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Brown v. Health Care Service Corporation

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

August 18, 2014

MICHELLE Y. BROWN, pro se, Plaintiff,
HEALTH CARE SERVICE CORPORATION and RAYMOND E. BISANZ, individually, Vice-President Enterprise Resource Management — Health Care Service Corporation, Defendants.


MILTON I. SHADUR, Senior District Judge.

As this Court said at the outset of its May 6, 2014 memorandum opinion and order ("Opinion") dismissing this action on summary judgment, Michelle Brown ("Brown") is "an African-American woman still employed in a responsible executive position with Health Care Service Corporation ("Health Care") after a successful 28-year career marked by four substantial promotions fostered by Raymond Bisanz ("Bisanz, " a higher-ranking Health Care executive who supervised Brown during the 16-year period ending in 2008)." Indeed, given Brown's compensation level (which in this Court's recollection is in the low six figures) it would seem that she would have had no problem in retaining a professional knight[1] - a well-qualified lawyer - to enter the lists to do combat on her behalf in the complex area of employment discrimination law, but she has chosen to go it alone: to act pro se. Whether than decision stems from an overweening (and mistaken) sense of her own capabilities or from some other factor is unknown, but the end result has been that the only bias that has been revealed by either side's evidence and other submissions is Brown's self-bias.

It is really not possible to convey adequately to any reader of the record in this case - to someone who has not had to experience them first-hand - the intransigence and misperceptions that Brown has brought to this litigation. Perhaps the closest that this Court can come to replicate that experience for others is (1) to attach (as Ex. 1) a copy of its brief dispositive Opinion and its lengthy attachment - an opinion that was unique for this Court in its having adopted, for the first time in its judicial tenure spanning more than three decades, a litigant's presentation that nailed the issues and their resolution so completely - and (2) to attach (as Ex. 2) a copy of this Court's even more brief June 4 memorandum order, which was even more brief because it served to deny Brown's "Motion To Amend Judgment" out of hand, labeling that motion "really a turgid rehash of her prolix and unsuccessful opposition to that summary judgment motion."

Because Brown has taken an appeal from the dismissal of her action, all that remains on this Court's plate for decision are Health Care's bill of costs and its motion seeking supplemental sanctions for Brown's having filed her legally frivolous Motion To Amend Judgment. Those subjects have been briefed by both sides, and it turns out that Brown has presented one meritorious objection to the bill of costs, although that is not at all the case on the issue of further sanctions.

This opinion turns to the issue of costs first. On that score Brown has argued (1) that the costs sought by Health Care for deposition transcripts exceed what she represents to be the maximum transcript rate of $3.65 per page, (2) that the purported charges for court reporter attendance fees were in excess of $220 for a full day and (3) that this Court should stay the payment of costs until Brown has appealed that issue or, alternatively, that Brown be allowed to repay the costs in installments over a 12-month period. Only the first of those three contentions has any semblance of merit.

On the claimed $2.65 per page limit, Brown's mistake is that this District Court's LR 54.1 sets higher allowable rates depending on various expedited production dates ordered by counsel. For 15 of the 20 deposition transcripts ordered by Health Care, all of the requests were within the LR's allowable limits - but the other five had been included in the bill of costs at a per-page figure of $3.90 rather than the allowable $3.65. That error calls for a $216.30 reduction, in addition to which Health Care has dropped its $508.74 claim for the videotape recording of Brown's deposition because a transcript charge had also been included for that deposition. Those adjustments have reduced the billable costs from $7, 036.15 to $6, 311.11.

As for Brown's second issue she is simply wrong, because Health Care has not requested any court reporter attendance fees in its bill of costs (unsurprisingly so, because Health Care had not been charged any such fees). Hence Brown's second argument is without merit and is rejected.

Finally, with Brown remaining a heavily compensated senior director-level employee at Health Care, her request for the installment payment of taxable costs is wholly unsupported - and indeed unsupportable. Nor does this Court sees any predicate for staying the payment of costs.

In sum, costs are entered in favor of Health Care and against Brown in the sum of $6, 311.11, and Brown is ordered to pay those costs now. That said, this opinion turns to the remaining issue of sanctions.

As for the issue of supplemental sanctions, the original imposition was directly attributable to Brown's repeated abuse of the discovery process even after this Court had first counseled her on the subject and had then warned her about her continued pursuit of matters irrelevant to her case. True to form, when on June 20 of this year this Court ordered Brown to respond to Health Care's supplemental request for sanctions related to the legally frivolous Motion To Amend Judgment, Brown seized instead on the opportunity to argue that she should never have been sanctioned the first time around.

None of Brown's current arguments has any force, and Health Care's request for an additional $1, 609.00 in attorneys' fees is entirely reasonable and is granted. Meanwhile this Court's understanding is that Brown has not responded to Health Care's earlier itemization (sent to her by Health Care on March 4 of this year) of the first imposed sanctions. In that respect Brown is ordered to respond forthwith with any objections that she may have to Health Care's earlier request of $13, 811.00, so that this Court can quantify her total liability for attorneys' fees thrust on Health Care by her sanctionable conduct.


