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Washington v. Take Care Health Services, LLC

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

March 18, 2015

ERIC WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
TAKE CARE HEALTH SERVICES, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

REBECCA R. PALLMEYER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Eric Washington, an African-American male, works as a nurse practitioner. From 2010 until 2012 he was employed by Defendant Take Care Health Services, LLC, a company that provides primary care health services within Walgreens stores. In late 2011, Washington trained for a position as Clinic Coordinator at a Walgreens in Lockport, Illinois, but he struggled with the responsibilities of that position, drawing complaints from subordinates and a verbal and written warning from supervisors. After being cautioned that failure to improve would result in termination, Washington filed a formal complaint of race and sex discrimination and then, ten days later, resigned. In this lawsuit, he alleges that he was subjected to a hostile work environment and constructively discharged as a result of harassment, discriminated against on the basis of race and sex, and retaliated against for complaining about the alleged discrimination. Washington moves for summary judgment [33] on his race and sex discrimination claims, as well as his retaliation claim. Defendant moves for summary judgment on all counts [30]. Plaintiff's allegations do not establish a hostile working environment, nor has he presented evidence that he suffered an adverse employment action, that he was meeting his employer's legitimate expectations, or that his employer had any discriminatory intent. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and Plaintiff's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

Eric Washington is an African-American male trained and licensed as a nurse practitioner. (Pl.'s Stmt. of Material Facts [34], hereinafter "P. SOF, " ¶ 1.) He began working for Defendant Take Care Health Services ("TCH") with the title Nurse Practitioner in February 2010 at the Orland Park, Illinois location. (P. SOF ¶ 4.) TCH operates health care clinics within select Walgreen Co. ("Walgreens") store locations. (Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts [32], hereinafter "D. SOF, " ¶ 3.) Each clinic is managed by one Clinic Coordinator and is staffed by at least one Nurse Practitioner, one or more Medical Concierges, and one or more Medical Assistants. (D. SOF ¶ 4.) The Clinic Coordinator reports to a Market Manager who oversees all clinics within a designated market. (D. SOF ¶ 4.) The Market Manager, in turn, reports to a Regional Vice President. (D. SOF ¶ 4.) Finally, each TCH Clinic works with a Collaborating Physician who oversees treatment decisions in the clinic. (D. SOF ¶ 53; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts [39], hereinafter "P. Resp. to D. SOF, " ¶ 53.)

While working at the Orland Park clinic, Plaintiff had a disagreement with his Clinic Coordinator, Teresa Jones, regarding his scheduling. (D. SOF ¶ 5; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 5.) He e-mailed the centralized Human Resources mailbox, "HR Solutions, " stating that "there is unfairness at Orland Park and I would like a transfer." (D. SOF ¶ 6; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 6.) In November 2010, Mary Scoigletti, the Chicago Southwest Market Manager, announced a vacancy for a full-time Nurse Practitioner at TCH's Joliet, Illinois location; Plaintiff applied for the position and was transferred in early 2011. (D. SOF ¶ 7; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 7.) Washington's commute to the Joliet clinic was 50-60 minutes each way, and Washington was formally disciplined for repeated tardiness, a problem he attributes to difficulties resulting from the long commute. (D. SOF ¶ 8; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 8.) After being disciplined for tardiness in August 2011, Washington explained to Scoigletti that he was eager to transfer to a clinic closer to his home in Gary, Indiana. (D. SOF ¶ 8; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 8.) The same month, Plaintiff received a call from an individual in TCH corporate headquarters, unidentified in the record, who advised him that two Clinic Coordinator positions were available, one in Lockport, Illinois, another in Orland Park. The Clinic Coordinator position was a promotion for Plaintiff, and both openings were closer to his home. (P. SOF ¶ 5.) The TCH official offered Washington his choice of the two locations, and he initially asked to be appointed to the position in Orland Park. (P. SOF ¶ 5.) A few days later, however, Washington learned that the position had already been filled by another TCH employee, a woman named Ruth; the Lockport location was still available, however, and Washington accepted it. (P. SOF ¶¶ 5-6.) A few days later, Washington received yet another call, this time from Audrey Collins, the acting Market Manager for the South Market, where the Lockport clinic is located. (P. SOF ¶ 7.) Though Plaintiff had already accepted the Lockport position, Ms. Collins asked him to relinquish it. (P. SOF ¶¶ 6-7.) She explained that Dolphine Coleman had been serving as the Acting Clinic Coordinator while the prior Coordinator was on maternity leave, but had been deprived of the chance to bid for permanent appointment to the job because she was on vacation when the position was posted internally. (D. SOF ¶¶ 10, 12; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 10.) Washington declined to step aside, however, and was officially transferred to Lockport in September or October 2011. (P. SOF ¶ 8; D. SOF ¶ 14; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 14.)

