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Obazuaye v. Illinois Department of Human Services

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

March 29, 2017




         Peter O. Obazuaye filed suit against his employer, Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS), alleging multiple violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2 et seq., including discrimination based on gender (count one) and national origin (count two), discrimination based on a hostile work environment (counts one and two), and retaliation for complaining about the alleged discrimination (count three).[1] DHS moves for summary judgment on all claims. (Dkt. 39.) For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.


         Obazuaye, a Nigerian-American man, began working as a registered nurse at the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education on Roosevelt Avenue (ICRE-Roosevelt) in March 2013. ICRE-Roosevelt is a medical facility that provides transition training to young adults with physical disabilities, “students” who reside at the facility during the week. At ICRE-Roosevelt, there are two levels of registered nurses: Registered Nurse I (RN-I) and Registered Nurse II (RN-II), with RN-IIs having additional duties including making assignments and acting as a point of contact for doctors and students' families. During all relevant times, Obazuaye was an RN-I.[3]

         Nurses work one of three shifts at ICRE-Roosevelt-day, p.m., and night. Each shift is required to have an RN-II on duty. When Obazuaye began working at ICRE-Roosevelt, however, a shortage of RN-IIs had left no RN-II on the day shift. Instead, an RN-I was temporarily assigned (TA[4]) into the position each day. The governing union contract states that the employer should “attempt to . . . distribute such [temporary] assignments . . . giving due consideration to seniority, providing that senior employees have the qualifications and ability to perform the required work.” (Dkt. 41-1 at 166.)

         The two main duties of all nurses at ICRE-Roosevelt are to provide medication and assist in the students' educational process. As part of these duties, nurses are required to provide information for case management reports for the students assigned to them.[5] In addition, nurses teach health and wellness classes to the students.

         Between March and June 2013, Obazuaye worked the day shift, from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. In or around August or September 2013, Obazuaye went on a flex-time schedule, which shifted his working hours to 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. He stayed on this flex-time schedule until approximately January 2014.

         Obazuaye makes numerous complaints about his employment at ICRE-Roosevelt. First, he complains about how the TA for the RN-II on the day shift was filled (the TA issue). The most senior qualified RN-I on the day shift, Ora Simpson-Brown, would regularly take the TA, although on days that Simpson-Brown was not working Obazuaye would get the TA instead. Obazuaye alleges that his supervisor, Florence O'Leary, told him that Simpson-Brown got preference because she was “more qualified” and “the students understood her better.” DHS, on the other hand, states, that the TA position was filled based on seniority, which would have correctly preferenced Simpson-Brown. In any case, Obazuaye believed the TA should be assigned by rotation among the RN-Is on the day shift, rather than always being offered to Simpson-Brown first. He brought his concerns to O'Leary, and up the management chain at ICRE-Roosevelt, meeting with Therese Manderino, the superintendent of the facility, and Ben Davis, the facility's HR Specialist, in January 2014. Obazuaye filed a union grievance on January 23, 2014, which resulted in ICRE-Roosevelt's posting a job opening for a permanent RN-II on the day shift.

         That same day, Obazuaye also filed a complaint with the Illinois Governor's Office of Executive Inspector General in which he claimed that O'Leary had discriminated against him by not regularly rotating him into the RN-II TA and by not posting the position to be permanently filled.

         Obazuaye applied for the RN-II position when it was posted, but it was awarded to another RN-I nurse, Eden Soco, who had more seniority than Obazuaye. Obazuaye complains about being passed over for that promotion as well.

         Next, Obazuaye complains that O'Leary expected him to submit case management report information electronically, whereas other nurses were permitted to fill out paper forms (the report issue). Obazuaye also complains about having to regularly teach a health and wellness class. He was assigned to teach the class twice a week during the months he was on a flex-time schedule (the teaching issue). This regular assignment ceased, however, once he returned to a normal day shift schedule.

         Finally, Obazuaye complains about a period of about three months when he was limited to only thirty minutes for lunch (the lunch issue). In October 2013, O'Leary sent an email to the entire nursing staff, outlining the break policy at ICRE-Roosevelt. The email stated that nurses were allowed a thirty-minute unpaid lunch break and two paid fifteen-minute breaks. The email stated that these breaks were to be taken separately rather than combined to create an hour-long break. Until this policy was revised in January 2014, Obazuaye took thirty-minute lunch breaks.

         On August 26, 2014, Obazuaye filed a charge with the EEOC in which he claimed he had been discriminated against on the basis of his gender and national origin. He also claimed that when he complained of this discrimination he suffered retaliation, and that the discrimination and retaliation combined to create a hostile work environment. On September 8, 2014, the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter to Obazuaye, and Obazuaye timely filed this law suit.


         Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party 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.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). To determine whether any genuine fact issue exists, the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In doing so, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In response, “a party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact which requires trial.” Day v. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co., 987 F.Supp. 1105, 1109 (N.D. Ind. 1997); see also Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). If a claim or defense is factually unsupported, it should be disposed of on summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24.


         I. Disparate Treatment Claims

         Obazuaye claims that DHS discriminated against him on the basis of gender and national origin with respect to the TA, teaching, report, and lunch issues in violation of Title VII. (Dkt. 45 at 4-11.)[6] “A plaintiff may prove employment discrimination under . . . Title VII . . . using either the direct method or indirect method.” Hutt v. AbbVie Products LLC, 757 F.3d 687, 691 (7th Cir. 2014) (quotation omitted). Obazuaye offers no direct evidence of discrimination; thus the court focuses only on the indirect method. (See Dkt. 45 at 4.)

         Under the indirect method, Obazuaye must first establish each element of a prima facie case of discrimination. He must show (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was performing his job satisfactorily; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the employer treated similarly-situated employees outside the protected class more favorably. See Bass v. Joliet Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 86, 746 F.3d 835, 841 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973)). If he can make such a showing the burden shifts to DHS “to assert a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged action.” Goodwin v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ill., 442 F.3d 611, 617 (7th Cir. 2006); Paluck v. Gooding Rubber Co., 221 F.3d 1003, 1012 (7th Cir. 2000). If DHS meets this burden, then Obazuaye must “present evidence that [DHS's] proffered reason is pretextual.” Vakharia v. Swedish Covenant Hosp., 190 F.3d 799, 806-07 (7th Cir. 1999). Pretext means “a lie, specifically a phony reason for some ...

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