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Mirocha v. Palos Community Hospital

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

March 8, 2017



          Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Joseph Mirocha brings this action against Defendants Palos Community Hospital and Ken Lash alleging age discrimination, retaliation, defamation, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and failure to pay Plaintiff for unused sick leave. Currently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment [146] and [167]. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment [146] and denies Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment [167] as to Plaintiff's federal claims in Counts I and II. In view of that disposition of the federal claims, Plaintiff's remaining state law claims in Count III through Count X are dismissed without prejudice. The Court will enter a final judgment and close the case.

         I. Background

         The following facts are drawn primarily from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements, [148], [168], and [173].[1] This case arises from the termination of Plaintiff Joseph Mirocha from Defendant Palos Community Hospital (“PCH”) in April 2011. PCH hired Plaintiff as the Electrical Department Supervisor on October 6, 2003, when Plaintiff was fifty-one years old. [148, at ¶ 27.] Plaintiff reported to Defendant Ken Lash, Manager of Clinical Engineering, who in turn reported to Marty Baron, Vice President of Facilities. [Id. at ¶ 28.] Plaintiff was terminated on April 8, 2011, when he was fifty-nine years old. [See id. at ¶ 50.] Defendants allege that Plaintiff was terminated from PCH because of his failure to fulfill his job duties relating to the electrical database. [Id. at ¶ 32.] Plaintiff alleges that he was fired because of his age. [168, at ¶ 42.]

         A. PCH's Electrical Equipment

         PCH is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Facilities (“Joint Commission”). [148, at ¶ 10.] To maintain accreditation, PCH's Safety Steering Committee and its subcommittees ensure that PCH is compliant with the Joint Commission's standards by developing and executing management plans for various areas, including utility systems and medical equipment. [Id. at ¶ 11.] PCH employees are expected to conduct preventative maintenance on the electrical equipment and to document that maintenance.[2] [Id. at ¶ 12.]

         In 2010, PCH began a six-year expansion project, which involved the construction of a new building and required the addition of several hundred new devices and pieces of health care equipment, all of which needed to be entered into an electrical database. [Id. at ¶¶ 17, 26.] Prior to January 2011, PCH tracked information in two separate databases: the electrical equipment database and the electrical panel database. [Id., Exhibit C (Baron Deposition), at 22:10-23:20.] The electrical equipment database tracked information about equipment that was subject to preventative maintenance. [Id. at 22:10-20.] The electrical panel database tracked information about circuit panels, such as “where they are fed from, what areas they served, if they had additional space in them for growth and if they had breakers that were unused[.]” [Id. at 22:15- 23:3.] When the two separate databases were created, they had different functions and different requirements. [Id. at 79:2-8.] The electrical panel database was not originally conceived to schedule preventative maintenance. [Id.; see also id. at 22:15-23:3.] Around January 27, 2011, the electrical panel database was merged into the electrical equipment database. [Id. at ¶ 25.]

         B. Maintaining the Databases

         Defendants allege that as the Electrical Supervisor, Plaintiff was responsible for maintaining electrical safety throughout the hospital, including maintaining the electrical equipment database, performing incoming inspections, writing preventative maintenance procedures and ensuring that those procedures were performed, working with the safety officer to ensure that fire alarm preventative maintenance and repairs were conducted, and performing any other tasks requested by Baron and work delegated by Defendant Lash. [Id. at ¶¶ 30, 34.] On September 29, 2008, Defendant Lash emailed Plaintiff two Excel spreadsheets to assist Plaintiff in ensuring, and to facilitate their future discussions about, the accuracy of the electrical equipment database. [Id. at ¶ 37.] In November 2008, Defendant Lash questioned Plaintiff about the completeness of the electrical equipment database, including the accuracy of the preventative maintenance tasks listed. Plaintiff agreed to make improvements in these areas. [Id. at ¶ 38.] During Plaintiff's September 30, 2010 Management Performance Appraisal, Defendant Lash again directed Plaintiff to improve the accuracy of the electrical equipment database. [Id. at ¶ 39.] Specifically, Plaintiff's September 30, 2010 Management Performance Appraisal states as follows:

Major Job Function 1. Responsible for electrical work performed throughout the hospital, grounds and satellite facilities.
Comments: Under [Plaintiff's] direction, the daily electrical needs of the hospital and satellite facilities have been satisfactorily met. [Plaintiff] needs to improve in the promptness of entering incoming inspections of new equipment into the electrical database and the completeness of the required fields for equipment entries including serial numbers, model numbers, and acquisition dates. [Plaintiff] also needs to make sure that all equipment histories are accurate and include work by outside vendors.
Work Goals
1. To verify the accuracy of the electrical equipment database and service histories, including entering incoming inspections promptly and completely.

