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Zaveri v. Northwest Community Hospital

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

May 22, 2018

JIGAR V. ZAVERI, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHWEST COMMUNITY HOSPITAL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Ronald A. Guzmán United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, Jigar V. Zaveri, brought this action against Northwest Community Hospital (“NCH”) for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Zaveri alleges that NCH discriminated against him and terminated his employment based on his race, color, national origin, religion, and sex. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants NCH's motion for summary judgment.

         MATERIAL FACTS

         The following facts are undisputed except where noted. Plaintiff is male, brown-skinned, and of Indian descent, and his religion is Hindu. (ECF No. 43, Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 1.) In addition to English, plaintiff speaks Gujarati and Hindi. (ECF No. 35, Def.'s App., Tab B, Dep. of Jigar V. Zaveri 11.) When plaintiff began his employment with NCH in April 1999, he went through employee orientation, which included a review of NCH's human-resources policies. (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 5.) Plaintiff understood that he was required to comply with those policies. (Id.)

         After spending his first two years at NCH in other positions, plaintiff transferred in March 2001 to a Pharmacy Technician position in NCH's Pharmacy Department. (Id. ¶ 6.)

         Among plaintiff's job duties in that position were filling prescriptions; having medications checked by a Pharmacist before dispensing; distributing medications on hospital floors; maintaining medications in automated dispensing cabinets; assisting the Purchasing Coordinator with unpacking and shelving products; ensuring that correct bar codes were on medications; and adhering to all of NCH's standards, policies, and procedures. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         Over the years, plaintiff worked under three different individuals who served as Pharmacy Director before Jason Alonzo became the Pharmacy Director in June 2013. (Id. ¶ 9.) The Pharmacy Director is responsible for overseeing the entire Pharmacy, and the Pharmacy Manager reports directly to the Pharmacy Director. (Id. ¶ 10.) In March 2001, Greg Doerr was the Pharmacy Manager. (Id. ¶ 9.) Paul Zega became the Pharmacy Director in 2004 or 2005 and remained in that position until 2013. (Id.) When Zega left NCH, Darlene Weigand was the Pharmacy Manager and filled in as the Acting Pharmacy Director until Alonzo arrived. (Id.) Shortly after Alonzo became Pharmacy Director in 2013, Mary Clausen became the Pharmacy Manager. (Id. ¶ 11.) After Clausen left NCH in November 2014, Michael DeFranze began to assume duties of the Pharmacy Manager position, and he took over that position full time at the end of January 2015. (Id.)

         Both the Pharmacy Director and the Pharmacy Manager are responsible for issuing discipline in the Pharmacy Department. (Id. ¶ 12.) During the relevant time frame, before the Pharmacy Director and/or Manager issued any discipline, they first reviewed the discipline with NCH's Human Resources Department. (Id. ¶ 13.) Generally, they consulted Robert Mueller, who was the Employee Relations Manager; on occasion, they also discussed performance and disciplinary issues with Ann Erickson, who was then the Director of Human Resources, and Ann Patrick, Vice President of Human Resources. (Id.)

         At all relevant times, the Pharmacy Director and/or Pharmacy Manager issued performance evaluations to Pharmacy employees. (Id. ¶ 14.) In March 2013, Weigand gave plaintiff his 2012 performance evaluation, in which his overall performance rating was “Inconsistent Performer” (out of four categories: “Exceptional Performer, ” “Strong Performer, ” “Inconsistent Performer, ” and “Under Performer”). (Id.; Zaveri Dep., Ex. 14, at 2.) In March 2014, Alonzo gave plaintiff his 2013 performance evaluation, in which his overall performance rating was “Strong Performer, ” with inconsistent performance in certain categories, including “completes assignments in a high quality, timely and cost-efficient manner.” (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 31; Zaveri Dep., Ex. 15, at 2.)

