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Gladys L. Larbi v. Advocate Christ Medical Center

December 3, 2012

GLADYS L. LARBI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ADVOCATE CHRIST MEDICAL CENTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Gladys Larbi, a 63-year-old African-American woman, has sued her former employer, Advocate Christ Medical Center (Advocate Christ), alleging discrimination and retaliation on the basis of race, national origin, color, and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (Title VII) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623 (ADEA). Larbi also seeks to recover unpaid overtime compensation pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 207 (FLSA) and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, 820 ILCS 105/4a (IMWL). Larbi also seeks punitive damages under Title VII and liquidated damages under the FLSA and the ADEA. Advocate Christ has moved for summary judgment on all of Larbi's claims. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Advocate Christ's motion in part and denies it in part.

Background

Larbi is an African-American woman who was born in Ghana in 1949. In 1995, Advocate Christ hired Larbi as a patient care technician at Christ Medical Center. Her duties included preparing patients for bathing, feeding patients, collecting specimens, and drawing blood.

In early 2008, Advocate Christ selected Larbi for its newly-created phlebotomy team, managed and created by Jennifer Connor. As a phlebotomist, Larbi's main duty was to complete blood draws. She was also required to keep a daily log sheet of her patient interactions.

Pursuant to Advocate Christ's meal break policy, an employee is entitled and expected to take a thirty-minute, uninterrupted meal break. The employee is not paid for these meal breaks, and Advocate Christ automatically deducts thirty minutes from an employee's time card each day of work. If an employee is unable to take a meal break, however, Advocate Christ pays her for the time. To notify Advocate Christ that an employee is unable to take a meal break, the time card system displays a "no lunch" button that, if punched, overrides the automatic thirty-minute deduction.

Larbi claims that she was unable to take meal breaks and was never told what to do if she did not get a meal break. She says that Connor never instructed the phlebotomists to punch "no lunch" if they did not take a meal break. Larbi did, however, inform Connor via e-mail and handwritten notes that she was unable to take meal breaks. Nevertheless, after examining Larbi's log sheets, Connor concluded that Larbi had extensive periods of time between blood draws that would have permitted her to take her meal breaks.

Connor testified that Advocate Christ has in place a progressive discipline policy consisting of three levels. At each level, a corrective action notice (CAN) is issued to the employee. After an employee has been issued a third CAN, she may be terminated. According to Connor, however, a supervisor can also issue an employee another type of notice -- a performance deficiency notice (PDN) -- at any time during a corrective action.

On February 7, 2008, Larbi received a level one CAN from Connor for rude and discourteous behavior and repeated violations of Advocate Christ's venipuncture policy, which allows a phlebotomist a maximum of two attempts to draw blood. The CAN explained that patients had complained about Larbi's behavior and quality of care. For instance, one patient complained that after Larbi had placed a tourniquet on his arm, she left the room to answer her cell phone, answered her cell phone again while performing a venipuncture, and attempted to draw blood three or four times. The CAN detailed another complaint by a patient who alleged that Larbi attempted to draw blood from the patient twice, laughed when stating she missed the vein, stuck the patient a third time, and was asked to leave the room by the patient's mother, who then found a needle left on a tray table. The CAN listed one final patient complaint in which the patient alleged that Larbi stuck her three times despite the fact that the patient told Larbi she was hurting her. The CAN informed Larbi that her behavior needed to be corrected and that "[f]urther violations will result in continued corrective action up to and including termination." Def.'s Ex. 14.

Shortly thereafter, in March 2008, Larbi told Connor that she felt Connor did not like her because she was "foreign." Connor Dep. at 197-98. Connor reassured Larbi that the discussion they were having at the time regarding complaints Connor had received about Larbi was not about whether Connor liked her. Connor documented the comment but did not report it to anyone at Advocate Christ's human resources department.

On June 30, 2008, Larbi received a PDN from Connor explaining that her current level of job performance "[did] not meet expectations." Def.'s Ex. 16. Among other things, the PDN noted that patients had complained about the manner in which Larbi was drawing blood; Larbi was not completing labs in a timely manner; she had not returned several pages; she had large gaps of up to an hour and forty-five minutes between blood draws; and she was seen labeling tubes in the hallway rather than at the bedside. The PDN stated that identification of further performance deficiencies or failure to improve within twelve months of the date of the notice could lead to termination.

On August 29, 2008, Larbi and Connor had a follow-up meeting regarding Larbi's progress on the PDN. Connor concluded that Larbi had made adequate progress and had therefore satisfied the requirements of the PDN. Larbi understood, however, that the PDN was still in effect. Connor thus noted in Larbi's October 7, 2008 performance review that Larbi's PDN remained in effect and that she needed to "sustain in the areas previously defined [in] the PDN." Def.'s Ex. 22.

Despite Larbi's improvements, Connor received further complaints about her performance and issued her a "memo of concern" on January 8, 2009. The memo of concern noted several problems "related to [her] previous PDN," including that a patient had complained, Larbi would not respond to pages, she became argumentative with a nurse over ordered lab tests, and she refused to draw blood for a requested lab test before her shift ended. Def.'s Ex. 23. The memo of concern again reminded Larbi that "[a]ny further occurrences or policy violations may result in further corrective action up to and including termination." Id.

In April and May 2009, Connor received four separate complaints about Larbi sleeping at work and failing to check her pages. Around the same time, Larbi filed a complaint with Advocate Christ's human resources department in which she alleged that Connor was harassing her. The complaint was assigned to Terri Sisler, a human resources employee. As part of her investigation into Larbi's complaint, Sisler spoke with Connor regarding Larbi's allegations, reviewed documentation of employee complaints about Larbi's performance, examined employee statements about Larbi sleeping, and examined Larbi's draw logs and pager records.

On May 19, 2009, Larbi met with Sisler and Connor for several hours to discuss issues regarding Larbi's performance and to review her log sheets. According to Connor, Larbi was unable to offer any explanation for late blood draws and other performance deficiencies. Connor then terminated her.

Discussion

On a motion for summary judgment, the Court "view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Trinity Homes LLC v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 629 F.3d 653, 656 (7th Cir. 2010). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and [that] the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Summary judgment must be ...


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