Wolf v. Saint Anthony Hospital
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order. Signed by the Honorable Manish S. Shah on 11/14/2023: Defendant's motion for summary judgment, 51 , is granted. Enter judgment in favor of defendant and terminate civil case. [For further detail see attached order.] Notices mailed. (psm, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
STELLA SOSA WOLF,
No. 21 CV 3273
ST. ANTHONY HOSPITAL,
Judge Manish S. Shah
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Stella Wolf worked for St. Anthony Hospital as its Chief Human
Resources Officer for four years. Wolf alleges that the Hospital retaliated against her
for challenging alleged political corruption and for taking medical leave. Wolf brings
whistleblower claims under the Illinois Whistleblower Act and Illinois common law,
as well as interference and retaliation claims under the Family and Medical Leave
Act. The Hospital moves for summary judgment. For the reasons below, the Hospital’s
motion is granted.
Summary judgment is warranted if there are no genuine disputes of material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
“‘Material facts’ are facts that ‘might affect the outcome of the suit,’ and a dispute as
to those facts is ‘genuine’ if ‘the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return
a verdict for the nonmoving party.’” Hunter v. Museke, 73 F.4th 561, 565 (7th Cir.
2023) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A court
need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the
record. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3). The non-moving party is given “the benefit of
conflicting evidence and any favorable inferences that are reasonably drawn from the
evidence.” Runkel v. City of Springfield, 51 F.4th 736, 741 (7th Cir. 2022).
Saint Anthony Hospital is an independent, nonprofit, faith-based community
hospital dedicated to improving the health and wellness of families on the West Side
and Southwest Side of Chicago.  ¶ 4. 1 The Hospital had a history of financial
distress, since at least 2019.  ¶ 7. Wolf was its Chief Human Resources Officer
and Vice President, Human Resources, from 2016–2020.  ¶ 5;  ¶ 1. Wolf’s
direct supervisor was Chief Executive Officer Guy Medaglia.  ¶ 6;  ¶ 1. Among
others, Wolf directly supervised the Human Resources Director.  ¶ 7.
Bracketed numbers refer to entries on the district court docket. Referenced page numbers
are taken from the CM/ECF header placed at the top of filings. When a document has
numbered paragraphs, I cite to the paragraph, for example  ¶ 1. The facts are largely taken
from Wolf’s response to defendant’s Local Rule 56.1 statement, , and defendant’s response
to Wolf’s 56.1 statement of additional facts, , where both the asserted fact and the
opposing party’s response are set forth in one document. Any fact not properly controverted
is admitted. N.D. Ill. Local R. 56.1(e)(3); see Cracco v. Vitran Exp., Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 632
(7th Cir. 2009). I disregard all immaterial facts. See  58] ¶¶ 10, 12, 17, 19, 22, 41, 47, 58–
62, 66;  ¶¶ 7–8, 19, 30–31, 37, 40. I ignore additional facts included in responses that do
not controvert the asserted fact. See  ¶¶ 14, 29–30, 46. I also ignore all facts included in
statements or responses that are not supported by the parties’ cited evidence. N.D. Ill. Local
R. 56.1(d)(2), (e)(3); see  ¶¶ 27, 33, 36, 38, 67, 74, 77, 78;  ¶¶ 9, 13, 16, 17, 18, 20, 23,
27, 28, 33. General objections to how facts are characterized, see  ¶¶ 25, 35, 40, 43, 69,
and  ¶¶ 14, 21, 26, are sustained and I omit the characterizations and cite to the original
language when possible. The Hospital’s objections to Wolf’s inclusion of multiple newspaper
articles as unauthenticated and inadmissible hearsay are also sustained. See  ¶¶ 5, 11,
25. While newspaper articles are self-authenticating, Fed. R. Evid. 902(6), they are
inadmissible hearsay when they are offered for the truth of the matters asserted therein, see
Fed. R. Evid. 801(c); Chi. Firefighters Local 2 v. City of Chicago, 249 F.3d 649, 654 (7th Cir.
2001). Wolf makes no argument that she is not offering the articles for any other purpose.
Where the parties dispute facts and both rely on admissible evidence, I set forth all the facts.
See  ¶¶ 37, 49, 53, 64, 57, 73, 76;  ¶ 2, 6, 12, 36.
When hiring Wolf, Medaglia considered Wolf’s position “critical in assuring the
hospital’s future” and noted that Wolf could bring the “strong leadership” necessary
to bring the HR department up to snuff.  ¶ 2. Wolf performed her job well,
although her performance reviews or other metrics are missing from her personnel
file, and she never received any warnings about her productivity or any other part of
her performance.  ¶ 3; but see  ¶ 53 and below at p. 6–7.
Review of Insurance Broker
The Human Resources department would annually do their due diligence
regarding employee benefits, report to the executive committee, and conduct a
Request for Proposal to ensure that the Hospital had the best insurance contract
available.  ¶ 27. Medaglia testified that he was not involved in any way with the
employee-benefit vendor process.  ¶ 13.
One of the Hospital’s lobbyists contacted Medaglia and asked him to meet with
Andrew Madigan about switching its insurance brokerage.  ¶ 12. Andrew
Madigan was a broker at Alliant/Mesirow Insurance Services and is related to former
Speaker of the Illinois House Michael Madigan.  ¶ 28.
