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Williams v. University of Chicago Medical Center

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

September 23, 2014



THOMAS M. DURKIN, District Judge.

Dawn Williams alleges that her employer, the University of Chicago Medical Center (the "Medical Center"), retaliated against her by denying her a promotion and creating a hostile work environment, because Williams filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Medical Center and one of its doctors, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. R. 1. The Medical Center has moved for summary judgment. R. 43. For the following reasons, the Medical Center's motion is granted.

Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Court considers the entire evidentiary record and must view all of the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Ball v. Kotter, 723 F.3d 813, 821 (7th Cir. 2013). To defeat summary judgment, a nonmovant must produce more than "a mere scintilla of evidence" and come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Harris N.A. v. Hershey, 711 F.3d 794, 798 (7th Cir. 2013). Ultimately, summary judgment is warranted only if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).


Williams began working as an operating room technician (a position subsequently renamed "surgical technologist") for the Medical Center in October 2002. R. 49 ¶¶ 7-8. In this position, Williams assists the medical staff during various types of surgery, but she specializes in otolaryngology (head and neck) procedures. Id. ¶¶ 9-10.

On August 23, 2007, Williams was assigned to work on a urology procedure with Dr. Gary Steinberg. Id. ¶ 14. Following the procedure, Williams filed an internal complaint alleging that Dr. Steinberg created a hostile work environment by using threatening and sexually explicit language and made threatening gestures. Id. ¶ 15; R. 45-1 at 42-44. The Medical Center investigated Williams's complaint and found that Dr. Steinberg "engaged in angry, inappropriate behavior, but did not substantiate the allegations that Dr. Steinberg used sexually explicit language." R. 49 ¶ 16.

By late July or early August 2009, Williams had applied for various positions at other hospitals. R. 60 ¶ 7. Williams told Dr. Kerstin Stenson-the Medical Center's Director of Head and Neck Surgery, with whom Williams had developed a close working relationship-about her interest in a job with greater responsibility, and Dr. Stenson expressed her hope that Williams would not leave the Medical Center. R. 49 ¶ 11; R. 60 ¶ 8. Williams testified that around that same time in 2009, the interim Director of Perioperative Services, Gayle Eward, spoke with her about creating a new position for Williams. R. 49 ¶ 21. Eward was not an employee of the Medical Center, but worked at the Medical Center under a contract it had with AORN Works, id. ¶ 20-a temporary executive nurse employment agency. See Williams also testified that later in August 2009, Eward told Williams that Dr. Stenson had informed Eward that Williams had interviewed for other jobs. Id. ¶ 22. This prompted Eward to ask Williams "to give her until the end of the year to bring a surgical technician position, lead manager position, into being." Id. Dr. Stenson, however, testified that she does not recall ever speaking with Eward. Id. ¶ 36. Dr. Stenson also testified that she has attempted to obtain a specialized position for Williams-regardless of whether it would be considered a "promotion" or entail a pay raise-for many years but was unsuccessful due to bureaucratic hurdles and changes in administration. Id. ¶ 37. Dr. Stenson does not have the authority to promote Williams or create a new position for her. Id. ¶ 38.

Initially, Eward did not tell Williams anything about the position or what its salary or compensation might be, id. ¶ 21, but according to Williams, Eward told her later in August that the position would pay double her then current salary and would entail ensuring that doctors had all of the "equipment and implants" required for a procedure. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Williams did not testify at her deposition that Eward actually offered her a position that Williams could accept, but in an affidavit filed in this case, Williams asserts that Eward offered her a position and Williams accepted it. R. 50-1 ¶ 7. Later in August, Eward told Williams she was "still working on things." R. 49 ¶ 29.

On August 21, 2009, Williams filed a lawsuit against the Medical Center and Dr. Steinberg in Cook County Circuit Court based on the events of August 23, 2007. R. 49 ¶ 18; R. 45-1 at 70-73. The Cook County Circuit Court eventually dismissed Williams's case on April 5, 2010, for failure to serve process on the defendants, R. 49 ¶ 19, although both Dr. Steinberg and the Medical Center retained counsel who made appearances in the case to seek its dismissal. See R. 60-1. After she filed the lawsuit in Cook County, Williams sent emails to Eward in October and November 2009 asking about the status of the position Williams alleges she was offered, but Eward never responded. R. 60 ¶ 18.

Williams also testified that Eward told her that she was going to create similar new positions for four other operating room technicians in other specialties, namely: Anita Canto, Rose White, Jennifer Montalvo, and Janice Manik. R. 49 ¶ 25. None of these individuals was promoted to a new position like that described by Eward. Id. ¶ 26. In fact, it is undisputed that no operating room technicians received promotions or raises in 2009. Id. ¶ 27. Moreover, the Medical Center laid off a total of 218 employees in February 2009, and there was a hiring freeze in effect at the Medical Center in 2009 and 2010. Id. ¶ 28. Nonetheless, despite Williams's admission pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 that there was a hiring freeze in effect at the Medical Center in 2009 and 2010, id., Williams now asserts in the affidavit she filed in this case that she "personally saw schedules where... new employees were hired and began orientation throughout 2009 and 2010." R. 50-1 ¶ 12.

It is undisputed that the Medical Center never created a position like the one Williams says Eward described to her. R. 49 ¶ 24. It is also undisputed that Eward had no independent authority to create a new staff position within the Medical Center. Id. ¶ 33. Eward left the Medical Center in January 2010. Id. ¶ 32.[1]

In addition to being denied a promised promotion, Williams alleges that she suffered other acts of retaliation after she filed her lawsuit in Cook County. In November 2009, Williams was again assigned to work with Dr. Steinberg for the first time since the August 23, 2007 incident. R. 49 ¶ 40. After reporting for the assignment, Williams was told that Dr. Steinberg asked that another technician replace Williams for the procedure, id., and Williams was assigned to a different surgery. Id. ¶ 41. Williams did not lose any pay or benefits as a result of being reassigned. Id. Williams also testified that later that day, as she passed Dr. Steinberg in the hall, he "bumped [her] thigh with his hand and just continued to walk by." Id. ¶ 45. Williams did not report this incident until about a month after it happened. Id. ¶ 46.

Sometime in 2010, Williams was also assigned to assist during another surgery that Dr. Steinberg attended, but for which he was not the lead surgeon. Id. ¶ 67. Williams was relieved of this assignment after ...

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