Karpel v. Inova Health System Services

Decision Date27 January 1998
Docket NumberNo. 97-1279,97-1279
Parties76 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 25, 72 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 45,250, 39 Fed.R.Serv.3d 1184 Elizabeth A. KARPEL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. INOVA HEALTH SYSTEM SERVICES, t/a INOVA Health System, t/a Cameron Glen Care Center, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: Cheryl Kornblatt Brunner, Manassas, VA, for Appellant. Stephen William Robinson, McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe, L.L.P., McLean, VA, for Appellee.

Before MURNAGHAN, ERVIN, and LUTTIG, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge ERVIN wrote the opinion, in which Judge MURNAGHAN and Judge LUTTIG joined.


ERVIN, Circuit Judge:

Elizabeth Karpel, an African-American nurse, sued her former employer, Inova Health System Services, on claims of racial discrimination and retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment for Inova on all counts. Finding no error, we affirm.


In January 1992, Ms. Karpel was hired as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) by Cameron Glen Care Center, an affiliate of Inova. Karpel had 18 years of experience as an LPN.

The incident that Karpel believes precipitated her employment problems took place in February 1993. In the "Gonzalez incident," Karpel filled out a Quality Care Control Report indicating that a white LPN failed to resuscitate Garcia Gonzalez, a patient at the facility, even though there was no Do Not Resuscitate order. An Advanced Directive was found later, indicating that Gonzalez did not want resuscitation, and the hospital only gave the white LPN verbal counseling regarding the breach of hospital policy. Karpel claims that the white nursing staff reacted negatively to a black nurse criticizing a white nurse, and began a "campaign of harassment" directed against her.

In March of 1993, Karpel received a verbal warning for pre-pouring medication, although she denied pre-pouring it. Later that month, she had an unsatisfactory "medpass" (observation by a nursing supervisor of a nurse passing medications to residents) with a 22% error rate. In April she received a written warning (later reduced to verbal) as a result of her unsatisfactory medpass and for miswriting a DNR order. In May 1993 Karpel filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.

On July 8, 1993, Karpel received a written warning for eating in the lounge. On July 12 a memo was issued to clarify the eating policy. It stated that, effective July 14, there would be no eating allowed on the unit. On July 13, however, the day before the clarified policy was to take effect, Karpel received another written warning for eating in the lounge on that day.

On July 23, 1993, the "Kaopectate incident" took place. In violation of general nursing practice, Karpel charted the medication prior to administering it. She also violated nursing practice by destroying that page on the patient's chart and by failing to report her errors properly. Karpel claims that she destroyed the notes and rewrote them because they were too messy to read, and alleges that white nurses have destroyed nursing notes without being disciplined for this violation of policy.

As a result of the Kaopectate incident, Karpel was placed on administrative leave on July 23 and the incident reported to the Virginia Department of Health Professionals. Karpel was given a written warning about the incident on August 16, but it was eventually removed from her file as part of the grievance procedure. In addition, in January the Acting Administrator of Cameron Glen informed the Department of Health Professionals that the incident should never have been reported.

In August 1993, Karpel was transferred from the Shepard's Way unit to the Williamsburg unit. There was no reduction in wages or benefits, but the transfer adversely affected Karpel's shift schedule and forced her to work in a smoking environment, aggravating her hypertension. Inova claimed that the transfer was made so that Karpel could receive closer supervision and so there would be other LPNs available to relieve her for meals. Karpel had complained from the beginning of her employment that white nurses were relieved for meals and breaks, while she was not. According to Regina Freestone, the Director of Nursing, Karpel could not be relieved while on Shepherd's Way because she was the only LPN on duty there; multiple LPNs worked in the Williamsburg unit.

Karpel requested in writing that she be transferred back to Shepherd's Way. Although the letter did not mention her problem with smoke, the administration heard of her difficulties with the smoke through Human Resources. Karpel was told there were no openings on the Shepherd's Way unit immediately available. Karpel argued that because a smoker was transferred from Williamsburg to Shepherd's Way in order to move her onto that unit, the switch could merely have been undone. According to Inova administrators, this was not considered.

On January 5, 1994, Karpel discussed with Freestone the possibility of a transfer to another unit because of her concerns about the smoke on the Williamsburg unit. According to Freestone, Karpel refused the suggested transfer, and no other openings for LPN became available on any other unit before Karpel's termination.

On January 12, 1994, Karpel received a verbal warning for continued medpass errors, and on January 19 had a medpass with a 17% error rate. Also in January, she was counseled about her repeated tardiness. On February 14, Karpel received an unsatisfactory evaluation. Her tardiness, eating in the lounge, poor medication passes, and failure to complete monthly summaries were all identified as areas in which she needed to show improvement. Her written comments to the evaluation indicate that she believed it to be a result of racial discrimination and retaliation, and that she was one of the best nurses at Cameron Glen.

On February 15, Karpel was given a day of decision-making leave; she indicated on her return that she would continue her employment at Cameron Glen. Later in February, Karpel was told she needed to take leadership classes. She indicated to her supervisors that they needed to inform her attorneys why she should attend the classes and that she did not plan to attend them--although she did later agree to attend on the advice of her attorneys. The earliest date she would have been able to attend the classes was in April. On February 28, Karpel sent a letter to Freestone, indicating that further correspondence from Inova should be sent to her attorneys. In her deposition, Karpel explained that she did not intend this to apply to job-related communications.

On March 14, Karpel was terminated by Inova. The reasons given for her termination were her refusal to participate in her employee development plan, refusal to discuss her employment development with her supervisor, failure to complete monthly summaries, and excessive tardiness. Karpel was the only nurse who failed to complete any monthly summaries.

To support her claim of racial harassment, Karpel points to a number of incidents in which she alleges Inova responded differently according to the race of the nurse involved. She first points to the Gonzalez incident, described above, in which the white LPN allegedly at fault was given only verbal counseling. She also directs us to the "Chapman incident," in which a white male nurse abused a young, black, quadriplegic patient by roughing him up and taking his temperature rectally against his wishes. Karpel alleges that Inova refused to take any action until 45 days later, when it received corroborating testimony from two staff members. The male nurse was then reported to the state board and terminated by Inova. Finally, she points to the Kaopectate incident, described above, following which Karpel was put on administrative leave and reported to the state board.

After being terminated by Inova, Karpel worked as a nurse at Camelot Hall. She was terminated there when the administration at Camelot Hall discovered that she had failed to list her employment at Cameron Glen on her application. Karpel claims that she did not disclose her employment at Inova to Camelot Hall because she feared what her former employers might say about her.

Karpel brought suit against Inova, alleging violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, violation of Title VII, and other claims. Inova moved for and, after oral argument, was granted summary judgment on all counts. Karpel appeals, arguing the district court erred in granting summary judgment on her hostile work environment, racial discrimination, and retaliation claims.


We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. See Higgins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 863 F.2d 1162, 1167 (4th Cir.1988). Summary judgment is appropriate only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact is in dispute, "[t]he evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).


Karpel contends that her complaint set forth a claim for relief for racial harassment based on a hostile work environment, citing language in her complaint alleging that Inova engaged in "unlawful employment practices" and that she was "continually harassed." She further argues that this claim should proceed to trial because Inova failed to move for summary judgment on the claim. Because Karpel failed adequately to set forth her hostile work environment claim in the district court, we affirm summary judgment on the claim.

Under the liberal pleading requirements...

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