In 2018, Medaglia asked Wolf to prepare and give the Hospital’s healthcare
data to Andrew Madigan so that he could “throw his hat in the ring for the brokerage
business.”  ¶¶ 29–30. It was not uncommon for the Hospital to give data of their
current insurance company to a competitor so that the competitor could try to make
a competitive bid.  ¶ 26. Medaglia’s assistant arranged a meeting between
Andrew Madigan and Wolf.  ¶ 14. Medaglia did not set up other meetings with
potential brokers. Id.
Andrew Madigan had previously pitched the Hospital, which hadn’t hired him.
 ¶ 12. Medaglia believed this angered Speaker Madigan: “I upset his father a lot
to the point where I was told by our lobbyist that he never wanted to look at me. He
never wanted to hear my name. So, you know, I guess not hiring, you know, it had
some issues.” Id. “[T]he way I interpreted it was I wasn’t in good graces with Speaker
Madigan and that he was not going to be supportive of anything ... funding for the
Wolf opposed meeting with Mesirow Group at the time because the Hospital’s
insurance broker contract did not expire for another year and a half.  ¶ 31.
Ultimately, Wolf provided Mesirow Group with the insurance data and met with it in
2018.  ¶ 32. Aside from complaining that the 2018 meeting was taking place too
far in advance of the contract ending for the shared data to be accurate, Wolf did not
voice any objections about the meeting, and she did not report any concern of political
corruption or a pay-to-play scheme.  ¶¶ 33, 43.
Andrew Madigan later contacted Medaglia directly in March 2019 to discuss
switching the health insurance brokerage to Mesirow Group.  ¶ 10. It was not
unusual for vendors to reach out to Medaglia directly in this way. Id.
In 2019, Wolf had no problem sharing data with Mesirow Group and meeting
them again, because the Hospital’s benefits vendor contract was closer to the renewal
stage.  ¶ 34. While Medaglia did not specifically instruct Wolf to issue a formal
Request For Proposal, he regularly instructed all his Vice Presidents to get multiple
competitive bids anytime they were researching services, providers, or other deals,
and vetting prices against competitors was an expected practice in the organization.
 ¶ 36. Considering the Hospital’s dire financial situation, Wolf used competitive
bidding in part to ensure she was getting the best price for the best benefits.  ¶ 25.
Wolf was concerned that she was being brought into a potential corruption
scheme but was afraid she would be fired if she reported concerns to the Board. 
¶ 15. To have cover if she ultimately recommended not awarding the contract to
Mesirow Group, Wolf put the contract out to RFP and got three bids.  ¶ 15; 
¶ 43. Wolf never reported any concerns to the Board or raised any concerns of political
corruption to anyone at the Hospital.  ¶ 44.
Medaglia could have stopped Wolf from proceeding with the RFP process. 
¶ 37. It is unclear if Medaglia was aware that Wolf was conducting an RFP. 
¶¶ 35, 37. The HR Director recalled reviewing the Hospital’s insurance and
considering Mesirow Group as just one option, and that Wolf told her that Medaglia
instructed Wolf to pick the best option for the Hospital.  ¶ 38.
In mid-2019, Medaglia went to Springfield with the Hospital’s Senior Vice
President, Mission and Community Development, Jim Sifuentes to meet with
Speaker Madigan’s office.  ¶ 20. Medaglia called Wolf saying that the Speaker
was upset with the Hospital for not “playing ball” and for sharing Madigan’s proposal
or data to the other two bidders, which Wolf explained was not true after checking
with her team. Id.
The next day Medaglia debriefed the trip to the Hospital’s leadership team.
 ¶ 21. He looked Wolf “straight in the eye and he said, ‘We’re not going to be
getting our $5 million funding because we didn’t cooperate, something to that
effect … we didn’t play ball basically.” Id. Sifuentes confirmed that Speaker
“Madigan was not happy saying that [Medaglia’s] head of HR was not cooperating
and basically not giving them the insurance brokerage business.”  ¶ 21.
In September 2019, Wolf emailed Medaglia to inform him that she had
completed the RFP process, decided to continue working with the current broker and
the reasons for that recommendation, and had informed Mesirow Group that it did
not get the business.  ¶ 39;  ¶ 22. Within thirty minutes of Wolf’s email,
Medaglia emailed Sifuentes to ask that the Hospital’s lobbyists create a proactive
plan in case it faced political retaliation for this decision.  ¶ 40;  ¶ 24.
According to Wolf, Mesirow Group appeared frustrated with the decision and
Wolf speculated that Andrew Madigan “just assumed he was going to get [the
business] because of his name.”  ¶ 23.
After Wolf recommended not working with Mesirow Group, Wolf and Medaglia
never discussed the results of the RFP.  ¶ 42. Medaglia had the authority to
override Wolf’s RFP recommendation, but he did not. Id.
Investigation into Employee Complaint
In November 2019, a former employee filed a complaint alleging that Wolf
“ha[d] been condescending and verbally abusive towards employees.”  ¶ 48. When
employees raised complaints about other employees, HR was generally in charge of
investigating the complaint and then deciding whether to issue corrective action. 
¶ 45. Wolf held the ultimate decision-making authority in this process. Id. Because it
would have been inappropriate for Wolf’s team to run an investigation about her
conduct, no other employees were qualified to do an employee-relations investigation,
and it would ensure that there was no appearance of impropriety, the Hospital hired
outside counsel to investigate the employee complaint made against Wolf, as well as
a complaint against Sifuentes.  ¶¶ 46, 49–51;  ¶ 27. Wolf contests that there
was a need to hire an external investigator as opposed to allowing general counsel to
investigate.  ¶ 49.
