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Johnson-Keys v. Bluffton Health System, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

June 13, 2019

BLUFFTON HEALTH SYSTEM, LLC, d/b/a Bluffton Regional Medical Center, Defendant.


          William C. Lee, Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Bluffton Health System, LLC, d/b/a Bluffton Regional Medical Center's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 35). Defendant seeks judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Plaintiff Kay Johnson-Keys filed a brief in opposition to the motion (ECF 46) and Bluffton Health filed a reply (ECF 48). For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED. The Clerk of the Court is instructed to enter judgment in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff.



         Plaintiff is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. In 2006, Plaintiff entered into a three-year contract with Defendant to start an OB-GYN practice, Bluffton OB-GYN. This contract provided Plaintiff with a guaranteed yearly salary of $200, 000 to provide forty hours of clinical, administrative, and operating room duties per week. In 2009, Plaintiff entered into a new five-year contract with Defendant that raised her base salary to $235, 000, provided a retention bonus of $10, 000, and included incentive provisions which provided for the possibility of additional compensation if Plaintiff had a certain number of patient encounters.

         In 2010, Plaintiff went on a waiting list for a kidney transplant due to deteriorating kidney function. Plaintiff began dialysis treatment in January of 2013, which required that she undergo several in-home treatments per day. Defendant accommodated Plaintiff's need for this treatment by allowing Plaintiff to take an additional hour break during her workday, although Plaintiff did not always utilize this accommodation. Plaintiff underwent a kidney transplant in November 2013, returning to office duties on February 17, 2014, and to hospital and on call duties on March 3, 2014. Even though Plaintiff's Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave expired prior to her return, Defendant extended her leave until her return to full duty.


         In mid-2012, Defendant hired additional staffing for Bluffton OB-GYN. Gail Clark (a nurse midwife) was hired on June 3, 2012, followed by Dr. Judith Bowers and Susan Patterson (also a nurse midwife) on August 13, 2012.

         The relationship between Plaintiff, Bowers, Patterson, and Clark was not amicable. Indeed, at some point between August 13, 2012, and July 31, 2013, the office space at Bluffton was physically split to limit the interaction between the individuals; Plaintiff occupied one half of the office, while Bowers, Patterson, and Clark occupied the other. Following the split, Plaintiff was given all the staff necessary to operate as a solo practicing OB-GYN.

         On August 9, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint with Defendant's human resources department accusing Bowers, Patterson, and Clark of harassment. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Bowers, Patterson, and Clark “repeatedly humiliated me at staff meetings and expressed a deep [rage] against working with me in the office that goes far beyond what would be expected as a reaction to clinical differences in patient care.” Plaintiff's Dep. (ECF 36-2), p. 141, ll. 6-10. However, Plaintiff admitted in her deposition that she has no evidence that the animus between the four individuals was motivated either by Plaintiff's race (Plaintiff is black) or Plaintiff's medical condition. Id., p. 149, ll. 13-20. Following an investigation, Patricia Sprinkle, Defendant's Vice President of Human Resources, concluded that the incidents alleged in Plaintiff's August 9, 2013, complaint were not racially motivated.


         In 2012, negotiations began between Plaintiff and Defendant on a contract to take effect following the expiration of the contract executed in 2009.[1] Plaintiff's notes reflect that, in August 2012, she requested a five-year contract with a guaranteed salary of $250, 000, with all other provisions to be substantively the same as the 2009 contract. Plaintiff again extended this request in February of 2013. As negotiations extended into November and December 2013, Plaintiff dropped her requested guaranteed salary to $150, 000, plus an additional $100, 000 for midwives, in exchange for a 32-hour work week.

         Defendant provided its first written proposal to Plaintiff on February 26, 2014. Defendant offered a three-year contract, with a base salary of $235, 000 for the first year, a base salary of $117, 500 for the second year along with a productivity component, with the third year's compensation based entirely on productivity. Plaintiff would additionally receive $12, 000 per year for midwives supervision.

         Plaintiff communicated her counter-offer on April 9, 2014. In that counter-offer, Plaintiff demanded a five-year contract with a guaranteed salary of $150, 000 each year; $14, 500 per year to cover satellite offices; $18, 000 per year to supervise midwives; a bonus based on productivity; and a 32-hour work week. According to Defendant, it agreed on June 10, 2014, to the 32-hour work week. Plaintiff denies that she was ever told this information, and instead claims that she was told that Defendant's corporate parent did not permit a 32-hour work week.

         Defendant's last verbal offer was made in June of 2014, and again featured a contract that began with a guaranteed salary and moved to productivity compensation. This offer was rejected by Plaintiff. At this time, Defendant decided to walk away from the negotiations, believing that the parties were too far apart. Plaintiff made one last offer later in June 2014, now offering to work for a guaranteed salary of $50, 000 per year and a 32-hour work week. This offer was rejected, and Plaintiff was informed on June 27, 2014, that her employment with Defendant would cease when her contract expired on June 30, 2014.



         Summary judgment is warranted when “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). Disputes concerning material facts are genuine where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In deciding whether genuine issues of material fact exist, the court construes all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Id. at 255. However, neither the “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties, ” id. at 247, nor the existence of “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), will defeat a motion for summary judgment. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000).

         Summary judgment is not a substitute for a trial on the merits nor is it a vehicle for resolving factual disputes. Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). Therefore, after drawing all reasonable inferences from the facts in favor of the non-movant, if genuine doubts remain and a reasonable fact-finder could find for the party opposing the motion, summary judgment is inappropriate. See Shields Enterprises, Inc. v. First Chicago Corp., 975 F.2d 1290, 1294 (7th Cir. 1992); Wolf v. City of Fitchburg, 870 F.2d 1327, 1330 (7th Cir. 1989). However, if it is clear that a plaintiff will be unable to satisfy the legal requirements necessary to establish his or her case, summary judgment is not only appropriate, but mandated. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Ziliak v. AstraZeneca LP, 324 F.3d 518, 520 (7th Cir. 2003). “[Speculation and conjecture” also cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment. Cooney v. Casady, 735 F.3d 514, 519 ...

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