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Farr v. St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers

June 29, 2009


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 06 C 779-Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Evans, Circuit Judge.


Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, and BAUER and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

David Farr contends that he was fired from his employment at St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers in Indianapolis because he is a man. He filed this action alleging sex discrimination in employment, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), and, as relevant to this appeal, he tacked on pendent state law claims for defamation and breach of the covenant of fair dealing.

The state law claims were dismissed and, later, summary judgment was granted on the discrimination claim. Both decisions are subject to our de novo review on Farr's appeal. Village of DePue, Ill. v. Exxon Mobil Corp. 537 F.3d 775 (7th Cir. 2008); Jackson v. County of Racine, 474 F.3d 493 (7th Cir. 2007).

In 2000, Connie Little, director of Respiratory Care Services for St. Francis, hired Farr as a respiratory therapist. Little became his supervisor. A few years later, Farr transferred to a position as a respiratory therapist in the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Department where Beverly Smith became his immediate supervisor.

At the time Farr's employment was terminated, there were seven respiratory therapists in his department. All but Farr were women. The department also had a computer, shared by all, and that eventually became a problem, certainly it became a big problem, for Mr. Farr.

Although all of the therapists in the department used a single computer, each had an individual user name and password. Hospital policy indicated that the therapists should log off the computer when they finished using it, but in practice, with a few exceptions, what ordinarily happened is that the first person to log on each day would stay logged on throughout the day and everyone using the computer would then be using it under the original log-in name. The computer was officially used for writing various reports and letters to physicians and sometimes for research regarding medical devices. Using the computer for personal reasons was allowed so long as it was not excessive or inappropriate.

One day, a respiratory therapist asked Ms. Smith to check out the computer. What Smith saw under "favorites" were several "lurid" and "obscene" Web sites. Smith determined that Farr was the person logged onto the computer at the time the sites were accessed. She deleted the names of the Web sites from the "favorites" list and logged Farr off the computer. Smith informed Little of what she had found and Little notified her supervisor, who suggested that Little notify someone in human resources, who, in turn, advised Little to inform Information Services (IS) and to confront Farr.

Farr was told that inappropriate Web sites had been found; he assumed they were adult pornography sites. He denied knowing how the sites had appeared under his log-in name. Little informed him that the Hospital would conduct an investigation. IS removed the computer from the department. The hard drive was sent to Alverno, the computer services division of the Hospital, to be examined. After the examination the investigator wiped the hard drive of all information and no copy was made, although there was a printout of the activity under Farr's password.

In the meantime, Farr went on unrelated medical leave. The day after he left on leave, Karen Sagar, the director of Recruitment and Retention, informed Little and Smith that IS's report summarizing its investigation was completed. The report concluded that inappropriate Internet sites had been accessed, including a significant number of "hacking" sites. The latter were of greater concern to the Hospital than the pornographic material.

As a result of this information, St. Francis continued the investigation to determine if any other employees had accessed inappropriate sites. IS found no evidence to that effect. Little asked that work schedules, job assignments, and time records be compared to usage of the computer. The comparison showed that Farr was the only employee who worked on a certain Saturday when there was a substantial amount of computer activity involving both pornography and hacking sites. Little decided to terminate Farr's employment.

When Farr returned from medical leave he was informed that the investigation uncovered evidence that he had inappropriately used the computer. Again he denied visiting inappropriate sites. Because of his denial, Little decided to ask IS to look at the situation one more time. Farr was placed on a five-day suspension. IS found no inappropriate usage on the part of other employees. When Farr returned he was accompanied by his attorneys, which inspired Little to refer the matter to the Hospital's legal department. Ultimately, Farr was fired for "breach of good conduct and inappropriate usage of the Hospital's electronic communications systems."

Farr filed a grievance and hired a computer expert to provide a report. In the information Farr provided to his expert, he admitted that he visited at least 17 of the 31 Web sites the Hospital was concerned about. He said he was using the computer to look for a way to reinstall Windows on his home computer and that during his search one of the Web sites he visited must have loaded*fn1 automatically downloaded a list of links to pornographic Web sites. He said he was unaware that this had happened. The expert's report concluded that the list of pornographic Web sites was placed on the computer by malware without Farr's knowledge. In response to this report, Alverno created its own rebuttal report, which differed somewhat from its original report. ...

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