Grosso v. UPMC & Biotronics, Inc., Civil Action No. 10-0075

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
PartiesSHERRILYNN GROSSO, Plaintiff. v. UPMC and BIOTRONICS, INC., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 10-0075
Decision Date09 March 2012

UPMC and BIOTRONICS, INC., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 10-0075


Dated: March 9, 2012


CONTI, District Judge.


Pending before the court is a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 37) filed by defendants University of Pittsburgh Medical Center ("UPMC") and Biotronics, Inc. ("Biotronics" and together with UPMC, "defendants") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 with respect to all claims asserted in the amended complaint (ECF No. 9) filed by plaintiff Sherrilynn Grosso ("Grosso" or "plaintiff"). The law suit arises from defendants' decision to terminate plaintiff's employment on August 8, 2008. Plaintiff asserted four counts against defendants, claiming that (1) defendants terminated her employment because of her disability, failed to make reasonable accommodations, and denied her subsequent employment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a), (b)(5)(A) ("ADA"),1 (Am. Compl. (ECF No. 9) ¶¶ 17-18); (2) defendants "interfered with, restrained, and

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denied Grosso's exercise of her rights" under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a) ("FMLA"), "by failing to fully inform her of her rights and obligations under the FMLA" and negatively considered FMLA qualifying work absences when making the decision to terminate her (Am. Compl. (ECF No. 9) ¶ 22 ); (3) defendants retaliated against her in violation of the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2516(a)(2), because she took qualifying leave2 (Am. Compl. (ECF No. 9) ¶ 28); and (4) defendants' discriminatory actions violated the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 955(a) ("PHRA") (id. ¶ 32).3 Grosso is seeking reemployment in the position from which she was discharged, lost wages and benefits, and punitive damages. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 24, 30, 33.) She is also seeking reimbursement for the costs of litigation and that defendants be enjoined from discriminating against her in violation of the ADA, FMLA, and PHRA. (Id.)

This court exercises subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's ADA and FMLA claims as federal questions under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and has supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's PHRA claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Pennsylvania courts interpret the PHRA under the same standards as the ADA and other analogous federal statutes. Salley v. Circuit City Stores, Inc., 160 F.3d 977, 979 n.1 (3d Cir. 1998) ("Although they are not bound to do so, Pennsylvania courts generally interpret the PHRA in accord with its federal counterparts, among them the ADA."); Kelly v. Drexel Univ., 94 F.3d 102, 105 (3d Cir. 1996). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated that "[t]he PHRA is basically the same as the ADA" and allowed its disposition of an ADA claim to apply equally to a PHRA claim. Rinehimer v. Cemcolift, Inc., 292 F.2d 375, 382 (3d Cir. 2002). Therefore, the court will not consider the PHRA claims independently of the analogous federal claims.

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Because no reasonable jury would render a verdict in favor of plaintiff, defendants' motion for summary judgment will be GRANTED.


In 1986 Grosso was hired as a staff perfusionist by Shadyside Hospital, which was eventually acquired by UPMC. (Sherrilynn Grosso Dep. Tr. ("Pl.'s Dep.") (ECF No. 38-1) at 17.) Eventually, she began providing perfusion services for Biotronics (id. at 17, 20-21) and serviced other UPMC hospitals within the region (id. at 22-23). Initially, Jack McEwen ("McEwen") was plaintiff's Biotronics' supervisor, but in 1995 or 1996, Steven Stewart ("Stewart"), the Director of Perfusion Services, became the supervisor. (Id. at 26-27.) In 2002 or 2003, plaintiff stopped servicing some of the hospitals within UPMC's network and only worked for Butler Memorial Hospital and North Hills Passavant Hospital, where lead perfusionist Lisa Knauf ("Knauf"), who also reported to Stewart, was plaintiff's direct supervisor (Id. at 24, 27.)

Grosso's primary task as a staff perfusionist was to run the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, also called the heart-lung machine, (Donna Lucas, M.D. Dep. Tr. & Exs. ("Lucas' Dep.") (ECF No. 38-6) at 15-16), which is used during open-heart surgery and sustains the life of the patient (Ronald V. Pellegrini Dep. Tr. & Ex. ("Pellegrini's Dep.") (ECF No. 38-5) at 27). In addition to running the machine and fully monitoring it while in use during surgery, the perfusionist must have the machine ready to go prior to the patient being taken into the operating room. (Lucas' Dep. (ECF No. 38-6) at 15-16.) The bypass machine is used to circulate artificially the patient's blood during surgery, and by operating it, a perfusionist maintains the patient's blood pressure, oxygenation, and body temperature. (Id.) In addition, a perfusionist administers an anti-coagulant into the patient's bloodstream (Pellegrini's Dep. (ECF No. 38-5) at