The Hospital gave the investigator the same marching orders for both his
investigations into Sifuentes and Wolf: conduct an impartial and independent
investigation.  ¶ 52. 2 In January 2020, the investigation concluded that Wolf lost
her temper and yelled at her employees, that Wolf sometimes used hospital
employees to run personal errands, and that Wolf’s leadership style contributed to
low morale in her department.  ¶ 53. The investigation also found that Wolf had
not “created a hostile work environment or violated any other federal or state antidiscrimination, harassment or other employment law,” that “most employees
indicated that her criticism is not personal and always work related,” and that
“[e]mployees believe that she is effective” such that there would be no “cause” for
termination if Wolf had an employment contract requiring cause. Id. The investigator
told Medaglia that the Hospital could take disciplinary action against Wolf based on
the results from his investigation.  ¶ 54. The Hospital didn’t.  ¶ 55.
Wolf admits this accurately reflects the investigator’s declaration, but now that the Hospital
has waived privilege as to the subject matter, Wolf would test the veracity of these statements
on cross examination.  ¶¶ 52–54.
In December 2019, Wolf emailed Medaglia, “Guy, if there are to be any
consideration of merit dollars on my behalf (and I presume nothing), I would like to
humbly and respectfully request to resource these monies back to our productive and
high performing employees. While our hospital is experiencing financial challenges
which directly impacts the merit pool … I would like to do my small part to contribute
to our deserving employees.”  ¶ 56. Given the Hospital’s financial constraints and
the fact that Wolf’s own salary was already very competitive while other employees’
salaries were below market, Medaglia took Wolf up on her offer.  ¶ 57.
Wolf sought FMLA leave in March 2020 for high blood pressure and anxiety.
 ¶ 63. The leave was approved to start March 27, 2020, and to exhaust twelve
weeks later on June 18, 2020.  ¶ 64. Medaglia told Wolf’s team not to disturb her
while she was on leave.  ¶ 32. Wolf does not recall if anyone at the Hospital said
anything disparaging about her taking FMLA leave.  ¶ 69.
Wolf’s health condition precluded her being able to return to her job on June
18, 2020.  ¶ 65. Wolf testified that after she exhausted her twelve weeks of FMLA
leave, she required additional leave before returning to work – “a little but more
time … another month or two.”  ¶ 67. Wolf’s medical provider submitted medical
documentation in her application for disability benefits showing that Wolf was not
medically able to work until September 30, 2020.  ¶ 68. Wolf believed this to be
an accurate estimate. Id.
Reduction in Force
The COVID pandemic greatly affected the Hospital’s revenue stream and
forced it to make decisions regarding a Reduction in Force.  ¶ 70. The Hospital
was “under water by millions of dollars and had been for several years and … [salary]
costs were important.”  ¶ 71. It was in “such bad financial standing” that there
were a couple times it almost didn’t make payroll. Id.
Senior leadership was tasked with assessing their workforce to determine
near-term staffing needs and potential workforce reductions using a standardized
process.  ¶ 33. According to the HR Director, RIF decisions depended on the
situation but typically involved considering the need for that employee’s role, the
employee’s responsibility, the value the employee is adding to the organization, and
the savings that the employer would receive by eliminating that position.  ¶ 72.
It was also considered best practice to keep documents assessing direct reports and
stating the rationale for including an employee in a RIF.  ¶ 33.
The 2020 RIF eliminated between 19 to 24 employees’ positions, including
Wolf’s position.  ¶ 73;  ¶ 36. All but three of those eliminated were terminated
on May 26, 2020.  ¶ 36. According to Medaglia, “[t]he positions that have been
eliminate [sic] were selected based on a decrease in productivity and minimum value
to [the Hospital] during this pandemic.”  ¶ 34.
Wolf was the only employee included in the RIF who was terminated in June
2020.  ¶ 36. Medaglia decided to include Wolf in the RIF “somewhere around the
same period of time with people that were a part of the RIF that occurred” without
consulting anyone else at the Hospital.  ¶ 35. Wolf was not included in the HR list
of those who would be terminated as a part of the May reorganization. Id. Medaglia
believed that Wolf was not listed on the RIF sheet with the other employees
terminated in May because she had “been on leave at that time” and the Hospital did
not effectuate her RIF until she exhausted her FMLA leave.  ¶ 36.
According to Medaglia, Wolf’s position was included in the RIF because the
Hospital needed to cut operational costs substantially during the pandemic to stay
afloat and believed that the Hospital could eliminate Wolf’s position and retain her
high executive-level salary.  ¶ 74. As HR was a non-clinical department, Medaglia
believed that the department could satisfactorily run with oversight by a lowerpaying director-level position, and another officer could absorb Wolf’s executive
duties.  ¶ 74. No documents exist showing any financial analysis Medaglia
conducted before or during Wolf’s leave.  ¶ 38.
The Hospital sent Wolf a letter dated June 10, 2020, while she was still on
leave, informing her that her employment would terminate effective June 18, 2020,
and asserting “[The Hospital] would have eliminated [Wolf’s] position even if [she]
had not taken FMLA leave.” Id. The letter explained that “as [Wolf was] currently on
FMLA” her separation date would be June 18, 2020. Id.
The Hospital did not hire another employee with the title of Vice President of
Human Resources/Chief Human Resources Office for two years after firing Wolf. 
¶¶ 76, 78. The RIF-related reorganization put HR under the Legal Department. 
