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O'Donnell v. America at Home Healthcare and Nursing Services, Ltd.

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

February 17, 2015

STEVEN O'DONNELL and AMY O'DONNELL, Plaintiffs,
v.
AMERICA AT HOME HEALTHCARE AND NURSING SERVICES, LTD., d/b/a ANGELS AT HOME HEALTHCARE, and RITA'S HOMECARE SERVICES, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MANISH S. SHAH, District Judge.

Steven O'Donnell and his wife Amy worked for America at Home Healthcare and Nursing Services, Ltd., an in-home healthcare provider. Steven was the company's Director of Human Resources, while Amy was a nurse. In May 2011, one of America at Home's owners discovered that Steven had been paid for over 470 hours of overtime work since December 2009. Steven was fired. While the company claims that it terminated Steven because the overtime hours were unapproved, Steven claims that he was fired because he refused to comply with the owners' demand that he return all of the overtime payments (which, Steven says, he lawfully earned).

A few weeks after Steven was discharged, Amy, too, was let go. The company maintains that it fired Amy because, after Steven was terminated, the owners learned that Steven had used company funds to pay back (at an accelerated rate) a loan Amy had taken out against her 401(k) plan; the owners believed Amy was complicit in the loan-repayment scheme. Amy, however, claims that she was fired to further punish Steven for having refused to return his overtime pay.

Steven and Amy sued America at Home (and St. Rita's Homecare Services, an assumed name of America at Home) for unlawful retaliation under Section 215(a)(3) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (Counts I and II), and for retaliatory discharge under Illinois common law (Count III). Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on all three counts of the complaint. For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Legal Standard

Summary judgment must be granted where there is no genuine issue of 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." Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, LLC, 656 F.3d 540, 547 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). In reviewing a summary-judgment motion, a court construes all facts, and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts, in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. P.H. Glatfelter Co., 768 F.3d 662, 668 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Laskin v. Siegel, 728 F.3d 731, 734 (7th Cir. 2013)).

II. Facts

A. Steven O'Donnell's Employment and Termination

In January 2009, Steven O'Donnell began working for America at Home Healthcare and Nursing Services, Ltd., an Illinois corporation that provides in-home healthcare services. See [69] at 2 ¶¶ 5, 7.[1] He started in accounts receivable, accounts payable, and payroll, and eventually took over as Director of Human Resources in January 2010. See id. at 3 ¶¶ 12, 15.[2] Steven was an hourly employee, which meant that he had to complete time sheets listing his work hours; he received bi-weekly wage payments. See [70] at 2-3 ¶¶ 4-5.

In May 2011, one of America at Home's owners, Rachael Fitzpatrick, reviewed Steven's payroll records and saw that Steven had claimed (and been paid for) 477.5 hours of overtime between December 2009 and May 25, 2011. See [69] at 7 ¶ 31; [70] at 5 ¶ 12; id. at 7 ¶ 21.[3] Fitzpatrick then spoke with Steven's supervisor (and CEO of the company), Gregory Taylor, about Steven's overtime pay. See [69] at 2 ¶ 8; id. at 4 ¶ 17; id. at 8 ¶ 33. Taylor told Fitzpatrick that at one point he had approved Steven to work overtime on a specific project, but that Taylor did not know Steven had been collecting overtime payments for over a year. See March 14, 2014 Deposition of Rachael Fitzpatrick, [51] at 28, Tr. at 26:11-:16. Fitzpatrick also discussed Steven's overtime with her co-owners, Kim Metcalf-Richards and Tami Shemanski. See [69] at 2 ¶ 11; id. at 8 ¶ 34. During that conversation, the owners decided that Steven's employment with America at Home should be terminated. See id. at 8 ¶ 34.[4]

Steven was indeed terminated, but exactly how and when he was let go is a matter of great dispute. According to plaintiffs, Taylor (Steven's supervisor) first spoke with Steven about the overtime pay on June 3, 2011. See [70] at 8 ¶ 23. During that discussion, Taylor accused Steven of "committing overtime fraud." Id. Steven denied that he had done anything wrong, and reminded Taylor that not only had Steven worked all of the overtime hours for which had been paid, but that Taylor had approved those hours, as well. See id. Taylor then excused himself, made a phone call, and returned to say, "We have an opportunity for you to keep your job, but you're going to have to pay back the overtime; we'll talk on Monday." Id.

Plaintiffs claim that on Monday, June 7, 2011, Taylor again met with Steven about the overtime payments. See id. ¶ 24. The two met initially around 9:30 a.m., says Steven, at which time Taylor presented Steven with a document purportedly requiring the latter to give back his overtime pay. See id. ¶ 24; March 20, 2014 Deposition of Steven O'Donnell, [49] at 59-60, Tr. at 57-58. Steven refused to sign the document, see [49] at 62, Tr. at 60-protesting that he had earned the overtime hours and that Taylor was violating the law, see [70] at 8-9 ¶ 25.[5] When Steven refused to sign, Taylor purportedly said: "Well, if I take this back to the ladies, ... if they don't like it, you could lose your job." Steven Deposition, [49] at 62, Tr. at 60:5-:9. Steven again refused to sign. See id., Tr. at 60:9-:10. At approximately 12:30 p.m. that same day, Steven claims that Taylor approached him once more, this time with one of the company's co-owners (Fitzpatrick) nearby. See id., Tr. at 60:12-:17. Taylor said to Steven that he had "presented that [Steven] wouldn't sign" the document, and that Steven "no longer work[ed] there[;] it was [Steven's] choice." Id., Tr. at 60:20-:22.

