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Hasina Akila Hakem Bey, A/K/A Ronina Sims-Cammon v. Cook County

November 28, 2012

HASINA AKILA HAKEM BEY, A/K/A RONINA SIMS-CAMMON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COOK COUNTY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On October 26, 2010, plaintiff Hasina Akila Hakem Bey filed a one-count complaint alleging that defendant Cook County discriminated against her based on her national origin and religion in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. On August 14, 2012, this court dismissed her suit for lack of jurisdiction. Bey v. Cook County, 10 C 6902, 2012 WL 3476942 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 14, 2012). After exhausting administrative remedies, plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint alleging the same Title VII violation. Defendant Cook County has filed the instant motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, contending that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff was employed as a Clerk V in the Adult Emergency Services Department of John H. Stroger Hospital in Cook County beginning August 18, 2008. Plaintiff's legal name is Ronina Sims-Cammon, but she claims that she began using the "holy name" of Hasina Akila Hakem Bey in 2006, after her conversion to Islam. Much of the controversy in the instant suit revolves around plaintiff's use of her holy name at the hospital and the events of January 2009.

In early January 2009, plaintiff called in sick to work for two weeks. Defendant alleges that plaintiff was working to legally change her name during that time period and that prior to January 2009, she had not used her holy name or worn a religious headdress at the hospital. Plaintiff claims that she both used her holy name and wore a headdress since the date she was hired. When plaintiff attempted to return to work on January 13, 2009, she was not allowed to do so because her clearance form, required when a hospital employee is out sick for more than five days, was not accepted. Plaintiff tendered a new clearance form to the human resources department on January 13, 2009, and talked over the phone with the director of human resources, Cecil Marchand, regarding her clearance. Plaintiff claims that during the phone call Marchand harassed plaintiff and purposefully mispronounced her holy name. After this incident, on January 15, 2009, plaintiff filed a complaint for discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") and the EEOC.

When she returned to the hospital on January 16, 2009, plaintiff requested an ID card with her holy name on it from the human resources department and presented paperwork related to her holy name that she had filed with the Recorder of Deeds. The human resources department issued the new identification card but later realized that the paperwork presented did not effectuate a legal name change. Human resources personnel contacted plaintiff's supervisor, Jamil Ahmad, to advise him that plaintiff's newly issued ID card had been deactivated, and that she needed to turn in that card and retrieve a new ID card with her legal name on it.

Plaintiff's name was crossed off the work schedule for January 19 and plaintiff did not work that day. Despite the deactivation of her ID card, plaintiff attended work on January 20 and January 21, 2009. She filled out manual time sheets to record her hours worked, and her direct supervisor, John Jackson, approved those time sheets. On January 22, 2009, Ahmad discovered that plaintiff had worked two days without retrieving her new ID card and told plaintiff to go to the human resources department.

The parties dispute what occurred in the human resources department that day. Plaintiff alleges that Marchand immediately demanded that she remove her religious headdress, and when she refused, told her she was fired. Plaintiff alleges that the two argued for approximately 15 to 20 minutes in front of the receptionist and other hospital employees, and that Marchand began tapping plaintiff on the face with an ID card. After the confrontation in the reception area, plaintiff claims that Marchand took her back to a conference room. In that conference room, Marchand allegedly told her she needed to take the new ID card with her legal name on it. He allegedly repeated his demand that she remove her headdress. He then repeated his statement that she was fired, told her she would receive a "certified copy" in the mail, and called security to remove her.*fn2 Plaintiff alleges that she was fired by Marchand on January 22, 2009, for reasons related to discrimination based on her religion and national origin and in retaliation for her discrimination claim. She states that she attempted to contact various supervisors at the hospital regarding her termination after January 22, but received no response.

Defendant disputes this version of events. According to defendant, plaintiff went to the human resources department on January 22 and was asked by Marchand to surrender her newly issued ID card with her holy name on it. Plaintiff refused to do so and allegedly became unruly and was escorted out of the hospital by the police. Defendant claims that Marchand never asked plaintiff to remove her headdress, never told plaintiff she was fired in the presence of the receptionist, and never asked plaintiff to adjourn to a conference room. There is no documentation to suggest that plaintiff was fired on January 22, 2009, and defendant asserts that such a unilateral act would be contrary to hospital policy. Plaintiff was on the hospital work schedule until mid-February, but plaintiff did not return to work after January 22, 2009.

On February 2, 2009, plaintiff received a letter from Ahmad's assistant, which indicated that she had not shown up to work or called to explain her absence for more than five days, that this constituted work abandonment, and that she could be terminated if she did not contact the hospital by February 4, 2009. Defendant claims that after receiving the letter, plaintiff called Ahmad and was told that she had not been fired and could report to work. According to defendant, plaintiff refused to return to work and told Ahmad that she would "see him in court." On February 17, 2009, Marchand wrote a letter to plaintiff informing her that she would be terminated effective February 20, 2009, because she had abandoned her job.

DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

A movant is entitled to summary judgment under Rule 56 when the moving papers and affidavits show there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Unterreiner v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 8 F.3d 1206, 1209 (7th Cir. 1993). Once a moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Becker v. Tenenbaum--Hill Assocs., Inc., 914 F.2d 107, 110 (7th Cir. 1990). The court considers the record as a whole and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See Fisher v. Transco Services--Milwaukee Inc., 979 F.2d 1239, 1242 (7th Cir. 1992).

A genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Stewart v. McGinnis, 5 F.3d 1031, 1033 (7th Cir. 1993). This standard is applied with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where issues of intent and credibility often dominate. See Sarsha v. Sears. Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir. 1993). The nonmoving party must, however, do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). "The mere existence of a scintilla of ...


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