The opinion of the court was delivered by: MAURICE COHILL JR., District Judge
Plaintiff Joyce McAchren brings this civil rights employment
discrimination action asserting that she was wrongfully
terminated from her job with Defendant Saint Vincent Health
Center based on her age in violation the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act ("ADEA") (29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.) (Count I) and
the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 P.S. 951, et
seq. (Count II). Ms. McAchren also asserts a claim of wrongful
discharge alleging that in violation of Pennsylvania public
policy Defendant terminated her in retaliation for filing a
workers' compensation claim in violation of Pennsylvania public
policy (Count III).
Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary
judgment (Doc. 17), to which Plaintiff has responded. For the
reasons stated below, we will grant Defendant's motion and
dismiss this action.
Joyce McAchren was hired by Saint Vincent Health Center as a
Registration/Discharge Clerk on August 8, 1994, working at
Defendant's Lawrence Park Family Practice. Ms. McAchren was born on March 31, 1947, making her 47 years old at the time
of her hire. In 1998, the Lawrence Park Family Practice merged
with Defendant's Harbor Creek Medical Practice, with the new name
of East Harbor Primary Care. As a Registration/Discharge Clerk,
Ms. McAchren's responsibilities included answering telephones,
scheduling patients for office visits, checking patients in,
taking information from patients for prescription refills, and
During her time with Defendant, Ms. McAchren received
evaluations in each year from 1996 through 1999. While she was
with the Lawrence Park Family Practice her 1996 evaluation was
completed by Kristin Lazzara, and her 1997 evaluation was
completed by the Office Manager of the Practice, Jan Tassario.
These two evaluations included detailed comments and were
critical of Ms. McAchren's job performance. At the East Harbor
Medical Practice, her 1998 evaluation was completed by Denise
Liberatore, and her 1999 evaluation was completed by Lynn
Schnars. These two evaluations contained minimal comments but did
find Ms. McAChren to be competent in her job performance.
During the relevant time period Nancy Potter was the Practice
Manager responsible for East Harbor, and beginning in April 2000,
Katrine Danowski was the Clinical Coordinator. James W. Lane,
M.D. and Carl Eby, M.D. were physicians who worked at both the
Lawrence Park Family Practice and the East Harbor Medical
Practice throughout Ms. McAchren's employment. Michael Madden,
M.D. was the Medical Director for Saint Vincent Medical Group
responsible for the medical providers at the practice and the
quality of the clinical services. Finally, throughout the
relevant time period the Director of Associate Relations for all
of Saint Vincent Health Center was Johnie Atkinson.
During her time at East Harbor, Ms. McAchren's responsibilities
were changed from time to time. At one point, the duties of answering telephones and making
patient appointments were split into a phone operator position
and a registration position, with Ms. McAchren assuming the phone
operator position. On May 22, 2000, Ms. McAchren was moved to the
medical records department and was responsible for filing and
retrieving patient charts and records. On her first day in the
medical records department Ms. McAchren began wearing a back
brace. She eventually mentioned her back pain to Ms. Danowski who
suggested that Ms. McAchren contact the Employee Health Services.
On June 29, 2000, Ms. McAchren filed a Confidential Associate
Injury Report with the Employee Health Service, alleging
work-related back and knee injuries first occurring in June,
1998. On June 30, 2000, Ms. McAchren presented a doctor's note to
Ms. Potter and Ms. Danowski stating that she should not continue
to work in medical records due to her 1998 back injury. Ms.
McAchren never filed a workers' compensation claim, however,
based on the report of the injury to Employee Health, Defendant's
employee in charge of worker's compensation issues reported Ms.
McAchren's injury information to Defendant's workers'
Ms. McAchren began an approved medical leave for surgery
unrelated to her back injury on July 1, 2000, returning to work
on August 21, 2000. When she returned from her medical leave, Ms.
McAchren was assigned to work at the registration desk because
she could not work in medical records due to her back injury.
While Ms. McAchren was on leave, Defendant learned from the
Highmark insurance company that two of its customers had
complained specifically about Ms. McAchren's rude behavior on the
telephone. As a result, Ms. Potter and Ms. Danowski created and
implemented a work improvement plan for Ms. McAchren aimed at
improving her performance. Ms. Potter and Ms. Danowski presented and discussed the action plan with Ms.
McAchren on August 25, 2000. As part of the Plan, Ms. McAchren
was scheduled for additional service excellence education; her
duties were to be monitored daily by Ms. Danowski; and she was to
attend weekly meetings with Ms. Potter to discuss her
performance, customer concerns, and general concerns.
While on the action plan, Defendant received three more patient
complaints about Ms. McAchren's rude and unprofessional behavior.
