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Prabhakaran-Luckett v. Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 5, 2014

JEAN PRABHAKARAN-LUCKETT, Plaintiff,
v.
SAINTS MARY AND ELIZABETH MEDICAL CENTER AND RESURRECTION HEALTH CARE CORPORATION, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

SARA L. ELLIS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jean Prabhakaran-Luckett ("Luckett") brings this action against her former employer, Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center and Resurrection Health Care Corporation (collectively, "SMEMC"), alleging discrimination and hostile work environment for events leading up to and culminating in her termination on February 28, 2011. Luckett is an African American woman of Jamaican ancestry who was sixty-four years old when SMEMC fired her. She had been working at SMEMC or a predecessor hospital since 1994. Luckett's complaint alleges: race/color/national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e et seq. ("Title VII"); hostile work environment and harassment based on her race in violation of Title VII; race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; sex discrimination in violation of Title VII; and age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA"). SMEMC seeks summary judgment on all claims. Because the Court finds Luckett has not met her burden to support her claims on summary judgment, SMEMC's motion [32] is granted. SMEMC moves separately for Rule 11 sanctions [35] against Luckett and her counsel in connection with her Title VII sex discrimination claim. That motion is denied.

BACKGROUND[1]

Luckett was hired by Saint Elizabeth Hospital in 1994 as a cardiology technician. At the time of her separation, Luckett was a telemetry technician at the St. Mary's Hospital facility and was supervised by Debbie Florio ("Florio").[2] Florio supervised around 67 employees, including three telemetry technicians who worked with Luckett. Luckett was the only full time African American monitor technician. One other African American telemetry technician worked on the night shift as needed after having retired from a full time position. SMEMC had written equal employment and harassment policies.

SMEMC telemetry technicians monitor patient cardiac rhythms, identify critical arrhythmias and trends, and communicate with other medical personnel regarding changes or concerns. Technicians connect the patient to the telemetry leads and then monitor the patient remotely from a central monitoring room. If the telemetry technician notices a significant change in a patient's scan, he or she notifies the nurse in charge of that patient. Other telemetry technicians-some supervised by Florio, some by other managers-work together in the seventh floor central monitoring room. Per the SMEMC job description, a telemetry technician's responsibilities include "[p]articipat[ing] in orientation of new staff, function[ing] as a Preceptor when assigned." Luckett testified that she trained new employees who would learn by sitting with her at her station as she worked. Luckett distinguishes between the orientation of new technicians and training of new technicians. While she concedes orientation is a part of her job description and does not entail additional pay, she insists training requires additional pay. SMEMC denies that telemetry technicians were ever given additional pay for any training or orientation activities.

Telemetry technicians work full time, part time, or on an as-needed basis. Luckett's position was full-time. Telemetry technicians' shifts are set by monthly schedule. Shifts could be shortened or cancelled on short notice, depending on the number of patients in the hospital ("patient census"). Prior to the next shift, the eighth floor charge nurse would review the projected patient census and determines the number of monitor technicians needed. The order of cancellation order reflected whoever was next up on the log, with those already working overtime cancelled first. The charge nurse could then cancel part or all of a scheduled shift. Nurses rotate into the charge role and are designated on a shift-by-shift basis. The cancellations were noted in a cancellation log that was kept both in the central monitoring room and in the office of another manager, Zanaida Ugalde. The parties disagree about where the official log was kept. Luckett asserts that she was cancelled more often than other technicians because of her age, race, and national origin.

SMEMC had an attendance policy that provided for a written warning after four occurrences of absenteeism during a rolling twelve-month period, a written warning after the fifth occurrence, a final warning after the sixth occurrence, and termination after the seventh occurrence. As of her termination on February 28, 2011, Luckett had received a verbal warning for five absences between March 15, 2010 and May 8, 2010, a written warning for an absence on June 17, 2010, and a final warning on October 11, 2010 for an additional absence. Luckett had an additional absence from January 15-18, 2011. During that absence, Luckett called in sick to work each day and applied for coverage of the leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). UNUM, the hospital's leave of absence administrator, rejected coverage due to insufficient medical certification/documentation. When UNUM denied the FMLA leave request, Florio made the decision to terminate Luckett.

As of late February 2011, Luckett had an additional final warning in her file from an insubordination incident earlier that month. On February 16, 2011, Luckett had arrived at work to discover the initial hours of her shift had been cancelled. Luckett clocked in anyway. When Florio instructed Luckett to clock out and return to work at her new shift start time, Luckett refused. As a result, Luckett was issued a final warning for insubordination. Luckett disputes that she received proper notice of the shift cancellation.

Luckett's complaint also details a patient care incident on February 27, 2011, the day before she was terminated. Luckett states that when she arrived for her shift at 11:00 a.m., she saw an irregularity on a patient monitor that had gone unnoticed by a less experienced technician for two hours. Luckett claims she heard that the patient died as a result of that oversight. Luckett was not disciplined for or did not participate in any review of the incident. She asserts this event shows that the hospital was replacing senior employees with less experienced and less costly workers to the detriment of patient care. The hospital denies that any patient died on that day and further states that the nurse Luckett remembers notifying about the emergency was not on duty at that time.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. To determine whether a genuine issue of fact exists, the Court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 & advisory committee's notes. The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on mere pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to identify specific material facts that demonstrate a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598-99 (7th Cir. 2000). Although a bare contention that an issue of fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 492 (7th Cir. 2000), the Court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

ANALYSIS

I. Race Discrimination Claims Under Title VII and Section 1981 (Counts I & III)

Luckett alleges that her status as an African American woman of Jamaican ancestry was the true basis for her termination. However, Luckett has not met her burden under the McDonnell Douglas test to show that similarly situated employees were treated more favorably or that the ...


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