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Walker v. Children's Hospital of Wisconsin

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

November 8, 2019




         Sherry Walker commenced this action against her former employer, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, alleging that she was terminated in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. She alleges that Children's terminated her because of her race and because of a perceived disability. Before me now is Children's motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Walker, an African-American woman, was employed by Children's as a “performance analytics intelligence analyst” from September 29, 2014 to May 6, 2016. In this position, Walker worked in Children's strategic-planning department and was responsible for analyzing information and providing it to Children's administrative and medical leaders, who used the information to make the company's strategic decisions.

         At all times, Walker performed the analysis function of her position to Children's satisfaction. However, beginning in May 2015, and continuing over the course of about one year, Walker made increasingly bizarre accusations against her coworkers and supervisors. Walker initially complained that her coworkers were saying negative things about her and that her supervisors were monitoring her emails and internet usage. She eventually accused her coworkers and supervisors of secretly altering her work product and spying on her from a van in the company parking lot. Children's repeatedly investigated Walker's accusations and found nothing to substantiate them. It recommended that Walker consider taking advantage of the company's employee-assistance program (“EAP”), which was provided by an independent contractor known as Empathia, Inc. The EAP assisted employees with personal or work-related problems that affected their job performance, health, or mental or emotional well-being. Def. Proposed Finding of Fact (“PFOF”) ¶ 39. Walker did not immediately enroll in the program, and she continued to accuse her coworkers of spying on her, bullying her, and altering her work product, among other things.

         Eventually, Children's determined that Walker's unsupported accusations were placing a strain on her department and the company. Walker's belief that her coworkers and supervisors were targeting her interfered with her ability to collaborate with other team members, and the coworkers she accused of wrongdoing felt hurt by her accusations. Moreover, Walker's accusations caused Children's to expend resources investigating her claims, which always turned out to be baseless. For these reasons, in April 2016, Walker's supervisors informed Walker that Children's would make her participation in EAP mandatory. Her supervisors told her that Children's was imposing this requirement because it believed that EAP would provide her with “access to resources that will help build trust with her co-workers and alleviate the impact her accusations were causing to her relationships with her team members.” Def. PFOF ¶ 91.

         During the meeting in which Walker's supervisors told her that she would be required to attend EAP sessions, they also presented her with Empathia's authorization form for disclosure of protected health information. This was a form that Walker was expected to sign so that Empathia could inform Walker's supervisors whether she was attending EAP sessions and following Empathia's recommendations. If Walker did not sign the form, Empathia would not share such information with Walker's supervisors, for then it would be concerned that disclosure of the information might violate the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”).

         Walker told her supervisors that she did not want to sign Empathia's form because she did not want her health information disclosed. In response, Walker's supervisors assured her that neither Empathia nor Children's would disclose her health records; rather, they were interested only in knowing whether Walker attended the EAP sessions and whether she was following Empathia's recommendations.

         During a subsequent meeting, Walker agreed to participate in EAP sessions, but she again refused to sign the authorization form. Her supervisors again told her that they needed her to sign the form so that they could confirm that she was attending the sessions and following Empathia's recommendations. They also told Walker that if she did not sign the form, it would affect her employment. Walker said that she understood. Walker's supervisors told her that she must sign the form by April 28, 2016.

         Walker did not sign the form by April 28, 2016. For this reason, Children's suspended her employment. However, over the next few days, Walker and her supervisors continued to discuss the form in an effort to allay her concerns. After several discussions, Children's agreed to modify the form such that the only information Empathia would be allowed to share with Children's was whether and when she attended EAP sessions. Children's dropped its insistence that Empathia be allowed to share whether Walker was following its recommendations.

         Walker still refused to sign the form. The sticking point was a clause acknowledging that Empathia could not prevent Children's from redisclosing information it received from Empathia. Walker wanted this clause removed from the form, but Empathia would not agree to remove it because Empathia had no control over Children's and could not prevent Children's from redisclosing any information it shared. Children's told Walker that it had no interest in learning any specific information about her EAP sessions and that the only information Empathia would disclose to it is whether she attended the sessions.

         On May 6, 2016, after Walker made clear that she would not sign the form as long as it contained the redisclosure clause, Children's terminated her employment. Walker then filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which she alleged that Children's had discriminated against her on the basis of race and disability. After the EEOC issued Walker a right-to-sue letter, she commenced this lawsuit. She alleges that Children's discriminated against her on the basis of race and on the basis of a perceived disability.


         Summary judgment is required where “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). When considering a motion for summary judgment, I view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must grant the motion if no reasonable ...

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