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Self Barile v. Lutheran Health Network of Indiana, LLC

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

September 16, 2019

RITA K. SELF BARILE Plaintiff,
v.
LUTHERAN HEALTH NETWORK OF INDIANA, LLC and ST. JOSEPH HEALTH SYSTEMS, LLC d/b/a ST. JOSEPH HOSPITAL Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          William C. Lee United States District Judge

         After the Defendants terminated Plaintiff, Rita K. Self Barile, (“Barile”), for alleged performance deficiencies, Barile filed the present ADEA action seeking damages for age discrimination and retaliation. Currently before the Court is the Defendants', Lutheran Health Network of Indiana, LLC (“LHN”) and St. Joseph Health Systems, LLC (“St. Joe”), Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 31]. For the following reasons, the Motion will be GRANTED.

         APPLICABLE STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis of its motion, and identifying those portions of designated evidence that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). After “a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         A factual issue is material only if resolving the factual issue might change the outcome of the case under the governing law. See Clifton v. Schafer, 969 F.2d 278, 281 (7th Cir. 1992). A factual issue is genuine only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party on the evidence presented. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court “may not ‘assess the credibility of witnesses, choose between competing reasonable inferences, or balance the relative weight of conflicting evidence.' ” Bassett v. I.C. Sys., Inc., 715 F.Supp.2d 803, 808 (N.D. Ill. 2010) (quoting Stokes v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of Chi., 599 F.3d 617, 619 (7th Cir. 2010)). Instead, it must view all the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all factual disputes in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Mindful of these standards, the Court turns now to the facts of the case.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Briefing Procedure

         Before setting forth the facts, it is necessary to address what is missing from the Plaintiff's filings, and that is a concise statement of disputed facts supported by citations to the record for the Court to consider. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(1) requires as follows:

(1) Supporting Factual Positions. A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. In line with the Federal Rule, N.D.Ind. L.R. 56.1 requires the party opposing a motion for summary judgment to “include a section labeled ‘Statement of Genuine Disputes' that identifies the material facts that the party contends are genuinely disputed so as to make a trial necessary.” (N.D.Ind. L.R. 56.1(b)(2)).

         Here, the Plaintiff has filed a “Statement of Genuine Disputes” but does not identify with any record citations in that document the material facts it “contends are genuinely disputed so as to make a trial necessary.” Instead, the Plaintiff appears to have submitted legal disputes/issues she believes exist without any supporting record citations as to what facts support her assertion that there is a factual dispute. District courts throughout the country have been plagued with briefing such as this which does nothing but complicate matters for the court and have made it clear that such deficiencies will not be tolerated:

To be sure, perhaps one could parse any individual paragraph in isolation and pick out a pertinent fact. But for a party, in essence, to demand that the court do this …. subverts the very purpose of the Local Rule, which … is to insure that judges need not sift through the record hunting for facts on a party's behalf, like a pig hunting for truffles. United States v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir.1991); Friend v. Valley View Cmty. Unit Sch. Dist. 365U, 789 F.3d 707, 711 (7th Cir. 2015). All the plaintiff's tactic did is make it more difficult for the court to rule in anyone's favor, let alone the plaintiff. See Dal Pozzo v. Basic Mach. Co., 463 F.3d 609, 613 (7th Cir. 2006)(“An advocate's job is to make it easy for the court to rule in his client's favor ....”). When the asserted fact is, “it was noon, ” a primer on how clocks work is not a concise or proper response.

McCarty v. Menards, 327 F.R.D. 177, 180 (N.D. Ill. 2018).

