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Westerbrook v. Illinois Department of Human Services

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

March 26, 2018




         Plaintiff Velma Westbrook brought this suit against her former employer Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., alleging claims of disparate treatment on the basis of her sex and race and a claim for hostile work environment. Specifically, Westbrook, an African American female, alleges that a resident of an IDHS facility made racially derogatory comments to her on a continuous basis and attempted to attack her on one occasion and that IDHS refused to transfer her away from the resident and into a different unit. IDHS moved for summary judgment on all of Westbrook's claims. Westbrook subsequently withdrew her sex and race discrimination claims, leaving only her hostile work environment claim. For the following reasons, IDHS' Motion for Summary Judgment on the hostile work environment claim [34] is granted.


         The Court takes the relevant facts from the parties' Local Rule (“LR”) 56.1 statements of undisputed material facts and supporting exhibits: (1) Defendant Illinois Department of Human Services' Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) Statement of Facts and Exhibit Index (Dkt. No. 34); Plaintiff's Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) Response to Defendant's Statement of Material Facts (Dkt. No. 42); Plaintiff's Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) Statement of Additional Facts (Dkt. No. 43); and Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) Statement of Additional Facts (Dkt. No. 54.) The following facts are undisputed except where otherwise noted.

         I. Westbrook's Employment with IDHS Generally

         Westbrook, an African American female, has been employed by IDHS as a Security Therapy Aide I (STA I) since 2001, working at all times in Forensic Treatment Programs (FTPs) at IDHS facilities. (Dkt. No. 42 at ¶ 3.) FTPs house individuals who have been committed by a criminal court after being found not guilty by reason of insanity. (Id. at ¶ 4.)

         As an STA I, Westbrook's job duties include de-escalating resident behavior, preventing residents from harming themselves or others and documenting inappropriate behavior in residents' progress notes. (Id. at ¶ 9.) When she became an STA I, Westbrook received three months of training during which she learned how to deal with disruptive residents, restrain combative residents and defend herself against resident attacks. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 9.) Westbrook was trained to ask a disruptive resident to go to his or her room to calm down and, if he or she refused, to call for security to come and temporarily remove the resident from the unit. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Westbrook was also trained to make entries in residents' progress notes whenever a resident behaved inappropriately or security had to be called. (Id. at ¶ 15.) During her nearly ten years of working with mentally ill patients in her two positions, Westbrook observed patients assault others at least once a month, and sometimes weekly, and regularly worked with patients who said hurtful or offensive things to staff members. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-13.) Westbroook testified, with respect to her job responsibilities and training, “When I took the job . . . I knew that I was dealing with mentally ill people” and “the training is to help us understand how to deal with the residents that have mental illness and not to let them . . . distract us from doing our job.” (Id. at ¶ 8.)

         Westbrook's first STA I position with IDHS was at the Joliet Treatment and Detention Center where she worked from 2001 until 2006 when the facility closed and she was laid off. In 2007, she began working at Elgin Medical Health Center (EMHC) where she is currently employed. (Id. at ¶ 10.) The EMHC FTP is divided into various units. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Westbrook worked in the H&I unit from 2007 until 2009, the Pinel unit from 2009 until 2013, the M&N unit for several months in 2013, and the William White unit from November 2013 until October 30, 2014. (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 12-14.) Westbook's immediate supervisor in the William White unit was Nursing Supervisor Ryma Jacobson. (Id. at ¶ 49.)

         Westbrook is a member of a union. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Per union rules, members must bid on assignments in IDHS and bids are granted based on seniority. (Id.) Sometime after April 2014, Westbrook submitted bids for positions outside of the William White unit and, in September or October 2014, was awarded the first position that she bid on. (Id. at ¶ 64.) Westbrook started the new position in February 2015. (Id. at ¶ 65.)

         Westbrook's claims arise from her time working as an STA I in the William White unit.

         II. Alleged Racially Offensive Conduct

         Marci Webber was admitted to the EMHC on June 18, 2012 after being found not guilty by reason of insanity for first degree murder of her 4-year-old daughter. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Webber was placed in the William White unit but did not trust her treatment team and regularly wrote letters to hospital staff requesting to be transferred to another unit. (Id. at ¶ 29.) Westbrook had frequent contact with Webber while she was housed in the William White unit including, for example, that she assisted her in making phone calls. (Id. at ¶¶ 47, 60; Dkt. No. 54 at ¶ 2.)

         Westbrook testified that between April 10, 2014 and October 2014, Webber continuously called her racially derogatory names-for example, “black bitch, ” “nigger” and “black cow”- and, on May 3, 2014, attempted to physically attack her. (Dkt. No. 42 at ¶¶ 39, 41, 49; Dkt. No. 54 at ¶¶ 2, 3.) Although her patient logs reflect three instances in which Webber was racially abusive to her, Plaintiff testified that she recalls six specific instances in which Webber called her racial slurs or other derogatory names. (Dkt No. 42 at ¶ 44.) Specifically, Westbrook testified about or described in her written discovery responses the following incidents:

• Around 4:00 p.m. on June of 2014, Webber refused to allow Westbrook to take her for a phone call, calling Westbrook a “bitch” and saying, “I don't want that nigger bitch to call my lawyer for me.” Another STA and Jacobson, Westbrook's immediate supervisor, witnessed this incident. (Dkt. No. 54 at ¶ 4.)
• On June 14, 2014, Webber was hostile with and threatened Westbrook, calling her a “black bitch.” (Id. at ¶ 5.)
• On June 25, 2014, Webber called Westbrook a “black Nigger” and attempted to attack Westbrook with an object in her hand. As a result, Westbrook had to call security to the unit. This was the first and only time Westbrook had to call security on a resident of the William White unit. (Id. at ¶ 6.)
• Around 7:30 a.m. on a day in September 2014, while Westbrook was in the day room, Webber became angry with another staff member and took it out on Westbrook, calling Westbrook an “ugly black bitch.” (Id. at ¶ 7.)
• On another day in September 2014, Webber entered the dining hall while Westbrook was serving lunch, called Westbrook a “black cow” and stated, “sorry nigger bitch, go back to the prison where you use to work at, cause bitch this is not a prison.” Westbrook's co-worker was present and witnessed the incident. (Id. at ¶ 8.)
• On September 15, 2014, Webber called Westbrook a “nigger” two or three times and threatened to call her attorney and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) about Westbrook. Jacobson was present at the time but did nothing. That same day, when Jacobson was not present, Webber stated something along the lines of “fucking black nigger parents, ” in reference to Westbrook's deceased parents. (Id. at ¶ 9.)

         Westbrook testified that there were “many, many more” other such instances that occurred but that she could not specifically recall. (Id. at ¶ 1.) During the five months that Westbrook alleges that she worked in a hostile work environment, Westbrook was off on FMLA leave for over two months. (Id. at ¶40).

         Westbrook was required to report any inappropriate behavior in Webber's progress notes. (Dkt. No. 42 at ¶¶ 15, 42.) Westbrook testified, however, that many of the instances of Webber's racially offensive conduct were not documented in her notes. (Id. at ¶ 43.) In fact, Westbrook made 13 entries in Webber's progress notes between January and October 2014, only three of which report that Webber made racist comments. (Id. at ¶ 46.) Meanwhile, Webber routinely wrote letters to hospital staff requesting to be transferred off of the William White unit, expressed distrust in the treatment team and reported belief that the treatment team was causing the staff to write negative things in her chart. (Id. at ...

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