Rosario v. Aunt Martha's Youth Service Center, Inc.
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order Signed by the Honorable John Robert Blakey on 10/30/2017. Mailed notice(gel, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
Case No. 16-cv-05648
AUNT MARTHA’S YOUTH SERVICE
CENTER d/b/a AUNT MARTHA’S
Judge John Robert Blakey
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Monsie Rosario sued Defendant Aunt Martha’s Youth Service
Center d/b/a Aunt Martha’s Health Center under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated Title VII by
creating a hostile work environment for her, based upon her race or national origin.
;  at 1 n.1. Defendant moved for summary judgment. . For the reasons
explained below, Defendant’s motion is granted.
The following facts come from Defendant’s Local Rule 56.1 statement of
material facts  and Plaintiff’s Local Rule 56.1 statement of additional facts .
Throughout Defendant’s response to Plaintiff’s statement of facts, Defendant denied
many facts by simply writing “Denied” or by providing explanations that lacked
record citations. See, e.g.,  ¶¶ 13, 18, 26. Under Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B), a
party denying a fact must provide “specific references to the affidavits, parts of the
record, and other supporting materials relied upon” for the denial. A denial that
lacks supporting citations to the record is inadequate. See Yost v. Chi. Park Dist.,
17 F. Supp. 3d 803, 806 (N.D. Ill. 2014). This Court thus deems admitted any facts
that Defendant denied without support.
Defendant runs a nonprofit community health center where Plaintiff works
as a family case manager (FCM).  ¶¶ 2, 5. Plaintiff has worked for Defendant
as an FCM since about November 2010. Id. ¶¶ 4, 6. As an FCM, Plaintiff works
with clients and makes home visits to ensure that infants have current
Id. ¶ 9.
Hope Keeper-Young, Plaintiff’s FCM supervisor since
2011, has always rated Plaintiff as meeting or exceeding expectations in her
performance reviews.  ¶¶ 7–8, 35.
Plaintiff is a native Spanish speaker; she was born in Puerto Rico and moved
to the continental United States in 1989 at age 18.
Id. ¶ 1.
English starting in first grade, and used mainly English-language textbooks from
first grade through high school. Id. ¶ 2. Plaintiff has worked primarily in the
medical field since moving to the continental United States. Id. ¶ 5. In Plaintiff’s
professional life—with the exception of the conduct described below—people have
not told her that they have trouble understanding her accent. Id. ¶ 4.
July 2015 Incident
On July 30, 2015, Plaintiff attended training on patient-tracking forms with
Keeper-Young; Jazmine Mack, another FCM supervisor; Cassandra Jenkins,
Plaintiff’s division manager; and several of Plaintiff’s fellow FCMs.
 ¶ 10.
During the training, Plaintiff asked a question, and Mack said she could not
understand Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 11. Mack then described a phone call she had with
Plaintiff two weeks earlier: “Oh my God, during that phone call I had with you I
could not understand anything you were saying and I was like, ‘I can’t hear you, I
can’t hear you’ and I just laughed and hung up the phone.”  ¶ 10. Plaintiff
understood that Mack was implying that she feigned being unable to hear Plaintiff
during the call because she could not understand Plaintiff’s accent, but Plaintiff
denies that Mack said anything along those lines during their call. Id. ¶ 11.
In response, Plaintiff said, “But you answered my question.” Id. ¶ 12. Mack
turned to Keeper-Young and said, “I’m sorry you deal with this all the time because
I can’t understand her at all.” Id. Keeper-Young started to respond with, “Yes, I
deal with this every day and . . . ,” when she was cut off by laughter. Id. ¶ 13. Mack
said, “It’s hard to understand her. Her accent is very deep. I have a Hispanic who
works in my office and they speak perfect English.” Id. Keeper-Young and Mack
commented on Plaintiff’s accent and laughed together for about 10 minutes, even
after Plaintiff asked if they could move forward with the training. Id. ¶¶ 14–16.
Plaintiff noticed that Jenkins laughed too; she testified that the entire interaction
“deeply embarrassed” her. Id. ¶ 14. Before this training session, Keeper-Young
never told Plaintiff that she had any trouble understanding her, and never noted
any communication problems in Plaintiff’s performance reviews. Id. ¶¶ 34, 35.
