Darden et al v. Ingalls Memorial Hospital et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION signed by the Honorable Charles P. Kocoras on 3/21/2012.Mailed notice(sct, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
NAOMI E. DARDEN,
INGALLS MEMORIAL HOSPITAL,
10 C 4225
CHARLES P. KOCORAS, District Judge:
This case comes before the Court on Defendant Ingalls Memorial Hospital’s
(“Ingalls”) motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.
Ingalls employed Plaintiff Naomi Darden (“Darden”) as a Food Service
Assistant from approximately September 1992 until April 2010, when it terminated
her employment. Darden, an African-American woman, was 53 years old at the
time of her termination.
Darden did not respond to Ingalls’ summary judgment motion or statement of material facts.
Accordingly, the facts set forth in Ingalls’ statement of material facts and supported by the record
are deemed admitted. See N.D. Ill. L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C).
Darden subsequently filed suit against Ingalls, alleging race and sex
discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42
U.S.C. § 2000e-2, age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment
Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 623, and disability discrimination under the
Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12112.
Aside from her
general allegations of discrimination, Darden also alleges that Ingalls discriminated
against her because of her husband’s disabilities and for expressing an interest in
joining a union ten years before her termination.
Darden’s Employment with Ingalls
As a Food Service Assistant, Darden worked on the tray line. The tray line
operates like an assembly line, with a Food Service Assistant assigned to each station
on the line: coordinator, soups, entrees, dessert, coffee, and checker. Darden was
assigned to the entrees station. As trays move past the stations on a conveyor belt,
each Food Service Assistant consults a menu ticket, which is completed by a patient
or doctor, to determine the appropriate type and amount of food to place on the plate.
Because meals are being prepared for hospital patients with varying dietary
restrictions and allergies, it is important for the Food Service Assistants to place the
correct food item and amount on the tray. The Food Service Assistants use different
size serving utensils to properly apportion food. Darden understood the importance
of accuracy and that a patient could become ill or die if the patient received the
wrong amount or type of food.
Because the tray line operates as an assembly line, Ingalls requires Food
Service Assistants to remain at their stations while the tray line is operating. If a
Food Service Assistant leaves the tray line, trays may pass a station without having
the appropriate items placed on them. So that Food Service Assistants need not leave
the tray line, Food Service Assistants running low on food ask the cooks to bring
additional food to their stations. Also, to ensure proper food temperature, Food
Service Assistants must maintain proper water levels in the steam wells.
Jennifer Aidinovich (“Aidinovich”) supervised the Food Service Assistants
and was Darden’s direct supervisor from 2002 until Darden’s termination in 2010.
During that same time period, Katie Freese (“Freese”) was Aidinovich’s immediate
supervisor and oversaw all employees in Ingalls’ Food and Nutrition Department.
To evaluate the Food Service Assistants’ accuracy on the tray line, Aidinovich,
Freese, or a dietetic intern regularly conducted Tray Accuracy Audits. During these
audits, items on the meal trays were checked against patients’ prescribed diets.
Aidinovich and Freese were also responsible for administering disciplinary
action according to Ingalls’ progressive discipline policy.
Under this policy,
discipline begins with a verbal warning and then progresses to a written warning, a
one day unpaid suspension, and then termination. An employee usually first receives
a verbal warning for unsatisfactory work performance or minor violations of hospital
policy. A written warning generally follows a verbal warning if the violation is not
corrected. According to Ingalls’ Code of Conduct, an employee’s failure to improve
job performance after oral or written warnings may lead to an unpaid suspension day
or discharge. Darden knew of and understood Ingalls’ progressive discipline policy.
Darden’s Work Performance
Aidinovich prepared Darden’s annual performance reviews each June for her
work performance the year before. On Darden’s 2006-2007 performance review,
which Aidinovich discussed with Darden in June 2007, Aidinovich rated Darden as
For the following year, Aidinovich directed Darden to
improve her accuracy on the tray line and maintain proper water levels in the steam
Darden was disciplined on three occasions in the year following her 20062007 performance review. Specifically, on July 25, 2007, Darden received a verbal
warning from Aidinovich for failing to give the cooks sufficient notice that she
needed additional food, which caused the tray line to stop, and failing to fully
replenish the steam wells with water before leaving her station after breakfast. Then,
on September 19, 2007, Freese issued Darden a written warning because Darden left
the tray line to obtain additional food instead of asking the cooks to bring it to her
station. Finally, on January 30, 2008, Freese verbally counseled Darden for failing
to maintain the proper food temperature by pre-plating food. Although Darden does
not remember this event, Aidinovich documented it in a “verbal discussion
On Darden’s 2007-2008 performance review, which Aidinovich discussed
with Darden in June 2008, Aidinovich again rated Darden as meeting expectations.
