Jenkins v. Sw. Pa. Human Servs., Civil A. 2:20-501

CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania
Docket NumberCivil A. 2:20-501
Decision Date17 December 2021



Civil A. No. 2:20-501

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 17, 2021



This multicount employment discrimination action principally stems from the decision by Defendant Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services, Inc. (“SPHS”), the employer of Plaintiff Aislynn Jenkins (“Jenkins”), to reduce her from full-time to part-time status. Despite unrefuted evidence that financial constraints subsequently forced the closure of SPHS's Primary Care Program in which Jenkins worked, Jenkins maintains that SPHS used it as cover to discriminate against her. For the reasons explained in this opinion, however, Jenkins cannot prevail on her claims and SPHS is entitled to judgment in its favor.

I. Relevant Procedural History

Jenkins commenced this employment discrimination action in April 2021. (ECF No. 1.) In her Amended Complaint, she asserts claims against SPHS for retaliation and interference under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.; discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[1] (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; and


disability discrimination, disability retaliation, and sex discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 951, et seq. (ECF No. 43 ¶ 2.)

This matter proceeded through discovery. The discovery deadline was extended twice, the second time over SPHS's objection. (ECF Nos. 30; 32; 35.) When Jenkins moved to extend the discovery deadline a third time in order to take several depositions, her motion was denied (ECF No. 35.) Based upon the parties' submissions, the Court concluded that Jenkins failed to show good cause or offer any explanation why she had twice noticed and then canceled these depositions (id.)

Discovery is now closed, and SPHS has moved for summary judgment. (ECF No. 39.) The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. (ECF Nos. 39-45; 48.)[2]

II. Relevant Factual Background[3]

In 2008, Jenkins began working as a Certified Physician Assistant (“PA-C”) for SPHS's Primary Care Program. (ECF No. 43 ¶ 5.) As part of the on boarding process, she received an


employee handbook. (Id. ¶ 6.) Throughout her tenure with the company, Jenkins primarily worked in Monessen, Pennsylvania, where she provided medical care and refilled prescriptions for underserved and vulnerable patients. (ECF No. 41-5 at 2-3, 16.)

A year or two after she was hired, Jenkins requested intermittent FMLA leave. (ECF No. 43 ¶ 9.) She made the request at the encouragement of her daughter's physician because her daughter suffers from Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. (ECF No. 41-5 at 6-7.) Although Jenkins was approved for intermittent FMLA leave, she never used it. (ECF No. 43 ¶ 10.)

By all accounts, her first three years with the Primary Care Program were uneventful, but things began to change in 2011. After one of the doctors complained to Luther Sheets (“Sheets”), the then COO of SPHS, about safety issues in the office, Sheets singled Jenkins out as the person at fault. (Id. ¶ 31; ECF No. 41-5 at 16.) When Jenkins tried to explain it was not her mistake, Sheets continued to berate and “t[ake] his frustrations out on [her].” (ECF No. 41-5 at 16.)

Jenkins never had a positive interaction with Sheets after this confrontation. (ECF No. 43-4 at 22.) Instead, every time she saw him, which was limited to once or twice a year, he would find a way to demean her. (Id.) When asked to provide specifics during her deposition, Jenkins explained that on a few occasions he called her “kiddo” or “honey, ” which he never used to address male employees. (ECF No. 43-4 at 26-27.)

In 2013, Raelynn Jackson (“Jackson”) was hired as the office manager. (ECF No. 41-5 at 12.) Jackson was not Jenkins' supervisor and was below her in the chain of command. (ECF Nos.


41-5 at 17; 43 ¶¶ 7-8.) Nevertheless, shortly after she was hired, Jackson began ordering Jenkins to perform clerical duties. (ECF No. 43 ¶¶ 23-24.) As a result, it suddenly became Jenkins' responsibility to order supplies and occasionally pick up Jackson's laundry. (Id. ¶ 24.)

At some point, Jenkins decided to inform Jackson that there were certain things she was doing incorrectly. (ECF No. 41-5 at 14.) Instead of being receptive to Jenkins, Jackson responded by retaliating against her.[4] (Id.) She began scheduling Jenkins to work shifts that would make it impossible for her to attend meetings. (Id. at 13-14.) Jackson also would throw shoes at the wall, slam doors, belittle Jenkins, remove developmental screens to reduce Jenkins' quality scores, and even kicked her out of her office. (ECF No. 41-5 at 4-5.)

Four years later, Jackson started a rumor about Jenkins. (ECF Nos. 43 ¶ 32; 45-2 at 10.) She began telling anyone who would listen that Jenkins was the reason for the Primary Care Program's continual turnover. (Id.) According to Jackson, the turnover was the result of Jenkins' incompetence, which was so egregious that no doctors, nurse practitioners, or other staffers stayed at the Primary Care Program for more than a year or two. (Id.; ECF No. 41-5 at 12, 16.)

