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Carson v. University of Chicago Medical Center

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

September 29, 2014



THOMAS M. DURKIN, District Judge.

Marjorie Carson filed a four-count amended complaint against the University of Chicago Medical Center ("UCMC"), alleging age discrimination and race discrimination. R. 35. Count I is for age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Count II is for a willful violation of the ADEA. Counts III and IV are for race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, respectively. UCMC has moved for summary judgment. R. 44. For the reasons that follow, its motion for summary judgment is granted.


Carson is an African-American woman who is a former employee of UCMC. R. 76 ¶ 4. She was born on April 18, 1961. Id.

In 1983, Carson began working for UCMC. Id. ¶ 5. She became the Care Center Director in the Infusion Therapy Unit of UCMC in July 2007. Id. The Infusion Therapy Unit (or the "Unit") is an out-patient area where patients are administered chemotherapy. Id. Leslie Fulton, who was born in 1947, worked at UCMC from 1982 through 2012 and held the title of UCMS's Director of Out-Patient Operations/Medicine from 1999 through 2012. Id . ¶ 6. In that role, Fulton was responsible for Carson's hiring as the Care Center Director and frequently interacted with Carson several times per week while Carson was employed in that position. Id. Beginning in April 2011, Fulton stopped being Carson's direct supervisor, as Jerry Schissler, who became Section Administrator of Hematology/Oncology in December 2010, wanted to reduce Fulton's role in Infusion Therapy and "get to know... Carson and her strengths and her style."[1] Id. ¶ 6; R. 46-1 at 266 (13:9-12); R. 61 at 64:19-65:19.

Fulton prepared the job description and responsibilities for the Care Center Director position Carson held, which was in effect at all times. R. 76 ¶ 7. The "Job Summary" provided:

Responsible and accountable for planning, organizing, and directing clinical and administrative activities related to the Infusion Therapy Unit and the Apheresis Suite. Responsibilities include the delivery of quality patient care in a financially responsible manner through collaboration with medical, nursing[, ] and other support staff throughout the organization.

R. 46-1 at 259. The "Job Duties" included the following:

Service Pride:

Communicating with Patients and Customers Adjusting to Patient and Customer Needs Respecting One Another Maintaining an Appropriate Environment

C. Personnel

1. Recruitment and retention: Interviews and selects staff. Develops recruitment and hiring standards that are consistent with the Hospitals' HR policies and philosophy, and that promote retention of excellent employees.

E. Communication

1. Creates a work climate that encourages positive staff morale, motivation and commitment for all who participate in care in the Units. Conducts regularly scheduled staff meetings with nurse managers, physician directors, and staff which provide opportunities for discussion of staff and unit concerns.
2. Applies interpersonal communication skills to maintain an open network of communication among staff members, other health care professionals and hospital departments. Promotes effective communication process within the units and throughout the organization.

R. 46-1 at 260-61; R. 76 ¶ 7. Recruitment and retention of nursing staff was also a requirement of the position, which Carson understood. R. 76 ¶ 8.

Additionally, Carson was subject to the Civility and Service Pride Policy of the UCMC (the "Civility Policy"). R. 46-1 at 49-50 (133:16-134:4). The purpose of the policy is to "achieve an environment of collaboration and teamwork." R. 55-3. "Civility" under the policy is defined as "a demonstration of respect for others and their feelings, doing to and for others what we would have done unconditionally for ourselves." Id. "Workplace Behavior" is defined as "behavior that creates an atmosphere and environment that enhances and promotes respect for the integrity, dignity and worth of each and every human being." Id. The Civility Policy further states that the University of Chicago Hospitals Health Systems (the "UCHHS") "will continually monitor and assess the level of civility through on-going communication throughout the organization." Id.

A Care Center Director generally has two supervisors: the Section Administrator for Hematology/Oncology and the UCMS Director of Out-Patient Operations/Medicine (Fulton). R. 61 at 10:22-12:16. When Carson became the Care Center Director, Kim Carli[2] was the Section Administrator for Hematology/Oncology. R. 76 ¶ 9. Kim Carli remained in that position and as Carson's supervisor until she left UCMC in October 2010. Id. ¶ 9. During that time period, Fulton and Kim Carli drafted Carson's performance reviews for the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 review periods, taking into consideration input from faculty physicians. Id. ¶ 10. Once the reviews were completed, Fulton and Kim Carli would then share them with Carson. Id. Carson's review for the 2007-2008 period included the following assessment:

While substantial progress has been made, there is still much more to achieve. Marjorie has areas that challenge her with complex activity, flow, and management (phlebotomy, apheresis). These areas require thoughtful and collegial relationships, requiring constant cultivation. We believe Marjorie could enhance these relationships, and grow as a leader, by working collaboratively to improve operations in these areas.

Id. ¶ 11. According to Carson, Fulton told Carson in 2008 that she does not give high evaluations in an employee's first year so that the employee has something to strive for. R. 77 ¶ 23.

