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Zinkel v. Piper

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

June 5, 2019

JOHN ZINKEL, Plaintiff,
VICKY PIPER, an individual, PRADIPTA KOMANDURI, an individual, CAROLYN NELSON, an individual, and LOYOLA UNIVERISTY HEALTH SYSTEM, an Illinois corporation, Defendants.



         Plaintiff John Zinkel has brought a six count revised second amended complaint against defendants Vicky Piper, Pradipta Komanduri, Carolyn Nelson, and his and their employer, Loyola University Health System (“Loyola”), alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) against Piper, Komanduri, and Nelson (Count I); IIED against Loyola (Count II); tortious interference with a business relationship or expectancy against Piper, Komanduri, and Nelson (Count III); and discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 1964, the Age Discrimination and Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) against Loyola (Counts IV through VI). Early on the parties began settlement negotiations and thought they had reached an agreement. Unable to agree on the release language, the settlement broke down. After the court denied plaintiff's motion to enforce what he thought was a binding agreement, defendants moved to dismiss Counts I through III of the revised second amended complaint. For the reasons described below, that motion (Doc. 48) is denied.


         Plaintiff worked for Loyola for 33 years before his employment was terminated on February 20, 2015. His last position was Director of Respiratory Care. During the period in question Piper was Loyola's Human Resources Vice-President. Nelson was Director of Human Resources, and Komanduri was a Vice President.

         Plaintiff was diagnosed with lymphocytic leukemia in December 2011. At that time his condition was monitored but he did not undergo any treatment. By June 2013 his condition had worsened, and he was hospitalized at Loyola. Piper and Nelson were aware of plaintiff's condition from that point forward, both having approved his leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

         After his FMLA leave ended, plaintiff returned to work in September 2013. He completed a six month round of chemotherapy in December 2013. On September 30, 2014, he met with Komanduri, Nelson, Piper, and Loyola's Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) Wendy Leutgens. Leutgens told plaintiff to prepare a plan to reduce the number of full time equivalent employees (“FTEs”) on his staff by seven, a cut of greater than 8% of the full time staff. Piper told him that they settled on seven after consulting “Decision Support, ” the hospital unit charged with determining staffing levels. Not happy, plaintiff himself met with Decision Support and was told that seven was too many, and that the appropriate number of cuts was four.

         Plaintiff told Komanduri of his discussion with Decision Support and she confirmed that plaintiff should reduce his department by four FTEs. Plaintiff began submitting plans for the reductions, each of which was rejected and met with ridicule from Leutgens. On October 24, 2014, Komanduri and plaintiff communicated by email about his latest plan. Plaintiff thought the plan might be accepted. Komanduri closed her final email by telling plaintiff to have a good weekend. Eighteen minutes later plaintiff was called into Komanduri's office where Komanduri and Nelson waited. Plaintiff was issued a work improvement plan (“WIP”). According to plaintiff the WIP contained false statements about his performance. Nelson yelled and screamed at plaintiff, stating that he was wasting everyone's time with his proposed plans. Nelson threatened plaintiff that he would lose his job, benefits, and whole career if he did not develop an acceptable reorganization plan.

         At the October 24 meeting, plaintiff told defendants that he had been an employee for 33 years, always had positive reviews, that he had leukemia and needed his job and benefits. Plaintiff began to cry, but got no response from defendants. Three days later, plaintiff collapsed in his office. He collapsed again at the Cancer Center. His condition had worsened, and he needed triple chemotherapy for six months. Plaintiff subsequently went on three months FMLA leave. He returned to work early, after only two months.

         In early January 2015 he met with Komanduri and Nelson to review his most recent reorganization plan. Nelson again screamed that he was wasting her time and that he was going to lose his job, benefits, and career. Komanduri claimed the plan made no sense even though it was the same plan that was ultimately submitted by one of plaintiff's subordinates and approved after plaintiff had stopped working.

         On February 20, 2015, plaintiff was called into a meeting with the HR Department. His WIP had not yet been completed. He was given a “Confidential Separation Agreement and Release.” He told Komanduri and Nelson that he was still receiving chemotherapy and that their actions might violate the ADA. Komanduri and Nelson left the room for 30 minutes and upon their return told plaintiff that he could extend his short-term disability leave for another three months, and that after he returned they could either finalize the Separation Agreement or he could start a long-term disability claim. In either event, he would be terminated when his leave ended.


         Defendants have moved to dismiss Counts I through III, arguing that the claims are preempted by the Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 ILCS 5/8-111, which provides:

Except as otherwise provided by law, no court of this state shall have jurisdiction over the subject of an alleged civil rights violation other than as set forth in this Act.

         The IHRA outlaws employment discrimination based on sex or disability. Employment discrimination is described as “incidents in which an employer acts with respect to promotion, renewal of employment . . . discharge, discipline, tenure or terms, privileges or conditions of employment on the basis of unlawful discrimination or citizenship status.” Naeem ...

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