For the upcoming year, Aidinovich directed Darden to maintain proper food and
equipment temperature and to not pre-portion food. Between June 2008 and June
2009, Darden was disciplined on four occasions. Specifically, on February 25,
2009, Aidinovich verbally counseled Darden for using the wrong size serving utensil
for an entree. Then, on March 11, 2009, Aidinovich issued Darden a verbal warning
for leaving the tray line. A few months later, on May 1, 2009, Aidinovich and Freese
asked Darden to improve her accuracy on the tray line and communication with
coworkers. The next day, on May 2, 2009, Darden received a written warning after a
Tray Accuracy Audit revealed that she made twelve errors.
performed worse than any of her coworkers during the audit.
On Darden’s 2008-2009 performance review, which Aidinovich discussed
with Darden in June 2009, Aidinovich rated Darden as meeting expectations. For the
following year, Aidinovich advised Darden to focus on tray accuracy by not missing
more than three food items per meal period and communicate to the cooks when she
needs additional food.
That same month, on June 24, 2009, Darden served the wrong amount of food
by using the wrong size serving utensil. Aidinovich also complained that Darden
failed to participate in a team building activity during a department meeting. For
these infractions, Aidinovich issued Darden a one day unpaid suspension.
On December 2, 2009, Aidinovich created a “record of coaching and
counseling,” which reflected that she verbally counseled Darden for improperly
doubling the amount of food on numerous patient trays. Darden does not recall
whether she made this mistake.
On several occasions, Darden agreed to improve her tray accuracy. Despite
her assurances, Tray Accuracy Audits revealed that Darden made eight errors on
April 9, 2010, and a total of twenty-one errors during breakfast and lunch on April
On April 16, 2010, Aidinovich and Freese terminated Darden’s
employment. According to Aidinovich and Freese, they informed Darden that her
employment was being terminated for unsatisfactory work performance. During her
deposition, Darden acknowledged that her accuracy needed improvement and that
she violated Ingalls’ procedure on several occasions by leaving the tray line or failing
to give sufficient notice to the cooks that she needed additional food.
Approximately three months later, Darden submitted a grievance to Ingalls
complaining that her termination was the product of discrimination and harassment.
Although Ingalls’ policy directs employees to immediately report harassment or
discrimination, Darden never reported any such conduct while employed by Ingalls.
Other Ingalls Employees
Darden identified several other employees who allegedly received more
favorable treatment. According to Darden, Evelyn Hart (“Hart”) and Etter Garrett
(“Garrett”), who are both female, black, and older than Darden, were not terminated
after they overlooked a patient’s food allergy.
Darden also identified three younger employees, including Michelle Edwards
(“Edwards”), Rasheia West (“West”), and an unnamed female employee. Edwards
was issued a one day unpaid suspension for using profanity and West received a
verbal warning for her unsatisfactory work performance and involvement in a heated
conversation with a coworker.
Additionally, Darden named two white males who purportedly received
preferential treatment because they were not terminated for their actions. According
to Darden, cook Greg Mossuto (“Mossuto”) allegedly cursed at his supervisor Marco
Papa, and Steve Graff (“Graff”) injured a coworker by negligently turning on a
Darden’s Alleged Disabilities
Darden claims that she has three disabilities. First, Darden alleges that she has
poor eyesight. Darden acknowledges that her eyesight is completely corrected with
prescription eyeglasses but stated that she sometimes failed to wear her eyeglasses to
work, which purportedly affected her accuracy on the tray line because she could not
read the menu tickets. Second, Darden alleges that she is disabled because of her
“trigger finger,” which causes her finger to get stuck. Darden had surgery for her
condition, which temporarily corrected the problem.
According to Darden, her
trigger finger did not prevent her from performing the functions of her job. Finally,
Darden alleges that she is disabled because her shoulder “went out” around 2003 or
2004. After Darden received treatment for her shoulder, she was able to perform all
of her job duties.
