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Abrego v. Shulkin

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

October 24, 2017

DAVID J. SHULKIN, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Defendant.



         Alfredo Abrego has sued his former employer, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), [1] alleging race and sex discrimination, retaliation for prior complaints regarding discrimination, and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a)(1), 2000e-3(a). The Secretary has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the Secretary's motion.


         Abrego is a Hispanic male who worked as a dental assistant in a North Chicago VA dental clinic within Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center (Lovell FHCC) from June 2011 through December 2014. Abrego initially was assigned to Dr. Strampe, one of the clinic's dentists. Abrego came to believe that all the female dental assistants received better treatment and that he was being discriminated against by Dr. Strampe and others based on his gender and race.

         In August 2012, Abrego filed an equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging race and gender discrimination related to a hostile work environment. In this complaint, Abrego identified a number of incidents that he believed to be discriminatory:

(1) On August 9, 2011, Dr. Strampe wanted to work with a female assistant instead of Abrego;
(2) On August 10, 2011, Dr. Strampe was "short tempered" with Abrego over the computer;
(3) On August 11, 2011, Dr. Strampe continued to be short tempered with Abrego in the operatory room;
(4) On August 12, 2011, Abrego was "harassed" by Dr. Strampe;
(5) On August 15, 2011, Dr. Strampe and department head Dr. Bidny "ambushed" Abrego with "lies/false allegations";
(6) On August 16, 2011, Dr. Bidny told Abrego that he could be terminated for attitude;
(7) On September 9, 2011, Abrego was notified that he had not completed certain training;
(8) On October 8, 2011, Dr. Strampe was "banging" on the bathroom door looking for Abrego;
(9) On December 30, 2011, Dr. Strampe was short tempered with Abrego for requesting a "59";[2]
(10) On January 3, 2012, Dr. Strampe did not allow Abrego to defend himself when a patient insulted him;
(11) On January 20, 2012, Dr. Strampe again was short tempered with Abrego for invoking a "59";
(12) On January 26, 2012, Dr. Strampe and Dr. Bidny requested a meeting with Abrego, "ambushed [him] about the problems that were occurring, " and Dr. Strampe left the meeting without answering any of Abrego's questions;
(13) On February 3, 2012, Abrego told Dr. Bidny that he was tired of having problems with Dr. Strampe and that he is "demanding for him to go to mediation";
(14) On February 7, 2012, Dr. Bidny informed Abrego that Dr. Strampe was quitting;
(15) On March 29, 2012, Abrego was reassigned to another dentist.
Abrego refused to sign Dr. Strampe's mid-evaluation of him because it contained "false allegations." Dr. Strampe showed more respect to his new female assistant, and he took his female assistant and a volunteer on ward exams when he never took Abrego;
(16) On March 29, 2012, Abrego emailed EEO Program Manager/ADR Coordinator Nancy Gember about the discrimination against him, but she did not respond for a month. When she did respond, she was short tempered. When Abrego emailed Patrick Sullivan about this, he never heard back;
(17) On March 30, 2012, Abrego tried to set up a meeting with Captain Oxford, the Associate Director of Dental Services, to discuss his evaluation, but Oxford's senior chief "seemed to try to discourage" him, wanting Abrego to talk to Dr. Fredrickson, Assistant Director of Dental Services, instead;
(18) On April 4, 2012, Abrego's new supervising dentist, Dr. Hartel, informed Abrego that Dr. Frederickson "was trying to influence him" by using Dr. Strampe's prior mid-evaluation for his September 2012 evaluation; and
(19) On June 28, 2012, Dr. Strampe agreed to attend mediation after Abrego's third attempt.

Def.'s SUMF, Ex. 28. Abrego filed another EEO complaint in February 2014, this time alleging retaliation. In support of this allegation, Abrego stated that he received a "fully successful" rating instead of an "exceptional" one in October 2013, received a two-week suspension without pay for recording statements by a supervisor, and his supervisors illegally accessed his medical records. Def.'s SUMF, Ex. 29. The VA Office of Employment Discrimination Complaint Adjudication consolidated the August 2012 and February 2014 complaints and ultimately determined that Abrego failed to prove that he had been discriminated against based on race, sex, or retaliation. Am. Compl., Ex. A at 32.

         In October 2014, Abrego filed another EEO complaint, in which he alleged the following:

(1) On June 4, 2014, dental assistant supervisor Pietrzyk harassed Abrego for coming in late;
(2) On June 4, 2014, Pietrzyk required Abrego to take personal leave to participate in a VA-authorized teleconference;
(3) On June 5, 2014, Pietrzyk hassled Abrego because he had a meeting with his union representative during work hours;
(4) On June 5, 2014, Pietrzyk was "giving [Abrego] grief about everything, " including his VA-authorized instruction of ...

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