Stevens v. Saint Elizabeth Medical Center, Inc., 082913 FED6, 12-5243

Docket Nº:12-5243
Opinion Judge:JANE B. STRANCH, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:CAROLINE D. STEVENS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SAINT ELIZABETH MEDICAL CENTER, INC.; DONALD SAELINGER, M.D.; PATIENT FIRST PHYSICIANS GROUP; PHYSICIAN ASSOCIATES, LLC, Defendants-Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before: BOGGS, ROGERS, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:August 29, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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CAROLINE D. STEVENS, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

SAINT ELIZABETH MEDICAL CENTER, INC.; DONALD SAELINGER, M.D.; PATIENT FIRST PHYSICIANS GROUP; PHYSICIAN ASSOCIATES, LLC, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 12-5243

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 29, 2013

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY

Before: BOGGS, ROGERS, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

JANE B. STRANCH, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Caroline D. Stevens, who was employed by defendants Physician Associates, LLC and Patient First Physicians Group, served as a nurse and personal assistant to defendant Dr. Donald Saelinger, the Chief Executive Officer of Patient First, which was later acquired by Saint Elizabeth Medical Center. Stevens and Saelinger engaged in a consensual romantic and sexual relationship for several years. Shortly after the relationship ended, Stevens wrote a letter alleging that she was being pressured to take another position despite her desire to continue working with Saelinger. An independent investigation revealed that Stevens and Saelinger had sex at the office, and both were given the option of resigning or being terminated. Saelinger resigned; Stevens was terminated. Stevens subsequently filed suit against the defendants, bringing claims of sexual harassment under Title VII and Kentucky's anti-discrimination laws, retaliatory discharge, and fraud. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of both Saelinger and the other defendants. Stevens appeals these decisions. For the following reasons, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

BACKGROUND

In mid-2007, while Stevens served as Saelinger's nurse and personal assistant, Stevens and Saelinger undertook a romantic and sexual relationship. Both parties were married to others, but Stevens eventually obtained a divorce. Saelinger repeatedly assured Stevens that he was also seeking a divorce, but his assurances were untrue.

Initially, there was no express discussion of the relationship at work. This changed, however, after Saelinger's wife confronted Stevens and Saelinger in October 2007 at an apartment he was renting. After this event, Stevens informed site manager Gary Brown that she and Saelinger were romantically involved. Around late summer 2009, Stevens chose to end the relationship after discovering that Saelinger had never filed for divorce. In September, Stevens saw Saelinger's wife in the Patient First parking lot. Stevens explained her history with Saelinger to co-worker Mary Ann Neuroth and asked that Neuroth walk with her to the parking lot. Neuroth reported the incident to Brown. Stevens claimed this revealed the "scandal" part of the relationship and also admitted mentioning the relationship to some of Saelinger's patients.

Shortly after the parking lot incident, Saelinger decided to reduce his patient load, allegedly so that he could spend more time on duties related to the pending merger with Saint Elizabeth. Stevens claimed that Brown pressured her to take a job at the Diabetes Center, in which she had previously expressed interest. She further alleged that none of Saelinger's patients were transferred to other doctors and, although some appointments were moved to Saturdays, Stevens was not allowed to work on that day.

Although Stevens's hours were never actually reduced, she claimed this was because of an October 26, 2009 letter she sent to Brown, Jim Korb (the human resources director), and Saelinger. The letter stated that Stevens felt pressured to leave because of "personal agendas" and due to "perceived threats of legal action." She stated that her true desire was "to do my job in a non-threatening environment" and "to continue my work with Dr. Saelinger and our patients." Stevens claimed that later in the week, Brown asked her to speak with "Ken" presumably Ken Folz, the chief operating officer of Physician Associates and Korb and inform them that no harassment took place and she would not sue. Stevens was later allowed to come in on Fridays to do charts and messages.

Stevens's letter prompted an investigation by an outside attorney, which revealed that Saelinger and Stevens had sex several times in the office after working hours. This led to the end of the employment of both. Saelinger agreed to and signed a severance agreement. Stevens was given the option of resigning with benefits or being fired but she refused to resign and was subsequently terminated for having sex on the office premises. The second reason given for her termination was that the relationship had become a workplace disruption. When asked who made the decision to terminate her, Stevens stated that Joe Gross, President and CEO of Saint Elizabeth, was the only signature other than hers on the papers. Stevens said that she did not believe he made the decision alone. She admitted having no direct knowledge of Saelinger's involvement.

Stevens sued the defendants, alleging sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliatory discharge in violation of Title VII and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. She also asserted state-law claims for fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Saelinger and Stevens filed motions for summary judgment. As to the sexual harassment and discrimination claims, the district court held that Saelinger did not meet the definition of "employer" under either statute. Although concluding that Saelinger could be found personally liable for retaliation under Kentucky law, the court determined that Stevens failed to establish the requisite causal connection between her October 26 letter and her termination. The court also ruled that Stevens failed to allege any pecuniary harm resulting from Saelinger's alleged fraud.

Following these rulings, additional deposition testimony was taken. This testimony shed light on three points: (1) Saelinger's actions toward Stevens after their relationship ended; (2) the effect of the relationship's demise on other office employees; and (3) the motivation behind the reduction in Saelinger's schedule.

In subsequent deposition testimony, Stevens claimed that Brown asked if she felt unsafe around Saelinger and she responded that she did not think that Saelinger "would force himself on" her. She claimed that she generally tried to avoid Saelinger, and Dorothy Dolwick confirmed that on one occasion Stevens sent her a text message from the bathroom asking that Dolwick let her know when Saelinger left. Stevens also claimed that Saelinger sexually harassed her after the relationship ended. She stated:

He would close his office door or a patient door when I was in a room . . . and say I love you and different things and put...

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