Sometime in 2017, Jenkins complained to Sheets that Jackson was mismanaging the office. (ECF Nos. 43 ¶ 33; 43-4 at 19.) During this conversation, Jenkins also raised concerns that she was the “only full-time provider” for 5, 000 patients. (ECF No. 41-5 at 19-20.) Instead of being receptive to her concerns, Sheets responded by becoming “aggressive [and] accusatory.” (ECF No. 45-2 at 11.)


The meeting ultimately resulted in Sheets informing Jenkins that Jackson was doing a “good job” and later ignoring any complaints that Jenkins brought to him. (ECF Nos. 43 ¶ 33; 43-4 at 21.)

In October 2018, at her doctor's encouragement, Jenkins requested FMLA leave based on anxiety.[5] (ECF No. 43 ¶ 11.) Her request for intermittent FMLA leave was granted in November 2018, and she was permitted to reduce her work schedule to three days per week. (Id. ¶ 12.) This is the only accommodation Jenkins ever requested. (ECF No. 41-5 at 23.)

Three months later, Jenkins was asked to recertify her medical condition. (ECF No. 43 ¶ 3.) A letter sent to her by SPHS's Human Resources Director Matthew Keranko stated:

According to your intermittent Family Medical Absence beginning November 27, 2018, and the Doctor's excuse, it is our understanding that your work hours were to be reduced to three (3) days per week. Since November 27, 2018, there have only been two (2) occasions which you worked the required three (3) days per week.
Therefore, because of the change in circumstances and in accordance with the FMLA, we are asking for a recertification of your medical condition.

(ECF No. 41-6.)

Jenkins disputes the facts underpinning this letter. (ECF No. 43-4 at 2.) She claims that she was, in fact, working the required three days per week. (ECF No. 41-5 at 7.) Nonetheless, given the letter's tone, she decided to complete the recertification process. (Id.)

On February 28, 2019, Jenkins submitted her recertification, which was completed by a nurse practitioner. (ECF No. 43 ¶ 14.) A week later, Jenkins was advised that her recertification was deficient as it was not signed by a physician as required by SPHS's employee handbook. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16; ECF No. 41-7.) Jenkins ultimately submitted the corrected request for recertification on March 27, 2019. (ECF No. 43 ¶ 18.)


Even though company policy did not permit Jenkins to take paid sick leave since her FMLA was not recertified, she continued to take her days off as needed and continued to collect paid sick leave and salary. (Id. ¶ 19.) Further, while she was awaiting recertification, Jenkins never missed a paycheck although she testified in her deposition that there was some confusion as to whether she would be paid. (ECF Nos. 41-5 at 22; 43-4 at 31-32.) This uncertainty caused her an immense amount of stress. (Id.)

On March 29, 2019, Jenkins was informed that she was being reduced to part time status due to budgetary conditions. (ECF No. 43 ¶ 38.) Along with six other staff members including Alissa Madison, a medical assistant; Denise Hutchinson, a medical assistant; Nancy Mastick, a medical assistant; Carley Layhue, a Licensed Practical Nurse; Kara Land, a medical assistant; and Disanti, a nurse practitioner, Jenkins was reduced to part time on April 15, 2019. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 39-40; ECF No. 41-5 at 5-6.) All of the staff who were reduced to part time lost their sick and vacation leave as well as their health benefits. (ECF Nos. 41-11; 43 ¶ 42.) In order to avoid this reduction, Jenkins requested that she be transferred to a different department. (ECF No. 43-4 at 38.) Her request was denied. (Id.) The one opening for which she asserts she was qualified was given to Dr. Zelonis.[6] (Id.)

Less than two months later, on May 13, 2019, Jenkins resigned. (ECF Nos. 41-13; 43 ¶ 43.) In her resignation letter, she informed SPHS that she had decided to leave for a position in a “thriving pediatric practice” and thanked SPHS for the opportunity she had been given. (ECF No. 43 ¶ 43.)


At the time she gave her notice, she was aware that the Primary Care Program was in dire financial straits and was, in effect, a “sinking ship.” (Id. ¶ 37.) The only remaining full time providers were two doctors, Drs. Lukasewicz and Proddutur. (ECF No. 41 at 11.)

In October of that year, SPHS's Board voted to close the Primary Care Program. (ECF No. 41-14 at 5-9.) The space was repurposed and turned into a suboxone clinic. (ECF No. 41-5 at 3.) Thus, although the Primary Care Program no longer exists, SPHS remains in operation. (ECF...

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