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Edralin v. Adventist Glenoaks Hospital

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

April 26, 2017

ADVENTIST GLENOAKS HOSPITAL, an Illinois Corporation, Defendant.


          John J Tharp, Jr United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jesse Edralin sued his former employer Adventist GlenOaks Hospital (“Hospital”) after he was terminated from his job there as a Materials Service Representative/Tech on May 23, 2013. In his amended complaint, Edralin alleges that another employee sexually harassed him, and then lodged a false sexual harassment complaint against him with a supervisor and human resources employee at the Hospital. Edralin alleges that he then made his own complaint about the sexual harassment he says he experienced, and that the Hospital terminated him two days later. The Hospital moved for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Hospital's motion for summary judgment is granted as to the sexual harassment claim in Count I and denied as to the retaliation claim in Count II.


         Edralin worked as a Materials Service Representative/Tech in the Hospital's materials management department in Glendale Heights, Illinois, from about May 2003 until his termination on May 23, 2013. Def. Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (hereinafter Def. SOF) ¶ 1, 3; Pl. Resp. to Def. SOF (hereinafter Pl. Resp. SOF) ¶ 1, 3. In that role, Edralin's job duties included visiting the Hospital's various units to inventory and restock hospital supplies, which are stored on shelves inside the materials management department for that purpose. Def. SOF ¶ 13; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 13. In or around May 2013, Naseem Jahangir was a lead materials service representative, a role generally held by the person who has the most knowledge about products in the department. Def. SOF ¶ 15; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 15. The lead materials service representative communicates with outside members of the Hospital's staff and is the go-to person for other employees in the department who have questions about stock. Def. SOF ¶ 15; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 15. At this same time, Kevin Willis was the manager of the materials management department and the direct supervisor of Jahangir and Edralin. Def. SOF ¶ 12, 16; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 12, 16. Sylvia Seals-Brown was the Director of Human Resources/HR Business Partner at the Hospital, and in that role oversaw employee benefits and termination, among other job duties. Def. SOF ¶ 19; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 19.

         On Monday, May 20, 2013, Jahangir came to visit Seals-Brown at the Hospital and made a complaint that Edralin had sexually harassed her. Def. SOF ¶ 20; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 20. Bryan Sitkawitz, who was a materials service representative at the Hospital, accompanied her to the human resources office when she made this complaint. Def. SOF ¶ 14, 20; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 14, 20. The Hospital asserts that Jahangir told Seals-Brown that Edralin had been making her uncomfortable and touching her inappropriately, that he had been hugging her, rubbing her leg, and touching her hair, and that Sikawitz had witnessed some of this. Def. SOF ¶ 21.[1] Seals-Brown and Willis interviewed Jahangir together about her sexual harassment complaint later that same day. Def. SOF ¶ 22. The Hospital asserts that in that interview, Jahangir repeated her allegation that Edralin had touched her inappropriately-saying that he would stroke her hair, hug her from behind, stroke her arm, and rubbed his hand against her thigh-and said that she did not feel comfortable working with him, was afraid of him, and wanted his conduct to stop. Def. SOF ¶ 24. Jahangir also said, according to the Hospital, that she had told Edralin, “Get your fucking hands off of me, ” and that Edralin had called her personal phone and left messages saying, “I miss you and I love you.” Def. SOF ¶¶ 24-25. Seals-Brown testified in her deposition that she asked Jahangir if she had any messages to show her, and that Jahangir said she did not. Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 25; Seals-Brown Dep. at 33:7-8, ECF No. 32-1, Ex. F. After Jahangir's interview, she was allowed to go home for the rest of the day with pay. Def. SOF ¶ 26.

         Later that day, Seals-Brown and Willis met with Edralin in Seals-Brown's office and told him that Jahangir had lodged a sexual harassment complaint against him asserting that he made her feel uncomfortable and that he had touched her hair and her arms and had hugged her from behind. Def. SOF ¶ 27; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 27-28. Edralin initially denied Jahangir's allegations, but later in the May 20 interview said that he had hugged Jahangir during the holidays, had touched her hair to say that she had split ends, and may have touched her arm when she said she had a rash. Def. SOF ¶¶ 30-31; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 30. Edralin told them that none of those instances of physical conduct were inappropriate in nature. Def. Reply to Pl. Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 11, ECF No. 43. After that interview, the Hospital suspended Edralin with pay pending the investigation. Def. SOF ¶ 32; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 32.