Because of the recent complaints and Ms. McAchren's seeming
failure to acknowledge a problem Ms. Potter and Ms. Atkinson met
with Ms. McAchren on September 15, 2000, and suspended her with a
recommendation of termination pending an investigation. On
September 21, 2000, Ms. Atkinson informed Ms. McAchren that an
investigation had been completed and that St. Vincent Health
Center was upholding the recommendation for termination, thus her
employment was terminated as of September 15, 2000.
Summary judgment is appropriate when "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 and that the moving party
is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c), Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
Summary judgment may be granted only if the moving party
establishes that there exists no genuine issue of material fact
and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.
Summary judgment is appropriate only when the record evidence
could not lead a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving
party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49
(1986). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment the court
does not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations.
Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 120 S.Ct. 2097,
2110 (2000). Rather than evaluating the evidence and determining the truth of the
matter, the court determines whether there is a genuine issue for
trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In reviewing the evidence,
the court draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the
non-moving party. Reeves, 120 S.Ct. at 1210; Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986).
Once the party moving for summary judgment has satisfied its
initial burden of production on the motion, then the burden
shifts to the party opposing the motion. The party must set forth
specific facts to show that there is a genuine issue for trial.
The non-movant "must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," and has an
affirmative duty to produce evidence demonstrating the existence
of a factual dispute. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. The court
must evaluate the entire setting of the case, including the
record and all materials submitted in accordance with the motion
for summary judgment; whether it is clear that a trial is
unnecessary; and whether there is any doubt as to the existence
of a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324-25.
Defendant argues that Ms. McAchren cannot establish a prima
facie case for either her age discrimination claim or her
retaliation claim. In addition, even if she could establish a
prima facie case Defendant argues that she cannot rebut
Defendant's legitimate non-discriminatory or non-retaliatory
reasons for terminating her. Generally, Defendant claims that Ms.
McAchren is not qualified for her position based on a lengthy
history of poor performance, rude and unprofessional conduct
towards patients, and her failure to acknowledge or address these
deficiencies despite Defendant's attempts to help her. Ms.
McAchren claims that she performed competently throughout her
employment and challenges Defendant's evidence in support of its
claim that Ms. McAchren was fired because of her poor work performance. She thus argues
that genuine issues of material fact exist precluding the entry
of summary judgment
With regard to the retaliation claim, Defendant argues that Ms.
McAchren admitted that she had never filed a workers'
compensation claim thereby making it impossible for her to
establish that she was fired when she had only engaged in
protected activity. Ms. McAchren claims that once she filed an
internal injury report with Defendant's Employee Health Service a
workers' compensation claim was automatically filed by Defendant,
and therefore it is reasonable to "surmise that Plaintiff's
Supervisor" was aware of the claim.
The same analysis is used for both Plaintiff's ADEA claim and
her PHRA claim. See O'Connors v. Chrysler Fin. Corp.,
160 F.3d 971, 972 (3d Cir. 1998). Under the ADEA, "[i]t shall be
unlawful for an employer (1) . . . to discharge any individual or
otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his
compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment,
because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1).
The familiar McDonnell Douglas analysis requires: "first,
that the plaintiff establish a prima facie case of employment
discrimination; second, that the employer proffer a
nondiscriminatory reason for its adverse employment action; and
third, that the plaintiff must then show that the employer's
proffered explanations were pretextual." Williams v. Shenango,
Inc., 986. F. Supp. 309, 318 (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)); see also Goosby v. Johnson &
Johnson Medical, Inc., 228 F.3d 313 (3d Cir. 2000).
To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, a
plaintiff must show that he or she:
(1) was a member of the protected class, i.e., was
over 40, (2) was qualified for the position, (3)
suffered an adverse employment decision, and (4)
ultimately was replaced by a person sufficiently younger to permit an inference of age
discrimination. Duffy v. Paper Magic Group, Inc.,
265 F.3d 163, 167 (3d Cir. 2001).
Monaco v. American General Assurance Company, 359 F.3d 296
300-301 (3d Cir. 2004), cert. den'd, 125 S.Ct. 62 (2004).
Once a plaintiff sets forth a prima facie case, the defendant
has the relatively light burden of coming forward with a
legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment
decision. Goosby, 228 F.3d at 319. "If the employer is able to
proffer a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its actions,
the plaintiff must demonstrate that the proffered reason was
merely a pretext for unlawful discrimination." Id.
1. Prima Facie Case of Age Discrimination
Defendant argues that Plaintiff's age discrimination claim
fails because Ms. McAchren cannot establish a prima facie case,
i.e., she cannot show that she was qualified for the position
of Registration/Discharge Clerk. The duties of the Clerk include,
inter alia, answering telephones, scheduling patient office
visits, checking patents in and out, and taking information from
patients for prescription refills. Of primary concern for the
Defendant is that the position requires excellent customer
service skills given that the first person a patient encounters
either on the telephone or in person is the
Registration/Discharge Clerk. Defendant claims that throughout
Ms. McAchren's employment there were numerous complaints from the
practice's doctors, patients, and co-workers about her poor job
performance, in particular her rudeness and impropriety towards
patients. Defendant asserts that despite its efforts to counsel
and train Ms. McAchren to be able to perform her job in the area
of customer service it eventually became apparent that she did
not possess the requisite skills to successfully perform her
position. Defendant argues that Ms. McAchren's overall employment
history shows that she was not qualified for her position. a. Ms. McAchren's Evaluations
As noted, Ms. McAchren received four evaluations during her
tenure with Defendant.
