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Arrington v. La Rabida Children's Hospital

December 22, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blanche M. Manning United States District Judge


Plaintiff Ta-Juana Arrington, who is African-American, sued her former employer, La Rabida Children's Hospital, alleging that La Rabida subjected her to sexual harassment (Count I), created a hostile work environment (Count II), retaliated against her (Count III), slandered her (Count IV), is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V), and made fraudulent representations about her (Count VI). La Rabida's motion for summary judgment is before the court. For the following reasons, Count VI is dismissed with prejudice as Ms. Arrington concedes that it cannot be sustained, and La Rabida's motion for summary judgment as to the remaining counts is granted.

I. Background

A. Local Rule 56.1

Under Local Rule 56.1, a party seeking summary judgment must submit a statement of material facts, consisting of short numbered paragraphs accompanied by citations to admissible evidence. Loc. R. 56.1(a). The opposing party must admit or deny each paragraph and cite to supporting evidence. Loc. R. 56.1(b)(3)(A). Failure to include "specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon" in support of a denial may cause the movant's facts to be deemed admitted to the extent that they are supported by the record. See id.; Brasic v. Heinemann's Inc., 121 F.3d 281, 284 (7th Cir. 1997); Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 924 (7th Cir. 1994).

Many of Ms. Arrington's responses take issue with La Rabida's facts but the alleged disputes are, at best, semantic quibbling. Ms. Arrington also suggests that the testimony cited in support of certain of La Rabida's facts lacks foundation. For example, she contends that Nancy Ramski, La Rabida's human resources manager, lacks foundation to testify about human resources issues that are within the scope of her job responsibilities and are based on her own personal knowledge. See, e.g., Plaintiff's Response to La Rabida's Statement of Facts at ¶¶ 50-51. However, Ms. Arrington does not direct the court's attention to any portions of the record supporting her denial or any authority suggesting that Ms. Ramki's testimony is improper. It is not: Ms. Ramski may properly testify directly regarding matters within her personal knowledge that do not rely on information from third-party declarants. See Fed. R. Evid. 801(c).

In addition, many of Ms. Arrington's responses simply fail to match up with La Rabida's statements of fact and corresponding evidence. For example, La Rabida points to an affidavit from La Rabida's human resources director providing details about discipline imposed on Ms. Usher (one of Ms. Arrington's co-workers) after an argument between Ms. Arrington and Ms. Usher. La Rabida's Statement of Facts at ¶ 15. Ms. Arrington's response states that disciplinary records do not fall into a hearsay exception and that Ms. Usher did not admit that she was disciplined. However, the human resource director's affidavit states that she is in charge of the human resources department at La Rabida, has access to all of the files maintained by that department, and that the department maintains personnel files in the regular course of business. See Fed. R. Evid. 803(6). Thus, Ms. Arrington's objection is not well-founded. Moreover, Ms. Arrington does not provide any evidentiary support for her contention that Ms. Usher did not admit that she was disciplined. In any event, whether Ms. Usher admitted that she was disciplined is irrelevant, as whether she admits it or not, she either was or was not disciplined.

Regrettably, these types of responses are far from an isolated incident and caused the court to spend a considerable amount of time attempting to straighten out the Rule 56.1 statements. The court also stresses that attempts by a party opposing summary judgment to create a messy record do not enhance that party's chances of creating a fact question requiring a trial. Instead, they simply lead to delay in resolving the summary judgment motion before the court.

With that said, as noted above, improper denials mean that the movant's facts are deemed admitted to the extent that they are supported by the record. Loc. R. 56.1(b)(3)(A). Thus, to the extent that Ms. Arrington has not provided citations to any evidence supporting her denials, or has relied on inapplicable objections, La Rabida's corresponding facts -- all of which are supported by the record -- are deemed admitted. With this understanding, the following facts are derived from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements.

B. Facts

La Rabida hired Ms. Arrington, who is African-American, in October of 2002. While the parties do not agree on every detail, the record shows that Ms. Arrington was involved in a steady stream of conflicts in the workplace.

1. Supply Technician Discord

Ms. Arrington worked as a supply technician and from the start, was involved in conflicts with her fellow supply technicians, including Carol Usher (who is African-Belizean) and Charlene Brooks (who is African-American). In March of 2003, Ms. Usher yelled at Ms. Arrington when she disagreed with actions taken by Ms. Arrington during her workday.

According to Ms. Arrington, during the argument, Ms. Usher said, "You should have kept your damn hands off of it [the IV tray]. I don't need you doing anything for me . . . . I'm so sick of you goddamned people, you all come over here and trying to run things and do things your all kind of way . . . bitch, you get on [sic] my [expletive deleted] nerve." Arrington Dep. at 87:12-13 & 17-21.

