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Thomas v. City of Chicago

January 28, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall


Plaintiff Maria Antoinette Thomas, ("Thomas") filed suit against her employer, Defendant the City of Chicago ("the City"), alleging that she experienced various forms of employment discrimination. Specifically, in Counts I and II of her First Amended Complaint, she claims violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., for harassment and discrimination (Count I) and retaliation (Count II).*fn1 After the City moved for summary judgment on both counts, Thomas voluntarily abandoned her retaliation claim, leaving Count I as the sole pending claim. For the reasons stated, the City's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.


Thomas, a Jehovah's Witness, worked as a probationary occupational health nurse for the Chicago Police Department's Medical Section beginning in April 2007. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 2, 3.) The Medical Section oversees medical care for police officers who are unable to work due to injury or illness. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 16.)*fn2 As an occupational nurse, Thomas interviewed officers to determine their need for additional treatment or additional time away from work, referred officers for treatment, determined dates that officers could return to work, determined potential work restrictions for officers returning to work and recorded her notes in the police department's computerized tracking system. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 18.) Thomas did not provide medical care to patients. (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 61.)

Thomas reported to Barbara Hemmerling ("Hemmerling"), Medical Section Director. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 18.) Hemmerling did not have the authority to hire, fire, promote, demote, transfer or reassign employees. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 17.)*fn3 At the time of the incidents giving rise to this suit, Hemmerling reported to Inspector Thomas Schaedel ("Schaedel"), who in turn reported to Kimberley O'Connell ("O'Connell"), Director of Staff Development. (Id.)

While she worked at the City, Thomas received many questions about her faith from her co-workers. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 29.) The questions did not offend her because she did not mind talking about her religion. (Id.; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 31; Thomas Dep. at 101:5-7.) Approximately two or three weeks after Thomas started working with the City, her co-workers invited Thomas to a potluck dinner during their shift to welcome her and Susan Salinski, another new employee, to the group.

(Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 29-30; Thomas Dep. at 104:8-13.) While Thomas originally agreed to attend, she eventually learned that her new co-workers planned the dinner to welcome the new employees and to celebrate someone's birthday. (Thomas Dep. at 104:8-12.) Thomas explained that she did not participate in birthday parties due to her religion. (Id.) One of her co-workers, Sharese Jones ("Jones"), asked Thomas if she could overlook that the dinner was partially to celebrate someone's birthday because the purpose of the dinner was also to celebrate the arrival of Thomas and Salinski. (Id. at 104:16-22.) Thomas responded that she could not overlook the fact that the dinner was a birthday party but she indicated that she appreciated the thought. (Id. at 105:3-4.) Neither Thomas nor Jones said anything further about the dinner. (Id. at 105:8-9.) Jones did not make a derogatory comment about Thomas' religion during the exchange. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 30.) Nobody else criticized her for choosing to not attend the event. (Thomas Dep. at 105:10-12.)

Oftentimes, Beth Finnegan ("Finnegan"), the person in charge of referring officers for particular medical treatment, disagreed with Thomas' proposed course of treatment. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 32; Thomas Dep. at 112:22-23.) For example, approximately two weeks after Thomas started working for the City, Thomas told Finnegan that an officer should see a plastic surgeon to close a wound instead of receiving stitches due to the possibility that the officer had suffered nerve damage. (Thomas Dep. at 111:11-17.) Instead of following Thomas' recommendation, Finnegan told Hemmerling that the officer should see a doctor to receive stitches. (Id. at 111:22-112:8.) Hemmerling agreed and had the officer see a doctor instead of a plastic surgeon. (Id.) After observing the wound, the doctor sent the officer to the plastic surgeon to have the wound mended. (Id.) Thomas believes that Finnegan disagreed with her assessments on a daily basis in order to undermine or sabotage her work. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 32; Thomas Dep. at 218:21-219:3.) She also believes that other employees took files from her office to sabotage her. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 34.) On one occasion, after Thomas realized that she did not have a specific file in her office, she found it in Mary Delgado's ("Delgado") office. (Id.; Thomas Dep. at 124:15-21.) Delgado, one of Thomas' co-workers, had the file because Thomas asked her to make a medical referral on that file. (Id.) The record does not contain evidence of any other situations when files went missing from Thomas' office. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 34.)*fn4

In May 2007, Thomas' co-workers held another celebration at work. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 30.) When Thomas did not participate, a co-worker identified only as Bonita told Thomas that a Jehovah's Witness who used to work in the Medical Section used to attend the celebrations at the office. (Thomas Dep. at 107:1-4.) Thomas walked away from the conversation at the moment Bonita said that the other woman would attend the celebrations. (Id. at 105:18-24.) During this exchange, Bonita did not make a derogatory comment about Thomas' religion. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 30.)