         NCH's Employee-Discipline Policies

         At all relevant times, NCH had a written Corrective Action Policy, Human Resources Policy Number 304, which provided guidelines for “coaching” and administering corrective action. (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 21.) Under this policy, depending on the situation, discipline was typically documented in a “Coaching Note” or “Coaching Report, ” and could progress through the following steps: Coaching, First Written Warning, Final Written Warning, Suspension, and Termination. (Id.) It was not necessary to undertake every step in that process, however, because the level of discipline issued to an employee depended on the severity of the incident. (Id.) The policy further provided that, for all Coaching and Corrective Action steps except Verbal Coaching, the employee would be requested to sign a Coaching Report to acknowledge receipt of its content. (ECF No. 52, Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 2.) The employee's signature did not indicate agreement with the content of the report. (Id.) Under the policy, if the employee declined to sign the report, the manager “should” document that decision on the form, and “[w]hen possible, ” another manager should “witness this action” and sign the form as a witness. (Id.) Furthermore, all written coaching documents were to be signed and dated by the manager, and the report would become a permanent part of the employee's Human Resources file, with a copy given to the employee. (Id.)

         At all relevant times, NCH had a written Employee Rules and Regulations Policy, Human Resources Policy Number 317, which provided expectations for employee conduct to be used as a guide for issuing corrective action. (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 22.) This policy listed a number of infractions that were considered serious enough to warrant immediate dismissal, including “[i]nsubordination and/or refusal to comply with instructions or failure to perform reasonable duties as assigned.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff's Discipline in 2014

         On October 7, 2014, Clausen issued an “Employee Coaching Report” for plaintiff that documented “[s]everal incidents of inconsistent work performance” in August and September 2014. (Id. ¶ 35; Zaveri Dep., Ex. 17.) The incidents were (1) on August 29, when plaintiff covered purchasing responsibilities, he failed to unpack two totes of medications after having verbally confirmed that all required duties had been completed for the day, and he failed to follow recordkeeping procedures as to received medications; (2) on the same day, plaintiff did not appropriately verify inventory counts; (3) on September 12, plaintiff failed to load influenza vaccine in a dispensing machine despite having had reminders; (4) on September 13-15, plaintiff failed to refill several dispensing machines with certain tablets; and (5) there had been reports that plaintiff had “excessive personal phone calls in the IV room.” (Zaveri Dep., Ex. 17.)

         The Employee Coaching Report was not signed by plaintiff, and he says that he never received it and did not become aware of it until February 2015. (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 35; Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 1.) Plaintiff admits the following: he met with Clausen on October 7, 2014 about some of the incidents mentioned in the report, including the problems with the tablets and the phone calls; it is possible that he did not appropriately verify inventory counts; Clausen told plaintiff that she was going to “write him up”; plaintiff later spoke with Alonzo about some of the issues plaintiff and Clausen had discussed; and the report was contained in plaintiff's personnel file, a copy of which plaintiff obtained shortly after his employment was terminated. (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 37; Zaveri Dep. 102-112.) The report is signed by Alonzo on the “witness” line, although Alonzo informed Human Resources that he was not in fact a witness to plaintiff's meeting with Clausen. (Zaveri Dep., Ex. 17; ECF No. 35, Def.'s App., Tab C, Dep. of Jason Alonzo 161.) Alonzo says that he signed the Employee Coaching Report to indicate he was “upholding” it after (1) providing reports to Clausen that indicated plaintiff had not performed his job duties; (2) Clausen told him that plaintiff had refused to sign the coaching report; and (3) Alonzo had a follow-up conversation with plaintiff about it when plaintiff complained that the discipline was unfair. (Zaveri Dep., Ex. 17; Alonzo Dep. 161-66.).

         NCH's Language Policy and Plaintiff's Discipline in 2015

         NCH's written Human Resources Policy Number 305, titled Customer Service Standards, contains a subsection titled “Language” (the “Language Policy”), which provides as follows:

• Languages spoken and communication utilized should support “getting the job done.”
• In work situations, English will be spoken unless the individuals present have requested or consented to speaking another language.
• In non-work situations, employees are welcome to converse in English or languages other than English, but are encouraged to be respectful and to acknowledge the presence of ...

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