I. Washington's Transition to the Clinic Coordinator Role

There are two Clinic Coordinator ranks within TCH: CCI and CCII. The CCI is responsible for overseeing the operations of the clinic, seeing patients, ordering supplies, doing patient "callbacks, " and communicating with the Walgreens Store Manager and Pharmacy Manager regarding clinic operations. (D. SOF ¶ 15; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 15.) The CCII has all the responsibilities of the CCI but also exercises supervisory authority over the Medical Assistants and Medical Concierges. (D. SOF ¶ 15; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 15.) TCH requires employees to complete a training course for each position before being officially promoted. (D. SOF ¶ 16; P. Resp. to SOF ¶ 16.)

Washington completed the CCI training and was given the job title of CCI on November 12, 2011. (D. SOF ¶ 18; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 18.) He completed the CCII training in mid-December 2011 and his job title was accordingly changed to CCII by January 1, 2012. (P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 20; P. SOF ¶¶ 13, 18.) While Washington completed the training, Dolphine Coleman continued to serve as the Acting Clinic Coordinator. (D. SOF ¶ 17; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 17.) According to Plaintiff, this caused "CC role confusion" and had a negative impact on morale at the clinic. (P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 19; P. SOF ¶ 14.) Washington notes that during his first day at Lockport (presumably in September or October 2011, before competing his training), Washington met the collaborating physician, Dr. Bruckner. (P. SOF ¶ 11.) When Washington introduced himself as the Clinic Coordinator, Dr. Bruckner responded that Dolphine Coleman was the Clinic Coordinator, and if there had been a change he would have been informed of it. (P. SOF ¶ 11.) Plaintiff also notes that, a few weeks after he transferred to Lockport, Dolphine Coleman introduced herself as the Clinic Coordinator at their first meeting. (P. SOF ¶ 12; Dep. of Eric Washington, Ex. A to D. SOF [32-1], hereinafter "Washington Dep., " 364:10-24.)

II. Complaints about Washington

It is undisputed that once Washington officially took over the Clinic Coordinator role in January 2012, TCH management began receiving complaints about Washington's performance. On January 2, 2012, Coleman-who stayed at Lockport in the Nurse Practitioner position- wrote an e-mail message to Washington, alerting him that certain tasks were being overlooked: callbacks to patients were not completed in a timely manner, and needed supplies had not been ordered. (D. SOF ¶ 21; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 21; Decl. of Dolphine Coleman, Ex. G to D. SOF [32-1] ¶¶ 3-4.) Washington responded via e-mail, agreeing that the number of callbacks was "troublesome" but blaming the problem on the Medical Assistant, Katelyn Watt, who, according to Washington, was playing games on the computer, looking at Facebook, and reading novels during her shift. (D. SOF ¶ 22; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 22; P. SOF ¶ 26.) Washington also raised his concerns about Watt to his direct supervisor, Anne Weigel, who had taken over from Collins as the Market Manager of the South Market. (P. SOF ¶ 26; D. Resp. to P. SOF ¶ 26.)