Also in May 2007, Thomas' daughter experienced health problems. (Thomas Dep. at 69:1-9.) After Thomas received authorization to leave work early to tend to her daughter, who was in a hospital's intensive care unit, Thomas claims that Hemmerling went to her office and told her, "I will pray for you but not a stupid Jehovah prayer." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 35; Thomas Dep. at 68:5-8.) On another occasion, Hemmerling and Thomas disagreed over how to proceed with respect to a patient's treatment. (Thomas Dep. at 61:10-19.) As their conversation about the incident ended and Hemmerling walked away from Thomas, Thomas claims that Hemmerling mumbled under her breath that Thomas was a "stupid Witness," apparently making reference to Thomas' religion. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 35; Thomas Dep. at 61:15-19.) Hemmerling, however, denies that she ever made any derogatory statements about Thomas' religion and the record contains no other specific instances of Hemmerling making any such derogatory statements. (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 62; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 36.)*fn5

Besides Hemmerling, no one at the City made offensive comments to Thomas about her religion. (Id.).

In June 2007, someone placed a trash can in the hallway outside of Thomas' office. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 33.) On two or three different occasions, someone discarded the remnants of a fish dinner in that trash can, causing her office to smell. (Id.) Thomas does not know who placed the trash can near her office or who placed the fish into the trash can. (Id.) She believes that someone placed the fish into the garbage can to criticize her religious beliefs because "Catholics eat fish on Friday." (Thomas Dep. at 126:15-20; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 33.) Thomas did not move the trash can or ask anyone else to move it. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 33.)

Thomas believes that her co-workers received better treatment than she did. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 46, 47.) Before the City hired her, Thomas indicated that she wanted to take two days off in July 2007. (Def. 56.1 Ex. J.) Although she did not submit a written request for the time off, she received two unpaid days off. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 43; Def. 56.1 Ex. J.).*fn6 When she returned, she received a Personnel Action Request Form, indicating that she had been approved for two days of "excused absence without pay--non-disciplinary." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 43; Def. 56.1 Ex. J.) Thomas, Hemmerling and O'Connell signed the form. (Def. 56.1 Ex. J.) Thomas concedes that she did not receive discipline for taking the days off in July 2007. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. 44.)*fn7 Nonetheless, she believes that Salinski received better treatment with respect to receiving days off during her probationary period. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 45.) Salinski received two weeks of vacation time during her probationary period because she had scheduled a trip before the City hired her. (Id.; Thomas Dep. at 211:5-8.) Although Tomas believes that Salinski received better treatment than she did, Thomas does not know whether Salinski made a written request for the vacation, received discipline for taking the time off or received pay for the two weeks that she spent away from the office. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 45.)

Thomas also believes that her co-workers received better treatment than she did because they could have their name tags on their doors and list their qualifications on their business cards. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 47, 48, 49.) When Thomas noticed that the nurses in the Medical Section kept name tags on the doors to their offices, she placed her name on her door. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 48; Thomas Dep. at 205:5-7.) Hemmerling removed the name tag from Thomas' door. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶48; Thomas Dep. at 205:8-11.) Thomas still does not know why Hemmerling removed the name tag from the door. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 48.) However, Hemmerling allowed nurse Beverly Holowich ("Holowich") to keep her name tag on the outside of her door. (Thomas Dep. at 205:5-7.)

With respect to business cards, Thomas ordered cards that reflected all of her qualifications, so that her name would appear as "Maria Antoinette Thomas, BSN, RN, CM." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 49; Thomas Dep. at 206:13-17.) When she received her business cards, however, Thomas' name appeared as "Maria Antoinette Thomas, RN," indicating only that she had attained the qualification of registered nurse, which she had. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 49.)

In addition to civilian nurses, such as Thomas, the Medical Section employed sworn police officers as nurses. (Thomas Dep. at 207:2-7.) Police officers serving as occupational nurses could use the initials "PO, RN" on their business cards to reflect their status as sworn officers. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ΒΆ 49; Thomas Dep. at 207:2-7.) For example, Holowich, a sworn officer, had business cards that displayed her name as, "Beverly Holowich, PO, RN." (Thomas Dep. at 207:2-4.) Thomas does ...

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