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Holland v. Methodist Hospitals

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

September 30, 2016

SANDRA L. HOLLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
THE METHODIST HOSPITALS, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL R. CHERRY MAGISTRATE JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's, the Methodist Hospitals, Inc., Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 36], filed on October 8, 2015. Plaintiff Sandra L. Holland filed a response[1]on January 21, 2016, and Defendant The Methodist Hospitals, Inc. filed a reply on February 25, 2016. With the Court's leave, each party filed a surreply on September 9, 2016. For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part the motion.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         After Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights on February 6, 2014, and Plaintiff initiated the instant cause of action by filing a Complaint against Defendant on March 20, 2014. Defendant filed an Answer on May 22, 2014. Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on October 8, 2015.

         The parties pursued resolution of this matter via mediation on April 28, 2016, and via settlement conference on July 6, 2016. The parties did not reach an agreement on either occasion.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant has discriminated against Plaintiff in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). As the Court will address below in Section E, it is unclear whether Plaintiff intends to bring a claim under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

         The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a motion for summary judgment be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56 “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “Summary judgment is appropriate when no material fact is disputed and the moving parties are entitled to judgment as a matter of law, meaning that no reasonable jury could find for the other party based on the evidence in the record.” Carman v. Tinkes, 762 F.3d 565, 566 (7th Cir. 2014).

         A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (a), (c). The moving party may discharge its initial responsibility by simply “‘showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325; see also Spierer v. Rossman, 798 F.3d 502, 508 (7th Cir. 2015). When the nonmoving party would have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party is not required to support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 325; Spierer, 798 F.3d at 507-08; Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1168-69 (7th Cir. 2013).

         “Once the moving party puts forth evidence showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to provide evidence of specific facts creating a genuine dispute.” Carroll v. Lynch, 698 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir. 2012). The non-moving party cannot resist the motion and withstand summary judgment by merely resting on its pleadings. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1), (e); Flint v. City of Belvidere, 791 F.3d 764, 769 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The nonmoving party must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (1986)). Rule 56(e) provides that “[i]f a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may . . . consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion [or] grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-50.

         In viewing the facts presented on a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all legitimate inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; McDowell v. Vill. of Lansing, 763 F.3d 762, 764, 765 (7th Cir. 2014); Srail v. Vill. of Lisle, 588 F.3d 940, 948 (7th Cir. 2009). A court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

         MATERIAL FACTS

         Defendant hired Plaintiff in 2007 as a Patient Account Representative/Collector in its Central Business Office. The manager of the Central Business Office during Plaintiff's employment with Defendant was Yolanda Jaime, who is Puerto Rican. In January 2013, Plaintiff's supervisor was Marilyn Soto.

         Plaintiff testified that, during her employment with Defendant, she received a copy of or read the following: (1) Defendant's Corrective Action System, which is a system of progressive discipline, (2) Defendant's Model of Care and Conduct, which includes a standard of behavior for Defendant's employees, (3) Defendant's Employee Relations Code, which sets forth a policy of and commitment to fair and equitable treatment of employees, and (4) Defendant's Leave of Absence policy, which explains types of leave available to Defendant's employees.

         The Leave of Absence policy states that employees seeking FMLA leave must complete a request for leave with Defendant's third party administrator. Defendant hired third party administrator Matrix Absence Management (“Matrix”) to manage Defendant's employees' leave under the FMLA.

         Plaintiff testified that, at an FMLA meeting, Defendant approved a change to the duration of long-term FMLA certification from six months to one year. Plaintiff was certified for FMLA leave “lasting as needed, at a frequency of as needed” from June 7, 2012 to June 6, 2013. (Pl.'s Exh. I, at 5, ECF No. 44-9).

         Plaintiff, at her deposition, testified that she took an extended period of time off under the FMLA in 2009 to have her pacemaker replaced and that she needed the pacemaker due to her heart blockage. She also testified to taking intermittent leave under the FMLA to attend doctors appointments and treatment appointments and when she was in excruciating pain.

         Plaintiff was required to work 65 accounts per day. Jaime testified that the required 65 accounts per day quota was based on hours worked and that anything that took an employee away from performing her job, such as paid time off or being in a meeting, was considered downtime. Jaime later testified that “the calculation is you subtract the non-productivity hours . . . you're coming up with that average.” (Pl.'s Exh. A, 145:19-21). Jaime also testified that it would be possible, if Plaintiff were taking too much time off, for her productivity numbers, as recorded on a spreadsheet, to be affected.

