Albertin v. Nathan Littauer Hosp. & Nursing Home

Decision Date04 May 2021
Docket Number1:18-CV-1422
Citation537 F.Supp.3d 243
Parties Nora ALBERTIN, Plaintiff, v. NATHAN LITTAUER HOSPITAL AND NURSING HOME, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of New York

OF COUNSEL: CHERYL L. SOVERN, ESQ., SOVERN LAW, PLLC, Attorneys for Plaintiff, 100 Saratoga Village Boulevard, Suite 371, Malta, New York 12020.

OF COUNSEL: SANJEEVE K. DeSOYZA, ESQ., PAUL BUEHLER III, ESQ., BOND, SCHOENECK & KING, PLLC, ALBANY, Attorneys for Defendant, 22 Corporate Woods Boulevard, Suite 501, Albany, New York 12211.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

DAVID N. HURD, United States District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Nora Albertin ("Albertin" or "plaintiff") worked in human resources for defendant, the Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home ("NLH" or the "Hospital"), for many years. In fact, plaintiff was into her third decade as a Hospital employee before their working relationship fell apart. But fall apart it did. Towards the end of her tenure, plaintiff alleges that she was forced to work overtime without pay for years in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and its analog under the New York Labor Law ("NYLL"). At the same time, plaintiff claims that her supervisors Lesa Grosse ("Grosse") and Lana Wydra ("Wydra") tried to punish her for taking leave to care for her and her husband's illnesses using the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").

On November 21, 2017, Albertin resigned from her position at Grosse and Wydra's urging. On December 7, 2018, she filed a nine-count complaint in this district against NLH alleging: (I) unpaid overtime in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 207(a) of FLSA; (II) unpaid minimum wages in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 206(a) of FLSA; (III) unpaid overtime in violation of NYLL § 160 ; (IV) unpaid minimum wages in violation of NYLL § 652 ; (V) claims for failure to pay wages in violation of NYLL §§ 190, 191, and 663(1) ; (VI) failure to provide a proper wage notice in violation of § 195(3) ; (VII) FMLA leave interference in violation of 29 U.S.C. §§ 2614(a)(1)(A) and 2615(a)(1) ; (VIII) retaliation in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1) of the FMLA; and (IX) punitive damages.

NLH moved for summary judgment against the entirety of Albertin's complaint on October 23, 2020. That motion has been fully briefed and will be considered on the submissions without oral argument.

II. BACKGROUND

There are three narrative threads running through Albertin's complaint, and addressing NLH's motion requires an understanding of each one. First, some time needs to be spent clearing up how plaintiff came to be employed by the Hospital and the types of work she did on a typical day. Second, plaintiff had a difficult relationship with her supervisors, Wydra and—especially—Grosse, that will require some explanation. Third, plaintiff's and her husband's medical conditions and her taking FMLA leave to address those conditions becomes important to provide context both for the end of plaintiff's employment with the Hospital and her FMLA claims in this case.

A. Albertin's Employment History and Job Responsibilities

NLH hired Albertin in June of 1989, and she began working in the Hospital's human resources ("HR") department in 2005.1 Dkt. 37-6, Defendant's Statement of Material Facts ("DSMF"), ¶ 4. Plaintiff's first job in HR was HR Assistant, a role that she filled from 2005 until April of 2013. Id. ¶¶ 4, 6. In 2007, early in plaintiff's tenure as an HR assistant, Wydra was hired by the Hospital as Vice President of HR. Id. ¶ 5. As far as the record tells, plaintiff has no complaints about her role as an HR assistant or the Hospital's treatment of her while she occupied it.

Less so for the position of HR Generalist, a title NLH bestowed on Albertin in April of 2013. DSMF ¶ 6. As an HR Generalist, plaintiff's responsibilities included "maintain[ing] records of all Accessions, Terminations, Leave[s] of Absence[ ], Transfers[,] and Status Changes" for Hospital employees. Dkt. 37-2, p. 16.2 She was also responsible for making employee reports available to Wydra, as Vice President of HR, as well as to the Hospital's CEO. Id. at 17.

In addition, the HR Generalist job description includes a twenty-three paragraph list of essential job functions. Dkt. 37-2, pp. 16-18. Those functions involve a sundry list of tasks involving maintaining employment records, processing employment transactions, and compiling and verifying reports that the parties do not meaningfully address and which do not meaningfully alter the Court's analysis in this case. See id.