[Id., Exhibit A5, (September 30, 2010 Management Performance Appraisal).]

         Plaintiff disagrees that he was responsible for maintaining the electrical equipment database. Rather, Plaintiff contends that the Hospital Equipment Management Program policy requires Defendant Lash, as Manager of the Clinical Engineering, to document each piece of equipment into the database. Plaintiff asserts that PCH's policy states:

The department managers shall be responsible for entering all the necessary information for new equipment when it is put into service, this includes information such as PCH number, model number, serial number, manufacturer, user department and any other information which is necessary to maintain proper records. The department managers will also be responsible for setting up a comprehensive preventive maintenance schedule for each piece of equipment.

[168, ¶ 21; see also 168, Exhibit 6.] Defendants acknowledge that Plaintiff's job description did not explicitly include the responsibility of maintaining the equipment database but submit that Defendant Lash, as Plaintiff's supervisor, delegated to Plaintiff the responsibility of maintaining the database. [173, at ¶ 8; 148, at ¶ 35.] Plaintiff concedes that as his supervisor, Defendant Lash delegated work to him and was responsible for ensuring that he performed the work assigned to him. [148, at ¶ 34; 168, at ¶ 34.] Plaintiff also admits that Defendant Lash delegated to Plaintiff the responsibility of maintaining the electrical equipment database. [168, at ¶ 35.] However, on February 3 or 4, 2011, Plaintiff told Lash that he did not think it was his job to enter the data and update the database. [Id.]

         Additionally, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Lash was responsible for updating the other database-the electrical panel database-but failed to do so. [168, ¶ 24(m).] Plaintiff contends that the electrical panel database lacked PCH-required fields-such as fields for model number, serial number, and manufacturer-from 1995 until January 2011, when the panel database was merged into the equipment database. However, the record evidence demonstrates that in February 2011, Plaintiff acknowledged that he had been working on both the equipment database and the panel database. [168, Exhibit 24.]

         C. Plaintiff's January 28, 2011 Deadline (Thirty Day Deadline)

         On December 30, 2010, Defendant Lash told Plaintiff that he was still not satisfied with Plaintiff's progress on the electrical equipment database and gave him thirty days to bring the database into full compliance. [148, at ¶ 40; 148, Exhibit B1 (December 30, 2010 File Memo).] In January 2011, Baron told Defendant Lash that the electrical equipment database was deficient and directed Defendant Lash to make sure that it was up to date. [148, at ¶ 41.]

         Plaintiff alleges that in December 2010, the electrical equipment database “was in good shape.” [168, ¶ 40.] Yet, he also contends that it was difficult to meet this thirty day deadline. Plaintiff alleges that in or about 2010, the Electrical Department facilitated the largest electrical infrastructure cut-over in the history of PCH, “which required many months of man hours to be devoted and taken away from the electricians' day to day responsibilities.” [168, at ¶ 10.] According to Plaintiff, the thirty day deadline “virtually caused his department to be shut down in order to meet this deadline, ” [168, at ¶ 9], and the demands made upon him concerning the electrical database were “designed to cause him to quit and/or designed to set him up for involuntary termination.” [Id.]

         Around January 27, 2011, the electrical panel database was merged into the electrical equipment database. [148, at ¶ 25.] Baron testified that he believed that the electrical panel database was updated on a regular basis. [148, Exhibit C, at 25:7-9.] Plaintiff contends that the panel database was not up to date, and thus when it was merged into the equipment database, the completion rate dropped from over 90% to 60%. [168, at ¶ 41.] According to Plaintiff, he met his thirty day deadline by updating the equipment database by January 27, 2011. [Id. at ¶ 24(q); see also 168, Exhibit 2 (Mirocha Unsworn Declaration), at ¶ 20.] However, Plaintiff contends that after his work day ended at 3:30 pm on January 27, 2011, Defendant Lash had the electrical panel database moved into the electrical equipment database, which created thousands of empty fields in the equipment database that needed to be filled in, making it impossible for him to complete his task by the January 28, 2011 deadline. [Id. Exhibit 2, at ¶ 20.] Plaintiff does not deny that Defendant Lash advised Plaintiff that any deficiencies caused by the merging of the two databases were not held against him and that he could cure those deficiencies at a later date. [148, at ¶ 43; 168, at ¶ 44.]

