Farrow v. St. Francis Med. Ctr.

Decision Date14 February 2012
Docket NumberED96532
PartiesMADONNA FARROW, Plaintiff/Appellant, v. ST. FRANCIS MEDICAL CENTER and DR. CEDRIC C. STRANGE, Defendants/Respondents.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cape Girardeau County

Honorable Benjamin F. Lewis


Madonna Farrow (Appellant) appeals from the trial court's summary judgment entered in favor of St. Francis Medical Center (St. Francis or Employer) and Dr. Cedric C. Strange (Dr. Strange) (collectively Respondents) on Appellant's eight-count first amended petition. We affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background

In 1991, St. Francis hired Appellant as a staff nurse, with her primary area of responsibility being the progressive cardiac floor. In August 1999, Appellant transferred to St. Francis' radiology department where she continued to work without incident through December 2005. In December 2005, Appellant alleges that Dr. Strange, the Medical Director of Radiology for St. Francis, made sexual propositions to her.Appellant states that she rejected these advances and reported them to the human resources department.

Appellant maintains that again in February 2006, Dr. Strange made a sexually inappropriate comment to her. Appellant states that she then informed supervisor of radiology Eric Bandon ("Bandon") of both unwanted advances by Dr. Strange, that they made her uncomfortable and difficult to work with Dr. Strange, and requested his assistance. Appellant claims that Bandon stated he would look into it, but never got back to her, nor did any one else from St. Francis.

At this point, Appellant maintains that she became subject to retaliatory actions by Respondents. Specifically, Appellant claims that Respondents instituted a "rule" prohibiting Appellant or other nurses from performing peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line procedures1 within St. Francis' radiology department and turning the responsibility for such program over to Chuck Barwick (Barwick), a non-nurse medical technician from Dr. Strange's private practice. Respondents required Appellant to train Barwick to replace her. Appellant complained to her superiors about the policy change and sought reinstatement of the use of nurses to administer the PICC lines.

Appellant also contends that Dr. Strange made defamatory statements about the quality of her work. Specifically, Appellant alleges that Dr. Strange falsely complained that Appellant was not writing the activity of the day on the board and not following orders; openly advocated to other employees and staff of St. Francis that Appellant should be fired; falsely accused Appellant of changing doctor's orders and ignoring his instructions; and berated, yelled at, intimidated and harassed Appellant in front of otheremployees. Appellant maintains St. Francis acquiesced in these retaliatory actions of Dr. Strange by allowing them to happen, and by disciplining her for various actions that she claims had previously not warranted discipline.

On October 16, 2006, at the advice of human resources, Appellant placed documentation into her personnel file concerning Dr. Strange's and St. Francis' actions. Subsequently, Appellant claims she heard that Dr. Strange and St. Francis wanted to fire her. Appellant declares that when she learned of the plans to terminate her, she was forced to request a transfer from radiology back to the progressive cardiac floor, which resulted in a pay loss of almost $2.00 per hour. Appellant maintains that although St. Francis agreed to the transfer, which occurred on November 4, 2006, her new supervisor on the cardiac floor, Linda Schlick (Schlick), told her she had been apprised of the "problems in radiology"; that Appellant must not make any more complaints about it; and that Appellant had to just keep her head down and do her job.

In January 2007, Appellant alleges she placed additional documentation into her personnel file regarding the prior acts of Dr. Strange and St. Francis. She claims that a few weeks later, Steven Bjelich (Bjelich), the President and Chief Executive Officer of St. Francis, approached Appellant, acknowledged that he was personally aware of her transfer and inquired as to whether the transfer had "worked out her problems." Appellant maintains she informed Bjelich that she was still continuing to have sleep problems as a result of the way she had been treated by Dr. Strange and St. Francis; that she wanted the matter investigated; that she had everything documented in her personnel file, and specifically requested that Bjelich investigate and review her file and documentation. Appellant maintains that Bjelich indicated that St. Francis would reviewthe matter and her file, but never did. Appellant states that it was not until April of 2007 that Bjelich spoke with Appellant again, in the hallway, inquiring as to whether she was sleeping better. Appellant said that she again told him she was still having sleep issues, and asked if St. Francis had investigated her complaints and whether he had reviewed the materials in her personnel file. Bjelich indicated he had not yet reviewed her file, but would do so. Appellant asserts that, again, she never heard back from Bjelich or St. Francis about any review or investigation of her complaints. However, on May 16, 2008, Appellant alleges she was summoned to her supervisor's office and advised that she was being written up for unprofessional conduct based on her negative attitude. Appellant claims she was also told at that time by her supervisor that she should not worry about and review her personnel file so much. Appellant decided to go and review her personnel file, and alleges that all of her documented complaints were missing from her file.