When the meeting broke for lunch, Plaintiff started sobbing and went to her
office to calm down. Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiff told a coworker she was going home because
the incident was “unacceptable,” and the coworker told Keeper-Young that Plaintiff
was leaving. Id. ¶¶ 19–20. When Keeper-Young approached Plaintiff to ask why
she was leaving, Plaintiff said, “You know what happened and you know the reason
I am leaving.” Id. ¶ 20.
From her car, Plaintiff called Defendant’s HR department in tears and spoke
to Renee Wheeler. Id. ¶ 21;  ¶ 23. Wheeler told Plaintiff to go home and said
she would email Plaintiff a complaint form.  ¶ 24. Plaintiff did not go to work
the next day, a Friday, but she returned to work the following Monday. Id. ¶¶ 25–
26. Plaintiff submitted the complaint form to HR between August 5 and August 10,
2015.  ¶ 22. Wheeler then contacted Plaintiff to arrange a conference call with
the head of Defendant’s Health Division, but Wheeler failed to call Plaintiff at the
scheduled time for both appointments they made. Id. ¶¶ 22–24. In October 2015,
Wheeler tried to schedule a third conference call, but Plaintiff told Wheeler that she
had missed the meeting too many times and should contact Plaintiff’s lawyer
instead.  ¶ 33.
After the July 2015 incident, Plaintiff estimates that Keeper-Young made at
least seven disparaging comments about her accent through December 2015.  ¶
On one occasion, Keeper-Young taught a class for patients and Plaintiff
translated the class into Spanish. Id. Keeper-Young asked a student if Plaintiff
spoke correctly, saying, “She has a very deep accent, so I don’t know if everybody
understands her.” Id. During a December 2015 group meeting, Keeper-Young put
her hand to her ear whenever Plaintiff spoke, and said “What?” repeatedly as if she
did not understand. Id. ¶ 26. When Keeper-Young asked someone to translate for
Plaintiff, Plaintiff’s coworker responded, “Please, Hope. She spoke clearly.” Id.
In 2016, Keeper-Young continued making disparaging comments about
Plaintiff’s accent. Plaintiff testified about four specific incidents, and estimated
that Keeper-Young harassed her about her accent seven times total throughout the
year. Id. ¶¶ 27–31. In January 2016, while speaking to a client in front of Plaintiff,
Keeper-Young said, “She has a very thick accent, so just in case you don’t
understand, just talk to me.” Id. ¶ 27. In October 2016, Plaintiff and another FCM
were in Keeper-Young’s office discussing patients when Keeper-Young told Plaintiff
to “move away” because she did not understand Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 30. Keeper-Young
also asked the other FCM to translate for Plaintiff, and the FCM responded: “I don’t
need to translate anything because she said it right. The only thing you don’t want
to accept is that she has an accent.” Id.
Finally, in December 2016, Keeper-Young asked Plaintiff to translate a
Spanish letter, but repeatedly questioned her translation and then called another
FCM over to translate the letter, saying: “I don’t get Monsie. I don’t even know
what she’s saying.” Id. ¶ 31. The other FCM told Keeper-Young that Plaintiff had
translated correctly, and asked Keeper-Young: “Hope, can you stop doing that?” Id.
Aside from comments directed at Plaintiff, Keeper-Young “makes a face and
makes comments” when Spanish-speaking clients come in. Id. ¶ 32. Keeper-Young
sometimes sends Plaintiff over to Spanish-speaking clients by saying, “Come on,
speak your language to them,” or, “It’s your people.” Id. During an office move,
Keeper-Young complained that the movers did not understand her because they
spoke Spanish, but a mover responded in English that he understood everything
Keeper-Young said and that she offended him. Id. ¶ 33.
Plaintiff never complained to HR or anyone within Defendant’s organization
about Keeper-Young’s behavior after the July 2015 incident.  ¶ 47. Between
July 2015 and Plaintiff’s deposition in January 2017, she did not seek any medical
treatment or counseling because of Keeper-Young’s conduct. Id. ¶ 50. And since
July 2015, Plaintiff’s job title, hours, and pay have stayed the same. Id. ¶¶ 35–36.
