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Owusu v. Cook County

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

September 29, 2016

COOK COUNTY and SEIU LOCAL 73, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Charity Owusu, brings this lawsuit against her employer, defendant Cook County, and labor union, defendant SEIU Local 73 (“SEIU”), alleging that they discriminated against her on the basis of her national origin, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. Both defendants have filed motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motions.


         On September 18, 2002, plaintiff, who is from Ghana (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt., ¶ 28, ECF No. 83) applied for a position as an evening-shift telemetry technician (“teletech”) at John Stroger, Jr., Hospital of Cook County (“Stroger Hospital”).[1] (Cook County's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶¶ 2, 16, ECF No. 62.) Plaintiff applied in response to a job posting that specifically identified the position as on the “3 PM - 11 PM” shift. (Id. ¶ 16; see SEIU's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt., Ex. B, Pl.'s Dep., Dep. Ex. 6, ECF No. 72-3.) Plaintiff started work as a teletech at Stroger Hospital on December 2, 2002. (Cook County's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 17.)

         In 2007, Alisia Hill, the teletech coordinator at the time, asked for volunteers to work the day shift, which ran from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 19.) Plaintiff volunteered by responding in writing to Hill's request, and plaintiff began working the day shift. (Id. ¶¶ 20-22.) Other than the written request to Hill, plaintiff submitted no other documentation to anyone and had no discussions with anyone at Cook County about transferring to the day shift. (SEIU's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶¶ 23-25.) She never formally re-applied for a day-shift teletech position, and she always had a personnel ID number associated with the evening shift, which meant that any assignment to another shift was technically temporary. (Cook County's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶¶ 26-27.)

         In early 2013, two teletechs who typically worked the evening shift, Alicia Grayson and Lorraine Cook, went on leave, which caused a staffing shortage on the evening shift. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.) Cook County first attempted to address the problem by changing the teletechs' shifts from eight to twelve hours, but SEIU objected, asserting that any such change would violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”). (Id. ¶ 34.) Changing tack, Hill decided to request volunteers again, this time seeking teletechs who would be willing to move from the day shift to the evening shift. (Id.¶ 35.) But this time, unlike in 2007, no one volunteered. (Id.) On March 29, 2013, Hill sent plaintiff a memo in which she explained that because there were no volunteers for the evening shift, and because plaintiff had originally been hired to work the evening shift, Cook County was going to address the shortage by returning plaintiff to the evening shift. (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.)

         On April 3, 2013, SEIU filed a grievance on plaintiff's behalf. (Id. ¶ 38.) At “step one” of the grievance process, Hill denied the grievance, but SEIU appealed the denial to a hearing officer, and, after a “step two” hearing, the hearing officer orally ruled that plaintiff could stay on the day shift. (Id. ¶ 39.) Plaintifff asserts that the basis for the decision was at least partially seniority (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt., ¶ 27, ECF No. 83), but no written decision or other record of the step two hearing officer's decision survives, and it is unclear if any such record was ever created. (Cook County's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 41.)

         On May 16, 2013, Cook County informed Lylonnie Fair, a teletech who had been hired in 2003 to work the day shift, that she was being reassigned to the evening shift. (SEIU's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 45; Cook County's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 18.) SEIU filed a grievance on Fair's behalf, asserting that Fair should not be moved from the shift to which she applied and for which she was hired when “there is a temporary employee working” on the day shift who can “go back to the shift they were on originally.” (Cook County's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 44; see SEIU's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 46.)

         Brenda Woodall was the SEIU representative who had assisted plaintiff with the grievance process and attended plaintiff's step two hearing. (SEIU's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶¶ 40-41.) During the summer of 2013, Karen Webster took over from Woodall as the SEIU representative for the Stroger Hospital teletechs. (Id. ¶ 47.)