Linda Herd, Ms. Arrington's immediate supervisor in the special processing department, was not at work that day. However, Irma Ross, the supervisor of La Rabida's laboratory, overheard the argument and reported it to Ronald Peckham, the manager of La Rabida's special processing department. La Rabida's records show that Ms. Usher was promptly disciplined for using discriminatory and abusive language that violated La Rabida's employment policies.

Ms. Arrington was not pleased with the follow-up after the argument and claims (with no evidentiary support, and despite the records showing that Ms. Usher was disciplined) that Ms. Usher was not disciplined. She also contends that Ms. Brooks, Ms. Usher, and Ms. Herd were all friends and that Ms. Usher "slandered" her repeatedly.

Later in 2003, Ms. Arrington complained to Nancy Ramski (now Nancy Agajeenian), the human resources director at the time, about the infighting among the supply technicians. In response, Ms. Ramski held a meeting of all of the special processing department employees. La Rabida's Chief Financial Officer attended and advised the employees that La Rabida had a zero tolerance policy for the kind of behavior that had led to the meeting. La Rabida also brought in an outside facilitator who conducted training sessions to help the employees communicate and get along better.

Nevertheless, in October of 2003, Ms. Brooks threatened Ms. Arrington with physical violence and used insulting and derogatory language towards her. In response, La Rabida discharged Ms. Brooks.

2. Alleged Shunning Led By Mark Gates

Subsequently, Ms. Arrington felt that she was being shunned after Mark Gates, an African-American employee who worked in a different department, told other La Rabida employees to leave Ms. Arrington alone because she gets people fired. Ms. Arrington contends that La Rabida failed to investigate this incident adequately, but the record shows that Ms. Arrington was told that Mr. Gates would be sent to an employee assistance program and La Rabida in fact sent him for counseling. Ms. Arrington asserts that Ms. Usher also made negative comments to upset her and convince other employees to shun her, but she does not point to evidence showing that she complained about Ms. Usher's comments to her supervisors.

3. Complaints About Kenneth Ramsey

La Rabida hired Kenneth Ramsey, who is African-American, to fill Ms. Brook's former position. According to Ms. Arrington, in early March of 2004, she told her co-worker, Cathy Coleman, that Mr. Ramsey had grabbed her breast and pulled apart the snap on her smock. Ms. Usher, who had been promoted to the position of lead worker in the special processing department, was not working on the day of the alleged breast grab.*fn1

The following weekend, Ms. Arrington told Ms. Usher that she was having conflicts with Mr. Ramsey and wanted to meet with their supervisor, Ronald Peckham. Mr. Peckham and Ms. Usher met with Ms. Arrington the following Monday, and Mr. Peckham told Ms. Arrington to immediately file a complaint of sexual harassment with Nancy Ramski, La Rabida's director of human resources, pursuant to La Rabida's anti-harassment policy. Ms. Arrington left the meeting and went directly to Ms. Ramki's office.

Ms. Ramski spoke with her, asked her to prepare a written statement, and then investigated by speaking with Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Usher, Daphne Fraiser (another special processing department worker), Mr. Peckham, and his boss, Fred Saviano. Mr. Ramsey denied any inappropriate touching and no witnesses saw the alleged breast grab. However, Ms. Ramski's affivavit stated that she discovered that Ms. Arrington and Mr. Ramsey "had engaged in consensual sexual conversations at work," so she "admonished them both to refrain from inappropriate discussions/behavior of [a] sexual nature in their department." Dft's Ex. E at ¶ 6.

She also warned Mr. Ramsey "that any future allegations against him could result in discipline up to and including his discharge" and instructed Ms. Arrington "orally and in writing to tell [her] if [Mr.] Ramsey or any other employee engaged in any further conduct that made her uncomfortable." Id.*fn2 Ms. Arrington was dissatisfied with the results of the investigation because Ms. Ramski interviewed non-witnesses. Ms. Arrington also disagreed with La Rabida's position that it was appropriate to interview others to determine if they might have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment involving Mr. Ramsey.

Ms. Ramksi followed up by sending memoranda to both Mr. Ramsey and Ms. Arrington which, respectively, warned Mr. Ramsey about the consequences of any inappropriate behavior. She also told Ms. Arrington to advise her or any other manager if any further behavior in the workplace made her feel uncomfortable.*fn3 Ms. Arrington acknowledged that she was aware that she could go directly to Ms. Ramski "even though other employees with a title" might tell her "to go through the chain of command." Pltf. Dep. at 254:13-16.*fn4 Ms. Arrington contends that Mr. Ramsey continued to engage in inappropriate behavior.*fn5 However, it is undisputed that Ms. Arrington did not file another written complaint with La Rabida complaining about alleged sexual harassment.*fn6

4. Events Following Ms. Arrington's Complaint About Mr. Ramsey

In May of 2004, shortly after her complaint about Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Arrington received her regularly scheduled pay increase. In the summer of 2004, Ms. Arrington took a month-long leave of absence due to health problems. In November of 2004, she received a rating of ...

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