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Zulma Algarin v. Loretto Hospital

March 5, 2012

ZULMA ALGARIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LORETTO HOSPITAL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Edmond E. Chang

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Zulma Algarin sued her former employer, Defendant Loretto Hospital, alleging discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.*fn1 Loretto moves for summary judgment on all counts. R. 29. For the following reasons, Loretto's motion is granted.

I.

In deciding this summary judgment motion, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to Algarin. In July 2006, Algarin began working as a registered nurse in the Behavioral Health Unit at Loretto Hospital. R. 32, Def.'s Stmt. of Facts (DSOF) ¶¶ 8-9. Patients in the Behavioral Health Unit are treated for mental health conditions, such as psychotic behavior or schizophrenia, as well as medical conditions. Id. ¶ 10. Rose Geary, the Associate Vice President of Behavioral Health, made the decision to hire Algarin. Id. ¶¶ 11, 16. Algarin, a Hispanic woman of Puerto Rican origin, was sixty-seven years old when she began working at Loretto in July 2006. Id. ¶ 7.

As part of its overall initiative to improve patient care, Loretto Hospital created "Rapid Response Teams." R. 30-4, Algarin Dep. Exh. 8. Rapid Response Teams are designed to assist in situations where a patient is experiencing early signs of distress, such as acute changes in respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, bleeding, or consciousness. Id. A Rapid Response Team is composed of at least one doctor, one critical care nurse, a respiratory therapist, and the registered nurse assigned to the patient in distress. DSOF ¶ 25. The Team can be paged by any nurse at Loretto Hospital. R. 30-4, Algarin Dep. Exh. 8. Once called, the Rapid Response Team's tasks are to (1) assist the nurse in assessing and stabilizing the patient's condition, (2) organize information that needs to be communicated to the doctor, and (3) educate and support the staff during a challenging patient situation. Id.

The registered nurse assigned to the patient has particular duties under the Rapid Response Team protocol. DSOF ¶ 26. Specifically, the nurse must obtain a crash cart, which contains emergency medical supplies, and the patient's medical records from the nursing station. Id. After the Rapid Response Team arrives, the nurse assigned to the patient must inform the Team of the patient's vital signs and must present a concise and accurate summary of the situation. Id. ¶ 27. It is important for the nurse to provide this information so that the Team can effectively address the patient emergency. Id. The Rapid Response Team protocol instructs the nurse to remain with the patient and be available to assist the Team as needed. Id.

During Algarin's employment at Loretto, the Rapid Response Team was called to the Behavioral Health Unit several times. R. 30-1, Algarin Dep. at 68. For instance, in February 2007, the Rapid Response Team was called to assist with a patient assigned to Algarin's care. DSOF ¶ 28. One of Algarin's supervisors, Rose Geary, documented the incident. R. 30-8, Geary Dep. Exh. 2. According to Geary's notes, Algarin failed to remain with the patient during the emergency, and did not appropriately communicate with the Rapid Response Team or carry out her duties under the Rapid Response Team protocol. R. 30-8, Geary Dep. Exh. 2. Geary testified that she counseled Algarin about her deficient performance, but Algarin denies receiving any counseling. R. 35, Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 29.

Instead, Algarin believed that she was being harassed by Geary and another supervisor, Jennifer Parker, due to her race, national origin, and age. See R. 36-5, Algarin Dep. Exh. 11. Algarin described her concerns in a written complaint submitted to Ruby Isom, Loretto's Associate Vice President of Human Resources, in February 2007. DSOF ¶¶ 30, 33. Algarin complained that Geary and Parker treated her with "animosity" and made her feel "humiliated, intimidated, harassed, and offended." Id. ¶ 34. In the complaint filed with human resources, Algarin alleged that she met with Geary and Parker for her three-month performance evaluation. See R. 36-5, Algarin Dep. Exh. 11. According to Algarin, Parker mentioned Algarin's "culture" as part of her "being out there somewhere," and Geary made "a movement with her hand over her head." DSOF ¶ 34. Isom independently interviewed Geary and Parker about Algarin's allegations, and concluded that they did not harass Algarin but had merely raised their performance concerns with Algarin. Id. ¶ 36.

