Mathiason v. Aquinas Home Health Care, Inc.

Decision Date16 May 2016
Docket NumberCase No. 15-9914-JWL
Parties Kari Mathiason, Plaintiff, v. Aquinas Home Health Care, Inc., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Kansas

Kathryn J. Starrett Rickley, Matthew Edward Osman, Osman & Smay, LLP, Overland Park, KS, for Plaintiff.


John W. Lungstrum, United States District Judge

This matter is before the court on plaintiff's motion for default judgment and request for hearing on damages (doc. 6). The court held a hearing on May 13, 2016. Defendant did not appear. Plaintiff presented evidence in support of her motion. The court has reviewed the evidence and plaintiff's submissions and is prepared to rule. For the reasons stated in detail below, the court grants plaintiff's motion for default judgment and awards plaintiff her damages, attorneys' fees and costs.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed this action on December 16, 2015, alleging that her former employer, Aquinas Home Health Care, Inc. ("Aquinas" or "Defendant"), discriminated against her on the basis of her disability and failed to provide a reasonable accommodation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A summons was issued on December 17, 2015 and plaintiff mailed the summons and complaint to defendant's registered agent of record, David Guilfoyle, via certified mail, in compliance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(h)(1)(A). The mailing was returned to plaintiff marked undeliverable. On January 19, 2016, pursuant to K.S.A. § 60–304(f), service was made upon the Kansas Secretary of State as defendant's statutory agent because Aquinas had failed to maintain a Kansas registered agent for service of process. Thereafter, the Kansas Secretary of State served the summons and complaint on Aquinas on January 21, 2016, via certified mail to defendant's registered agent of record, David Guilfoyle. Plaintiff filed an application for clerk's entry of default on March 2, 2016, after defendant failed to respond to the summons. A clerk's entry of default was entered on March 2, 2016. Plaintiff sent the entry of default to the Kansas Secretary of State, defendant's statutory agent, by certified mail on March 25, 2016. Defendant never responded to the notice. On April 7, 2016, plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment and request for hearing on damages, and served defendant.

At the May 13, 2016, hearing, plaintiff presented evidence of her damages, attorney's fees and costs in the total amount of $172,131.61, comprised of: back pay of $54,126.48; prejudgment interest on plaintiff's back pay from the date of plaintiff's constructive discharge through the date of this judgment in the amount of $7,935.88; front pay for three years following the date of this judgment in the amount of $24,585.60; compensatory damages of $25,000, including pain and suffering caused by discriminatory actions and comments to and about plaintiff by defendant, and defendant's illegally motivated decision to demote plaintiff and constructively discharge her based on her disability; punitive damages under the ADA for the reckless and malicious disregard of her rights in the amount of $25,000, and her attorneys' fees and costs totaling $35,483.65 through the date of the hearing. The court has reviewed and considered the evidence and legal authorities and hereby rules as follows.

II. Standards for Default Judgment

Plaintiff has moved for default judgment, in recognition that if plaintiff's claim is not for a sum certain, plaintiff must apply to the court for default judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b). When entering default judgment and determining damages under Rule 55(b), the court is permitted to hold a hearing when necessary to: (a) conduct an accounting; (b) determine the amount of damages; (c) establish the truth of any allegation by evidence; or (d) investigate any other matter. Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2). "Once the default is established, defendant has no further standing to contest the factual allegations of plaintiff's claim for relief." DeMarsh v. Tornado Innovations, L.P. , 2009 WL 3720180, at *2 (D.Kan. Nov. 4, 2009) (quoting 10A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2688 (3d ed. 1998)); see also Olcott v. Del. Flood Co. , 327 F.3d 1115, 1125 n. 11 (10th Cir.2003) (after an entry of default, a defendant cannot defend a claim on the merits). "The well-pleaded factual allegations of the plaintiff's complaint are taken as true, except those allegations relating to the amount of damages." DeMarsh , 2009 WL 3720180, at *2. A trial court has broad discretion in deciding whether to enter a default judgment. Galloway v. Hadl , 2008 WL 5109758, at *1 (D.Kan. Dec. 2, 2008) (citing Grandbouche v. Clancy , 825 F.2d 1463, 1468 (10th Cir.1987) ). "Even after default, it remains for the court to consider whether the unchallenged facts constitute a legitimate basis for the entry of a judgment since a party in default does not admit conclusions of law." Seme v. E & H Prof'l Sec. Co. , Inc., 2010 WL 1553786, at *2 (D.Colo. Mar. 19, 2010) (internal quotations omitted). Furthermore, a default judgment does not establish the amount of damages. DeMarsh , 2009 WL 3720180, at *2. Plaintiff must establish that the amount requested is reasonable under the circumstances. Id. "Damages may be awarded only if the record adequately reflects the basis for [the] award via a hearing or a demonstration by detailed affidavits establishing the necessary facts." Id. (quoting Adolph Coors Co. v. Movement Against Racism & t he Klan , 777 F.2d 1538, 1544 (11th Cir.1985) ) (internal quotation marks omitted).

III. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

At the hearing to establish damages, plaintiff presented evidence of loss of income, mitigation of damages through subsequent employment, and the pain and suffering experienced as a result of the humiliation and stress of losing her job because of her disability immediately following her hospitalization for that disability. Plaintiff also presented evidence of defendant's willful and malicious disregard of her rights as a person with a disability, and defendant's willful disregard and denial of her request for accommodation. Defendant did not appear personally or through counsel, and no witnesses were called on its behalf. The court took the matter under advisement. Having reviewed the evidence and the applicable law, the court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.1

A. Plaintiff is Entitled to Damages

The court finds that plaintiff is entitled to damages, based on the following facts, taken from plaintiff's complaint as well as testimony and evidence presented at the hearing. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Aquinas, alleging it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, when defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her disability (an actual or perceived disability based on her depression and anxiety) and failed to accommodate her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In approximately March of 2013, defendant hired plaintiff as a Nurse Manager for its Kansas City, Kansas facility. As Nurse Manager, plaintiff's primary functions were to supervise and train the registered nurses on defendant's staff. Plaintiff's position of Nurse Manager was a full-time position with forty-hour work weeks. Plaintiff's pay rate as a Nurse Manager was $34.00 per hour. At all relevant times herein, plaintiff's supervisor was Eileen Orel, Administrator.

Plaintiff was an effective worker who never received any work performance write-ups or disciplinary actions. In or around June 2014, plaintiff was hospitalized due to an attempted suicide caused by her deep depression and anxiety. Upon discharge from the hospital, plaintiff's physician ordered plaintiff to attend outpatient therapy three times per week for four weeks. Each of those sessions was scheduled to last approximately three hours. Plaintiff contacted Ms. Orel and requested leave so that she could attend her doctor-ordered therapy sessions. In response to plaintiff's request for leave, Ms. Orel scheduled a meeting with plaintiff in order to discuss plaintiff's request for leave. This meeting was scheduled for June 4, 2014, at plaintiff's home.

On June 4, 2014, Ms. Orel went to the scheduled meeting at plaintiff's home to discuss plaintiff's leave request. While there, Ms. Orel asked plaintiff whether her hospitalization had anything to do with work. Plaintiff informed Ms. Orel that her hospitalization had nothing to do with her employment with defendant. Ms. Orel then gave plaintiff the choice of either quitting her job completely or taking a demotion from Nurse Manager to Float Nurse. Ms. Orel told plaintiff that they did not want to "add more pressure" to plaintiff. Despite plaintiff's proven track record of quality and effective employment, Ms. Orel also questioned plaintiff's ability to perform her job, asking: "If you can't manage yourself, how can you manage others?" When faced with the pressure of her immediate supervisor presenting this ultimatum to her, in her own home, just days after being discharged from the hospital, plaintiff initially accepted the position as a Float Nurse. As a part of her demotion to "Float Nurse," plaintiff would have been scheduled on an unpredictable as-needed basis rather than a consistent forty-hour per week schedule. Plaintiff lost the authority, prestige, and management responsibility associated with the Nurse Manager position. Additionally, plaintiff lost her $34.00 per hour rate of pay (and she was never informed of what her new rate of pay would be).

Plaintiff's outpatient therapy sessions were only scheduled to last a total of four weeks, however, when defendant responded to plaintiff's hospitalization and request for accommodation by demoting her, defendant in no way indicated that the demotion was temporary, nor did defendant mention whether plaintiff would be able to return to her previous position as Nurse Manager. Further, de...

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