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists
when, based upon the evidence, “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The
court must evaluate evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Id. at 255.
The moving party has the burden of establishing that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323
(1986). To show a genuine dispute as to a material fact, the non-moving party must
use “particular materials in the record” for support, and cannot rely upon the
pleadings or speculation. Olendzki v. Rossi, 765 F.3d 742, 746 (7th Cir. 2014).
Hostile-Work-Environment Claims Generally
Title VII prohibits discriminating against any individual with respect to the
individual’s “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because
of such individual’s race . . . or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). That
prohibition bars employers from creating a hostile work environment, meaning an
environment “so pervaded by discrimination that the terms and conditions of
employment were altered.” Vance v. Ball State Univ., 133 S. Ct. 2434, 2441 (2013).
To succeed on a hostile-work-environment claim based upon race or national
origin, a plaintiff must show that: (1) she was subject to unwelcome harassment; (2)
the harassment happened because of her race or national origin; (3) the harassment
was severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of her work environment;
and (4) there is a basis for holding the employer liable. Cole v. Bd. of Trs. of N. Ill.
Univ., 838 F.3d 888, 895–96 (7th Cir. 2016). Courts consider the totality of the
circumstances in deciding whether a work environment is hostile, including “the
frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically
threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it
unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.” Faragher v. City of
Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 787–88 (1998). A workplace must be “hellish” to be
actionable. Whittaker v. N. Ill. Univ., 424 F.3d 640, 645 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiff claims that Keeper-Young’s conduct during the July 2015 incident,
and over the 18 months following, created a hostile work environment. Defendant
contends that Plaintiff fails to satisfy the four-part test for a hostile work
Because this Court agrees that Plaintiff cannot satisfy the third
prong—and each prong is necessary for Plaintiff to succeed on her claim, Cole, 838
F.3d at 896—this Court addresses only the third prong.
Severe or Pervasive Harassment
Defendant argues that Plaintiff has not met this prong because KeeperYoung’s comments were not severe enough to interfere with her work performance
and were relatively isolated incidents spread out over 18 months. To succeed on a
hostile-work-environment claim, Plaintiff must show, based upon the totality of the
circumstances, that the harassment was severe or pervasive enough “to alter the
conditions” of her employment and create a “hellish” workplace. Whittaker, 424
F.3d at 645. This Court agrees that Plaintiff has not made that showing here.
Keeper-Young’s behavior, although rude and unacceptable, was not severe
enough to create a hellish work environment for Plaintiff. Plaintiff testified that
she continued receiving good performance reviews after July 2015, indicating that
the harassment did not affect her job performance.  ¶ 35. Indeed, Plaintiff
offered no evidence that she struggled to do her job or complete certain tasks after
Keeper-Young started commenting on her accent, aside from missing one day of
work immediately after the July 2015 incident.  ¶ 25. Plaintiff’s situation
contrasts sharply with that of the successful plaintiff in Gendry v. Export Packaging
Co., who “hated” her job, “often cried when she went to work,” and sought medical
treatment “for anxiety and depression caused by the oppressive workplace
environment.” 238 F.3d 842, 851 (7th Cir. 2001).
Although Plaintiff complained to HR about the July 2015 incident, she never
complained to HR about Keeper-Young’s later comments.
That failure to act
contradicts Plaintiff’s claim that the harassment was severe or pervasive.
Yancick v. Hanna Steel Corp., 653 F.3d 532, 545 (7th Cir. 2011) (“Yancick’s inaction
in following up on his complaints or taking them up the chain” through HR “belies
the notion” that the harassment was severe or pervasive.) Finally, Keeper-Young
never physically threatened Plaintiff, nor was she openly racist towards Plaintiff.
Cf. Hostetler v. Quality Dining, Inc., 218 F.3d 798, 802 (7th Cir. 2000) (overturning
summary judgment for an employer because the plaintiff employee alleged two
sufficiently severe instances of sexual harassment: her supervisor held her face and
stuck his tongue down her throat, and the next day nearly unfastened her bra
before another employee walked in). Even taking the evidence in the light most
favorable to Plaintiff, this Court finds that no reasonable jury could conclude that
Keeper-Young’s comments were severe enough to create a hellish environment.