Despite Isom's investigation, Algarin contends that Geary and Parker continued to harass her. In June 2007, Algarin overheard Geary tell other hospital staff members that "the Hispanics are the worst." R. 35, Pl.'s Stmt. of Additional Facts (PSOF) ¶ 80. Algarin, who was in a medication room and out of Geary's sight, testified that after hearing Geary's comment, Algarin came out of the room and told Geary that she heard the comment about Hispanics. R. 30-1, Algarin Dep. at 152. Algarin testified that Geary seemed to be caught off guard by Algarin's presence and responded, "Oh, Zulma, what I mean is that you are Hispanic but you never talk Spanish in the unit." R. 30-1, Algarin Dep. at 152. Algarin told Geary that, out of respect to everyone, she did not speak Spanish in the unit. Id. at 152-53.

On February 14, 2008, one of Algarin's patients complained of dizziness. DSOF ¶ 42. Algarin took the patient's blood pressure and summoned Dr. Bela Nand for a consultation. Id. Dr. Nand examined the patient and determined that the patient should be transferred to the Telemetry Unit. Id. Dr. Nand told Algarin that it was not necessary to call the Rapid Response Team. Id. As Dr. Nand was writing down her orders, Algarin directed that the patient be placed in a wheelchair while Algarin called Angie Abordo, the Clinical Director of the Telemetry Unit, to arrange for the patient's transfer. Id. ¶ 43. Abordo was also working as the hospital's nursing supervisor on duty that day. Id. ¶¶ 43, 46. Algarin telephonically reported to Abordo that the patient was complaining of dizziness and hypotension, and had a blood pressure of 60/30 or 60/40. Id. ¶ 44. Abordo asked whether Algarin had called the Rapid Response Team.*fn2 Id. Algarin responded that Dr. Nand had seen the patient and told Algarin not to call the Rapid Response Team. Id. Abordo immediately ran from the fifth floor, down to the Behavioral Health Unit located on the third floor. Id. ¶ 45. When Abordo arrived on the Behavioral Health Unit, she discovered that the Rapid Response Team had not been called. Id. Abordo ordered that the Team be called. R. 30-1, Algarin Dep. at 176-77.

The Rapid Response Team was paged, and Geary, Parker, and Helen Requilman, Loretto's Manager of Performance Improvement, arrived on the scene. DSOF ¶ 47. After the patient's condition was stabilized, the patient was transferred to the Telemetry Unit as planned. Id. ¶ 50. Later that day, Geary, Parker, and Requilman notified Isom that they had observed serious problems with Algarin's performance during the Rapid Response Team emergency. Id. ¶ 51. Isom decided to investigate the incident, and requested that each supervisor submit a written statement about Algarin's performance during the emergency. R. 30-10, Isom Dep. at 68. Meanwhile, Isom and Geary agreed that Algarin should be suspended from work pending the investigation. DSOF ¶ 52.

Isom held individual meetings with Algarin's supervisors, and reviewed their written statements as they were submitted to her. R. 30-10, Isom Dep. at 71-72. In particular, Isom considered Abordo's statement, which stated that Algarin disregarded Abordo's order to call the Rapid Response Team. DSOF ¶ 53. Abordo's statement also stated that, once the Team arrived, Algarin could not locate the proper medical equipment needed to start the patient's IV. Id. ¶ 54. Helen Requilman's statement similarly reported that Algarin was not familiar with the contents of the crash cart, and had difficulty finding a syringe to use during the emergency. Id. ¶ 57. Isom also met with Geary, who recommended that Algarin be fired for her inadequate performance. Pl.'s Resp. to DSOF ¶ 61 (citing Isom Dep. at 74). At the end of the investigation, Isom concluded that Algarin should be fired. DSOF ¶ 61. In a letter dated February 22, Isom informed Algarin that her employment with Loretto Hospital was terminated for negligent and willful action that compromised patient care, customer service, and Hospital operations. Id. ¶ 62.

In March 2008, Algarin filed a charge of discrimination, retaliation, and harassment with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, through the Illinois Department of Human Rights. R. 1 (Compl.) ¶ 10. In December 2009, the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter to Algarin, and this action followed. Compl. ¶ 11.

II.

Summary judgment must be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Rule 56 "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). All facts, and any inferences to be drawn from them, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Wis. Cent., Ltd. v. Shannon, 539 F.3d 751, 756 (7th Cir. 2008).

III.

Algarin alleges that Loretto: (1) discriminated against her because of her race, national origin, and age; (2) retaliated against her for complaining about the discrimination; and ...


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