         On either May 20, or 21, 2013, Seals-Brown met with Sitkawitz, who told her that he had witnessed Edralin rub Jahangir's back, touch her hair, and hug her on occasion, and that Jahangir would eventually say no and then Edralin would huff and walk away. Def. SOF ¶¶ 33-34. Edralin denies the accuracy of Sitkawitz's alleged statements. Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 34. On or about May 20 or 21, Seals-Brown also met with DeAndre Moore, a transporter at the Hospital who said that Jahangir had told him that Edralin had been touching her inappropriately. Def. SOF ¶¶ 36-37. According to the Hospital, both Sitkawitz and Moore said that Jahangir had asked them if they thought she should tell Edralin's wife, who worked at the Hospital, and that Sitkawitz and Moore both told her that she should tell the Hospital's human resources staff. Def. SOF ¶¶ 35, 37.

         Edralin called the Hospital on May 21, 2013, leaving voicemails for Seals-Brown and Willis and asking each of them to call him back. Def. SOF ¶ 38; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 38. Seals-Brown and Willis called him back that same day, and Edralin said on that call that Jahangir had come to the Hospital on her day off on Saturday, May 18, 2013. Def. SOF ¶ 39; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 39. Edralin also reiterated that he had not touched Jahangir in any unwanted or inappropriate way, and that he believed Jahangir's actions in coming to work to talk to him on her day off suggested she was not afraid of him. Pl. Additional SOF ¶ 12, ECF No. 41; Def. Reply to Pl. Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 12. Edralin testified at his deposition that he also told Willis and Seals-Brown that they should check the security camera for his department. Edralin Dep. 27:12-13. Seals-Brown asked Edralin to come in to meet with her and Willis later that day. Def. SOF ¶ 39; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 39.

         That afternoon, Edralin met with Seals-Brown and Willis. Def. SOF ¶ 47; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 47.[2] Seals-Brown and Willis recall Edralin telling them at that meeting that three days earlier, on May 18, Jahangir came to work and asked him to come into the closet with her and to bring a stool, and that they then went into the closet where he sat on the stool, Jahangir straddled him or sat on his lap, and she lifted her shirt or dress. Def. SOF ¶ 48; Seals-Brown Dep. 51:10-52:1-5; Willis Dep. 57:18-59:1. Seals-Brown and Willis also testified that Edralin told them that he had said no to Jahangir, and according to Seals-Brown, Edralin said that he did not touch her. Def. SOF ¶ 48; Seals-Brown Dep. 52:8-14; Willis Dep. 59:5. At his deposition in this case, Edralin testified that Jahangir had asked him to sit on the stool, that she started to disrobe and said “let's have sex, ” and that he said no and did not have any physical contact with Jahangir. Def. SOF ¶ 50; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 50.

         Willis obtained a copy of the ID badge swipe log from the Hospital's security which showed that Jahangir had swiped into the materials management department on May 18, 2013, and also obtained a copy of a surveillance video which further confirmed her entrance on that date. Def. SOF ¶ 40-41; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 40-41. On May 21, 2013, Seals-Brown and Willis watched the video from May 18, which showed Jahangir walking into the materials management department and also depicted Edralin carrying a stool and walking to a small closet that is the back of a sterile processing machine. Def. SOF ¶ 43; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 43. The video showed Edralin entering the closet, and Jahangir entering the closet after him. Def. SOF ¶ 43; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 43. Edralin testified at his deposition that Jahangir then closed the door. Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 43; Edralin Dep. at 60:12-13, ECF No. 32-1, Ex. C. The video showed Edralin and Jahangir leaving the closet about eight or nine minutes later. Def. SOF ¶ 43.

