922 F.2d 1300 (7th Cir. 1991), 90-2335, Billups v. Methodist Hosp. of Chicago

Docket Nº:90-2335.
Citation:922 F.2d 1300
Party Name:Juanita BILLUPS, Plaintiff/Appellant, v. METHODIST HOSPITAL OF CHICAGO, an Illinois corporation, Defendant/Appellee.
Case Date:January 08, 1991
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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Page 1300

922 F.2d 1300 (7th Cir. 1991)

Juanita BILLUPS, Plaintiff/Appellant,

v.

METHODIST HOSPITAL OF CHICAGO, an Illinois corporation,

Defendant/Appellee.

No. 90-2335.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 8, 1991

Argued Dec. 18, 1990.

Page 1301

Robert L. Schroeder, Tate & Associates, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff-appellant.

Camille A. Olson, John W. Powers, Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather & Geraldson, Chicago, Ill., for defendant-appellee.

Before BAUER, Chief Judge, and CUMMINGS and FLAUM, Circuit Judges.

FLAUM, Circuit Judge.

The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant, Methodist Hospital of Chicago, in this race discrimination case brought under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. Secs. 2000e et seq. The plaintiff, Juanita Billups ("Billups"), filed a motion to reconsider under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). The district court denied plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. Plaintiff now appeals the district court's order granting summary judgment for the defendant and the district court's denial of her motion for reconsideration. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. FACTS

The following facts are not contested. In March, 1988, Bethany Methodist Corporation's intermediate and skilled care facility, Bethany Methodist Terrace ("Bethany"), terminated Billups, a black woman, from her position as a certified nursing assistant ("CNA"). 1 Bethany alleged that it terminated the plaintiff in response to its determination that Billups had physically abused a patient on four separate occasions.

On March 9, 1988, Billups' co-worker, Pajongjit Guntajaranti ("Kim"), met with Bethany's Director of Nursing Services, Ms. Julie Davidson, to report some troubling events she allegedly witnessed. The meeting was not planned or pre-arranged. During the meeting, Kim informed Davidson that she witnessed Billups physically abuse an elderly patient, Alma Reinbach, on four separate occasions. 2 Billups and Kim had worked together previously and there is no hint in the record of animosity between the two women. Kim did not report the events to Davidson immediately after they allegedly occurred because she feared the consequences of reporting the misconduct of a fellow employee.

Davidson began an investigation of Kim's report immediately after her meeting with Kim. She checked the scheduling charts and confirmed that Billups and Kim worked together as a CNA team on Reinbach's unit on the dates in question. Davidson telephoned Billups' direct supervisor and inquired about whether she knew about the alleged incidents. The supervisor stated that she was unaware of the events. Davidson also unsuccessfully attempted to speak with Reinbach about the events. 3 Upon examining Reinbach's body, Davidson did not see any bruises.

Additionally, Davidson asked a nurse on Reinbach's floor to inquire of the other patients if they recalled hearing a scream on the morning of February 26. Davidson received a written memorandum from the nurse stating that one of the patients on Reinbach's floor distinctly remembered hearing Reinbach yelling for help on the morning of February 26. Davidson then met with Kim again and asked her to repeat

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the events that she had detailed earlier.

Based on her own investigation, Davidson concluded that Billups had physically abused Alma Reinbach. The Bethany Employee Handbook and Policies and Procedure explicitly state that abuse of a patient constitutes immediate grounds for dismissal. Thus, Davidson informed Billups on March 9 that she was being terminated for physically abusing Alma Reinbach. Billups denied the allegations. On March 10 Davidson, Billups, and Lawrence Loecker, Bethany's Administrator, met and discussed the allegations of abuse. At the plaintiff's request, Loecker again met with Billups to further discuss her termination. Following the final meeting, Loecker notified Billups by letter of his affirmation of Davidson's earlier decision to discharge her.

In response to her termination, Billups filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that she was discharged on the basis of her race, black, in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981. On August 30, 1989 the district court granted defendant's motion to dismiss Billups' Sec. 1981 claim for failure to state a claim for relief. Billups does not appeal that dismissal.

The district court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment as to the remaining Title VII claim. The district court, in open court, gave its reasons for granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant. The district court denied Billups' timely motion for reconsideration. Billups appeals both decisions.

II. ANALYSIS

  1. Summary Judgment

    1. Framework

    This court reviews de novo the district court's decision to grant summary judgment. McMillian v. Svetanoff, 878 F.2d 186, 188 (7th Cir.1989). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that a motion for summary judgment is appropriate "if ... there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Trautvetter v. Quick, 916 F.2d 1140, 1147 (7th Cir.1990) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). The non-moving party may not rest on the pleadings but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that a genuine material fact exists for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). We review the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Randle v. LaSalle Telecommunications Inc., 876 F.2d 563, 567 (7th Cir.1989) (citation omitted).

    In a Title VII disparate treatment case, once the employee establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, 4 "the burden shifts to the employer to articulate some legitimate nondiscriminatory reason" for terminating the employee. Williams v. Williams Electronics Inc., 856 F.2d 920, 923 (7th Cir.1988). If the employer articulates a non-discriminatory reason the burden of production shifts back to the employee to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the proffered reason was really

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    a pretext for discrimination. Id. Pretext may be demonstrated in one of two ways. The plaintiff may attempt to prove pretext directly by "persuading the Court that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer or indirectly by showing that the employer's proffered reason is unworthy of credence." Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 256, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1095, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). Ultimately, the plaintiff's evidence must show that she would not have been fired "but for" her race. Williams, 856 F.2d at 923.

    The district court found that in response to plaintiff's prima facie case the defendant articulated a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for terminating her employment, namely that she physically abused a patient. There is little doubt that the defendant's articulated reason is legitimate. Physically abusing an elderly patient is serious misconduct. Moreover, the plaintiff does not contest the district court's finding that physical abuse of a patient is a legitimate reason for termination. Thus, the burden of proof shifted back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that this reason was a pretext for discrimination.

    2. Pretext

    The summary judgment decision in this case thus turns upon whether the district court correctly concluded that no genuine issue of material fact existed concerning the question of whether the reason the defendant offered for terminating Billups was a pretext for discrimination. As the district court correctly concluded, Billups did not present any direct evidence of discrimination. Rather, she presented evidence designed to establish that the defendant's explanation for firing her is unworthy of credence.

    Plaintiff presented the following evidence to the district court in opposition to defendant's motion for summary judgment. Initially, plaintiff argued that she denied all the allegations of abuse and that she had a good work record prior to the alleged incidents. Billups' own self-serving remarks standing alone are insufficient to raise doubt as to the credence of the employer's explanation for termination. See Weihaupt v. American Medical Ass'n, 874 F.2d 419, 428 (7th Cir.1989) (holding that employee's self-interested assertions were insufficient to challenge the credence of his employer's reasons for demoting him); Williams, 856 F.2d at 924 (employee's self-interested assertions regarding her work abilities are...

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