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Robinson v. Abbott Laboratories

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

September 29, 2014



JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL, District Judge.

Stephanie Robinson sued her former employer, Abbott Laboratories, alleging that Abbott discriminated against her on the basis of her race (Robinson is African-American) when the company fired her, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 2000e-2000e-17. Abbott moves for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the motion is denied.


From December 2007 to October 2012, Stephanie Robinson worked as a medical safety analyst at Abbott's customer contact center. Robinson's job responsibilities included answering calls from Abbott customers and health care professionals who had questions or concerns regarding Abbott's pharmaceutical products. From 2007 to 2010, Robinson's responsibilities were limited to collecting information from callers about defects in Abbott's products. After 2010, Robinson's job responsibilities expanded to include providing callers with medical information related to certain pharmaceutical products. For example, Robinson was trained on and responsible for providing medical information related to an Abbott product called Synthroid.

Robinson was also responsible for processing patient requests for reimbursements for Abbott products. She twice received training on the reimbursement procedure, including the requirements to validate and document a reimbursement request. Abbott has a five-step process for validating and documenting such a request. First, the analyst determines whether there is an acceptable reason for reimbursement. Second, she verifies that the customer has unused and unexpired medication. Third, she determines whether the customer has made a previous request for the same product. Fourth, she instructs the customer to discard the unused medication. Fifth, and finally, she instructs the customer to provide a pharmacy receipt, indicating the patient's name, the drug name, and the cost. Once the pharmacy receipt is received, the analyst must verify the pharmacy receipt with the pharmacy and document that verification on a "Patient Reimbursements of U.S. Pharmaceutical Products" form, also known as an "F-22 Form." The analyst is then supposed to deliver the F-22 form and the receipt to the refund processor. The refund processor assembles the F-22 forms and submits them to Gregory Whitacre, who is the director of Abbott's medical services contact center.

Whitacre reviews the F-22 forms for completeness and accuracy. If the F-22 forms are complete and accurate, Whitacre signs the forms, and they are then submitted to the finance department for final approval and processing. If, during his review, Whitacre notices that an F-22 form is inaccurate or incomplete, Whitacre returns the form to the appropriate analyst to correct any errors before the form is approved and submitted to the finance department.

A. The "Syntheroid" Reimbursement Request

In June 2012, Robinson worked on a patient request for a reimbursement that Abbott received through one of its product websites. Robinson called the patient's telephone number and informed the patient's mother that to process the request, the patient had to submit the pharmacy information and receipt to Abbott. In working on the patient refund form in connection with this request, Robinson checked off two out of the five pre-printed tasks on the form that she had not yet completed, including contacting the pharmacy, and she signed and dated the reimbursement form. She says that she did this in an effort to "multitask" and "work ahead."

Later in June, Abbott received a packing slip from the patient in support of his reimbursement request. The packing slip did not contain any pharmacy name or contact information and it indicated that the customer was requesting a refund for a product named "Syntheroid, " which was different from Abbott's "Synthroid" product. Robinson realized that the product the patient purchased was not an Abbott product. She therefore determined that the patient was not entitled to a refund from Abbott. She intended to strike out the indication on the form that she had called the pharmacy and to cross out the Abbott drug name on the form, but she became busy with another task and set the form down on her desk.

On July 9, 2012, Robinson took a medical leave of absence. The parties dispute whether Robinson "submitted" the F-22 form before she went on medical leave. Abbott contends that she did. Robinson contends that she left the refund form on her desk and never submitted it.

B. Whitacre's Review and the Subsequent Investigation

While Robinson was on medical leave, Whitacre reviewed the June 26, 2012, F-22 form that Robinson had signed regarding the request for reimbursement for the "Syntheroid" drug. Whitacre noticed that the form was not for an Abbott drug. He also noticed that the receipt attached to the F-22 form was not a pharmacy receipt, but rather a packing slip, that did not include any pharmacy's name or contact information. Because of this, Whitacre believed that Robinson may have falsified the F-22 form, and he asked Robinson's supervisor, Michelle Kupfer, to look into the issue.

Kupfer reviewed the form and agreed that it was possible Robinson falsified it. She alerted Anna Wilson, an employee relations specialist, of the potential document falsification. Wilson told Kupfer to speak with Robinson about the form.

On October 9, 2012, Robinson returned to work from her leave of absence. On October 11, 2012, Kupfer discussed the form with Robinson. The parties agree that during the discussion, Robinson admitted that she checked the box indicating "pharmacy receipt verified" even though she had not verified the receipt with the pharmacy. The parties otherwise dispute the contents of the conversation between Kupfer and Robinson. According to Abbott, Robinson told Kupfer that she had not verified the receipt because "at that time, [she] did not care about quality, " as she "was going to have surgery in a couple days and just didn't care." (Kupfer Dep. Ex. 9 (Notes), ECF No. 23-8.) Robinson disputes that she said this to Kupfer and contends that Kupfer lied about this statement to build a termination case against Robinson. According to Robinson, when Kupfer asked her about the form, Robinson told her that she recalled it as a refund request form that she did not complete before going on leave. She told Kupfer that she knew the request involved a non-Abbott drug and that there would not be ...

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