         While Edralin and Jahangir were in the closet, he did not at any point walk toward the closet door or attempt to leave. Def. SOF ¶ 44; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 44. Edralin asserts that this was because he did not want to leave by force and risk hurting Jahangir. Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 44; Willis Dep. at 60:21-61:4, ECF No. 32-1, Ex. D. The closet contains the back of sterile processing machines that are used to sterilize surgical equipment, and the parties dispute whether Edralin would have a reason to enter the closet related to his job duties. Def. SOF ¶¶ 45-46; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 45-46. Edralin asserts that he went into the closet thinking that Jahangir either needed help reaching something on a closet shelf, or wanted to discuss a disagreement they had a few days earlier. Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 42; Edralin Dep. at 48:3-23. It is undisputed that Edralin and Jahangir did get into a minor, work-related disagreement on May 15, 2013. Def. Reply to Pl. Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 4, ECF No. 43.

         After hearing from Edralin and viewing the video, Seals-Brown and Willis also met again with Jahangir on May 21, 2013. Def. SOF ¶¶ 51-52; Willis Dep. 35:21-36:3, 46:23-49:4. Jahangir initially denied that she had even come into work on May 18, and further denied that she had gone into the closet with Edralin. Def. SOF ¶¶ 51-52. When Seals-Brown and Willis informed Jahangir that they had badge and video surveillance information which showed she had, in fact, come to the Hospital on May 18, Jahangir admitted to doing so and to going into the closet with Edralin. Id. ¶ 53; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 53. The parties agree that Jahangir also said something to the effect that she intended to let Edralin “have his way with” her, Def. SOF ¶ 53; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 53, and Seals-Brown specifically testified that Jahangir said, “I just thought if I let him have his way with me it would be over.” Def. SOF ¶ 53; Seals-Brown Dep. at 67:20-22. After that meeting, Seals-Brown and Willis sent Jahangir home pending completion of the investigation. Def. SOF ¶ 54; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 54.

         The Hospital terminated both Edralin and Jahangir on May 23, 2013, at separate meetings. Def. SOF ¶ 62, 65; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 62, 65. Seals-Brown and Willis's proffered reasons for their decision to terminate Edralin were that he lied during the investigation by denying that he had touched Jahangir in an inappropriate way, and by first denying, then later admitting, that he had touched her at all; and that he violated the Hospital's conduct policy by admitting to the inappropriate touching of a female co-worker, conducting personal business during work time, and having inappropriate interactions with a co-worker at work by going into the closet with Jahangir for no work-related reason. Def. SOF ¶ 55. Edralin disputes the accuracy of those reasons, and denies the Hospital's assertion that those are the reasons he was terminated. Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 55. Seals-Brown and Willis both stated in their declarations in this case that at the time they made this decision, they honestly believed in the truth of those reasons. Def. SOF ¶¶ 56-57; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 56-57. The proffered reasons behind their decision to terminate Jahangir were that she lied during the investigation, violated Hospital policy by coming to work when not permitted and interfering with another employee's work, and had inappropriate interactions with a co-worker. Def. SOF ¶ 64; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶ 64.

         By way of additional background, the Hospital does maintain an employee handbook, and Edralin has acknowledged that he received a copy of that handbook in 2008. Def. SOF ¶¶ 4-5; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 4-5. The handbook's policy on “Attitude and Conduct” states that “[b]ehaviors involving harassment, offensive speech or inappropriate conduct are prohibited, ” and its “Employee Opportunity” policy states that “[t]his facility also prohibits any form of workplace harassment, intimidation or retaliation.” Def. SOF ¶¶ 7-8; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 7-8. Additional policies in the handbook indicate that dishonesty, failure to comply with the Hospital's written policies, and harassment on account of sex all constitute violations of the Hospital's rules of conduct; that employees “are prohibited from engaging in unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal, visual or physical conduct” based on sex; and that violation of the facility's policies will result in disciplinary action “up to and including termination.” Def. SOF ¶¶ 9-11; Pl. Resp. SOF ¶¶ 9-11. The handbook states that employees who believe they have been harassed “should immediately ...

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