Michelle Brown ("Brown"), an African-American woman still employed in a responsible executive position with Health Care Service Corporation ("Health Care") after a successful 28-year career marked by four substantial promotions fostered by Raymond Bisanz ("Bisanz, " a higher-ranking Health Care executive who supervised Brown during the 16-year period ending in 2008), [1]has filed a pro se action against both Health Care and Bisanz under the auspices of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981") on charges of alleged race discrimination and retaliation. To be blunt, an objective review of Brown's 15-page memorandum and her bulky supporting materials in an attempted response to defendants' current motion for summary judgment reveals her submission to be a classic example of revisionist history, for it draws unreasonable inferences from the objective facts and consequent analysis that torpedo her claims entirely.

In its more than three decades on the bench this Court has never before adopted a litigant's submission lock, stock and barrel. This time however it would be act of supererogation to be compelled to recast defendants' powerful statement of facts and legal argument in this Court's own words, for Brown's "responsive" submission is so nonresponsive in substantive terms that it would be a major waste of a scarce commodity - judicial time - to parse her effort to make the worse appear the better cause.

Indeed, when Brown's memorandum and the bulky 3-inch-thick paper submission that accompany it are viewed in the cold light of reality rather than from Brown's biased viewpoint, they bring to mind one common catchphrase and two aphorisms of classical origin. Those bear mention before this opinion turns to some specifics drawn from defendants' memorandum in support of their summary judgment motion - a memorandum that is attached to this opinion for convenient consideration.

First, the common saying that "no good deed goes unpunished"[2] is an apt description of Brown's having targeted Bisanz as a claimed racist even though it was he who initiated Brown's successive steps up the corporate ladder and even though the Director of Financial Initiatives issue about which Brown complains is really a red herring (see Defendants' Mem. 3 n.1) and actually antedated Brown's 2007 promotion to Senior Director that was launched by Bisanz. Even apart from the fact that the Director of Financial Initiatives subject is barred by limitations (a matter that Brown does not even mention in her responsive memorandum, apparently hoping that it would disappear if unspoken of), Brown seems to view Bisanz as a newly-minted racist in spite of his sponsorship of her advancement.[3]

That calls to mind the first of the two classical allusions referred to earlier, this time the plaint by Shakespeare's King Lear:

How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is To have a thankless child!

That aptly describes Brown's effort to place Bisanz in the crosshairs of her employment discrimination claim. Any claim of asserted race discrimination as to the Director of Financial Initiatives position and as to the selection of an outside applicant (Brian Sullivan) to fill that position is outlawed by limitations (Defendants' Mem. 3 n.1 and 9), while Brown's more focused claim of race discrimination - which targets the hiring of James Walsh ("Walsh") as the Vice-President of Financial Analysis in September 2007 - was the decision of Bujak and not Bisanz (id. at 3-5).[4]

Accordingly there is no genuine issue of material fact that stands in the way of a judgment as a matter of law in Bisanz' favor. Hence his motion for summary judgment is granted, and this opinion goes on to discuss the situation as to Health Care itself.

On that score the well-known quotation from Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism, Part II is extraordinarily applicable to Brown and her claims:

All seems infected that th' infected spy, As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye.

That mindset on Brown's part, which leads her to charge Health Care with a plot to create a "whites-only" Vice President position for Walsh and thereby deprive Brown of the opportunity for still another promotion, exists only in Brown's "jaundic'd eye" - just look at Walsh's impressive credentials discussed at Defendants' Mem. 3 and 11-12 and at the steep hill that someone in Brown's position must therefore climb as described in Millbrook v. IBP, Inc. , 280 F.3d 1169, 1180 (7th Cir. 2002, cited and quoted at Defendants' Mem. 8).[5]

So Brown's claim of a race-discriminatory failure to promote her comes up empty. And as for her claim of retaliation, Defendants' Mem. 14-15 knocks it down point by point to demonstrate its lack of substantive merit. Although Brown's reports of her resort to professional counseling in early 2009 and of the fact that she went on medical leave due to emotional distress and depression after filing her charge with EEOC (Plaintiff's Mem. at 4) are truly regrettable, Health Care cannot be held responsible for those consequences of what has obviously become an obsession on Brown's part - an obsession manifested by her turgid submissions and her contentiousness at every step of this litigation. So Brown's last attempted opposition to an adverse summary judgment determination fails as well.


There is no genuine issue of material fact through which Brown can stave off an unfavorable summary judgment. Accordingly defendants are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, and this action is dismissed with prejudice.



Pro se Plaintiff Michelle Brown ("Plaintiff") does not claim that she was terminated from Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company ("HCSC"); she cannot make that claim. She also does not claim that she was disciplined or demoted; neither of those events have taken place. Rather, she remains a highly-compensated, senior director-level employee that has alleged two limited claims of race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981: one based on promotion(s) to which she claims to have been entitled; and the other based on retaliation.

As demonstrated in detail below, this case is an unusual situation where an employee has obtained a great deal of advancement in her 28-year career (both income-wise and position-wise) within a large and complex organization, but is convinced in her own mind that whatever professional advancements accorded and compensation paid to her by HCSC, they have not been enough. And, without any evidence that would so ...

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