Hospital Sued by Former HR Officer

On Friday, a lawsuit was filed against Saint Anthony Hospital in the Northern District of Illinois. The suit was brought by former employee Stella Wolf who stated that the hospital and its president, Guy Medaglia, participated in discriminatory and retaliatory practices, including inappropriate behavior towards female employees and illegal hiring practices. The plaintiff said that her objection to these practices ultimately resulted in her termination.

Wolf’s complaint explained that she began working at the hospital in 2016 as the Chief Human Resources Officer. As her time at the hospital progressed, she said she began to notice that Medaglia often displayed hostile behavior directed at his female subordinates. He would allegedly have angry outbursts directed at these women, creating a fearful and intimidating work environment. Multiple women confided in Wolf about these issues and said that they feared they’d lose their job if they spoke out.

After a specific instance of this verbal abuse during an executive committee meeting in 2019, Wolf reached out to Medaglia to have a conversation about his behavior. During the meeting, Wolf said that the defendant made excuses for his actions and began acting inappropriately towards her, saying he found her “extremely attractive” and would be interested in pursuing her on “a personal level.” He also allegedly instructed her to figure out how her female colleagues could better prepare in order to avoid further beratement. It was after this meeting that the plaintiff felt she began experiencing hostile behavior directed at her from the defendant.

This hostility only increased after Medaglia requested that the plaintiff create three unnecessary positions for a Illinois Senator’s son, daughter, and the daughter’s boyfriend. Medaglia apparently told Wolf that state Sen. Martin Sandoval, who later pled guilty to federal corruption charges, would be giving them a $5,500,000 grant to the hospital in exchange for this favor. 

Wolf opposed this move and believed that doing so would be illegal under Illinois law. The defendant then decided to circumvent her authority and instructed another HR member to draft salary offers to the three prospective employees. Wolf claimed that these offers were far above what a person of their position would ordinarily be paid. 

Wolf was asked on another occasion to terminate the current insurance broker and hire the son of the then-Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Michael Madigan, which Wolf refused to do. After these requests, Medaglia began blaming Wolf for their lack of funding.

Due to a surgery, the plaintiff was forced to work from home for a period of time. It was during this leave that she saidshe began to experience blatant discrimination and hostility from the defendant, who started cancelling their biweekly 1-on-1 meeting and stopped responding to her emails and any other attempts at communication. 

She was then notified that a complaint was being filed against her for being “condescending and verbally abusive” towards an employee she was working with due to their poor job performance. This person had been fired by the hospital because of their job performance and the firing was even approved and signed off on by the defendant. The plaintiff arguedthis was a sham investigation designed to push her out as a response to her previous issues with the defendant. 

In the following weeks she reached out for information about the investigation but was given none. Wolf says that this drawn out and exclusive process was unfair and that two men at the company had sexual harassment complaints against them and were done after just a week of investigations. Both men still work at the hospital and one was even promoted. In contrast, Wolf said she was the only member of the hospital’s executive team that did not receive a raise at the end of 2019. 

By March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had begun and people were transitioning to working from home. Wolf had some of the conditions that were known to worsen the effects of the virus and was one of the people who had transitioned to fully remote work.. Despite her continued productivity, Medaglia disparaged her publicly during a video meeting and was insisting that HR and other non-essential workers return to the hospital. The plaintiff stated that the hospital later terminated two women of color who refused to come in while numerous white male employees maintained employment despite their physical absence.

The plaintiff claimed that the stress of this work environment resulted in lack of sleep, extreme weight loss, headaches, heart palpitations, and anxiety. She was later diagnosed with high blood pressure, hypertension, PTSD, and depression. This emotional distress required Wolf to take a twelve week leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

 While she was on this leave, she received a letter stating that she would be terminated from her position effective June 18, 2020, the date she was supposed to return. The defendant claimed that her position was eliminated and no longer existed at the hospital. Wolf believed this claim to be false seeing as they hired a younger woman to do the job who had been less outspoken about the defendant’s behavior. 

The plaintiff said that SAH targeted her for the termination in retaliation for having raised legitimate complaints of discrimination against women, including herself, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act. She also stated that this termination is in violation of the FMLA, which requires employers to restore employees who take a protected leave. The plaintiff is seeking compensation for all past and future benefits, for the emotional damage caused by her employers, and for the IHRA and FMLA violations on the part of the defendant.

The plaintiff is represented by Loftus & Eisenberg.