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Mahran v. Advocate Health and Hospitals Corp.

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

September 16, 2019

ADVOCATE HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORPORATION, an Illinois not-for-profit Corporation, and ADVOCATE CHRIST MEDICAL CENTER, an Illinois not-for-profit Corporation, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Mohammed Mahran, an Egyptian Muslim, filed this employment discrimination suit against Defendants Advocate Health and Hospital Corporation (“Advocate Health”) and Advocate Christ Medical Center (“Advocate Christ”).[1] The Court granted summary judgment to Advocate on Mahran's complaint, except as to claims for religious discrimination based on a failure to accommodate. Doc. 52. Advocate now moves for summary judgment on any religious discrimination claim Mahran has under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq., and the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1-101 et seq., based on Advocate's alleged failure to provide reasonable accommodations with respect to prayer breaks. Because Mahran cannot establish all the elements of a failure to accommodate claim, the Court grants Advocate's motion for summary judgment.

         BACKGROUND [2]

         I. Mahran's Background and Employment at Advocate

         On April 10, 2013, Mahran contacted Rolla Sweis, Advocate Christ's pharmacy director who is Jordanian Orthodox, to apply for a pharmacist position at Advocate. Advocate hired Mahran as a registry pharmacist, effective November 18, 2013. Mahran reported to Judith Brown-Scott, Advocate Christ's pharmacy manager and an African American Christian. Both Sweis and Brown-Scott knew that Mahran was an Egyptian Muslim.

         Advocate Christ's pharmacy department includes approximately 150 to 160 pharmacists and technicians. Sweis estimated that about 80% of the pharmacy staff is diverse, and about 90% of that diverse group is Middle Eastern, containing between thirty and forty-five Muslim employees. At the time of Mahran's employment, Branka Milicev, who is Yugoslavian Orthodox, was the clinical manager of the department, and Chris Boyle, a caucasian Christian, was the evening supervisor. Boyle could not discipline, hire, or fire employees, but Mahran did not have direct knowledge of this.

         In connection with his onboarding process, Mahran acknowledged receipt of Advocate's Associate Handbook in October 2013. The handbook provides that Advocate employees are to “treat all people with respect, integrity and dignity.” Doc. 35 ¶ 16. It also includes information about Advocate's Equal Employment Opportunity policy, general and sexual harassment policy, non-retaliation policy, and reporting mechanisms. Advocate's conflict resolution program encouraged employees to engage in detailed discussions with other employees with whom a conflict existed, while also providing different avenues for resolution of conflicts, including focused approaches led by the human resources department, arbitration, and mediation.

         Advocate has a corrective action policy that provides for progressive discipline, including level 1 and 2 warnings and a level 3 final warning. Advocate could omit disciplinary steps depending on the seriousness and details of the infraction. Additionally, a supervisor could give employees a performance deficiency notice (“PDN”), which identifies the employee's specific deficiencies, a corrective action plan, a time frame for demonstrating acceptable performance, and the consequences of failing to do so.

         Advocate hired Mahran for an initial ninety-day probationary period. His job required him to make certain decisions on his own, which Mahran testified encompassed verifying orders, including after a technician prepared them, providing recommendations to nurses and doctors, and adjusting medications for dose and frequency based on a patient's lab work. Additionally, pharmacists at Advocate considered the appropriateness, safety, and efficacy of patients' drug therapy regimens and provided clinical expertise on pharmaceutical therapy. Initially, Mahran worked both day and night shifts and rotated between the central pharmacy and hospital floors.

         On February 24, 2014, upon the conclusion of his probationary period, Brown-Scott evaluated Mahran, giving him an overall rating of meets expectations and the same rating in seven of eight categories. With respect to job accountabilities, Brown-Scott found that Mahran approached expectations, noting that he needed to develop his inpatient pharmacist skills to better oversee drug therapy at the hospital and that he had knowledge deficits arising from his limited exposure to inpatient staffing. She wanted Mahran to take an active role in learning more about the care of critically ill patients and those with a wide range of illnesses.

         On April 20, 2014, Advocate hired Mahran as a full-time pharmacist. In his August 23, 2014, review, Brown-Scott rated Mahran as meeting expectations while noting that he should “have open and candid communications and handle difficult conversations with the appropriate party when necessary.” Doc. 35 ¶ 38. Mahran was disappointed in his April 2015 performance review, which found he met expectations, because he believed he should have received an overall rating of exceeds expectations.

         Between August 13, 2015, and April 2016, Mahran received various warnings regarding failures to verify orders and the cherry-picking of orders. Mahran disagreed with these warnings and believed he received them in retaliation for having reported racial and religious discrimination. After Brown-Scott issued a level 3 warning in April 2016 for Mahran's failure to verify a more complicated order despite having received counseling on the issue, Mahran complained to Advocate's human resources department. On April 25, human resources deleted his level 3 warning and noted that a PDN, which Brown-Scott had issued on April 8, would better address Mahran's behavior. The PDN stated that Mahran's failure to consistently demonstrate the expected levels of performance and remedy the identified performance deficiencies within twelve months could lead to his termination. Mahran refused to sign the PDN on April 11 because he disagreed with its substance. The PDN had an initial feedback date of May 9, which Advocate extended, and follow-up meetings occurred on May 5, May 25, and June 18.

         On May 4, Mahran again received a level 3 warning, this time for leaving the pharmacy before the relief pharmacist arrived and, therefore, failing to perform the proper hand-off to that pharmacist. Sweis indicated such behavior could cause Advocate to lose its pharmacy license. In response, on May 7, Mahran sent a certified letter and email to Advocate's corporate human resources department in which he claimed the PDN and May 4 final warning stemmed from religious, racial, and ethnic prejudices. He explained that, with respect to the incident that prompted the May 4 final warning, he had seen the relief pharmacist arriving, left the hand-off information on the computer, and told the lead technician he did so in event that the relief pharmacist did not see the information. Mahran met with Caitlin Malito, a human resources consultant, and Sweis to discuss the May 4 final warning on May 18. Malito did not find evidence that Advocate had failed to follow its policies or procedures in connection with Mahran.

         On May 22, Brown-Scott reminded Mahran to work his assigned shifts, including those requiring ICU order oversight, and asked Mahran to seek approval of any schedule change requests so as to ensure he did not remove himself from overseeing ICU orders. Mahran denied seeking to change shifts. Brown-Scott also reassigned Mahran a module on documenting medication histories that she thought would help him comply with the PDN. On June 9, Mahran told Malito that the situation in the pharmacy department was getting worse. Malito sought to schedule a conflict resolution session with Mahran and Sweis. After the session, Mahran learned that Sweis wanted to uphold the final warning. On June 21, Mahran indicated that he wished to proceed before an arbitration panel. Jeremy Sadlier, the human resources director, informed Mahran that a ...

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