Plaintiff's 1996 Competency Assessment identifies four of nine
areas of "Responsibilities/Competencies/Expectations" where Ms.
McAchren was designated as not competent. (1996 Competency
Assessment, attached as Ex 1. to Def. Ex. A (McAchren Dep.).)
According to the Assessment Ms. McAchren was not competent in
performing the patient registration process; handling incoming
telephone calls; performing the patient discharge duties; and
maintaining daily office cash flow. (Id.) The Assessment form
was completed by Kristin Lazzara, who handwrote the following
relevant comments in an adjoining column entitled
Joyce performed the registration function daily until
the patient complaints became overwhelming. She was
told not to answer phones and her jobs tasks in the
office decreased significantly.
Joyce was told specifically about her phone etiquette
and taken off the phones. Because of the volume of
phone calls, Joyce is needed. Her performance will be
At one time Joyce performed the discharge function,
but no longer feels comfortable with this task.
Rarely does Joyce schedule or discharge patients. She
will perform this function during evening hours and
also when the others are absent.
Joyce works hard and is not a malicious [person], but
is not carrying her weight in the front office. We
have discussed this several times and she has also
met with the physicians. Joyce cannot seem to
understand these accusations. . . .
A specific four-page Competency Tool for the
Registration/Discharge Clerk position is attached to the 1996
Competency Assessment. This form sets forth more specific areas
of evaluation for the position. Ms. Lazzara also handwrote
comments with regard to some of these areas as follows: 2.2 Welcomes each patient upon arrival.
Joyce does not welcome patients from her position in
[the] front office.
3.1 Promptly answers telephone and triages telephone
calls as needed.
Joyce does not answer phone calls due to her demeanor
on the phone. She has been asked to stay off the
phone because of her manners and rudeness to
patients. Joyce can in no way understand what the
problems are or the fact that patients complain [.]
3.3 Responds to telephone inquiries in a
Joyce has been asked by Dr. Lane or Eby not to answer
phone calls because of her lack of professionalism.
At the bottom of the page, underneath the general evaluation area
"3. HANDLES INCOMING TELEPHONE CALLS" is listed the following
Since the volume has increased, Joyce has been asked
to help out [rest of sentence is cut off.]
On the last page of the Competency Tool, Ms. Lazzara wrote the
. . . We need to have Joyce perform more of the front
office tasks in order to have the work evenly
distributed . . .
Joyce does not agree that she is not carrying her
load. She has worked in healthcare 12 years and feels
she has done a fine job.
ii. 1997 Evaluation
An Associate Communication Form addressed to Ms. McAchren and
another employee named Ann was prepared by the Office Manager Jan
Tassario on December 30, 1997. This Form stated that Joyce and
Ann had "made no significant progress with registration and
charge entry despite the additional resources and meetings that
have been held with you both." (December 30, 1997 Associate
Communication Form, attached as Ex 2. to Def. Ex. A (McAchren
Dep.).) This memo recounts the history of recent meetings
addressing the two employees' failure to fulfill the expectations
of their job duties with respect to "charges, hospital billing
and registrations." (Id.) On December 1, 1997, Ms. Tassario and Laurie Dart met with the
employees to discuss their "expectations and actions that must be
taken to ensure that charges were addressed." (Id.) This
meeting was necessary because the office was falling behind in
these tasks because it was short-staffed until an open full time
clerical position was filled. (Id., Memorandum from Laurie Dart
to Patty Ballman, Dr. Trotta, Dr. Lane and Dr. Eby, dated
December 9, 1997, and attached "Event Report," ("Explained that
until we hire Michelle's replacement the work flow must
On December 18, 1997, Ms. Tassario again met with the
employees, this time with Patty Ballman, in order to discuss "the
seriousness of the situation and lack of progress." (Id.) Ms.
Tassario again met with the employees on December 23, 1997 "to
address your lack of response to fulfilling the expectations of
your job duties. . . ." (Id.) Ms. Tassario recounted that at
the December 23rd meeting the employees "were informed that
you must keep all registrations updated daily and that at least
40 charges a day must be entered." (Id.) Ms. Tassario also
explained that with regard to registrations and charges Joyce and
are both equally responsible to ensure that those two
directives will be met. It is imperative to the
practice that those two directives are carried out.
Failure to do so will result in the ...