993 F.2d 1257 (7th Cir. 1993), 92-1802, Hong v. Children's Memorial Hosp.

Docket Nº:92-1802.
Citation:993 F.2d 1257
Party Name:Young In HONG, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CHILDREN'S MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:May 12, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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993 F.2d 1257 (7th Cir. 1993)

Young In HONG, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

CHILDREN'S MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 92-1802.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 12, 1993

Argued Nov. 10, 1992.

Rehearing and Rehearing In Banc Denied July 22, 1993.

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Jill L. Kline (argued), Oshkosh, WI, for plaintiff-appellant.

Donald F. Peters, Jr., Thomas T. Cavanaugh (argued) and Ann Haule, Children's Memorial Hosp., Chicago, IL, for defendant-appellee.

Before KANNE and ROVNER, Circuit Judges, and REYNOLDS, Senior District Judge. [*]

KANNE, Circuit Judge.

Young In Hong, an American citizen of Korean ancestry, sued Children's Memorial Hospital under Title VII, alleging that she was unlawfully discharged from her employment because of her national origin. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant. We affirm.

I.

Children's Memorial Hospital hired Young In Hong in November 1968 as a medical technologist in the hospital's Clinical Chemistry Laboratory. As a technologist, Ms. Hong conducted tests on patient specimens in accordance with hospital procedures and quality control measures. She worked part-time until October 15, 1976, when she was made a full-time medical technologist, or "Medical Technologist II." In April 1981, as the result of an across-the-board salary adjustment applicable to all medical technologists working in the laboratory, Ms. Hong's employment classification was changed to that of a "Medical Technologist III."

From 1976 until her discharge in October 1987, Ms. Hong's immediate supervisor was Marina Barrientos. As one of her responsibilities, Ms. Barrientos conducted annual performance appraisals of Ms. Hong's work. The record shows that, prior to 1985, these reviews were generally favorable. Dr. Frederick Smith, Division Head of the Department of Clinical Pathology at Children's Memorial Hospital, supervised the Clinical Chemistry Laboratory, but did not participate in either annual evaluations of medical technologists or informal disciplinary matters.

Beginning in early 1986, the hospital commenced an internal evaluation of its laboratory operations for the purpose of upgrading equipment and technology, and improving overall performance. In addition to installing more modern instrumentation, Dr. Smith implemented a computerized quality control system for use in specimen testing. All medical technologists received training in the new procedures and on the new instruments.

In 1985, 1986, and 1987, Ms. Hong's annual performance evaluation scores steadily declined. Among other things, she was cited for excessive absenteeism, failure to perform assigned tasks in a timely manner, failure to identify instrument malfunctions during testing procedures, failure to report test results to her supervisors, failure to maintain laboratory inventory, and failure to follow the laboratory's quality control and management procedures. In addition, from February 1986 to July 1987, Ms. Hong was issued seven formal written disciplinary notices for deficiencies in her work and uncooperative behavior. Two of these reports resulted in probationary periods of two and three months; a third resulted in a two-day suspension. She also received informal counselling from her superiors, including additional training on the new quality control instruments.

On March 5, 1987, Dr. Smith sent Ms. Hong a memorandum informing her of the two month probation mentioned above and explaining that unless her performance on the job improved to an acceptable level during that period she would be discharged. Seven months later, on October 20, after yet another formal disciplinary notice, Dr. Smith sent Ms. Hong a memorandum stating that

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her term of employment in the Clinical Chemistry Laboratory was at an end. The memo indicated that staff are obliged to conduct laboratory work reliably and quickly for the benefit of patients and that Ms. Hong's poor performance record over the previous year and a half was simply unsatisfactory. She was encouraged to seek other suitable positions within the hospital, and was advised of her right to file an internal grievance. She did file a grievance, and received a hearing before a committee composed of hospital management and staff. The committee affirmed Dr. Smith's decision.

Ms. Hong then brought this suit in federal district court, averring that Children's Memorial Hospital had wrongfully discharged her from its employ because of her Korean ancestry, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The hospital filed an answer to the complaint and moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff had failed to establish a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge or, in the alternative, assuming the existence of a prima facie case, had failed to produce sufficient evidence from which a jury could find that the hospital's stated reason for discharging her--inadequate job performance--was a pretext for unlawful discrimination. The district court granted the motion, concluding that the case was "too thin to permit a trier of fact to return a verdict for Hong" because she had produced "insufficient evidence to refute the claim that her work was not meeting her employer's reasonable expectations of job performance at the time she was fired and a fortiori to show that the stated reason [for discharge] is a pretext."

On appeal, the plaintiff points to four actions by her superiors at Children's Memorial Hospital to substantiate her claim of intentional discrimination. First, she alleges that, after her discharge, her now deceased brother-in-law, who was then working part-time at the hospital, visited Dr. Smith. According to the plaintiff, Smith told her brother-in-law that Ms. Hong should "move back to Korea." Second, the plaintiff claims that her supervisor, Marina Barrientos, told her repeatedly at work to "learn to speak English," despite the absence of evidence that the plaintiff spoke anything other than English. This disparaging remark was usually made on occasions when Ms. Barrientos had made some mistake, and sometimes for no apparent reason. What's more, according to the plaintiff, Ms. Barrientos made the remark most often in 1987, the year in which the plaintiff received her lowest performance evaluation score, was subjected to the most disciplinary actions, and ultimately discharged.

Third, the plaintiff alleges that certain of the disciplinary actions taken against her in 1987 near the time of her discharge evidence discriminatory treatment and present genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. Specifically, she disputes the defendant's version of three instances of substandard work that, in addition to two others, resulted in the issuance of a formal disciplinary notice and a two-day suspension from work. Finally, the plaintiff claims that she was singled out for disciplinary action, and that non-Korean medical technologists with comparable annual evaluation scores were not discharged. This evidence of disparate treatment, 1 the plaintiff submits, demonstrates that the hospital's stated reason for discharging her was pretextual.

II.

Because there appears to be some disagreement between the parties on the issue, we begin by setting forth the correct standard of review. We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, examining the entire record in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion to determine whether any genuine issues of material fact exist. McCoy v. WGN Continental Broadcasting Company, 957 F.2d 368, 370 (7th Cir.1992). Application of Rule 56 involves "the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial--whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be

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resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). 2

We recognize that summary judgment is often an inappropriate method of resolving Title VII claims in which the defendant's intent, as the plaintiff urges here, is the central issue. See Friedel v. City of Madison, 832 F.2d 965, 972 (7th Cir.1987); Powers v. Dole, 782 F.2d 689, 694 (7th Cir.1986). However, a plaintiff facing the prospect of summary adjudication cannot "sit back and simply poke holes in the moving party's summary judgment motion." Fitzpatrick v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 916 F.2d 1254, 1256 (7th Cir.1990). If the nonmovant bears the burden of proof on an issue, she may not rest on the pleadings; rather, she must affirmatively set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-26, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-54, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). See also Randle v. LaSalle Telecommunications, Inc., 876 F.2d 563, 567 (7th Cir.1989).

To ultimately prevail on a disparate treatment claim under...

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