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Baker v. Macon Resources, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

April 25, 2014

MARGA BAKER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
MACON RESOURCES, INC., Defendant-Appellee

Submitted, March 26, 2014 [1]

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 12-2156 -- Michael P. McCuskey, Judge.

For Marga Baker, Plaintiff - Appellant: John A. Baker, Baker, Baker & Krajewski, Springfield, IL.

For Macon Resources, Incorporated, Defendant - Appellee: John A. Kauerauf, Sorling Northrup Hanna Cullen & Cochran, Springfield, IL.

Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and SYKES and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.


Per Curiam.

Marga Baker, who worked for 19 years as a caregiver for people with disabilities, challenges the grant of summary judgment for her former employer, Macon Resources, in this age-discrimination lawsuit. Because a jury reasonably could find that Macon Resources discriminated based on age by treating a younger employee more leniently after she and Baker reportedly

Page 675

violated the same policy, we reverse and remand.

We recount the facts in the light most favorable to Baker. See Hobgood v. Ill. Gaming Bd., 731 F.3d 635, 637 (7th Cir. 2013). Macon Resources, which hired Baker in 1991, runs group homes for people with disabilities. The organization has a written policy requiring any employee who " witnesses, is told of, or has reason to believe an incident of abuse or neglect ... has occurred" to report the allegation. Under this policy employees must inform a supervisor of suspected abuse; a more recent state law also requires them to report to a state agency, the Office of the Inspector General. See 20 ILCS 1305/1-17(k) (enacted Aug. 13, 2009). Baker twice witnessed abuse in the late 1990s when she saw a coworker, David Carter, use his finger to " flick" the back of a resident's neck. She told her supervisors about the flicking after she observed it, as company policy required.

A decade later the Office of the Inspector General interviewed three workers as it reviewed allegations that Carter had both sexually and physically abused the same resident. According to the Inspector General's report, " direct" evidence of sexual abuse came from Angelia Cross, a 39-year-old caregiver. She told investigators that she had seen the resident agitated, yelling, and gesturing at his genitals the day after Carter had worked the overnight shift. At the time, Cross asked the resident " who did that to him," but she could not understand his response because of his extremely limited communication skills. A week later, she overheard Carter admit to another employee, " Yes, I pulled it," which led her to suspect Carter of sexual abuse. Then, a month later, she saw the resident raise his fist, point to his genitals, and point toward the room where Carter was standing. Though Cross and Baker discussed Cross's observations of Carter's suspected sexual abuse, Cross did not report her observations. The Inspector General's Office also interviewed Baker and a third caregiver. Both described seeing Carter flick the resident in the neck. The third caregiver also told investigators that she had heard Carter " joking" about his abusive act of squeezing the resident's testicles.

The report concluded that the resident had been abused. Although the report found insufficient evidence to substantiate the claim of sexual abuse, it concluded that the neck-flicking was proven physical abuse. The Inspector General also recommended that Macon Resources address the failure of Baker, Cross, and the third employee to comply with the 2009 state law requiring that they report suspected abuse to the Inspector General. See 20 ILCS 1305/1-17.

Macon Resources held meetings on whether the three caregivers had breached the company's policy requiring that they report abuse to a supervisor; it did not address the state law. The disciplinary report for Cross observed that she had " direct evidence" of and " suspected" that Carter had sexually abused a resident. The report for Baker and the third caregiver found that each had been " an eyewitness to physical abuse," namely, of the flicking. All three were found to have failed to report the abuse. After reviewing these disciplinary reports and the Inspector General's report, the executive director fired the 56-year-old Baker and the 61-year-old caregiver who had seen the flicking, but chose a 3-day suspension for the 39-year-old Cross. Believing that ...

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