiple occasions, Menendez told Adler she "was fat [and] eating salads didn't do [her] any good." Adler Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 16. Menendez also informed Adler that she looked like she was pregnant. Adler never heard any other employees' physical appearance, sex, or age discussed at BCTRC. Lupu did not engage in this conduct. ENH admits Adler was "outspoken about her love for her country and told her workplace colleagues that she was proud to be here, and was proud to be an American citizen." Id. ¶ 12.

Adler's August 31, 2005 letter was the first complaint she made about any inappropriate behavior at BCTRC. On September 13, 2005, ENH offered Adler a separation package including severance pay. The offer of a separation package was made to Adler several times. On September 22, 2005, Adler spoke with an HR employee, Christine Render, and sent HR a second letter, complaining that her work environment had "deteriorated" following the August 31, 2005 incident. ENH Local Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 29. On September 27, 2005, Render and Bridget Sheridan, ENH's vice president of HR, conducted a comprehensive program on workplace behavior and decorum for BCTRC employees.

Adler admits that after August 31, 2005, she did not hear any anti-American remarks made by her colleagues, no age or weight comments were directed at her, and use of profanity diminished at BCTRC. Instead, she claims that she experienced hostile treatment in other ways. She alleges that Menendez, in retribution for her complaints, refused to giver her information she needed to perform her job and that Lupu refused to intervene after Menendez did this. On another occasion, Adler contends, Menendez gave work-related instructions to BCTRC employees in Spanish but would not give the same instructions in English after Adler asked him to do so, even though he knew that she did not understand Spanish. Adler also complained to Sheridan, on October 25, 2008, that Lupu had treated her unfairly, inappropriately rebuked her in front of employees, increased her workload, withheld necessary training and instruction, provided incomplete and contradictory instructions, and otherwise interfered with Adler's ability to do her job. Adler repeated this to Sheridan on November 2, 2005.

ENH admits that there were no written evaluations of Adler's work performance at ENH and that, prior to September 15, 2005, Lupu was satisfied with Adler's job performance. Though Lupu does not have ultimate authority to hire or fire any ENH personnel, in the BCTRC she is the only individual who makes hiring and termination recommendations to ENH. On October 23, 2005, Lupu sent an e-mail to Sheridan complaining about Adler's performance and requesting Adler's immediate removal from BCTRC. Sheridan responded by informing Lupu that termination can only be carried out through ENH's designated process.

Adler was absent from work from November 7, 2005 through November 30, 2005. She claimed she was suffering from a respiratory illness during that time and provided a note from her doctor confirming she could not work during the period she was absent. Adler provided the note after ENH had made several requests for documentation of Adler's illness. ENH questioned the veracity of Adler's illness based on the timing of the doctor's note, surveillance it conducted during the time she was absent from work, and other allegedly suspicious circumstances.

Sheridan requested additional information from Adler regarding her illness several times in November and December 2005. Adler referred ENH to her attorney. Adler claims she responded to some of the inquiries, including requesting a meeting with an ENH officer and signing release forms that enabled ENH to obtain information from her doctor. Unsatisfied with the results of its investigation, ENH sent Adler a letter on December 27, 2005, stating that her employment was "terminated effective November 30, 2005 for providing false and misleading information to ENH and for refusing to cooperate in an investigation." ENH Local Rule 56.1 Statement, Ex. X.


Summary judgment is appropriate 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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). To determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002). A ...

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