United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
PETER O. OBAZUAYE, Plaintiff,
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
H. LEFKOW, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
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). DHS moves for summary judgment on all
claims. (Dkt. 39.) For the reasons stated below, the motion
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.
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) 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
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. In addition, nurses teach health and
wellness classes to the students.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
Disparate Treatment Claims
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.) “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.)
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