Haley v. Cmty. Mercy Health Partners

Decision Date28 January 2013
Docket NumberCase No. 3:11-cv-232
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio




Plaintiff Nancy Haley filed suit against her former employers, Community Mercy Health Partners, d/b/a Springfield Regional Medical Center and Catholic Healthcare Partners (collectively "SRMC"), alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 623, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12112, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2615. Plaintiff also alleges state law civil rights violations under Chapter 4112 of the Ohio Revised Code for age and disability discrimination. The Court has federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, over Haley's federal claims and supplemental jurisdiction over her state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Pending before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Doc. #13). For the reasons set forth below, the Court OVERRULES Defendants' motion.

I. Factual Background

The following summary is confined to the undisputed facts. Nancy Haley worked as a registered nurse for SRMC from June of 1978 until April of 2010, a period just short of thirty-two years. Def.'s Answer (Doc. #3) ¶ 20; Def. Ex. #55 (Doc. #18-54). She was 58 years old when SRMC terminated her employment. Doc. #3 ¶ 9. From 1982 onwards, Haley worked as a Staff Nurse in SRMC's operating room. Id. ¶ 21. At the time of her termination, Haley performed part of her duties as a member of SRMC's Cardiac Team. Doc. #18-54; Elliot Dep. (Doc. #17) at 21; Abraham Dep. (Doc. #15) at 44. Barbara Elliot was Haley's supervisor from July of 2007 until Haley's termination. Doc. #17 at 21. Elliot was a nurse manager in charge of the operating room and reported directly to Terri Abraham, an SRMC director. Doc. #15 at 9-10.

A. Haley's FMLA Leave

During her tenure at SRMC, Haley took FMLA leave due to her own illness and family members' serious health conditions. Between March of 2007 and March of 2008, Haley took two to three days of intermittent FMLA leave every six to eight weeks in order to care for her father, who suffered from a cardiaccondition. Pl. Ex. A (Doc. #22-1) at 1-2. After her father's death in July of 2008, Haley took the same type of intermittent leave to care for her mother, who also had heart problems and had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Doc. #3 ¶ 27; Doc. #18-55 at 3-4.

Haley herself was diagnosed with breast cancer in November of 2009 and underwent two surgical procedures for treatment. Doc. #18 at 33; Doc. #18-54 at 5-6. She took approximately five and a half weeks of FMLA leave during this time and returned to work on January 18, 2010. Doc. #18 at 33; Doc. #18-54 at 5-6.1

B. SRMC's Corrective Action Plan

SRMC disciplines employees pursuant to its "Corrective Action" policy, also referred to as "CAP." Doc. #24-1. CAP is a four-stage, progressive process. Doc. #17 at 32-33. The process is "one track," meaning that the violations accrue towards termination regardless of the type of behavior that prompted discipline. Id. In other words, SRMC may place an employee at one disciplinary level and then later place the employee at a higher level, even if the incidents involvedunrelated behavior. Id. Referred to as a "Step" or "CAP," each stage moves an employee closer to termination, but also institutes an "action plan" for performance improvement. Id. at 32. If an employee's violation warrants discipline, the policy mandates that the supervisor complete a Corrective Action form, "which shall be signed by the associate and placed in the associate's personnel file in the Human Resources Department." Doc. #24-1 at 1.

The first step of discipline, CAP 1, involves an oral warning or "counseling session" that amounts to "more than an anecdotal conversation or a coaching session" and is memorialized in an employee's personnel file. Doc. #17 at 37. CAP 1 may be bypassed if an infraction is deemed "serious enough" by a supervisor, but there is an expectation that a supervisor would first discuss the issue with a department head before skipping a step.2 Doc. #15 at 28; Doc. #24-1 at 1. CAP 2 involves a written warning, and CAP 3 involves a "final warning" that may or may not involve an employee's three day suspension. Doc. #24-1 at 2. If an employee reaches the fourth step, CAP 4, he or she is terminated. Id.; Doc. #17 at 38.

C. CAP 2

In the summer of 2009, SRMC issued a Haley a CAP 2 for missing pages while she was on call. Doc. #18-50. On call employees are expected to carry a pager, provide an alternative form of contact (such as a cell phone), and report to SRMC 20-30 minutes after a page. Doc. #17 at 118, 121. Haley did not initially respond to the hospital's page, was called at home, and arrived at the hospital 37 minutes after the initial page on June 2, 2009. Doc. #18-50. The second page occurred on July 13, 2009, when the page went out at 8:15 p.m. and Haley clocked in at 9:51. Id. The Corrective Action Form was signed by Elliot, but Haley did not sign it. Id at 2. In the space for the employee's signature, it is instead written "Didn't sign - didn't believe event 6/2 was her fault." Id.

