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Ramona Duncan v. Thorek Memorial Hospital

March 21, 2011


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


Plaintiff Ramona Duncan ("Duncan") filed suit against Thorek Memorial Hospital ("Thorek") pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA"). Specifically, Duncan alleges in Count I that Thorek discriminated against her on the basis of her age in violation of the ADEA. In Count II, Duncan alleges that Thorek retaliated against her in violation of the ADEA. Thorek moves for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Court grants Thorek's Motion for Summary Judgment.


Duncan was born on August 31, 1932. (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 1.) She was employed at Thorek, a Chicago medical institution, for thirteen years. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 1.) At the time of Duncan's discharge from Thorek, in September 2007, she was seventy-five years old. (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 1.)

Duncan began working at Thorek in 1994 as a Nursing Supervisor, a position she maintained throughout her employment. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 5-6.) Prior to the fall of 2007, there were two daily weekday shifts for Nursing Supervisors. (Id. ¶ 17.) Duncan usually worked a set schedule of five eight-hour shifts per week, often from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. (Id. ¶ 6.) Duncan routinely received positive performance reviews from her supervisors, who commented on her work ethic, knowledge, and skill. (Id. ¶ 10.)

Nursing Supervisors report directly to the Chief Nursing Officer ("CNO"), who is the highest ranking nurse at Thorek. (Id. ¶ 11.) Elise Teichman ("Teichman"), born on January 23, 1957, became interim CNO in February 2007 and later became the official CNO in March or April of that year. (Id. ¶ 12.) Teichman was responsible for scheduling the Nursing Supervisors. (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 18.) Several Nursing Supervisors found Teichman a dedicated but intense person. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 54.)

In March 2007, Nursing Supervisor Linda Lauzon ("Lauzon") gave Duncan a copy of a newspaper advertisement that Thorek had placed in The Chicago Tribune, seeking nursing candidates for different positions including Nurse Supervisors. (Id. ¶ 22.) This advertisement was part of a "block" advertisement that the hospital had purchased to see what type of candidates were in the job market. (Id. ¶ 23.)

I. Summer 2007 Scheduling

Duncan went on a three-week vacation from mid-June until July 4th or 5th, 2007. (Id. ¶ 25; R. 53-57, "Duncan Dep." at p. 52: 4-5.) On June 25, 2007, Thorek hired Cherry Simon-Cooley ("Cooley"), born on February 25, 1955, as a Nurse Supervisor. (Id. ¶ 24.) At the time Cooley was hired, the nursing department was short-staffed due in part to the medical restrictions placed on Nursing Supervisor Dolly Santos ("Santos"), who was born on September 5, 1941. (Id. ¶ 25.) Upon her return from vacation, Duncan alleges that she was told that she had to share some of her work hours with Cooley. (Id.) Cooley ultimately took over Santos's hours and shifts because of Santos's medical restrictions. (Id.)

In the summer of 2007, Teichman discussed how to make the Nurse Supervisors's schedules more efficient with Frank Solare ("Solare"), Thorek's President and Chief Executive Officer. (Id. ¶ 28.) During these discussions, Teichman and Solare spoke of the possibility of moving the weekday Nurse Supervisors from eight-hour shifts to twelve-hour shifts, which were the same shifts that the weekend Nurse Supervisors were on. (Id. ¶ 29.)

Prior to the transition, Duncan had been working approximately forty hours per week. (Id. ¶ 37.) During the transition to twelve-hour shifts, which lasted from July through September 2007, Teichman occasionally reduced Duncan's hours. (Id. ¶ 35.) As a result, Duncan was scheduled to work between thirty-two and forty hours per week from July to September. (Id.) While Duncan's rate of pay and rate of vacation accrual remained the same during this period, because she was occasionally working fewer hours per week, she earned $930.35 less than she would have had she worked forty hours per week. (Id. ¶ 37.) Duncan also accrued 4.5 fewer vacation hours during this period than she would have had she been working forty hours every week. (Id.)

II. Age-Related Comments

In July 2007, Lauzon told Duncan that Teichman had allegedly told other employees that Duncan's hours were being cut back to a part-time level due to Duncan's age. (Id. ¶ 41; Duncan Dep. at 51:8-16.) Nursing Supervisor Rosario Fordley ("Fordley"), born on October 23, 1935, told Duncan that she had heard other employees speculate that they thought Teichman was cutting Ducan's hours because of Duncan's age, but Fordley did not actually hear Teichman make these comments. (Id. ¶ 42.) Duncan never heard Teichman make comments about wanting to hire younger employees to give them supervisory positions, though Duncan alleges other employees heard Teichman make these remarks. (Id. ¶ 46.)