         This Court does have the option to simply deem all of the defendant's factual assertions admitted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2); Ammons v. Aramark Unif. Servs., Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817-18 (7th Cir. 2004); Cichon v. Exelon Generation Co., 401 F.3d 803, 809 (7th Cir. 2005). Indeed, Courts are entitled to expect strict compliance with the Local Rule regarding summary judgment. Thornton v. M7 Aerospace LP, 796 F.3d 757, 769 (7th Cir. 2015); Yancick v. Hanna Steel Corp., 653 F.3d 532, 537 (7th Cir.2011); Schmidt v. Eagle Waste & Recycling, Inc., 599 F.3d 626, 630 (7th Cir.2010). However, in the argument section of the brief, the Plaintiff has made record citations and, for this reason only, the Court will sift through the record as best it can to determine whether genuine, material factual disputes exist. Mindful of this, the facts are as follows:

         B. Facts

         Barile is currently 64 years old. At the time of her termination, she was 61 years old. At all relevant times in this action, Barile was a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and was considered an at-will employee. Likewise, at all relevant times, Rogher Hargus (“Hargus”) was the Director of St. Joe Behavioral Health and Steve Haggen (“Haggen”) was the Human Resources Director of St. Joe Behavioral Health.

         In 2012, Barile worked with St. Joseph Behavioral Health[1] as a mental health counsel/therapist and continued in that position until her termination in August, 2016. While working at St. Joseph Behavioral Health, Barile worked in all three of its behavioral health programs: inpatient behavioral health, generations (elderly patients), and intensive outpatient therapy (“IOP”). (Deposition of Rita Self-Barile, DE 33-2, at 19, hereafter “Barile Dep. at ”). Beginning in 2015, however, Barile worked exclusively in the IOP, first as co-facilitator of group therapy for patients with addictions, then as sole facilitator of that group. (Barile Dep. at 20). The IOP is staffed with two therapists that provide “intensive level outpatient services to clients that were stepping down from the inpatient unit or needed a higher level of care than traditional outpatient therapy.” (Deposition of Lyndsey White, DE 33-3, at 9, hereafter “White Dep. at ”). In the IOP, Barile worked alongside a second therapist named Joretta Wilt (“Wilt”), until Wilt retired in April, 2016.[2]

         When Barile first transferred to the IOP, Patrick Balke (“Balke”) was her supervisor. (Barile Dep. at 21). In August, 2015, Lyndsey White (“White”) joined the IOP at St. Joseph Behavioral Health, initially to create an intake assessment office. (Id. at 21-22). However, in January, 2016, she became manager of the IOP which, in turn, positioned her as Barile's supervisor.

         White's tenure with St. Joseph Behavioral Health was short-lived; she ultimately left her job and relocated in December, 2016. That did not, however, occur soon enough, in the opinion of Barile as Barile and White can fairly be described from the record as having a rocky and confrontational relationship, all of which is detailed below.

         A few months into her tenure, White learned she would be transitioning to the supervisory position. Balke and White had a conversation wherein Balke expressed concerns of performance related issues with Barile. (White Dep. at 25). According to White, Balke advised her that when he tried to discuss the issues with Barile, Barile “would become angry and aggressive towards him, and it made him fearful and uncomfortable.” (Id.). Thus, he sought her assistance in providing feedback to Barile. (Id.). Shortly thereafter, Barile and White engaged in a verbal altercation with one another in the hallway over work-related issues. The accounts of this altercation could not be more diverse.

         Barile contends that she was frustrated that White was not providing help to her that she needed and her frustration boiled over into a verbal dispute. (Barile Dep. at 62: “I complained that she was giving help to Jeri but not to me. She was allowing Jeri to have assistance in her groups, but she wasn't providing assistance to me. And I was angry about that.”). White, however, explained that there was “a situation where Rita was yelling at her clients in group and making some pretty derogatory kind of statements and [sic] red and shaking and really angry” and Balke asked White for advice on how to handle it. (White Dep. at 25). White then states she approached Barile in the hallway and attempted to have her go into her office to regain control of her emotions. (Id. at 26). However, White testified that Barile yelled at her and became aggressive. (Id.). Barile denies that she was loud, yelling, or aggressive.