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17-18) and monitors medications given during the course of an operation including anesthetics (id. at 15; Lucas' Dep. (ECF No. 38-6) at 15-16). Plaintiff characterized the scope and duration of these responsibilities as only occurring while a patient is on the bypass machine, and not during the entire course of a surgery. (Joint Statement of Material Facts- Defs.' Statement & Pl.'s Resps. ("J.S.F.-Defs.'") (ECF No. 55) 14-15.) More specifically, putting a patient "on bypass" means that the patient's chest is opened and up and tubes are placed going into the heart. (Pellegrini's Dep. (ECF No. 38-5) at 17.) The perfusionist administers the anti-coagulant to the bloodstream, and the blood is drained from the heart and lungs to the cardiopulmonary bypass machine. (Id.) The blood is pumped back into the patient through additional tubes, but it is shut off from the heart and lungs, enabling the surgeon to work on the heart. (Id.)

Grosso is a Type I diabetic and also suffers from Hypoglycemic Unawareness Syndrome ("HUS"). (Pl.'s Dep. (ECF No. 38-1) at 41; Vijay Bahl, M.D. Dep. Tr. ("Bahl's Dep.") (ECF No. 38-7) at 10, 31.) Type I diabetes is an auto-immune disease where the body fails to produce insulin, leaving a sufferer with high blood sugar levels. (Bahl's Dep. (ECF No. 38-7) at 11-12.) The disease is managed by taking insulin, either through a pump or outright injections. (Id. at 12-14.) Sometimes, however, the taking of insulin leads to hypoglycemia—a condition of low blood sugar, also known as the blood glucose level, which is often evidenced by lethargy and sometimes by disorientation. (Id. at 21, 24.) Typically when a person's blood sugar level is dropping, the body produces adrenaline, causing outward symptoms such as sweating, palpitations, and tremors. (Id. at 29.) These symptoms often appear at the onset of diabetes, but over time, the body produces less adrenaline, causing the symptoms eventually to lessen and disappear. (Id.) After time, the body begins to produce no warning signals to indicate low blood sugar levels, which ultimately may result in HUS; HUS prevents a diabetic from knowing that he

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or she is experiencing low blood glucose levels. (Id. at 29-30.) HUS may also develop in a person who has wide fluctuations in blood glucose levels because keeping track of the levels may become too difficult. (Id. at 30.) A person with HUS can pass out without any warning signs whatsoever. (Id. at 31.)

In order to cope with HUS, plaintiff wears a sensor that alarms her when her blood sugar is too low. (Pl.'s Dep. (ECF No. 38-1) at 103.) Plaintiff began wearing the sensor in October 2009. (Id. at 104.)4 During her deposition, Grosso estimated that since 2008 she has had thirty to thirty-five incidents where she goes from feeling fine to becoming suddenly disoriented. (Id. at 106.) Plaintiff admitted that this kind of incident happens "at least once a month." (Id.) Grosso stated that she has passed out nine times in her life and estimated six to seven of those times occurred since January 2008. (Id. at 106.) Grosso declared in a subsequent affidavit that the instances where she "lost consciousness," or passed out, were caused by unique circumstances including skipping meals or staying up throughout the night; she stated that once she identifies a triggering circumstance, she tries to avoid it. (Aff. of Sherrilynn Grosso Ex. 16 ("Pl.'s Aff. Ex. 16") (ECF No.49-32) ¶ 28.)

The parties are in dispute over the severity of plaintiff's HUS and whether plaintiff does in fact know when she is having, or about to have, a hypoglycemic episode. (Reply Br. Supp. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. ("Reply Br.- Defs.'" (ECF No. 53) at 3.)5 According to plaintiff's expert

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doctor, Dr. Vijay Bahl, her HUS prevents her from predicting or sensing when she is going to pass out. (Bahl's Dep. (ECF No. 38-7) at 31.) In her deposition testimony, plaintiff answered that before wearing her sensor, she had no way to predict when she would have a serious hypoglycemic episode where her mere disorientation would quickly escalate to unconsciousness. (Pl.'s Dep. (ECF No. 38-1) at 106-07.) Grosso, however, noted the following in a subsequent affidavit:

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The Hypoglycemic Unawareness Syndrome does not typically prevent me from knowing that I am hypoglycemic; it just prevents me from realizing it right away. Most times during a hypoglycemic episode, I am

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