         Plaintiff testified that, on multiple occasions, time that she had taken off as FMLA leave was not counted as downtime for the purpose of calculating her daily quota of accounts worked.

         Regarding her medical issues, Plaintiff testified as follows. Her scoliosis causes pain, affects her sleeping habits, and, at times, makes it more difficult for her to take care of herself, shower, and dress herself. It also causes occasional arm numbness. Plaintiff starts having pain after driving a long distance. Walking is sometimes painful, but she is able to walk for approximately an hour, though foot problems also cause pain. Standing for too long is also painful. Plaintiff's back started hurting after sitting for 2 hours and 45 minutes at her depostion. Plaintiff testified that her arthritis affects her daily activities in the same ways as her scoliosis. Plaintiff also testified that she has a heart blockage and is fully dependent on her pacemaker.

         Plaintiff requested a different chair and the use of headphones as accommodations for her scoliosis and arthritis. Defendant made these accommodations.

         A series of email messages were exchanged on October 26, 2012. The email chain begins with Soto asking how to go about giving Plaintiff four to twelve shift changes in November 2012 in light of the Central Business Office policy to only allow two shift changes per month. In a response, human resources employee Kimberly Smith advised Soto to give Plaintiff the shift changes. Jaime responded that she would like to tell Plaintiff that the department policy is to allow two shift changes and that other appointments would need to be scheduled during Plaintiff's lunch or after the work day. Jaime further indicated that she did not want to make exceptions for any one employee because Jaime has had problems with this before and that Plaintiff has “made a big issue of this.” (Pl's Exh. II, at 2, ECF No. 44-33). Smith responded to Jaime, opining that Jaime's suggested solution would potentially violate the FMLA. Jaime then asked if approval for the therapy would go through Matrix, and Smith responded that it would. Soto then asked for a conference call on the matter. Soto also indicated that she believed she should tell Plaintiff that Defendant will give shift changes if Matrix has approved the frequency of the shift changes and that the possible shift changes would be from Plaintiff's normal shift of 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to either 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. or 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

         Plaintiff testified that she was denied shift changes in excess of two for the month of November 2012. She further testified that, without the shift changes, she had to make appointments over her lunch break, which meant that she would not eat lunch and that she had to “hurry over to the Physical Therapy Department, get undressed, get [her] treatment, get dressed and hurry back.” (Pl.'s Exh. C, 85:5-7, ECF No. 44-5). Plaintiff testified that she believed she was discriminated against by not being given the additional shift changes.

         Plaintiff took eight hours of leave under the FMLA on December 20, 2012. Jaime signed Plaintiff's FMLA leave form for these hours on December 24, 2012.

         On December 27, 2012, Jaime sent an email to Smith asking how to calculate if an employee has exceeded the allowed number of hours under the FMLA. Jaime included a list of “hours since the first of year, ” which gave a total of 168 hours. (Pl.'s Exh. P, ECF No. 44-16). Smith asked a Matrix representative to get a more detailed certification of Plaintiff's FMLA leave, saying that the then-current certification was too vague. Smith also asked if the 168 hours listed by Jaime were approved. The representative emailed Dr. Noonan and asked for an update on Plaintiff's medical condition, specifically requesting the doctor to “be sure to complete question 7 for frequency and duration.” (Pl's Exh. Q, at 1, ECF No. 44-17). The representative responded to Smith and indicated that, out of the 168 hours, only 82.5 had been reported as FMLA hours.

         Plaintiff testified that she did not receive papers for FMLA certification regarding the recertification requests of December 2012. Plaintiff emailed Jaime on January 4, 2013, to question why Defendant was asking for recertification of Plaintiff's FMLA approval.

         Plaintiff testified that, during a January 2013 telephone call with Smith, Plaintiff was demanding, questioned things, and probably raised her voice. Plaintiff further testified that, in this conversation, she was challenging FMLA violations-specifically, Plaintiff believed that Defendant had violated her rights under the FMLA by not using its usual certification process, which involved sending Plaintiff the certification papers in the mail and not by directly contacting her physician. Plaintiff also testified that she had asked Smith to correspond in writing and not via telephone because Plaintiff did not want her coworkers to hear the conversation. Plaintiff testified that at least four people overheard her conversation with Smith.

