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Miller v. Indiana University Health, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

August 29, 2014




This matter is before the Court on Defendant Indiana University Health, Inc.'s ("IU Health") Motion for Summary Judgment (Filing No. 40). Plaintiff Jeffrey Miller ("Mr. Miller") asserted claims against IU Health alleging discrimination on the basis of race and religion, as well as retaliation, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"). For the reasons set forth below, IU Health's Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


The following facts are not in dispute and are viewed in light most favorable to Mr. Miller as the non-moving party. Mr. Miller is an African-American and a Muslim. He began his employment with IU Health on December 3, 2001, as an entry-level multi-skilled worker in Environmental Services at Riley Hospital for Children ("Riley Hospital"), one of the hospitals in the IU Health (formerly Clarian) hospital network. In 2003, Mr. Miller was promoted to the position of maintenance technician, where he performed basic maintenance for plumbing, electrical, and heating equipment, including the heating, ventilation and air conditioning ("HVAC") system. In 2006, Mr. Miller was promoted to the position of HVAC technician and given a raise, although his duties did not change because he was already performing HVAC work. In 2008, Mr. Miller was required to take an HVAC technician certification test in order to be promoted to the HVAC II position, for which he received a raise. Mr. Miller asserts that he was the only person required to take a certification examination to be classified in the HVAC II position, and the other non-minority employees were not required to take an examination for this classification. In December 2011, Mr. Miller took and passed his certification examination that would make him eligible for an HVAC III technician classification. When he inquired about a promotion to HVAC III, Mr. Miller was informed by his supervisor, Stephen Smith ("Mr. Smith"), that he would not be promoted.

One of Mr. Miller's duties as an HVAC II technician was the performance of annual preventative maintenance on air handler units at Riley Hospital. Air handler units move air to provide heating, cooling, and pressurization to particular areas of the hospital. Outside air is filtered through a series of three filters contained in the handler before the air enters the hospital, including pre-, secondary and final filters. The final filters are HEPA filters designed to remove 99.97% of impurities from the air. Preventative maintenance is performed on the air handlers at varying intervals, such as quarterly or annually, based upon the maintenance to be performed. Each HVAC technician was assigned a group of air handlers for which he was responsible for completing routine maintenance. HVAC technicians would often receive assistance from other technicians in completing the ordered maintenance, but it was each technician's responsibility to sign off on the work orders generated to him for his assigned units.

One of the air handler units assigned to Mr. Miller was R3A3, which is the numbering system used to identify the various air handler units at the hospital. Mr. Miller had been responsible for this particular unit since 2004 when he was still classified as a maintenance technician. He was responsible for completing the annual preventative maintenance on R3A3. The work order for the unit included, among other tasks, changing the final air filters on the unit. However, during the entire time Mr. Miller was assigned to perform maintenance work on the R3A3 unit, it never contained a final air filter. In March 2011, Mr. Miller reported to his then supervisor, Derek Rife ("Mr. Rife"), that there continued to be rust and corrosion in the unit where the final air filter should have been located, but nothing was done to address this issue. Despite his concerns, Mr. Miller went ahead and signed off on the 2011 work order that the maintenance had been completed.

In March 2012, Mr. Miller completed the work order for the annual maintenance of the R3A3 unit, which again included the task of changing the final filters. The maintenance was performed on March 22, 2012, by Mr. Miller and several other technicians. Mr. Miller and his coworkers assisting him tried unsuccessfully to install high efficiency particulate air ("HEPA") filters on hand, but were unable to do so because they were the wrong size and because the filter brackets were rusted, as was previously reported. Rather than noting on the work order in the comments section that the R3A3 unit lacked a filter, on March 23, 2012, Mr. Miller met with his current supervisor, Mr. Smith, and advised him that there were no final filters in the R3A3 air handler and asked him whether he wanted the filters placed in the unit. Mr. Smith did not respond to Mr. Miller's inquiry regarding whether or not he wanted the HEPA filters installed. That same day, another technician who had assisted Mr. Miller with the maintenance on R3A3, Zach Pate ("Mr. Pate"), reported to Mr. Smith that he was concerned that the air handler was supposed to have final filters, but it appeared that there had not been any in there for some time. Mr. Smith asked another supervisor, Robert Miller, to investigate the R3A3 filter issue, resulting in an audit in April 2012. Following an investigation into the history of Mr. Miller's work orders for the R3A3 unit, it was discovered that work orders for the R3A3 unit from 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 had been signed by Mr. Miller, which all included a notation for changing the final filters, even though the handler did not have a filter to be changed and had not had one for several years. Nevertheless, Mr. Miller had signed off on all of the work orders as being completed. Mr. Miller was immediately terminated in May 2012 for "gross misconduct" and was subsequently informed that it was based upon the allegedly falsified work orders indicating that the filters in the air handling unit had been changed, and that these actions placed the health of the hospital's patients and its accreditation status at risk. In his 11 years of employment with IU Health, Mr. Miller had never received any corrective actions or discipline for his performance prior to his termination.

During his employment, Mr. Miller alleges that he was subjected to racially and religiously offensive graffiti in the workplace. Sometime after July 26, 2011, he observed the statement, "Nigger go home" in the facility maintenance men's restroom, and a drawing of a Muslim in a prostration position engaged in a sexual act in the work area where the filters were stored. Mr. Miller complained about these observations to his supervisor, Mr. Rife, and to security. Mr. Miller had previously filed two charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in 2006 and 2010, which were both dismissed and not pursued further in court. Additional facts will be addressed below as necessary.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.Com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 489-90 (7th Cir. 2007). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews "the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). However, "[a] party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial." Hemsworth, 476 F.3d at 490 (citation omitted). "In much the same way that a court is not required to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat the motion for summary judgment, nor is it permitted to conduct a paper trial on the merits of a claim." Ritchie v. Glidden Co., 242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotations omitted). "[N]either the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties... nor the existence of some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts... is sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment." Chiaramonte v. Fashion Bed Grp., Inc., 129 F.3d 391, 395 (7th Cir. 1997) (citations and internal quotations omitted).


Mr. Miller alleges that he was unlawfully terminated based upon his race and religion, and retaliated against for filing prior charges of discrimination with the EEOC and making complaints about racially offensive graffiti in the maintenance facility. IU Health claims that it had a legitimate reason for terminating Mr. Miller based upon the allegedly falsified work orders which erroneously indicated that filters in the R3A3 air handling unit had been changed, and that his claims fail because he was not meeting IU Health's legitimate employment expectations.

A. Racial and Religious Discrimination

Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to "fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Mr. Miller also asserts race discrimination claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which uses the same legal standards for liability as Title VII. Herron v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 388 F.3d 293, 299 (7th Cir. 2004); Williams v. Waste Mgmt. of Ill., 361 F.3d 1021, 1028 (7th Cir. 2004). Plaintiffs alleging discrimination under Title VII or § 1981 may prove such discrimination using either the direct or indirect method of proof. Andonissamy v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 547 F.3d 841, 849-50 (7th Cir. 2008). Under the direct method, a plaintiff may proffer direct or circumstantial evidence to prove discrimination. Direct evidence establishes "the fact in question without reliance on inference or presumption." Mannie v. Potter, 394 F.3d 977, 983 (7th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). A plaintiff may also prevail under the direct method by constructing a "convincing mosaic" of circumstantial evidence that "allows a jury to infer ...

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