Defendants give quite a different account of what happened. While defendants admit that Taylor met with Steven on June 3 and June 7, 2011, see [69] at 8-9 ¶¶ 36, 38, they assert that Taylor fired Steven on the earlier-not the later- of those two dates, see [46] at 6 ¶ 37. According to Taylor, he told Steven on June 3 that the owners were "disappointed with [Steven's] actions" regarding the overtime payments, and that, as a result, the defendants "were going to terminate him." March 13, 2014 Deposition of Gregory Dean Taylor, [50] at 29, Tr. at 106:7-:9, :15-:16. Taylor then told Steven that he (Steven) had two options: he could resign from the company, in which case he would receive two weeks' severance pay, or he would be fired immediately. See id., Tr. at 106:16-:23. It was at that point, says Taylor, that Steven defended his actions regarding the overtime and offered to pay back the overtime money in an effort to save his job. See id., Tr. at 107:8-:19. Taylor then made a phone call to Fitzpatrick to tell her what Steven had said, after which Taylor told Steven that Fitzpatrick would have to speak with the other owners. See id., Tr. at 108:2-:19. Taylor told Steven that the two could meet again the following Monday (June 7), and that in the meantime Steven "should carefully consider the two options that [Taylor] had given him." See id. at 29, Tr. at 108:21-:24.

Taylor says that he met with Steven again on the morning of June 7. See id. at 30, Tr. at 109-11. According to Taylor, Steven began that conversation by stating that he would not agree to pay back any of the overtime pay (as Taylor claims Steven had offered to do), since he had thought about things over the weekend and had decided that he had done nothing wrong. See id., Tr. at 110:17-:21. Taylor responded that the owners had discussed Steven's proposal and would not accept it anyway, and that they had left it up to Taylor to decide whether to keep Steven on as an employee (though he would necessarily be removed from his position as Director of Human Resources). See id., Tr. at 111:1-:6. Taylor told Steven that, because of Steven's lack of remorse over his actions, Taylor would "continue with the termination, " and that June 7 would be Steven's last day. Id., Tr. at 111:7-:11.

B. Amy O'Donnell's Employment and Termination

Amy O'Donnell is Steven O'Donnell's wife. See [69] at 6 ¶ 27; Defendants' Answer to Plaintiffs' Complaint, [18] at 2 ¶ 4. When Steven was fired from his job at America at Home, Amy also worked there (as a nurse). See [69] at 9 ¶ 40. Amy performed nursing services for St. Rita's Homecare Services, as well. See id. St. Rita's is an assumed name of America at Home. See id. at 2 ¶ 9. Both provide in-home healthcare services, and both are owned by the same three individuals described above. See id. ¶¶ 10-11.

The parts of Amy's story most relevant to defendants' motion are those that took place after her husband was fired from America at Home. But that sequence of events stems from an earlier set of events that took place while Steven was still employed. When Steven was Director of Human Resources for America at Home, one of his responsibilities was to apply payments toward loans taken out by company employees against their 401(k) plans. See [69] at 5 ¶ 26. When Steven made these repayments on behalf of certain employees, however, he paid more than the minimum required-that is, he accelerated the loan payments so that the loans against those employees' respective 401(k) plans would be paid off sooner than scheduled. See id. at 6 ¶¶ 27-28. The individuals for whom Steven made accelerated loan payments were his wife (Amy) and two other America at Home employees, Andrea Castrajon and Michelle Buissereth-Reed. See id. ¶ 27. The parties dispute who ultimately provided the money to fund these accelerated payments, but agree that the money came at least initially from America at Home. See id. ¶ 29.[6]

When Steven was fired, Jordan Trotto replaced him as Director of Human Resources. See [70] at 10 ¶ 30. Trotto discovered the accelerated loan payments that Steven had made, and informed Steven's former supervisor (Taylor). See id. at 11 ¶ 32. Taylor, in turn, informed the company's owners. See [69] at 10 ¶ 46.[7] According to defendants, the owners then decided to terminate Steven's wife Amy, because they believed that Amy and Steven together had stolen money from America at Home. See id. at 11 ¶ 47.[8] On June 29, 2011, Amy was in fact terminated from both America at Home and St. Rita's. See id. ¶ 48. The other two employees whose loan payments had been accelerated by Steven (Castrajon and Buissereth-Reed) were not. See [70] at 12-13 ¶ 37. Those employees were instead permitted to reimburse America at Home through paycheck deductions. See id.

Five days before Amy was discharged, she had delivered to America at Home a request from Steven for a copy of his personnel file. See [70] at 10 ¶ 29; id. at 13 ¶ 38. The request was made under the Illinois Personnel Records Act, and included in particular a request for the document Taylor had allegedly presented to Steven on June 7, 2011-that is, the document purportedly obligating Steven to repay his overtime wages (which Steven had refused to sign). See [70] at 10 ¶ 30. Steven did receive from America at Home a copy of his personnel file, but it did not include the document that Steven claims to have seen on June 7. See id. Jordan Trotto, Steven's replacement as Director of Human Resources, spoke to Taylor about Steven's request for the June 7 document, but, according to Trotto, Taylor said the document no longer existed because Steven had refused to sign it. See id.[9] After both Steven and Amy had been let go from the company (and about a week after the latter's ...


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