Appellant declares that subsequently she ran into Dr. Strange in the hallway, who allegedly said to her that he was "still going to get her out." Appellant complained to human resources. Appellant maintains that St. Francis responded by labeling Appellant's complaints as disruptive and non-productive behavior on her part, and ultimately terminated Appellant's employment by notice of termination on December 10, 2008, stating that it was based on failure to meet customer service expectations.

On December 15, 2008, Appellant filed a grievance pursuant to St. Francis' grievance process, requesting that St. Francis review the decision that was made to discharge her on December 10, 2008. Her discharge on December 10, 2008 was the last act of discrimination alleged by Appellant. Step one of the grievance process was completed on December 17, 2008. Appellant proceeded to step two of the grievanceprocess on January 6, 2009, which was completed on January 9, 2009. Appellant then proceeded to step three of the grievance process on January 19, 2009, which was completed on January 22, 2009. Appellant next proceeded to step four of the grievance process on February 4, 2009, which was completed that same day. Subsequently, Appellant initiated the final step of the grievance process on February 17, 2009, and St. Francis' final response, issued by President and CEO Bjelich, was to deny her grievance on March 2, 2009.2

Appellant filed a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) on July 27, 2009, noting that the first act of discrimination against her by Respondents was August 22, 2008, and the last act of discrimination was her discharge by St. Francis on December 10, 2008. Appellant received a Notice of Right to Sue from the MCHR on December 18, 2009, indicating that it was issuing her a notice of right to sue in conjunction with and based on the one issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The notice indicated Appellant's right to bring a civil action based on her complaint against the respondents named within the complaint within 90 days of the issuance of the notice, and that all proceedings with the MCHR based on her complaint were thereby being terminated.

Appellant also filed a charge with the EEOC on August 6, 2009. On November 11, 2009, Appellant requested from the EEOC a Notice of Right to Sue. On November 16, 2009, the EEOC issued Appellant a Notice of Right to Sue. The Notice indicated that less than 180 days had passed since the filing of Appellant's charge, but that it wasunlikely that the EEOC would be able to complete its administrative proceedings within 180 days from the date of the charge, and therefore with the right to sue notice the EEOC was terminating its processing of the charge.

On March 18, 2010, Appellant filed a petition in the trial court against St. Francis and Dr. Strange. On April 20, 2010, St. Francis filed a motion to dismiss Appellant's petition or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment. On June 3, 2010, Dr. Strange filed his separate motion to dismiss Appellant's petition or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment. On July 1, 2010, Appellant filed her memorandum in opposition to Respondents' motions. On July 26, 2010, Respondents filed their reply in support of their motions.

A hearing on Respondents' motions was set for August 30, 2010. Prior to the hearing, the trial court granted Appellant's request for leave to file an amended petition and as a result the hearing scheduled for August 30, 2010 was canceled.

On August 31, 2010, Appellant filed her first amended petition against Respondents alleging the following:

Count I - Violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Sexual Harassment, against both Respondents;

Count II - Violation of the MHRA, Retaliatory Discrimination, against both Respondents;

Count III - Violation of the MHRA, Retaliatory Discharge, against St. Francis;

Count IV - Violation of the MHRA, Retaliatory Discharge, against St. Francis;

Count V - Wrongful Discharge, against both Respondents;

Count VI - Defamation, against Dr. Strange;

Count VII - False Light Invasion of Privacy, against Dr. Strange; and

Count VIII - Tortious Interference with Business Expectancy, against...

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