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Josalynn M. Brown and Carolyn Wilson v. Advocate South Suburban Hospital and Advocate Health & Hospitals

December 20, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman


Plaintiffs Josalynn M. Brown ("Brown") and Carolyn Wilson ("Wilson") filed an amended complaint against their employer, Advocate South Suburban Hospital and Advocate Health & Hospitals Corporation (collectively, "Advocate"), alleging discrimination based on race and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Defendants have filed the instant motion for summary judgment. Defendants have also moved to strike portions of plaintiffs' L.R. 56.1(b)(3) statement of facts and plaintiffs' response to defendants' L.R. 56.1(a)(3) statement of facts. For the following reasons, defendants' summary judgment motion and motion to strike are granted.


Plaintiffs are African-American women who were employed as registered nurses ("RNs") at two Advocate facilities, where they allege that they suffered discrimination based on their race. Plaintiffs further allege that when they complained to defendants about that discrimination, defendants retaliated against them. The following facts are, unless otherwise specified, undisputed and come from the parties' L.R. 56.1 statements.

A. Plaintiffs' Employment at Advocate Christ Medical Center

Wilson and Brown began working as registered nurses in the 9EW unit at Advocate Christ Medical Center ("ACMC") in August and October 2005, respectively. They both worked on the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift. The 9EW Unit had a Unit Council, comprised of staff members who met to address the 9EW staff's concerns. From February 2006 until July or August 2008, Wilson served as Vice President of the 9EW Unit Council. During that time, African-American nurses approached Wilson in that capacity to complain about their assignments and training opportunities.

On May 10, 2008, plaintiffs and 10 other nurses on 9EW signed and submitted a Petition for Change in Labor Practices (the "letter") to Human Resources, setting forth a series of complaints about discriminatory treatment on 9EW: (1) African-American nurses on 9EW had heavier assignments and more patients than Filipino nurses on 9EW; (2) Filipino nurses were always "in charge" while experienced African-American nurses were not trained to be in charge; (3) experienced African-American nurses did not get the opportunity to precept while new nurses with less experiences were "always precepting"; (4) there were nurses who had not received training to use a Ventricular Assist Device ("VAD"); (5) the Filipino weekend night shift Team Leader (a non-supervisory position) "had difficulty" granting African-American nurses their schedule requests but accommodated Filipino nurses; (6) Filipino nurses were "plotting" and "negotiating" charge and VAD positions in their native language; and (7) one African-American nurse's paid time off was not deducted accordingly.

Terri Sisler, then Associate Relations Specialist in Human Resources at ACMC, received the letter on or about June 27, 2008. Sisler, along with the Associate Relations Team and the 9EW manager Joseph Newsome, investigated the allegations. They concluded that the allegations could not be corroborated.

B. Roles, Positions, and Training

When plaintiffs were hired at ACMC, Susan Massatt was the manager of 9EW, but by March 2008, Joseph Newsome had assumed that role. Team Leaders on the 9EW Unit functionally directed their own shift. Newsome assigned Team Leaders tasks such as scheduling and payroll, and had to give final approval for all decisions. Team Leaders had no authority to discipline, hire or terminate employees.

The charge nurse role was assigned to RNs on 9EW on a rotating basis when the Team Leader was unavailable. The charge nurse was responsible for the operations of a particular shift on a particular day, such as handling patient complaints, reacting to staffing needs and distributing the incoming shift's patient assignments.

A preceptor is an RN who trains and mentors new nurses. The preceptor role was assigned to RNs on 9EW based on the availability of new nurses on the shift who possessed the clinical knowledge and experience to train new nurses. Because nurses spent a majority of their orientation on the day shift, there were fewer opportunities to precept on evening night shifts. The preceptor and charge nurse assignments were not different positions, but rather different roles for RNs.

Registered nurses who had been with 9EW for at least one year and had good clinical skills could be offered training to use a VAD, a mechanical pump that takes over the function of the heart. There were, on average, 2 or 3 VAD patients out of 36 total patients in the Unit. The number of RNs trained in VAD treatment was limited to allow the trained nurses to have more exposure to VAD patients, resulting in a safer care environment. Nurses on twelve-hour shifts were selected more often for VAD training for continuity of care purposes. Both Brown and Wilson received VAD training in 2007.

Patient assignments were given to RNs on 9EW based on the patients' acuity level and the RN's experience and expertise to try to achieve the most balanced workload for each nurse. Patient acuity is a management tool designed to measure or forecast the nursing time required to care for a patient.

C. Plaintiffs' Employment at ASHS

Wilson and Brown resigned from their positions at ACMC on September 15, 2008, and September 16th, 2008, respectively. Both plaintiffs began working as RNs in the ER at Advocate South Suburban Hospital ("ASSH") in October 2008. After being hired, plaintiffs became concerned about what they perceived to be safety issues, unfair and unequal work assignments, and a non-responsive management.

Brown reported to her Supervisor, Laurie Round, that she was given no help on the night shift and that the Assistant Clinic Manger would go to sleep while on duty. Brown also reported directly to the Human Resources Representative that the Telemetry Unit was unprofessional and unfair in assigning newly admitted patients. On March 12, 2009, Wilson emailed Brenda Rocha to report a safety concern ...

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