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Ho v. Abbott Laboratories

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

September 16, 2014

LI-HUA OLIVIA HO, Plaintiff,


EDMOND E. CHANG, District Judge.

Plaintiff Li-Hua Olivia Ho brought this lawsuit pro se against Defendant Abbott Laboratories, alleging employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. [1]Ho alleges that she was subjected to harassment by her supervisor, and eventually fired, because of her race (Asian) and age (over forty). R. 32, Second Am. Compl.[2] ¶¶ 26-27, 29-34. Ho further alleges that Abbott retaliated against her for complaining about discrimination. Id. ¶¶ 35-38. In addition to her Title VII and ADEA claims, Ho alleges a state-law claim for defamation arising from a statement made by her supervisor to Abbott security after Ho's firing. Id. ¶¶ 40-42; see also R. 79, Mar. 31, 2013 Order at 11-16 (dismissing Ho's defamation claims in part). Abbott now moves for summary judgment on all claims. See R. 125, Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 1-2.[3] For the reasons discussed below, Abbott's motion for summary judgment is granted.

I. Background

In deciding Abbott's motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.[4] Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Ho began full-time work at Abbott in 1996. DSOF ¶ 2. In late 2005, she was promoted to the position of CMC Quality Engineer in Abbott's Quality Assurance Department. PSOF ¶ 17. At the time of her promotion, Ho was 51 years old. DSOF ¶¶ 1, 4. As a Quality Engineer, Ho first reported to Richard "Ty" Hickman, whom she considered to be a fair manager. Id. ¶¶ 6, 20. Under Hickman, Ho received "Achieved Expectations" ratings in her performance reviews. PSOF ¶ 18; DSOF ¶ 18. In late summer 2007, Ho began reporting to Suzette Pelletier. DSOF ¶ 7. According to Abbott, Pelletier understood (based on feedback that Hickman provided to Pelletier during Pelletier's take-over of Ho's department) that Hickman told Ho several times during the year that Ho was not performing adequately. Id. ¶ 21. Based on this understanding, Pelletier told Ho in October 2007 that she was "Partially Achieving" expectations. Id. ¶ 22.[5] Several months later, Pelletier gave Ho a written warning for "Failure to Follow Standard Operating Procedures, " which Ho protested. Id. ¶ 23; PSOF ¶¶ 25-26. Pelletier and Hickman then gave Ho her 2007 performance assessment, in which she was given a "Partially Achieving" rating. DSOF ¶ 24. Ho refused to sign the assessment and drafted a rebuttal. Id. ¶ 25; Pl.'s Resp. to DSOF ¶ 25.

After giving Ho the "Partially Achieving" performance review, Pelletier put Ho on a "Coaching & Counseling Plan." PSOF ¶ 27; DSOF ¶ 26. This plan established several goals for Ho, including batch-record review training. DSOF ¶ 28; Pl.'s Resp. to DSOF ¶ 28. At least two other Quality Engineers who reported to Pelletier also participated in batch-record review training. R. 143-1, Pl.'s Exh. 40, Batch Record Review Materials at 13 (stating that Matt Krumrai and Lance Leech completed batch-record review training) (the exhibit is filed under seal, but not due to the factual proposition disclosed by this Opinion); see also DSOF ¶ 8 (identifying Krumrai and Leech as Quality Engineers). Ho failed her first attempt at the batch-record review test. DSOF ¶ 31.[6]

Next, Pelletier gave Ho a "Performance Improvement Plan, " which stated that Ho was expected to retake the batch-record review test and to pass it with a score of 100 percent. Id. ¶ 32.[7] Ho received training on the batch-record review process from Larry Bonk. Id. ¶ 33.[8] During training, Bonk showed Ho screenshots of her mistakes. Id. ¶ 34.[9] Bonk gave the screenshots to Ho so that she could make copies, but Ho later refused to return the screenshots. Id.; Def.'s Exh. 1, Ho. Dep. at 253:3-256:18, Exh. 21. After this incident, Bonk told Pelletier and Catherine Moore, the Associate Director of Quality Assurance Operations, that he did not feel comfortable training Ho anymore. DSOF ¶ 34. Ho took the batch-record review test again, and Abbott claims that Ho failed her second attempt. Id. ¶ 37.

Nitorshi Wilson, a Senior Specialist in Employee Relations, reviewed the circumstances surrounding Ho's failure of the batch-record review tests and the screenshot incident. Id. ¶ 43.[10] Wilson determined that Ho's employment should be terminated based on her failure to pass the batch record review test and her destruction of the screenshots. Id. ¶ 44.[11] In August of 2008, Pelletier and Moore told Ho that Abbott made the decision to fire her. Id. ¶ 46; Pl.'s Resp. to DSOF ¶ 46.

Several months after she was fired, Ho was invited to attend a holiday party for retired Abbott employees. DSOF ¶ 66. At the party, Ho was approached by Abbott security guards, who, according to Ho's contention, had been told that Ho was a terminated employee and that it was illegal for Ho to be on the premises. Id. ¶ 68; R. 132, Lehner Decl. Exh. M, Jan. 6, 2009 Ho email to Lehner at AHO 002137 ("[T]wo men from [the] security department told me they were on duty responding to a phone call from someone claiming that I was terminated the very last Friday and that it was illegal for me to be [on] Abbott property."). When Ho showed the security guards her invitation to the party, she was allowed to remain on the premises. Lehner Decl. Exh. M at AHO 002137. Ho sent an email to Abbott Human Resources about the incident, in which she said that she planned to file a defamation charge. Id. A few months later, Ho filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). R. 32-2, Second Am. Compl. Exh. B. After the EEOC issued a right to sue letter, Ho filed this lawsuit against Abbott, alleging race and age discrimination, retaliation, and defamation. R. 1, Compl; see also Mar. 31, 2013 Order (dismissing Ho's other claims).

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment must be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "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 (1986). In evaluating summary judgment motions, courts must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). The Court may not weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations, Omnicare, Inc. v. UnitedHealth Grp., Inc., 629 F.3d 697, 704 (7th Cir. 2011), and must consider only competent evidence of a type otherwise admissible at trial, Gunville v. Walker, 583 F.3d 979, 985 (7th Cir. 2009). The party seeking summary judgment has the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Carmichael v. Village of Palatine, 605 F.3d 451, 460 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 634 (7th Cir. 2008). If this burden is met, the adverse party must then "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256.

III. Analysis

Abbott argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Ho's remaining claims, which are for race discrimination, age discrimination, retaliation, and state-law defamation. See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. The Court will discuss the race and age discrimination claims together and address the remaining arguments in turn.

A. Race and Age Discrimination

In employment discrimination cases, the central issue is generally the motivation of the person who made the adverse employment decision. See, e.g., Rogers v. City of Chicago, 320 F.3d 748, 753 (7th Cir. 2003), overruled on other grounds by Hill v. Tangherlini, 724 F.3d 965, 967 n.1 (7th Cir. 2013). Ho does not meaningfully dispute that Wilson (the Senior Specialist in human resources) made the ultimate decision to terminate her. See supra, notes 10-11. Nor does Ho allege that Wilson had a discriminatory animus. Ho instead believes that ...

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