Carson's 2008-2009 review contained a similar critique to the 2007-2008 review:

Marjorie's passion and strength can sometimes be perceived as stiff and inflexible. While this partially is the perception, Marjorie is responsible for her communication style. Marjorie should continue to work on collaborative decision making and improvement; work on relationship building across the program; and continue to build her and her staff's credibility.
For FY10, Marjorie should: [...] continue to build bridges and mange [sic] relationships with leaders and staff.

Id . ¶ 12. In Carson's self-evaluation for the 2008-2009 evaluation, Carson rated herself a "1, " or "Needs Improvement, " on a sale of 1 to 5 for "Patient Satisfaction." Id. ¶ 14. This rating was based on the results of a patient satisfaction survey of her Unit. Id.

UCMC conducted an Employee Satisfaction Survey in 2010. The survey had sixty questions that were divided among four "domains"-Organization, Employee, Commitment Indicator, and Manager-with the "Manager" domain relating to the relationship between the employees and the manager of their respective work area. Id. ¶ 15. Nineteen employees under Carson responded to the survey (Carson oversaw approximately twenty-five registered nurses), and many of the concerns identified in the survey related to the Manager domain. Id . ¶ 15. Results for the Manager domain questions included the following:

Id. ¶ 16.[3]

A meeting was held at some point where Dr. Schilsky presented the survey results to the faculty and other leadership employees of the Hematology/Oncology section. R. 46-1 at 211 (47:14-20). Carson was present at that meeting. Id. at 211-12 (47:21-48:4). Dr. Schilsky expressed concern with the Infusion Therapy Unit's nursing staff being unhappy because he felt it was a "critical group of employees[, ] without whom it would be impossible to conduct business." Id. at 212 (48:9-15).

Carson began reporting to Schissler in December 2010 after Kim Carli left. R. 76 ¶¶ 18-19. Kim Carli had not yet completed Carson's performance evaluation for the 2009-2010 review period before leaving. R. 76 ¶ 18. Accordingly, Fulton prepared Carson's review for that period with the help of Schissler and Denise Friesema, the acting Section Administrator from the time period between Kim Carli's departure and when Schissler took over. Id. ¶ 20. Kim Friesema and Schissler were asked to provide input they received from two of the highest-ranking physicians in the Hematology/Oncology Section-Dr. Schilsky and Dr. Phillip Hoffman, the Practice Leader. Id. Schissler signed the review as he was Carson's supervisor when it was completed, though he testified that he did not write any of the evaluation or offer any substantive input because he did not observe Carson's performance for the majority of the review period. R. 46-1 at 305 (168:9-18).

Carson received her evaluation on January 20, 2011, during a meeting with Fulton, Friesema, and Schissler. R. 76 ¶ 22. The performance review included various comments regarding Carson's managerial abilities and her inability to encourage communication between employees. Id. ¶ 21. For example, "[Carson] is often perceived by clinicians as being resistant to their requests"; "there is not an environment of open communication and trust either with clinicians or among the nursing staff"; and "[s]ince recruitment and retention of nursing staff is critically important to our operation, we urge [Carson] to focus on improvement in the items in the manager' domain of the recent survey results." Id. Carson received an overall score of 2.48. Id. ¶ 22. A 2.0 rating in a given category indicates the employee's "[p]erformance does not consistently meet the job requirements" while a 3.0 rating demonstrates the employee "consistently meets the job requirements." R. 46-1 at 130.

Carson felt the meeting was "degrading" because Fulton, Friesema, and Schissler are all white, and Carson considered Friesema to be her peer. R. 76 ¶ 73. Carson further testified that she believed that Schissler gave preferential treatment to white employees. R. 79-1 at 11 (41:8-42:11). In support of her assertion, Carson testified that Schissler reimbursed Friesema for a conference she had attended on "at least five" occasions, yet when Carson asked to be reimbursed, Schissler said no. Id. at 40:9-24. When pressed as to why Carson would not be reimbursed, Carson testified that Schissler stated, "Marjorie, look around. What do you think? You're the only one black here." Id. at 42:1-6. Carson testified that Schissler also stated, "How old are you?... Well, Denise [Friesema] is like 30-35, 34, in her 30s." R. 79-2 at 117 (362:13-16).

Carson was automatically placed on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP") as a result of the deficient rating on her 2009-2010 evaluation. R. 76 ¶ 22. The PIP was for 90 days and was "to give [Carson] an opportunity to fix what was laid out for her." R. 46-2 at 35 (91:1-7). Carson went on FMLA leave the day after receiving the performance review, returning to work approximately two months later on April 25, 2011. R. 76 ¶ 22.

Carson received her 90-day PIP when she returned to work on April 25, 2011. R. 46-1 at 146. Schissler, as Carson's direct supervisor, signed the PIP and was responsible for administering it. R. 76 ¶ 23. ...

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