¶ 76. Medaglia had existing staff perform Wolf’s duties. Id. The general counsel
oversaw the Department, and a lesser-paying, non-Officer position took over direct
supervision of HR. Id.;  ¶ 39. The new HR director did not take part in any
executive functions that Wolf had in her role, such as attending executive leadership
meetings or participating in high-level strategy discussions.  ¶ 77.
The Hospital’s Political Involvement
Wolf’s whistleblowing claims are predicated on the Hospital’s political
connections, which she claims involved pay-to-play deals, politically motivated
hirings, lobbying, and grants. The parties proffer the following facts related to the
Hospital’s political activities:
Wolf recalled having a conversation with Medaglia sometime in 2017 or
2018 in which Medaglia said, “You haven’t been in Chicago in five years.
You’re coming from Dallas, but here in the city and us being a nonprofit
hospital, there are things sometimes we have to do, and it’s called payto-play. And in order for us to get funding there are—sometimes we have
to do favors for one another.”  ¶ 14.
Looking “at the landscape of the political world in Springfield,” the
Hospital chose lobbyists “better aligned with the elected officials ... given
what they have to do or what they have at hand.”  ¶ 5.
Sifuentes was close friends with the late Senator Martin Sandoval. 
¶ 13. Senator Sandoval represented the constituents around the
Hospital and part of his job was to advocate for state funding for the
Hospital.  ¶ 14. In 2018 and 2019, Sifuentes recruited Senator
Sandoval’s daughter and her boyfriend into newly created positions,
breaking from the Hospital’s usual hiring protocol.  ¶¶ 15–16, 18;
 ¶¶ 4, 6. While the Hospital had a general hiring process, it would
deviate from this process to recruit employees given difficulties in hiring
and retaining staff.  ¶¶ 8–9, 11. Wolf did not express any
disagreement or oppose the hiring of Senator Sandoval’s daughter or her
boyfriend.  ¶¶ 20–21, 23–24.
The Hospital received a $5.5 million grant in FY2019 from the Illinois
Department of Public Health.  ¶ 9. It was also one of the eight safety
net hospitals to receive a FY2020 Hospital Health Protection Grant. 
¶ 16. Medaglia denied being involved in the state grant application
process for these grants other than signing the agreements.  ¶ 18.
Illinois Whistleblower Act
Wolf brings a claim under Section 20 of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, which
prohibits an employer from retaliating “against an employee for refusing to
participate in an activity that would result in a violation of a State or federal law,
rule, or regulation.” 740 ILCS 174/20;  ¶¶ 63–68. To succeed on a claim under the
Whistleblower Act, Wolf must show that (1) she refused to participate in an activity
that would result in a violation of an Illinois or federal law, rule, or regulation, and
(2) her employer retaliated against her because of her refusal. Corah v. Bruss Co.,
2017 IL App (1st) 161030, ¶ 15; Sardiga v. N. Trust Co., 409 Ill.App.3d 56, 61 (1st
Wolf argues that “a reasonable jury could find that Wolf refused Medaglia’s
instruction to provide a no-bid contract to then-Speaker Michael Madigan’s son
Andrew Madigan’s Mesirow Group in an apparent pay-to-play exchange of support
for unprecedented state funding.”  at 3. But she proffers no evidence that would
allow a reasonable jury to find in her favor.
First, Wolf offers no evidence that Medaglia asked her to do something illegal.
Second, Wolf presents no evidence that she refused such a request. And third, Wolf
fails to present evidence that the Hospital retaliated against her because of Wolf’s
allegedly protected activity.
Wolf characterizes Medaglia’s request as an instruction to bribe Speaker
Madigan with a no-bid contract to his son in exchange for state funding.  at 3. But
there is no evidence to support an inference of either side of that quid pro quo.
Medaglia set up meetings between Andrew Madigan and Wolf so Madigan could
“throw his hat in the ring” and “compete for [the Hospital’s] business.”  ¶¶ 29–30;
 ¶ 14. Even though Medaglia did not instruct Wolf to complete an RFP, Medaglia
regularly instructed all his Vice Presidents to get multiple competitive bids anytime
they were researching services, providers, or other deals for the Hospital, and vetting
prices against competitors was an expected practice in the organization.  ¶ 36.
And Wolf used competitive bidding in part to ensure the Hospital was getting the best
price for the best benefits.  ¶ 25. A no-bid contract cannot be inferred from these
While Medaglia acknowledged that pay-to-play existed and being in Speaker
Madigan’s good graces was good for the Hospital,  ¶¶ 12, 14, Wolf presents no
evidence that Speaker Madigan was going to support state funding for the Hospital
if the insurance broker contract was given to his son.
Based on the evidence presented, no jury could find that Medaglia asked Wolf
to do something illegal.
Refusal to Participate
To refuse to participate in an activity, an employee must have been asked to
participate in it. See Sardiga, 409 Ill.App.3d at 62 (relying on Black’s Law Dictionary
defintion of “‘refusal’ as ‘[t]he denial or rejection of something offered or demanded.’”);
see also Robinson v. Alter Barge Line, Inc., 513 F.3d 668, 670 (7th Cir. 2008)
(explaining that plaintiff never refused to participate in illegal activity because “he
was never invited to” engage in it). Because Wolf was not invited to participate in an
illegal activity, Wolf could not have refused.