Darden’s Partial Repudiation of her Claims
Darden made several harmful admissions during her deposition. First, Darden
admitted that she was not terminated because of her sex. Second, Darden expressed
uncertainty regarding whether age played a factor in her termination, stating that age
might not have been a factor because some older employees “got away with” making
mistakes on the tray line.
Third, Darden conceded that her husband’s health
problems did not influence her discipline or termination. Finally, Darden admitted
that her employment was not terminated because she wore eyeglasses, and that her
interest in joining a union approximately ten years before her termination had
nothing to do with her discipline.
Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, discovery materials,
disclosures, and affidavits demonstrate no genuine issue of material fact, such that
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a);
Protective Life Ins. Co. v. Hansen, 632 F.3d 388, 391-92 (7th Cir. 2011). A genuine
issue of material fact exists when, based on the evidence, a reasonable jury could
find in favor of the non-moving party. Van Antwerp v. City of Peoria, Ill., 627 F.3d
295, 297 (7th Cir. 2010).
A court construes all facts and draws all reasonable
inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Smith v. Hope Sch., 560 F.3d 694, 699
(7th Cir. 2009). To survive summary judgment, the non-moving party must present
sufficient evidence for each element of its case on which it bears the burden at trial.
Dargis v. Sheahan, 526 F.3d 981, 985 (7th Cir. 2008).
Darden asserts claims for race, sex, age, and disability discrimination.2 Title
VII, the ADEA, and the ADA prohibit an employer from discharging or otherwise
discriminating against an individual because of such individual’s race, sex, age, or
During her deposition, Darden disavowed her claims for sex discrimination and for disability
discrimination based on her husband’s alleged disabilities. Accordingly, the Court grants summary
judgment in favor of Ingalls on those disavowed claims. Even so, the Court finds that Darden’s sex
discrimination claim lacks merit. Additionally, Darden alleged in her complaint that she was
harassed for expressing interest in joining a union approximately ten years before her termination.
Darden, however, admitted at her deposition that she was not terminated for her interest in joining
a union approximately ten years earlier. Thus, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of
Ingalls on any such union-related claims.
disability. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (race and sex); 29 U.S.C. § 623(a) (age); 42
U.S.C. § 12112(a) (disability).
Ingalls moves for summary judgment on all of
Darden’s Claims for Race, Sex, and Age Discrimination
A plaintiff alleging race, sex, or age discrimination may establish a prima facie
case of discrimination directly or indirectly. Van Antwerp, 627 F.3d at 297-98; Petts
v. Rockledge Furniture LLC, 534 F.3d 715, 720 (7th Cir. 2008). The record lacks
any evidence pointing directly to a discriminatory reason for Darden’s termination,
such as an admission of discrimination by Ingalls. See Koszola v. Bd. of Educ. of
Chi., 385 F.3d 1104, 1109 (7th Cir. 2004). Accordingly, the Court will evaluate
whether Darden can prove discrimination under the indirect method.
To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the indirect method,
Darden must prove that she (1) belongs to a protected class, (2) was satisfying
Ingalls’ legitimate expectations, (3) suffered an adverse employment action, and
(4) was treated worse than similarly situated employees outside the protected class.
Rodgers v. White, 657 F.3d 511, 517 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing McDonnell Douglas
Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973)). If Darden establishes a prima facie case
and Ingalls articulates a non-discriminatory reason for the adverse action, Darden
must then prove that Ingalls’ stated reason is merely a pretext for discrimination. Id.
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First, Ingalls argues that Darden cannot demonstrate that she was satisfying its
As a Food Service Assistant, Darden assisted in the
preparation of patient meals. Because patients have varying dietary restrictions and
allergies, Darden understood the importance of placing the correct type of food and
accurate amount of food on each patient’s plate. Darden acknowledged that her
failure to place the correct type and amount of food on a patient’s plate could cause
serious consequences, including illness or death. Considering the risks to patient
health, Ingalls legitimately expected Darden to maintain a reasonable level of
accuracy when distributing food. Ingalls also legitimately expected the Food Service
Assistants to request additional food from cooks, rather than leaving the tray line to
obtain food, so that trays would not pass by a station without having the appropriate
items placed on them.