         Plaintiff's 2011 Performance Appraisal contains comments, including “Sandra is very good about sharing information with her team on processes that work for her as she works her accounts. She willing[ly] helps anyone and will offer assistance if she sees someone in need. Does not always project a positive attitude”; “Is not always sensitive to how she says things which may offend others”; and “Occasionally she needs to be reminded to watch her tone of voice when speaking with others. She has a tendency to come across as rude or disrespectful. She needs to voice her displeasure in private and not in a group setting.” (Pl.'s Exh. G, 2-4, ECF No. 44-8). Under the section on Model of Care and Conduct, she received a rating of 3.1 out of 5, which is considered to be meeting standards.

         Plaintiff's 2012 Performance Appraisal, received by Plaintiff on December 27, 2012, contains comments, including “Sandra needs to promote cooperative behavior and team efforts. She needs to recognize the many benefits of spirited teamwork. We have addressed this [with] Sandra on a number of occasions”; “Sandra respects the individuality of patients and peers”; “She needs to demonstrate proper telephone technics [sic] and edicate [sic]. This has been brought to her attention on different occasions throughout the year”; “It has been brought to Sandra['s] attention on a number of occasions with regards to eye contact/smile and acknowledging her co-workers. She has improved in the last couple months but throughout the year we received and addressed this [with] her several times;” “Sandra will assist anyone to the best of her abilities. She will find someone that can assist if she is unable to”; and “Sandra analyzes problematic accounts and takes actions that result[ ] in a positive outcome. She works hard at identifying Saves and converts them into payment. I would like her to continue to identify these account[s] as well as meet her productivity/Quality/A/R goals.” (Pl.'s Exh. N, 2-4, 14, ECF No. 44-14). Plaintiff received a Model of Care and Conduct Sub-Total score of 3.8 out of 5, an Essential Functions Sub-Total score of 2.6 out of 5, and an Overall Score of 2.6 out of 5. The Appraisal also notes that Plaintiff averaged 62 accounts per day.

         The 2011 Performance Appraisal used a different scale under the Model of Care and Conduct than the scale used for that section of the 2012 Performance Appraisal.

         Defendant issued two Corrective Action Notices to Plaintiff, one in December 2012, which resulted in a one-day suspension, and one in January 2013, which resulted in termination of her employment. Jaime signed both Notices as the approving authority. Plaintiff testified that she received the first Notice on December 27, 2012. The Notice alleged events occurring on December 14, 2012. Plaintiff testified that she served a one-day suspension on this Notice and that she did not file a grievance in response to this Notice. Plaintiff testified that she received the second Notice on January 24, 2013. The Notice alleges events occurring on January 11 and 14, 2013. Jaime testified that Plaintiff was terminated for the behavior described in the January 24, 2013 Notice. Plaintiff testified that she had filed a grievance in response to a Corrective Action Notice issued prior to the events underpinning this cause of action. Jaime testified that the previous Notice was rescinded in response to her grievance.

         The December 2012 Corrective Action Notice states that Plaintiff's conduct on December 14, 2012, was not in keeping with Defendant's practice and policies. It further indicates that the specific violation was discourteous or rude treatment of employees or medical staff. The basis given for this violation was several co-workers' reports of concerns as to how Plaintiff communicated to patients. Plaintiff responded in writing on the Notice that she disagreed with the Notice and signed the Notice to verify her receipt of it.

         The January 2013 Corrective Action Notice states that Plaintiff's conduct on January 11 and 14, 2013, was not in keeping with Defendant's practice and policies. It further indicates that the specific violation was discourteous or rude treatment. The basis given for this violation was reports from an HR Benefits Manager and Plaintiff's coworkers of unprofessional, argumentative, and demanding communication to the HR Benefits Manager regarding Plaintiff's questions about the FMLA.

         Plaintiff testified that Melissa Vasquez is “Latin” and that Vasquez engaged in the following behavior and received no disciplinary action: yelled at Plaintiff in 2012, wore a nose ring in violation of company policy, had an exposed tattoo in violation of company policy, wore dresses or skirts that violated the dress code, put on make-up at her desk, and watched TV on her cell phone.

         Jaime testified that Margie Salinas was given a Corrective Action Notice in July 2010. The Notice indicates that a suspension would be imposed on Salinas. However, the Notice was rescinded. Jaime further testified that Salinas filed a grievance in response to her Corrective Action Notice, and that the grievance is what led to the Notice being rescinded.

         ANALYSIS

         A. ...


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