Faragher, 524 U.S. at 787–88.
As for Keeper-Young’s comments (and facial expressions) directed at Spanishspeaking patients or movers, “secondhand harassment” is necessarily less severe
than direct harassment. Ellis v. CCA of Tenn. LLC, 650 F.3d 640, 647 n.2 (7th Cir.
2011). No reasonable jury could conclude that the occasional secondhand comments
Plaintiff described created a “hellish” environment for Plaintiff.
Keeper-Young’s behavior was also not pervasive enough to create a hellish
work environment. Construing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff,
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, Keeper-Young criticized Plaintiff about her accent 15
times (including the July 2015 incident) over 18 months.  ¶¶ 25–31. In other
words, Keeper-Young averaged one inappropriate comment to Plaintiff about once
every five weeks.
Of the 15 comments over those 18 months, seven allegedly
occurred between October and December 2015.
Id. ¶ 25.
During that period,
Keeper-Young averaged one comment about every two weeks.
Although this Court has no doubt that Keeper-Young’s comments justifiably
upset Plaintiff, such intermittent harassment does not qualify as “pervasive” under
the law, regardless of which period this Court focuses on. In the Seventh Circuit, it
is “well settled that relatively isolated instances of non-severe misconduct will not
support a claim of a hostile environment.”
Whittaker, 424 F.3d at 646.
Baskerville v. Culligan Intern Co., for example, the Seventh Circuit overturned a
jury verdict for a plaintiff who testified to at least nine sexually inappropriate
things that her supervisor said to her over seven months. 50 F.3d 428, 431 (1995)
(“A handful of comments spread over months is unlikely to have so great an
emotional impact as a concentrated or incessant barrage.”)
Keeper-Young’s 15 comments make up a large “handful” of comments, but, as
in Baskerville, they were spread out over many months, and thus, like the seven
comments over three months, they fail to inflict “so great an emotional impact” as a
For comparison, the plaintiff employee in Benitez v.
American Standard Circuits, Inc. survived summary judgment by alleging that his
supervisor not only grabbed his crotch on two occasions, but also tried to grope him
at least twice a week for eight years. 678 F. Supp. 2d 745, 758 (N.D. Ill. 2010); see
also Smuk v. Specialty Foods Group, Inc., No. 13-cv-8282, 2016 WL 3742849, at *5
(plaintiff employee survived summary judgment by alleging, among other things,
that his supervisor grabbed the plaintiff’s butt and crotch and commented about the
plaintiff’s body almost daily for eight years).
In those cases, each individual
incident might not have sufficed to create a hostile work environment, but the
aggregate harassment became “an incessant part of the workplace environment”
that was “pervasive enough and corrosive enough” to meet the standard for liability.
Jackson v. Cnty. of Racine, 474 F.3d 493, 499 (7th Cir. 2007).
Plaintiff has not shown that Keeper-Young’s occasional comments formed “an
incessant part of [her] workplace environment.” Id. Because Plaintiff’s evidence “is
insufficient to show a workplace permeated with discriminatory ridicule,
intimidation, and insult,” Defendant’s summary judgment motion must be granted.
Alexander v. Casino Queen, Inc., 739 F.3d 972, 982 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal
quotation marks omitted); see also Taylor v. W. & S. Life Ins. Co., 966 F.2d 1188,
1191 (7th Cir. 1992) (finding a hostile work environment where the plaintiff's boss
consistently made racial comments and once held a gun to plaintiff's head, took a
photo of the incident, and later showed it at a staff meeting while making racial
jokes); Brooms v. Regal Tube Co., 881 F.2d 412, 417 (7th Cir. 1989) (finding a hostile
work environment where a human resources manager threatened to kill the
plaintiff and repeatedly showed her racist pornographic photos).
Defendant’s motion for summary judgment  is granted.
Dated: October 30, 2017
John Robert Blakey
United States District Judge
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