         As Webster attempted to get up to speed, she learned from a union steward and longstanding Cook County employee that the predominant past practice had been to determine shift assignments according to the shift for which an employee was hired. (Id. ¶ 49.) She reviewed Fair's grievance, number 13-072, and noticed that it was related to grievance number 13-047, plaintiff's grievance. (Id. ¶ 50.) Webster reviewed plaintiff's grievance file and found that the grievance was denied at step one and advanced to step two, but the file contained no decision for the step two hearing. (Id.) Webster requested a copy of the step two decision from Cook County, but she received no response, and she assumed, based on her prior experience, that that meant that the grievance had been denied. (Id. ¶¶ 51-52.)

         After Fair's grievance was denied, Webster advanced it to “step 3” of the grievance process. (Id. ¶ 53.) The parties met to discuss the grievance on December 10, 2013, and at that meeting they reached a settlement by agreeing to return all teletechs to the shifts for which they were hired. (Id. ¶¶ 54, 56.) The parties reviewed plaintiff's personnel file and determined that she was originally hired for the evening shift, her personnel ID was associated with the evening shift, and her assignment to the day shift had only been temporary. (Id. ¶ 54; id., Ex. G, Webster Decl., ¶ 10.) As a result of the settlement agreement, Lylonnie Fair was permitted to return to the day shift, Alicia Grayson was required to return to the night shift, and plaintiff was required to return to the evening shift. (Id. ¶¶ 57-58.) Lylonnie Fair and Alicia Grayson are of American national origin. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt., ¶ 28, ECF No. 83; Cook County's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 50.)

         Plaintiff received a letter informing her of the terms of the settlement agreement on or about January 21, 2014. (SEIU's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 60.) She contacted SEIU about the matter on January 28, 2014, and SEIU Local 73 vice president Betty Boles contacted Kevin Frey, labor counsel for Cook County, on plaintiff's behalf. (Id. ¶ 63.) On Feburary 7, 2014, Frey informed Boles that a teletech position during the day shift was available at Provident Hospital, and he offered to transfer plaintiff to that position. (Id. ¶ 64.) Boles initially rejected the offer as inadequate, but when she learned that Provident Hospital was actually closer to plaintiff's residence than Stroger Hospital, she asked Frey to hold the position open. (Id. ¶ 65.) Boles informed plaintiff of the opportunity, but plaintiff responded that she would not accept a position at Provident Hospital. (Id. ¶ 66.)

         On January 23, 2014, Cook County received a letter from plaintiff complaining that on January 15, 2014, Francine Crater, a clerk, followed plaintiff as she walked through the hospital, called her an “African B, ” and told her, “I can't stand you” and “there's no way you can work in the morning.” (Cook County's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 71.) Clerks handle patient files; they do not supervise teletechs and they are paid less than teletechs. (Id. ¶ 73.) Plaintiff's supervisor Tedra Davis met with plaintiff and Crater to discuss the incident, and she investigated plaintiff's allegations by speaking to other employees who were working on the day of the alleged incident, but her investigation found that plaintiff's allegations against Crater were “without merit, ” as she explained to plaintiff in a February 7, 2014 letter. (Id. ¶¶ 74-75.) Plaintiff claims to have never received the letter. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt., ¶ 16, ECF No. 83.) Nobody else at Cook County ever said anything disparaging directly to her based on her national origin, although a clerk named Sonia informed plaintiff in May 2013 that another clerk, Rose Mege, had said in a break-room conversation, “I am so tired about this African B that try to come to our country and take our job, ” and she was “so happy that [Lylonnie Fair] win the case.” (Cook County's LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt., Ex. B., Pl.'s 10/27/15 Dep., at 62:2-66:3.) Plaintiff reported what Sonia told her to a supervisor, but she is unaware if Cook County took any further action. (Id., Ex. B, at 65:10-68:10.)

         In May 2014, plaintiff went to Orlando Brown's office to review the grievance logbook, and she got a copy of her personnel file. (Id. ΒΆΒΆ 77-78.) Plaintiff could not find documentation of the second step of her grievance, nor ...

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