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Galvin-Stoeff v. St. John's Hospital

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

August 15, 2014

STACIA GALVIN-STOEFF, Plaintiff,
v.
ST. JOHN'S HOSPITAL OF THE HOSPITAL SISTERS OF THE THIRD ORDER OF ST. FRANCIS, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, Defendant.

OPINION

RICHARD MILLS, District Judge.

Pending is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Stacia Galvin-Stoeff ("the Plaintiff" or "Galvin-Stoeff") was an employee of Defendant St. John's Hospital of the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis ("the Defendant, " "St. John's" or "the Hospital") as a Transfusion Service Specialist and classified as a Medical Technologist II ("Med Tech II").

The Defendant is an Illinois not-for-profit corporation located in Springfield, Illinois, which provides healthcare services to individuals. The Plaintiff is an adult female and Illinois resident. She began her employment as a Med Tech II in the Transfusion Services Area of the Hospital's Laboratory Department on June 7, 2004. At all relevant times, the Plaintiff's supervisor was Gale Dial, Transfusion Manager. Dial reported to Ann Cox ("Cox"), the Laboratory Director.

The Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim due to an injury she sustained in January of 2009. Due to her injury, the Plaintiff initially had a lifting restriction of ten pounds. She was later placed on a permanent thirty-pound lifting restriction. On November 5, 2009, St. John's informed Galvin-Stoeff it could no longer accommodate her lifting restriction on a permanent basis. The Plaintiff was discharged on February 5, 2010.

The Plaintiff filed a three-count Complaint against the Defendant alleging: (1) discharge based on gender and pregnancy in violation of Title VII (Count I); (2) discrimination based on disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") ("Count II"); and (3) retaliatory discharge for benefits received under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act ("Count III").

The Defendant claims there is no genuine issue of material fact as to any issue and it is entitled to summary judgment as to each count. The Plaintiff alleges there are factual disputes which preclude the entry of summary judgment.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Essential Job Functions

As a Med Tech II, the Plaintiff was responsible for processing blood products received from sources outside the Hospital and for providing blood products to healthcare providers in the Neonatal Care and Intensive Care Units, as well for providing blood and blood products necessary for Level 1 Traumas and other medical emergencies. When providing blood and blood products to medical units, "time [was] of the essence." This meant that at times, the Plaintiff was required to get blood and products immediately to the patient unit.

The Defendant alleges that in emergency situations, the Plaintiff would have to physically transport blood and blood products to patient floors. The number of emergency situations fluctuated depending on the time of the year. The Plaintiff disputes this allegation to the extent that because a pneumatic tube station was used to move blood products to other floors, she did not have to physically transport blood and blood products to other floors. The only time she had to physically transport blood products to a patient area was for a level 1 trauma. These products would be transported by a cooler that weighed less than 30 pounds.

At all relevant times, the Plaintiff worked the third shift from 10:30 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. For most of her shift (from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.), the Plaintiff was the only employee working in Transfusion Services and was solely responsible for providing blood and blood products to patient units. As the Med Tech II responsible for Transfusion Services on the night shift, the Plaintiff at times had to pick up blood or take blood down to the Hospital's Security Department during the night because blood was cabbed back and forth from different areas outside the Hospital.

When the Plaintiff was hired, the description for the Med Tech II position did not include any lifting requirement. The position description was revised in January of 1992, May of 1995 and June of 2001. It did not contain any lifting requirement after these revisions.

The position description was revised in September of 2009. The Med Tech II job description states that the employee "must be capable of stooping, bending, stretching and lifting" as essential functions of the position. However, the job description in effect at the time of the Plaintiff's permanent lifting restriction did not specify the actual poundage of weight lifting requirement. There is another position description showing a revision date of September 30, 2009, which states that the Med Tech II employee must be able to lift "a maximum of 66 pounds." The Defendant states this specific restriction was probably added because the Hospital may have realized it was missing from the description after realizing there were items employees needed to lift weighing 66 pounds.

Ann Cox, one of the Plaintiff's supervisors, testified the change was made to "make things more clear" and to "be more specific of what was required. Cox knew that the 66-pound lifting restriction would put Galvin-Stoeff out of a job if the Hospital did not accommodate her lifting restriction.

The Defendant alleges that, while the Hospital did not get many 45-pound boxes of blood, it usually did in emergency situations. Gale Dial, the Plaintiff's supervisor, testified that if the Plaintiff was not able to lift the blood box in an emergency situation, it would not present a life threatening situation for a patient "as long as there is always someone there that can [lift the box] for her." The Plaintiff disputes this assertion, claiming that Defendant did not usually get 45 pound boxes of blood in an emergency situation. In an emergency, there would only be a few units of blood received and not a fully loaded 45-pound box. No life-threatening situation would be presented even if no one was present to assist Galvin-Stoeff. The Plaintiff claims if an emergency existed, she was able to move units of blood by herself even if a box weighed 45 pounds.