However, there are a few paragraphs that the parties have taken to arguing over. Specifically, the parties disagree as to the extent to which the requirement that an HR Generalist "[e]nsure[ ] that all personnel/payroll transactions comply with [NLH's] policy and labor agreements" speaks to a Generalist's use of discretion in interpreting Hospital policy. Dkt. 37-2, p. 16. Both parties similarly draw the Court's attention to an HR Generalist's responsibility to "[s]end[ ] termination notices ... to all terminated employees." Id. An HR Generalist would also "[a]dvise[ ] management and employees regarding [the Hospital's] policy and labor agreements, in consultation with" the VP of Human Resources. Id. Finally, the parties argue as to the extent to which an HR Generalist's producing reports involved independent judgment as opposed to rote performance. Compare DSMF ¶ 12, with Dkt. 41, Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts ("PSMF"), ¶ 12.

In addition to the job description's bird's eye view of an HR Generalist's responsibilities, the parties also provide a more personal look at Albertin's own experiences with that job title. More specifically, the parties provide at least twenty examples of plaintiff carrying out her role as an HR Generalist. See DSMF ¶ 15(a-t). The Hospital recounts how these examples illustrate plaintiff using her own judgment to interpret policy and NLH's various collective bargaining agreements to advise the Hospital's personnel managers. See generally id. Plaintiff denies nearly all of these allegations and counters that Wydra told her what to do in each case. See generally PSMF ¶ 15(a-t).

On top of those responsibilities—and setting aside for the moment the contours and extent of Albertin's independence and discretion in carrying them out—plaintiff agreed to take on additional duties either in December of 2016 or in March of 2017. DSMF ¶ 21 (alleging that Wydra asked plaintiff to take on additional responsibilities in March of 2017); PSMF ¶ 21 (plaintiff alleging that she took on additional duties in December of 2016). Apparently, when the Hospital's Benefits Coordinator was fired in December of 2016, plaintiff split the fired employee's responsibilities with two of her coworkers, Kathleen Deamer ("Deamer") and Cindy Jablonski ("Jablonski"). Dkt. 41-3 ("Deamer Aff."),3 ¶ 5; Dkt. 41-4 ("Jablonski Aff."), ¶ 4.4

Because Albertin agreed to take on extra work, Wydra allowed her to be paid overtime on a "straight pay" basis. DSMF ¶ 22; Dkt. 44 ("Wydra Dep."), pp. 113-15. In HR practice, "straight" pay for overtime work means paying an employee at her usual pay rate, as opposed to the time-and-a-half pay that people often envision when thinking about overtime pay. See id. ; Dkt. 43, p. 132. Plaintiff does not dispute that she received straight overtime pay between March and early May of 2017. DSMF ¶ 23.

On May 1, 2017, Albertin stepped into a new role as Employment Coordinator in the Hospital's HR department, though she kept her HR Generalist responsibilities. DSMF ¶¶ 27, 32(d). As an Employment Coordinator, plaintiff had a range of responsibilities, which included processing personnel requisitions, interviewing and evaluating applicants for vacant positions, verifying licenses and certifications for all new employees, processing job postings, determining eligibility and seniority for bids on open positions, making files for prospective hires, and "[e]xplain[ing] budget control and record requirements; answer[ing] questions and inquir[ing] or obtain[ing] information for department managers and supervisors with respect to procedure requirements." Dkt. 37-2, p. 176.

Despite that second exhaustive list of job responsibilities, Albertin still insists that even as an Employment Coordinator, she did not independently interpret collective bargaining agreements or other policies, nor did she make significant recommendations on those procedures or on new hires. PSMF ¶ 31. Much like it did for plaintiff's functions as an HR Generalist, NLH fires back with three examples of plaintiff performing her duties as Employment Coordinator that it contends demonstrates her using independent judgment.

NLH first points to an email chain in May of 2017, in which Albertin told an employee of the Hospital's health insurer that part-time employees were entitled to participate in health insurance. Dkt. 37-1, pp. 420-21. Plaintiff supported her claim by appending the applicable contractual language. Id. Plaintiff counters this example by explaining that she did not really interpret the Hospital's policies, she only found clear contractual language and shared it with the inquirer. PSMF ¶ 32(a).

Next, NLH points to an email Albertin sent a manager in support of a job applicant. Dkt. 37-1, p. 385. Plaintiff notes that this was an unusual circumstance, however, because the job applicant she put forward was a personal acquaintance that she wanted to endorse. Id.

As a third example, the Hospital points out that Albertin once suggested the best procedural path forward to transitioning a temporary employee to a permanent position. Dkt. 37-1, p. 408. Again, plaintiff argues that her role was minimal and that she only made that suggestion after conversing with the transitioning employee's manager and other HR staff. Dkt. 41-1, ¶ 76(c).

In any case, Albertin's list of responsibilities was a healthy one, and she claims it took her more than an eight-hour workday to get everything checked off. See Dkt. 41-1, ¶ 58. In...

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