On January 4, 2012, the parent of a clinic patient complained that Washington had recorded her son's blood pressure on his chart without actually checking the patient's blood pressure. (D. SOF ¶ 23; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 23.) On February 7, 2012, Megan Hernandez, the store manager at the Lockport Walgreens, wrote to Weigel listing concerns that she and her Walgreens staff had about Plaintiff's performance. She noted patient complaints, including that the "[d]osing on prescriptions [was] incorrect"; that patients asked "who the nurse is on staff, if it is [Plaintiff] they come back to see Dolphine"; and that a specific employee, who visited the clinic as a patient, had complained that Plaintiff made her uncomfortable during the visit. (Hernandez E-mail Feb. 7, 2012, Ex. A to Decl. of Megan Hernandez, Ex. H to D. SOF [32-1], hereinafter "Hernandez E-mail"; D. SOF ¶ 24; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 24.) Hernandez also noted staff complaints, including a "[l]ack of basic supplies needed in the clinic"; that Plaintiff was improperly using the emergency call button, including "calling 911 for a patient and not notifying staff"; that he spoke to patients and staff with headphones on; and that there was a general "[l]ack of communication through out [sic] store, pharmacy and Dolphine." (Hernandez E-mail.) On February 11, 2012, Weigel received a complaint from Watt, the Medical Assistant, complaining that Washington was not helping with patient callbacks. (D. SOF ¶ 25; Watt E-mail Feb. 11, 2012, Ex. B to Decl. of Anne Weigel, Ex. F to D. SOF [32-1].)

Washington and Coleman also had a scheduling disagreement: as Clinic Coordinator, Washington was responsible for designing the schedules for clinic employees. In November 2011, shortly after Plaintiff transferred to Lockport, Coleman submitted a proposed schedule to Washington, dividing up Coleman and Washington's shifts, and requesting time off in March 2012, but Washington did not respond to her proposed schedule. (D. SOF ¶ 27; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 27.) Coleman e-mailed Washington again on January 2, 2012 regarding her proposed schedule; Washington objected to her proposal because it required him to work four days in a row, and he responded with his own proposed schedule. (D. SOF ¶¶ 21, 27, 44; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶¶ 21, 27, 44.) Coleman explained in an e-mail that Washington's proposal decreased her hours and required her to work two consecutive weekends. (D. SOF ¶ 27; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 27.) When Washington remained unresponsive to Coleman's concerns, she reached out to Weigel. Weigel attempted unsuccessfully to resolve the disagreement during a February 8, 2012 meeting, and ultimately created the schedule herself. (D. SOF ¶ 27; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 27.) On February 14, 2012, Coleman e-mailed Weigel and Sue Ferbet, the Regional Vice President of Clinic Operations, describing the scheduling dispute and noting that she found Plaintiff's conduct "unprofessional, disrespectful and inconsiderate." (D. SOF ¶ 27; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 27.) She also noted that "Since [Plaintiff]'s arrival, there have been many concerns which I have tried to address without involving management, " but that she could no longer maintain the operations of the clinic without management intervention. (D. SOF ¶ 27; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 27.)

III. Verbal Warning

In response to these complaints, Weigel traveled to the Lockport store on February 16, 2012 to meet with Plaintiff. Weigel gave Washington a verbal warning-the first step in TCH's Corrective Action Policy-and memorialized the conversation in a February 22, 2012 e-mail message to Washington. (P. SOF ¶ 29; D. SOF ¶ 31; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 31.) As set forth in her e-mail, Weigel reminded Washington that he was expected to participate in patient callbacks, explained the proper way to document patient encounters in the TCH database, and requested that Washington fill out a medication error report for a particular patient. (D. SOF ¶ 31; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 31.) Washington explained during the meeting that when there was a high volume of patients, he was often too busy to do patient callbacks. ( See D. SOF ¶ 31; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 31.) Weigel made two suggestions to facilitate clinic operations. First, she suggested that Washington delegate the responsibility for ordering supplies to a Medical Assistant in order to ensure consistency and free up his time. (D. SOF ¶ 31; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 31.) Second, she encouraged Washington to "[g]ive positive feedback or a compliment to your clinic colleagues daily, " to "[g]reet the store manager on a daily basis, smile and initiate the conversation, " and to greet the pharmacy staff and pharmacy manager daily. (D. SOF ¶ 31; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 31; Weigel E-mail to Washington, Feb. 22, 2012, Ex. 22 to Washington Dep., Ex. A to D. SOF [32-1], hereinafter "Weigel Feb. 22 E-mail.")