The undisputed facts demonstrate that Darden failed to satisfy either of these
legitimate expectations. Although repeatedly instructed to increase her accuracy,
Darden consistently made errors and performed worse than her coworkers in the
fourteen months preceding her termination. In February 2009, Darden was verbally
counseled for placing an incorrect amount of food on patients’ plates by using the
wrong size serving utensil. The following month, Darden received a verbal warning
for leaving the tray line. In May 2009, Darden received a written warning after a
Tray Accuracy Audit revealed that she made twelve errors, the worst performance of
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any worker on the tray line.
In June 2009, Darden received a one day unpaid
suspension after she again used the wrong size serving utensil. In December 2009,
Darden was verbally counseled for placing twice the permissible amount of food on
several plates. On April 9, 2010, a Tray Accuracy Audit revealed that Darden made
eight errors. Finally, on April 16, 2010, a Tray Accuracy Audit revealed that Darden
made a total of twenty-one errors throughout breakfast and lunch. Later that day,
Ingalls terminated Darden’s employment.
Given Darden’s substantial record of
errors that jeopardized patient health, no reasonable juror could find that she was
satisfying Ingalls’ legitimate employment expectations. See, e.g., Suarez v. Sacred
Heart Hosp., 225 F. App’x 404, 406 (7th Cir. 2007) (holding that plaintiff failed to
satisfy employer’s legitimate expectations where she made errors that could have
compromised patient care).
Second, Ingalls maintains that no similarly situated employees outside of the
protected classes were treated more favorably than Darden.
several employees who purportedly received more favorable treatment, including
Hart, Garrett, Edwards, West, Mossuto, and Graff. However, these employees are
either not outside of the protected classes or not similarly situated to Darden.
Specifically, Hart and Garrett are black, female, and older than Darden and thus are
not outside of the protected classes. Accordingly, Darden cannot show race, sex, or
age discrimination by demonstrating that Hart and Garrett received more favorable
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See Rodgers, 657 F.3d at 517 (stating that plaintiff must identify
employees outside the protected class). Additionally, the remaining employees are
not similarly situated to Darden because they do not share a comparable set of
failings with Darden. See id. at 520-21. Darden was consistently disciplined for the
errors she made on the tray line, and no evidence exists that the other employees
were disciplined for poor accuracy or made a similar number of errors as Darden. In
fact, the Tray Accuracy Audits referenced in the record reveal that Darden greatly
exceeded the number of errors made by any other Food Service Assistant.
Accordingly, no reasonable juror could conclude that similarly situated employees
outside of the protected classes received more favorable treatment than Darden.
For these reasons, Darden cannot present a prima facie case of race, sex, or
age discrimination, and the Court grants summary judgment in favor of Ingalls on
Darden’s Claim for Disability Discrimination
To establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination, Darden must
demonstrate, among other things, that she suffers from a disability under the ADA.
Dargis, 536 F.3d at 985-86. Darden claims that she had three disabilities while
employed with Ingalls: poor eyesight, a “trigger finger,” and a shoulder injury.
Ingalls argues that none of Darden’s conditions constitute a disability under the
A “disability” under the ADA is “a physical or mental impairment that
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substantially limits one or more major life activities” of an individual. 42 U.S.C.
§ 12102(1). Major life activities include, but are not limited to, performing manual
tasks, seeing, and working. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). When determining whether
Darden’s poor eyesight substantially limits a major life activity, the Court considers
the “ameliorative effects of the mitigating measures of ordinary eyeglasses.” 42
U.S.C. § 12102(4)(E)(ii). Darden concedes that prescription eyeglasses completely
corrected her eyesight. Because Darden could completely correct her impairment by
wearing ordinary eyeglasses, Darden’s poor eyesight did not substantially limit her
ability to see or any other major life activity. The fact that Darden sometimes failed
to wear her glasses to work does not alter this Court’s conclusion. Further, as to
Darden’s “trigger finger,” Darden presented no evidence that her condition
substantially limits any major life activity. Indeed, Darden admitted that her “trigger
finger” did not prevent her from performing the functions of her job. Finally,
concerning Darden’s shoulder injury, Darden claimed that her shoulder “went out”
around 2003 or 2004, but that she could perform all of her job duties after she
received treatment. For these reasons, Darden cannot demonstrate that she suffers
from a disability under the ADA, and the Court grants summary judgment in favor
of Ingalls on Darden’s claim of disability discrimination.
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For the foregoing reasons, this Court grants Ingalls’ motion for summary
Charles P. Kocoras
United States District Judge
Dated: March 21, 2012
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