Even if Medaglia’s requests that Wolf give Mesirow Group the Hospital’s data
and that she meet with Madigan were illegal activities, Wolf only voiced concerns and
then relented and did exactly what was asked of her.  ¶¶ 31, 32. Wolf claims that
she refused to engage in a “pay-to-play” scheme by undergoing an RFP process. 
¶ 15. But conducting an RFP was not refusing to follow Medaglia’s request—
Medaglia only asked Wolf to allow Mesirow Group to throw their hat in the ring and
compete for SAH’s business.  ¶ 30. Conducting an RFP was a regular and
expected practice and Medaglia told all the Vice Presidents to vet competitive bids
when signing services for the Hospital.  ¶ 36.
Wolf has demonstrated no genuine issue of material fact as to whether she
“refus[ed] to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of a State or
federal law, rule, or regulation.” 740 ILCS 174/20.
Even assuming Medaglia invited Wolf to participate in illegal activity and
Wolf’s choice to complete an RFP constituted a refusal, Wolf does not present facts
that would allow a jury to find a causal link between her alleged refusal and the
Hospital’s alleged retaliatory actions.
Wolf argues that the Hospital took three retaliatory actions against her. First,
Wolf argues that it retaliated against her when it hired outside counsel to investigate
a former employee’s complaint that Wolf was abusive.  at 7. While a “sham
investigation” can constitute an adverse employment action, see Harden v. Marion
Cty. Sheriff’s Dep’t, 799 F.3d 857, 864 (7th Cir. 2015), Wolf presents no evidence on
which a reasonable juror could find that the Hospital hired outside counsel to
investigate the complaint because of Wolf’s choice to complete an RFP. Wolf admits,
based on her own HR expertise, that best practice would be to conduct an impartial,
outside investigation into complaints made against the head of HR.  ¶ 49.
Further, even when the investigation found serious problems with Wolf’s leadership
style, the Hospital did not discipline Wolf.  ¶¶ 53–55. The investigation therefore
was not an adverse employment action.
Second, Wolf argues that Medaglia did not award her a merit increase while
doing so for the rest of the executive team in a period of financial trouble.  at 7
(citing Hunt v. City of Markham, 219 F.3d 649, 654 (7th Cir. 2000)). But Wolf does
not present any evidence that other executives received raises. Wolf also admits that
she voluntarily requested that Medaglia redirect any raise she may receive elsewhere
in the Hospital given its dire financial status and the fact that several of her peers’
salaries were under market standards.  ¶¶ 56–57. An employee’s voluntary
decision cannot constitute an adverse employment action. Simpson v. Borg-Warner
Auto., Inc., 196 F.3d 873, 876 (7th Cir. 1999).
Third, the parties agree that Wolf’s termination constitutes an adverse action.
 at 8–9;  at 6. But Wolf presents no evidence on which a reasonable jury can
find that her alleged whistleblowing activities caused her inclusion in the RIF. The
Hospital needed to cut operating costs and Medaglia felt that the non-clinical HR
Department could function without an executive-level leader (Wolf’s role) during the
pandemic, which provided a significant cost savings.  ¶¶ 70–71, 74. Wolf points
to no evidence to suggest that Medaglia’s motive was instead her alleged
whistleblowing. Wolf presents no evidence that she was singled out for adverse
treatment, as multiple other employees were included in the RIF.  ¶ 73;  ¶ 36.
Further, there was a significant nine-month time lapse between Wolf’s alleged
whistleblowing (the September 2019 RFP) and her June 2020 termination. See 
¶ 39;  ¶ 36. Wolf tries to minimize the significance of the time lapse by claiming
that the RIF was the first opportunity to retaliate.  at 7. Not so. Wolf could have
been disciplined after the external investigation into her leadership style.  ¶¶ 53–
54. The RIF was not the first opportunity to retaliate, so the nine-month time gap
undermines an inference of causation. See Kidwell v. Eisenhauer, 679 F.3d 957, 966–
69 (7th Cir. 2012).
Wolf has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact that would allow a jury
to find in her favor. The Hospital is entitled to summary judgment on the IWA claim.
Wolf’s retaliatory discharge claim fails for similar reasons. To establish
retaliatory discharge, a plaintiff must show (1) she has been discharged, (2) in
retaliation for her activities, and (3) the discharge violates a clear mandate of public
policy. Bajalo v. Northwestern University, 369 Ill.App.3d 576, 580 (1st Dist. 2006)
(citing Zimmerman v. Buchheit of Sparta, Inc., 164 Ill.2d 29, 35 (1995)). The parties
do not dispute that Wolf was discharged.  ¶ 38.
“While there is no precise definition of what constitutes clearly mandated
public policy, … retaliatory discharge actions have been allowed … where an
employee is discharged in retaliation for the reporting of illegal or improper conduct,
otherwise known as ‘whistleblowing.’” Michael v. Precision All. Group, LLC, 2014 IL
117376, ¶ 30. An employee may pursue a retaliatory discharge claim when she has
been fired for her refusal to engage in illegal conduct. Blount v. Stroud, 232 Ill. 2d
302, 314 (2009).
Unlike refusals under the Whistleblower Act, an employee need only prove she
had a good faith belief of illegality. Palmateer v. Int’l Harvester Co., 85 Ill.2d 124,
132–33 (Ill. 1981); see also Webber v. Wight & Co., 368 Ill.App.3d 1007, 1024–25 (1st
Dist. 2006) (holding “plaintiff need only show that he had a good-faith belief that
[employer’s] conduct was illegal.”).