According to Plaintiff, Weigel also made suggestions that were not memorialized in the February 22 email: She requested that Washington keep a log of his conversations with co-workers so that Weigel could monitor his progress. (P. SOF ¶ 36.) Plaintiff also maintains that Weigel suggested Washington could foster positive morale if he would "meet with the girls, tell them that their hair is pretty, or that they have nice shoes, or take them to lunch or buy coffee." (P. SOF ¶ 32.) Plaintiff interpreted this suggestion as Weigel's attempt to set Plaintiff up for a sexual harassment charge. (P. SOF ¶ 33.) Weigel denies making these statements. (Supp. Decl. of Anne Weigel, Ex. K to Def.'s Opp. Appendix [44-1] ¶ 9.)

From Washington's perspective, Weigel's complaints were a complete surprise: He had previously complained to Weigel that Watt, the Medical Assistant, was not doing her job, which included making patient callbacks, and did not feel he was to blame for this failure. (P. SOF ¶ 26.) Plaintiff also took offense at Weigel's suggestion that he did not know how to socialize with his employees. (P. SOF ¶ 35.) Washington nevertheless told Weigel that he "appreciated" her suggestions and later testified that all of the requests in her e-mail were reasonable. (D SOF ¶¶ 32, 37; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶¶ 32, 37.)

Defendant asserts that Washington's performance did not improve after the verbal warning. He did investigate the complaints against him: After the February 16, 2012 meeting, Plaintiff approached his co-workers, including the Walgreens store manager, the assistant store manager, the pharmacy manager, and several clerks asking if they had voiced complaints to Weigel. According to Washington, these employees reported they had no complaints about him. (P. SOF ¶¶ 21-25.) He did not otherwise take action in response to Weigel's concerns. Thus, though Washington had told Weigel he was often too busy to see patients and do callbacks, he refused to free up time by delegating his supply ordering responsibilities. (D. SOF ¶ 33; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 33.) On February 23, Hernandez, the Walgreens store manager, reached out to her supervisor, Dan Pluth, complaining about Washington. Hernandez told Pluth that Washington was "questioning" a Walgreens nurse "as to who is giving/telling information to his boss about daily business." (D. SOF ¶ 38; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 38.) She also complained that "[h]e wrote [a] prescription for [a] patients [sic] father and not for the actual patient." (D. SOF ¶ 38; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 38.) Hernandez urged Pluth to follow up with Weigel to resolve these issues. (D. SOF ¶ 38; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 38.) The same day, Hernandez contacted Weigel directly to share her complaints about Washington's performance. (D. SOF ¶ 39; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 39.) After their conversation, Hernandez memorialized her concerns in an e-mail to Weigel, noting again the prescription error and Washington's confrontational questioning of the nurse. (D. SOF ¶ 39; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 39.) Hernandez also reported that Washington approached her and said "I was told that I have to tell you that I like your shoes or your hair." (D. SOF ¶ 40; P. Resp. to D. SOF ¶ 40.)

Weigel met with Washington the same day and memorialized their conversation in a February 23, 2012 e-mail:

Eric,
This is a follow up email regarding our visit on 2-23-12.
1. Fill out medication error form and forward it on as discussed. You need to document in the [patient]'s chart the change in the prescription.
2. You will follow the expectations that were outlined on the last email regarding suggestions as ways to improve staff communication and relationship. Please refrain from any negative approach to staff members (I.e., "I was told I have to tell you that I like your shoes or hair). This was not listed on the suggestion list from the previous email.
3. I reiterated that everyone is expected to do callbacks when not busy ...

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