It was an essential job requirement of the Med Tech II position that the employee maintain a valid certification as a Medical Technologist certified by either the ASCP or CLS. Without such certification, a Med Tech II was not allowed to work in Transfusions Services or supervise Med Tech I employees. Gale Dial testified that a Med Tech II would not be qualified for the position if she let her Medical Technologist certification expire. Galvin-Stoeff acknowledged that she did not maintain a Medical Technologist certification from July 2007 to March 2010. The Plaintiff testified she did not know that the certification had expired in July 2007, and she would have renewed the certification if she knew it had expired. At the time of her discharge from St. John's, the Plaintiff had not renewed her Medical Technologist certification and she did not do so until March 2010. The foregoing facts about her certification are immaterial because that factor had nothing to do with her discharge. Moreover, the Defendant allowed her to work during the period when her certification had lapsed.

B. Galvin-Stoeff's Workplace Injury

In January 2009, the Plaintiff injured her back while carrying a box of blood products at the Hospital. The Plaintiff was first diagnosed as having a back sprain in January 2009. In March 2009, Galvin-Stoeff was diagnosed with having bulging discs.

The Plaintiff testified that because of her bulging discs, she experienced numbness in her leg and aching. She claims she was in constant pain. Galvin-Stoeff testified that she might get uncomfortable after sitting for an hour or two. She claims she has trouble sleeping at night and might get anywhere from nothing to three hours of sleep a night. The Plaintiff also says that her ability to perform household chores has been limited. She does not mow the grass and her husband does the vacuuming and laundry.

The Plaintiff testified she has neither seen a physician nor taken medication for her bulging discs since August 2009. Galvin-Stoeff's bulging discs did not result in restrictions related to her 2009 pregnancy, or her subsequent pregnancy in 2010.

The Defendant alleges that after her 2009 injury, St. John's accommodated the Plaintiff's lifting restrictions by allowing security staff to place the boxes of blood products on a cart for the Plaintiff. Galvin-Stoeff claims this was not done to accommodate her. The security staff had been placing the boxes on a cart even before her lifting restrictions.

The Hospital accommodated the Plaintiff by allowing her to work light duty in her Med Tech II position from January 2009 to November 2009 while she was subject to the temporary restriction. As part of the light duty, St. John's allowed Galvin-Stoeff to leave the box on the cart and unpack the product a few pints at a time, instead of transporting the boxes directly to her desk for processing. Her desk was located 15 to 20 feet away from the cart.

The Plaintiff testified that the number of blood units she could unpack and process at a particular time depended on how comfortable she felt, and how much the phone was ringing. Galvin-Stoeff testified that "you can only have [blood products] sitting out for this many minutes before you're going to get into a critical window where it's too warm." The Plaintiff used an infrared device to check temperature of the blood products to make sure that quality control was maintained while the blood products stayed on the cart.

While most Med Techs were able to carry blood coolers to the trauma rooms when responding to traumas, the Plaintiff would first have to put an empty cooler on the cart, then fill up the cooler and then cart the box to trauma. The Emergency Room staff would then have to remove the cooler from the cart. The Plaintiff disputes the foregoing allegation to the extent that ER staff had to remove coolers only when Galvin-Stoeff had a 10-pound lifting restriction-not after she had a 30-pound restriction.

The Defendant alleges that if a heavy box of blood products came into the Hospital, the Plaintiff would have to have someone lift the box onto the cart for her. If no one was around to help with the lifting, the Plaintiff would have to take a cart with her, put an empty box on the cart and transfer blood products from one box to another. If the Plaintiff could not find another box in the Transfusion Service room, she would leave the box at security and then go from room to room to transfer the blood products. The Plaintiff disputes these allegations and claims she did not need someone to lift the box for her. Moreover, she states she never left a box of blood products at security and then went room to room to transfer blood products.

C. Galvin-Stoeff's Permanent Weight Restriction

On or about August 17, 2009, the Plaintiff's physician determined that Plaintiff had achieved maximum medical improvement and that her 30-pound lifting restriction was permanent. The Plaintiff acknowledges that since October 2009, she has been unable to lift more than 30 pounds. The Hospital found out about the permanent weight restriction on September 18, 2009. Gail Dial, one of the Plaintiff's supervisors, suggested that the Hospital could accommodate her restrictions. However, Dial appeared to be concerned about overtime and scheduling and the possibility that other employees would not be available to lift heavy boxes.

On September 21, 2009, in response to Gail Dial's email, Worker's Compensation Facilitator Rosemary Beam sent an email to Dial, Kapp, Worker's Compensation Facilitator Connie Cardinell and Cox which stated:

[I]t is up to the department if you want to [sic] Stacia to continue working with permanent lifting restrictions. However, it might cause some resentment within the department. If she works OT it sends a message to other employees that a person with permanent lifting restrictions can work OT. However, as she is now back in your cost center we have no objection to her working OT, other than the message it is sending to his [sic] fellow workers. You will be setting president [sic] within the department and other workers who have a WC injury would have to be allowed to work with permanent restrictions. In a similar situation, if other employees in your department have a WC injury and it has been determined they cannot lift heavy boxes; they will have to have a note from their doctor stating they can no longer perform this function of their job. As you have/will accommodated Stacia, you will also have to accommodate their permanent restrictions. I hope this makes sense.

On September 21, 2009, Kapp responded to the Dial email by stating, "Gail, what does the job description require for her position?" On September 22, ...


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