Wolf argues that she had a good faith belief that contracting with Mesirow
Group would have violated anti-bribery laws.  at 5. Wolf cites to the Hospital’s
history of politically connected, unbudgeted hirings; its choice of lobbyists; and its
receipt of government grants.  at 5–6 (citing  ¶¶ 4–7, 9, 16, 18). She also raises
Medaglia’s conversations with her about pay-to-play schemes; as well as Medaglia’s
trip to Springfield and subsequent conversations about Speaker Madigan’s
displeasure with the Hospital.  at 5–6 (citing  ¶¶ 12, 14, 20–21). She also cites
to Medaglia’s atypical involvement in setting up Wolf’s meeting with Andrew
Madigan.  at 5 (citing  ¶¶ 10, 12–14).
But a good faith belief in shady dealings is not the same as a good faith belief
in illegality. No jury could conclude that Wolf had a good faith belief that Medaglia
directed her to award the contract to Madigan’s firm, as opposed to taking a meeting
and considering the firm as an option.  ¶ 30;  ¶ 14. As discussed above,
Medaglia set up meetings between Andrew Madigan and Wolf so Madigan could
“throw his hat in the ring” and “compete for [the Hospital’s] business.”  ¶ 30; 
¶ 14. Wolf herself testified that she interpreted Medaglia to be saying that “[Madigan]
wants to be able to bid for [the Hospital’s] business.”  ¶ 30.
Even if Wolf had a good faith belief that contracting with Madigan’s team
would have violated anti-bribery laws, Wolf offers no evidence upon which a jury
could find a causal relationship between her activities and her discharge. See Dixon
Distributing Co. v. Hanover Ins. Co., 161 Ill.2d 433, 443 (1994) (requiring plaintiff
establish a causal relationship between protected activities and discharge). When
deciding the element of causation, the ultimate issue is the employer’s motive in
discharging the employee. Clemons v. Mechanical Devices Co., 184 Ill.2d 328, 336
(1998). As discussed above, Wolf proffers no evidence that shows that she was
included in the RIF as retaliation for her allegedly protected activities.
The Hospital is entitled to summary judgment on Wolf’s retaliatory discharge
FMLA Interference Claim
The FMLA provides employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave when an
employee is unable to perform the functions of their position because of a serious
health condition. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D). An employer must not “interfere with,
restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise” any FMLA rights. 29
U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1).
To survive summary judgment on an FMLA interference claim, Wolf must
show that: (1) she was eligible for the FMLA’s protections, (2) the Hospital was
covered by the FMLA, (3) she was entitled to take leave under the FMLA, (4) she
provided sufficient notice of her intent to take leave, and (5) the Hospital denied her
FMLA benefits to which she was entitled. Curtis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 807 F.3d
215, 223 (7th Cir. 2015). The plaintiff carries the burden of proving an FMLA
interference claim. 3 Goelzer v. Sheboygan Cnty., Wis., 604 F.3d 987, 993 (7th Cir.
Wolf argues that, in the context of a layoff or RIF, 29 C.F.R. § 825.216(a)(1) establishes “[a]n
employer would have the burden of proving that an employee would have been laid off during
the FMLA leave period and, therefore, would not be entitled to restoration.”  at 10. But
this regulation does not “alter the normal allocation of burdens of proof at trial.” Rice v.
Sunrise Express, Inc., 209 F.3d 1008, 1018 (7th Cir. 2000). The regulation “simply states that
2010) (citing Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 908 (7th Cir. 2008)).
“[N]o finding of ill intent is required” to prove FMLA interference; an employee need
only show that her employer deprived her of an FMLA entitlement. Burnett v. LFW
Inc., 472 F.3d 471, 477 (7th Cir. 2006); Shaffer v. Am. Med. Ass’n, 662 F.3d 439, 443
(7th Cir. 2011).
The parties agree that Wolf satisfies the first four elements of this claim. 
¶¶ 63–64;  ¶ 38. The only remaining material question is whether the Hospital
denied Wolf FMLA benefits to which she was entitled when it terminated her position
on the last day of her protected leave and did not reinstate her.
Upon an employee’s return from protected leave, the FMLA requires employers
to restore eligible employees “to the position of employment held by the employee
when leave commenced” or “to an equivalent position.” 29 U.S.C § 2614(a)(1). “An
employee’s right to reinstatement is not absolute.” Goelzer, 604 F.3d at 993. “If an
employee is laid off during the course of taking FMLA leave and employment is
terminated, the employer’s responsibility to continue FMLA leave … and restore the
employee cease at the time the employee is laid off.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.216(a)(1); see
also Goelzer, 604 F.3d at 993 (”[A]n employee is not entitled to return to her former
position if she would have been fired regardless of whether she took the leave.”).
‘when an ‘eligible employee’ who was on FMLA leave alleges her employer denied her FMLA
right to reinstatement, the employer has an opportunity to demonstrate it would have
discharged the employee even if she had not been on FMLA leave.’” Id. (quoting O’Connor v.
PCA Family Health Plan, Inc., 200 F.3d 1349, 1354 (11th Cir. 2000)).
When an employee is unable to perform the essential functions of the position
because of the continuation of a serious health condition, the employee has no right
to restoration to that position or to any another position under the FMLA. 29 C.F.R.