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Lash and Baron also set up obstacles to Plaintiff performing his job by: (1) adding 16 “new job tasks” between the January 2011 and March 16, 2011, “intentionally setting [Plaintiff] up for failure and creating impossible deadlines”; (2) instructing Plaintiff to refrain from talking to the electrical contractor installing the electrical equipment Plaintiff was required to enter into the database; and (3) instructing Plaintiff to refrain from discussing the electrical infrastructure with Tony Maiellaro, Manager of Plant Engineering. [168, at ¶¶ 11-12; 168, Exhibit 2 (Mirocha Unsworn Declaration), at ¶¶ 8-9.]

         D. Baron's February 2011 Review of Defendant Lash

         On February 3, 2011, Baron filed a report regarding Lash's January evaluation. [148, Exhibit D6.] Baron asserted that Lash had made progress in his work goal of updating the electrical database but noted that the database was still missing information for many pieces of equipment and that only 56% of the required preventative maintenance on “critical utility equipment” had been completed. Baron wrote in the report that Lash “referred to making completion of this [preventative maintenance] database a goal for [Plaintiff] to complete in 3 months on his evaluation last fall, and additionally gave [Plaintiff] 30 more days to complete this in early January 2011 when he failed to meet the first goal.” [Id.] Baron's report also states that he and Lash discussed how PCH's documentation requirements had not changed during Plaintiff's tenure at the hospital and that the lack of appropriate documentation for new equipment has put PCH at risk for its next Joint Commission inspection. Finally, Baron suggested that Lash continue to follow the progressive disciplinary process for Plaintiff. [Id.]

         Plaintiff claims that Baron was incorrect and that he was not given a three month deadline to complete the database updates in his September 30, 2010 Management Performance Appraisal. [168, at ¶ 42; Exhibit 23.] Defendant Lash testified in his deposition that he did not give Plaintiff a specific deadline for updating the database in Plaintiff's September 30, 2010 Management Performance Appraisal. [148, Exhibit B (Lash Deposition), 146:14-147:3.] However, Defendant Lash also testified that Plaintiff's work on the project was already late at the time of his September review. [Id.]

         E. Plaintiff's Request for a Promotion

         On February 4, 2011, Plaintiff sent Defendant Lash an email requesting a promotion. [168, Exhibit 24.] In his email, Plaintiff acknowledged that on December 30, 2010, Defendant Lash gave him thirty days to “bring the electrical database to 100% accuracy with maintenance procedures to be updated and added.” Plaintiff asserted that “[t]he largest task of the two databases was not the equipment database [sic] it was the panel database.” Plaintiff noted that “[o]ver the years, I have been directed to do the database entries including maintenance procedures. I have during the last year updated the equipment database on a monthly basis.” Plaintiff also acknowledged that he had worked on the panel database and expressed his dissatisfaction with the merging of the two databases, stating:

While updating the panel database, the 30 day time limit conditions changed two weeks into the job. * * * Three weeks into updating the panel database it was moved into the equipment database and I am now told I failed with there being no manufacturer, serial number or model number entered in the fields. This again changed the original direction of the 30 day time limit.

[Id.] Plaintiff did not explicitly reference age discrimination in his February 4, 2011 email to Defendant Lash. Rather, he stated his belief that he had been singled out since the central plant was in “the same situation, ” yet Rich Chapan from Plant Engineering was “under no threat of discipline and he ha[d] not completed updating their database.” [Id.] Plaintiff went on to explain that he believed maintaining the database and establishing maintenance procedures to be “at a job level above [his].” Additionally, he admitted that he had “total responsibility” for “the entire database, ” stating: “Although under ‘performing other related duties' [sic] may cover my doing some of the database entry I do not believe it would include total responsibility for establishing all procedures and policies and maintaining the entire database as I have been doing.” [Id.] Thus, Plaintiff requested that Defendant Lash promote him to Manager with an increase in salary compensate him “for the work [he was] actually doing.” [Id.]

         F. Plaintiff's February 21, 2011 Deadline

         On February 4, 2011, Defendant Lash issued Plaintiff a Corrective Action Form indicating that Plaintiff had failed to fulfill his job duties related to the electrical database. [148, Exhibit A7.] In the accompanying memo, Defendant Lash asserted that on January 30, 2010, Plaintiff was given a thirty day deadline to bring the electrical database into full compliance. [148, Exhibit A8 (February 4, 2011 File Memo).] The memo explained that although Plaintiff had made significant improvements in the state of the database, more work needed to be done, and he had missed the goal of full compliance in thirty days. [Id.] Specifically, Defendant Lash indicated that “[t]he major database deficiencies at this time include providing completeness of data entries, (particularly with the equipment brought over from the panel database), setting up correct [preventative maintenance] procedures on electrical infrastructure equipment, and updating the emergency procedures.” [Id.] Defendant Lash gave Plaintiff a new deadline of February 21, 2011 to update the emergency procedures and indicated that he would “allow the data elements ...

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