         Despite the differing versions of events, on October 6, 2015, Barile received a written warning. (Barile Dep. Exhibit A Written Warning dated 10/6/15). Hargus and White were both present when Barile received the warning. (White Dep. at 27). That warning indicated that Barile, “engaged in open discussion of private work related issues in front of other staff members and patients” and “engaged in verbally aggressive behavior.” (Id.). In addition, Barile was referred to, but ultimately did not take advantage of, the employee assistance program, for help with her emotional responses. (Barile Dep. at 71). In her deposition, Barile acknowledged her fault in this verbal alteration and she testified that she “apologized because I know it was inappropriate.” (Barile Dep. at 63). However, she testified that the written explanation from White in the write-up was exaggerated and she was not as angry as White made her out to be. (Barile Dep. at 66-69). This was Barile's first written warning during her employment with St. Joseph Behavioral Health.

         Subsequently in April, 2016 and after White became Barile's supervisor, St. Joseph Behavioral Health was audited by the Joint Commission, an accrediting body for behavioral health providers. (White Dep. at 34). During the audit, the Joint Commission reviewed charting for the IOP chemical dependency, which was Barile's group. (Id. at 35-37: “The Joint Commission auditor requested only charts from the chemical dependency program.”). The IOP received several citations based on clinical assessments and four of the six findings of the Joint Commission were specifically related to the clinical documentation found in Barile's charts. (Id. at 36). Barile does not dispute these findings; instead, she contends that the Joint Commission found fault with the forms used by St. Joseph Behavioral Health, but not her specifically (Barile Dep. at 88). The Joint Commission noted deficits in the psychosocial assessment related to trauma assessment, suicide assessment, and those risk factors. (White Dep. at 38). Essentially, according to White, Barile's charts lacked information that a therapist should have known to put into clinical documentation and that should have been present under Joint Commission standards. (White Dep. at 99-100). In response, St. Joseph Behavioral Health was required to redo the psychosocial assessment form, removing the clinician's subjectivity from the previous narrative approach. The new forms required the clinician to check boxes to ensure all questions were asked, which reduced the reliance on clinician skill and knowledge of what questions to ask during the assessment. (White Dep. at 39, 41).[3] White also created a treatment plan and guide in response to Barile's substandard charting, and educated the staff on treatment planning. (Id. at 42). Barile agreed that White began reviewing everyone's psychosocial assessments and treatment plans for new patients, but did not know why White was doing so. (Barile Dep. at 89). Likewise, Barile admitted that St. Joseph Behavioral Health intake form was changed after the Joint Commission assessment in July, 2016. (Barile Dep. at 88-89).

         During the week of May 18, 2016, one of Barile's patients in the IOP addictions group committed suicide. The patient had not been showing up for group but continued to be considered as a group member. (Barile Dep. at 104).[4] After the patient committed suicide, Barile discharged him from the group but did not tell White because she did not believe White would care. (Barile Dep. at 99-107). White eventually learned of the suicide and testified that Barile's failure to inform White of the suicide and the discharge of the patient created a “major issue” due to a requirement that St. Joseph Behavioral Health report the information to the State and the Joint Commission. (White Dep. at 51-52). White then held formal training with the staff as well as updated the suicide assessment form. White testified that the patient had several “significant risk factors that would be a red flag for any clinician, ” but stated that Barile at no time consulted White or the patient's psychiatrist. (White Dep. at 68).

         On June 28, 2016, [5] Barile received a second write up for three violations of therapist standards as it relates to intensive outpatient therapy for patients with chemical dependency. Specifically, Barile was written up for: (1) independently discharging three patients from the program without discussing discharges with White; (2) failing to obtain coverage for one of her group sessions while on vacation; and (3) leaving before the end of a shift without approval and without completion of assigned work. (White Dep. at 48; Exh 2). As noted above, Barile admitted to discharging one patient without notifying White; however, she testified that she did routinely share her discharges with White so she believed that White fabricated this reason. (Barile Dep. at 110-111). Additionally, although Barile admitted that she was unable to get substitute coverage for one of her group sessions while on vacation, she states that she made an attempt to find coverage and notified White.[6] When Barile received the write-up, she testified that White “probably knew” she was upset. (Barile Dep. at 115). White testified that Barile had “significant ...


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