§ 825.216(c); James v. Hyatt Regency Chi., 707 F.3d 775, 780–781 (7th Cir. 2013)
(affirming summary judgment to employer, noting “an employer has no duty under
the FMLA to return an employee to his or her position, if that employee cannot
perform an essential function of the job.”); Franzen v. Ellis Corp., 543 F.3d 420, 426
(7th Cir. 2008) (“An employee also has no right to reinstatement—and, therefore,
damages—if, at the end of his twelve-week period of leave, he is either unable or
unwilling to perform the essential functions of his job.”). An employer’s duty to
reinstate an employee is triggered once an employee submits a statement from her
health care provider which indicates that she may return to work. James, 707 F.3d
Wolf argues that she was terminated during her protected leave.  at 9, 11.
The parties do not dispute that the Hospital provided Wolf with twelve weeks of
protected FMLA leave starting on March 27, 2020, and ending on June 18, 2020. 
¶ 64. 4 While the Hospital sent a notice of Wolf’s inclusion in the RIF approximately
one week earlier, Wolf’s employment was terminated on the last day of her protected
leave, June 18, 2020.  ¶ 39. Since Wolf was terminated on her last day of protected
Wolf’s opposition brief states her leave exhausted on June 22, 2020,  at 9, but Wolf’s
response to the Hospital’s Statement of Facts admits that her leave would exhaust on June
18, 2020,  ¶ 64.
leave, the only remaining entitlement she potentially had was restoration to her
Although Wolf attempts to argue that the Hospital’s proffered reason for firing
her is pretext,  at 10, she fails to demonstrate that she was entitled to
reinstatement as a threshold matter: Wolf provides no evidence that she would have
been able to return to work after June 18, 2020. Wolf admitted that her health
condition precluded returning to her job and testified that she required “another
month or two” of time off.  ¶¶ 65, 67. Wolf argues that, because she was never
given the opportunity to return to work, her doctor had no reason to provide
certification.  at 11. But as part of her application for disability benefits, Wolf’s
medical provider reported that she would be able to return to work by September 30,
2020.  ¶ 68. Wolf testified she believed this timeline was an accurate estimate. Id.
Because Wolf would not have been able to return to work at the end of her
FMLA leave, she was not entitled to reinstatement. See James, 707 F.3d at 780–781;
Franzen, 543 F.3d at 426. Wolf shows no disputed material fact that would allow a
jury to find that her inclusion in the RIF and termination on the last day of her leave
denied her FMLA benefits to which she was entitled. Therefore, the Hospital is
entitled to summary judgment on this claim.
Wolf also brings a claim for FMLA retaliation. To prove retaliation, a plaintiff
must show that “(1) [she] engaged in a protected activity; (2) [her] employer took an
adverse employment action against [her]; and (3) there is a causal connection between
the protected activity and the adverse employment action.” Pagel v. TIN Inc, 695 F.3d
622, 631 (7th Cir. 2012). There is no dispute that Wolf took protected medical leave
that was approved to run from March 27, 2020, through June 18, 2020.  ¶¶ 63–
64;  ¶ 38. The parties also do not dispute that termination is an adverse
employment action.  at 13–14;  at 12.
The only issue here is whether Wolf has “present[ed] evidence that her
employer took a materially adverse action against her because of her protected
activity.” See Goelzer, 604 F.3d at 995 (citing Burnett, 472 F.3d at 481). To survive
summary judgment, Wolf must create a triable issue of whether there was
discriminatory or retaliatory intent in her discharge. See id. Wolf does not need to
prove that “retaliation was the only reason for her termination; she may establish an
FMLA retaliation claim by showing that the protected conduct was a substantial or
motivating factor in the employer’s decision.” Id. (quotation omitted).
The Hospital introduced evidence that Wolf was fired for a facially legitimate
reason: the Hospital needed to cut operational costs substantially during the
pandemic to stay afloat and believed that it could eliminate Wolf’s position and retain
her high executive-level salary.  ¶ 74. Wolf presents no evidence that the Hospital
was not in a financial crisis, nor that eliminating her position was not a cost-savings
measure. 5 It is undisputed that the Hospital was facing severe financial stress, to the
point it almost didn’t make payroll a few times,  ¶¶ 25, 70–71; that the RIF
Although her opinion is likely inadmissible as irrelevant and without foundation, Wolf
believed that Medaglia included her and three other HR employees in the RIF and ended her
employment to “punish” her for disagreeing with him about whether administrative
employees could work remotely during the pandemic and due to tensions caused by HR’s
resistance to come into the Hospital to assist during the pandemic.  ¶ 75. These motives
are not retaliatory under the FMLA.
included multiple other employees,  ¶ 73,  ¶ 36; and that Wolf’s high
executive-level salary was “very competitive.”  ¶¶ 57, 74.
Wolf offers two forms of circumstantial evidence—suspicious timing and
evidence of pretext—from which she argues a jury could reasonably find that the
Hospital fired her because she took FMLA leave.
Wolf argues that her termination was suspiciously close in timing to her FMLA
leave and potential reinstatement—she was discharged on her last day of protected
leave.  ¶ 38. When “an adverse action comes so close on the heels of a protected
act … an inference of causation is sensible.” Loudermilk v. Best Pallet Co., 636 F.3d
312, 315 (7th Cir. 2011). The inference of causation based on timing in this case is not
so stark. Medaglia decided to include Wolf at the same time as all other terminated
employees, weeks before the end of Wolf’s FMLA leave.  ¶ 36. Wolf has presented
no evidence to contradict this account. The Hospital concedes, however, that Wolf’s
FMLA leave informed the timing of its follow through.  ¶ 36. Although the
Hospital could argue that it delayed its decision so as to not interfere with Wolf’s
leave, an inference in Wolf’s favor suggests that her termination was suspiciously
timed to her FMLA leave.