At no point did Fordley, who was seventy-one years old during the summer of 2007, feel as if Teichman had taken any action against Fordley or treated Fordley differently because of Fordley's age. (Id. ¶ 43.) Santos, who was sixty-six years old in the summer of 2007, also felt that Teichman was accommodating to Santos, especially in light of Santos's disability. (Id. ¶ 44.)

Sometime in July 2007 Duncan complained to Fordley that she felt Thorek was "after her" because of her age. (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 9.)

III. Teichman's Actions

Duncan alleges that she complained to Teichman in July 2007 about age discrimination. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 48.) Specifically, Ducan told Teichman that she felt Teichman had reduced her hours due to Duncan's age. (Id.) This was the only time that Duncan brought up age discrimination with a supervisor at Thorek.*fn2 (Id. ¶ 59.) Duncan alleges that Teichman's response to her complaint of discrimination was to say, "Oh, you and your discrimination" and then leave the room. (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 13.) Teichman did not follow-up on Duncan's complaint and did not advise Duncan of any dispute resolution procedures that she could utilize. (Id. ¶ 14.) Teichman did not report Duncan's complaint to her supervisors. (Id. ¶ 13.) Conversely, when a different employee complained to Teichman about racially discriminatory behavior, Teichman investigated the behavior and advised Solare of the complaint. (Id. ¶ 36.)

Duncan alleges that after this conversation, Teichman continued to change Duncan's work schedule and also acted rudely to her on two separate occasions. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 48.)

The first instance occurred when Teichman used her cell phone to call Duncan while Duncan was at work. (Id. ¶ 49.) When Duncan answered the phone, the call was not clear so Duncan asked the caller to identify herself. (Id.) In response, Teichman allegedly screamed at her, "This is Elise. Can you hear me now?" (Id.) Duncan found Teichman's tone belittling and harassing. (Id.)

The second occasion also occurred in July 2007. (Id. ¶ 50.) Duncan alleges that Teichman called her home while Duncan was asleep. (Id.) Duncan's husband answered the phone and Teichman instructed him to wake his wife up so she could speak to her. (Id.) Duncan's husband refused to wake up Duncan.*fn3 (Id.) Duncan found this entire incident harassing. (Id.)

Teichman made comments to and about other employees as well, telling them that they should not bother coming back to work if they called-in to try to take time off. (Id. ¶ 55.) She made these comments to employees both over and under the age of forty. (Id.)

For example, Teichman promoted Lonel Verdeflor ("Verdeflor"), born October 6, 1972, to unit manager of the ICU in spring 2008. (Id. ¶ 57.) When Verdeflor confronted Teichman and alleged that she had assigned him more work after he returned to his clinical nursing position, Teichman told him that if he was not happy then he should quit. (Id.) Duncan allegedly understood that Teichman also wanted to get rid of another employee, Soongil Park ("Park"), a nursing Manager at Thorek. (Id. ¶ 72.) When Park threatened to resign from Thorek, Solare and Peter Kamberos ("Kamberos"), Thorek's Chairman of the Board of Trustees since 1998, intervened and offered her a raise to stay. (Id.)

During her tenure as CNO, Teichman hired eight new Nursing Supervisors, including: Esther Meadors (born January 18, 1961); Cooley (February 25, 1955); Barb Woodlow (August 10, 1949); Sharon Hinkle (June 18, 1958); Margaret Oshinowo (August 26, 1950); Paulette Car (September 9, 1958); Anjanette Miller (January 15, 1972); and Genevieve Presbitero (January 17, 1971). (Id. ¶ 78.)

Overall, Duncan had the perception that the nursing staff was unhappy with the way Teichman treated them. (Id. ¶ 58.)

IV. Duncan's Discharge

After working two twelve hour shifts in two days, Duncan submitted her one-week notice of her intent to resign on or about September 7, 2007. (Id. ¶ 73.) In her notice, Duncan did not reference any allegations of harassment or discrimination. (Id.) Duncan alleges that when she spoke to Teichman about her intent to resign, Teichman offered her a part-time position with a higher salary but required Duncan to work twelve-hour shifts. (Id. ¶ 74.) Duncan refused the offer because she did not want to work part-time or work twelve-hours shifts. (Id.)

Teichman wrote on Duncan's Personnel Termination Form that Duncan decided to retire because she did not approve of her scheduled hours. (Id. ¶ 75.) Duncan met with Rachel Febo ("Febo") in Human Resources, who encouraged Duncan to put any concerns that she had in writing, but Duncan never did this. (Id. ¶ ...

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