D. CAP 3

SRMC placed Haley at the CAP 3 discipline step on November 9, 2009, for two incidents involving patient "site marking." Doc. #18-52. The hospital's Universal Protocol Policy outlines the procedures by which a patient's "proper surgical or procedure site(s)" are verified before surgery. Doc. #16-3. To safeguard against the occurrence of incorrect surgical procedures, the policy requires that the surgeon mark the site and that he or she do so prior to surgery while the patient is "awake and aware" for verification purposes. Id. On October 9, 2009, Haley took an unmarked patient into the operating room. Doc. #18-52. SRMC placed Haley at CAP 3 based on that incident and another that occurred onOctober 16. Id. The Corrective Action Form stated that both incidents violated the "established hospital policy regarding site marking for invasive procedures," resulting in Haley being placed on unpaid leave and having to make a brief presentation to operating room staff about the policy. Id.

E. CAP 4 & Termination

Haley took "intermittent" FMLA leave approved by SRMC on the following dates in 2010: January 25 and 26, March 4 through March 12, and April 15 and April 16. Doc. #3 at ¶¶ 34, 36.

On February 12, 2010, Haley's husband, suffering from a heart condition, was transported to SRMC. Doc. #3 ¶ 35. Haley accompanied her husband to the hospital and contacted SRMC regarding her inability to work her shift that day. Id. SRMC did not classify any of Haley's time off during her husband's three-day hospitalization as FMLA leave, and marked her absence on February 12, 2010, as "unexcused." Id. ¶¶ 35, 41.

Three days after returning from her April FMLA leave, on Monday, April 19, SRMC terminated Haley. Doc. #13-1 at 2. Haley's absence on February 12, 2010, when she was with her hospitalized husband, was listed as one of three unexcused absences on the Corrective Action form filled out for her termination. Id.; Doc. #3 ¶ 41; Doc. #15-1 at 1; Doc. #17 at 80. Those absences, along with eleven instances of tardiness, were listed as the reasons for placing Haley at CAP 4 and terminating her. Doc. #15-1 at 1. Elliot had no conversations with Haleyprior to her termination about excessive tardiness or absences. Doc. #17 at 81-83.

II. Procedural Background

On July 1, 2011, Haley filed suit against SMRC, alleging age discrimination claims under the ADEA (Count I) and under Ohio civil rights law (Count II); disability discrimination claims under the ADA (Count III) and under Ohio civil rights law (Count IV); and a claim under the FMLA for retaliation and interference (Count V). Doc. #1. In her complaint, Haley alleges that the discipline administered by SRMC and its termination of her employment constituted discrimination based on her age and her disability from breast cancer, as shown by SRMC's differential treatment of a younger, non-disabled coworker with a similar employment record. Id. at 3. She also alleges that SRMC "disciplined her for conduct that was either manufactured or inflated" after she took FMLA leave to care for her ailing mother. Id. at 2. Plaintiff further alleges that SRMC's termination of her employment after Plaintiff took FMLA leave for her own breast cancer treatment and her husband's heart condition amounted to retaliation for exercising her statutory right to that leave. Id. She seeks injunctive relief, compensatory damages, punitive and liquidated damages, attorney's fees and costs. Id. at 10-11. SRMC filed an Answer to Haley's Complaint on August 30, 2011. Doc. #3.

SRMC filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on June 25, 2012. Doc. #13. In its Motion for Summary Judgment, SRMC argues that Haley fails to present aprima facie case of an age discrimination claim because she presents no direct evidence of discrimination and the only indirect evidence arises from unintentional differential treatment of a younger employee. Id. at 11. SRMC also argues that Haley fails to present a prima facie case of disability discrimination. Id. at 1 2. The hospital claims that Haley concedes that she is not disabled, and that she therefore fails even to establish the first element of a disability discrimination claim. Id. Furthermore, SRMC argues that she cannot succeed on a perceived disability claim because there is no evidence to show that her employers perceived her to be disabled or that they regarded her as being substantially limited by a disability in performing her job. Id. at 13. SRMC...

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