But “suspicious timing alone is rarely enough by itself,” and a “plaintiff must
ordinarily present other evidence that the employer’s explanation for the adverse
action was pretext for retaliation.” Tibbs v. Admin. Off. of the Illinois Cts., 860 F.3d
502, 505 (7th Cir. 2017) (citing Harden, 799 F.3d at 864–65).
“[P]retext ‘involves more than just faulty reasoning or mistaken judgment on
the part of the employer; it is [a] lie, specifically a phony reason for some action.’” Id.
at 506 (quoting Burton v. Bd. of Regents, 851 F.3d 690, 698 (7th Cir. 2017)). “Merely
disagreeing with an employer’s reasons does not meet this standard.” Id. A plaintiff
must point to “evidence tending to prove that the employer’s proffered reasons are
factually baseless, were not the actual motivation for the discharge in question, or
were insufficient to motivate” the termination. Id. (citing Carter v. Chicago State
Univ., 778 F.3d 651, 659 (7th Cir. 2015)). A proffered reason cannot be pretextual
“unless it is shown both that the reason was false, and that discrimination was the
real reason.” King v. Preferred Tech. Grp., 166 F.3d 887, 893 (7th Cir. 1999).
Wolf has failed to offer evidence to support an inference that the Hospital’s
reason for eliminating Wolf’s position—costs-savings during a financial crisis—was
factually baseless, was not the actual motivation for her discharge, or was insufficient
to motivate her termination.
According to Wolf, the criteria for including other employees in the RIF
(decreased productivity and minimum value to the Hospital during the pandemic) did
not apply to her.  at 12–13. But the Hospital does not say that Wolf was included
in the RIF for these same reasons—she was included in the RIF as a cost-savings
measure.  ¶ 74. Even if decreased productivity and valuation based on pandemic
considerations applied to Wolf, she fails to present evidence that these reasons were
pretextual. Wolf argues that she was meeting expectations and had no decrease in
productivity, other than when she was out on leave, which would have been
impermissible for the Hospital to consider.  at 13 (citing Pagel, 695 F.3d at 629).
Wolf also presents some evidence that her position was important to the Hospital.
But this evidence of her position’s importance is either from before or right at the
start of the pandemic crisis. See  ¶ 2 (Upon being hired, Medaglia told Wolf that
her position “[was] critical to assuring the hospital’s future.”);  ¶ 28 (Before Wolf
went on leave in March 2020, Medaglia considered offering her a retention bonus and
denied her PTO because HR was understaffed.). This evidence does not support an
inference that, during the pandemic, the HR department and Wolf’s executive-level
position were as valuable to the Hospital as they were before.
Wolf also points to a lack of documentation as to why she was included in the
RIF,  ¶¶ 33, 35, and that Medaglia did not ask the incoming head of HR for any
productivity or value information on Wolf before selecting her position for
termination,  ¶ 34. While this type of documentation would have been expected
as a regular HR practice,  ¶ 33, lack of documentation does not inherently support
pretext. See, e.g., Hague v. Thompson Distribution Co., 436 F.3d 816, 826–27 (7th Cir.
2006) (holding that “in complaining about the lack of documentation, the plaintiffs
are not really challenging the veracity of [the employer’s] proffered reason.”). Wolf
also notes that she was not included on the initial list of employees included in the
RIF and was let go a month later than the other employees.  ¶ 35. But as noted
above, the Hospital proffered a reason for the delay, one that concedes that Wolf’s
FMLA leave was on the employer’s mind. But that reason does not suggest that the
Hospital’s cost concerns weren’t genuine. This is no more than suspicious timing, and
not evidence of pretext.
Wolf also argues that her position was not truly eliminated, based on evidence
that a promoted employee was tasked with many of Wolf’s former duties.  at 14;
 ¶ 39. But the undisputed evidence shows that while the promoted employee led
the HR department, she did not have Wolf’s executive-level responsibilities, which
were instead given to the Hospital’s general counsel.  ¶ 77. That promoted
employee was also paid at a lower rate, still saving the Hospital money.  ¶ 74.
Even drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor, Wolf’s evidence would not
allow a jury to find the Hospital’s proffered reason for termination—cost-savings—
Further, because there is no dispute that Wolf could not return to work upon
the expiration of her FMLA leave, and therefore no question as a matter of law that
Wolf had no right to reinstatement, she has no claim for damages under the FMLA.
See Franzen, 543 F.3d at 426 (“An employee also has no right to reinstatement—and,
therefore, damages—if, at the end of his twelve-week period of leave, he is either
unable or unwilling to perform the essential functions of his job.”). Wolf lost no
compensation by reason of the alleged retaliation and incurred no apparent monetary
losses as a direct result of the alleged retaliation. Equitable relief (such as
reinstatement or promotion) would not be appropriate because any FMLA retaliation
did not harm her future prospects at the Hospital—she could not have returned to
work within the FMLA protected window no matter the retaliatory motive in the
termination of her employment. When an employee is unable to return to work at the
expiration of their FMLA leave, an employer can terminate the employee, and the
employee is not entitled to damages related to their discharge. Id.
Summary judgment on Wolf’s FMLA retaliation claim is granted.
Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, , is granted. Enter judgment
in favor of defendant and terminate civil case.
Manish S. Shah
United States District Judge
Date: November 14, 2023
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