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Kumar v. United Health and Hospital Services

January 22, 2007

DR. SANJEEV KUMAR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED HEALTH AND HOSPITAL SERVICES, INC., WYOMING VALLEY HEALTH CARE SYSTEM, INC., AND WVHCS HOSPITAL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

(JUDGE CAPUTO)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants United Health and Hospital Services, Inc. ("UHHS"), Wyoming Valley Health Care System, Inc. ("WVHCS"), and WVHCS Hospital ("the Hospital")'s motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 33.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted.

This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("federal question"), 28 U.S.C. § 1332 ("diversity of citizenship"), 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a) ("civil rights and elective franchise"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3) ("unlawful employment practices" -"enforcement provisions"), and 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) ("supplemental jurisdiction").

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Dr. Sanjeev Kumar ("Dr. Kumar") is a permanent resident of the United States and a citizen of India. (Doc. 1 ¶ 6.) Dr. Kumar is of the Indian ethnic classification, and has dark-brown skin, causing him to be classified and perceived as being non-white. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 14, 16.) At all times material to this action, Plaintiff was employed by Defendant UHHS as a Resident Physician pursuant to a Residency Agreement. (Doc. 1 ¶ 28.) During the 2002/2003 academic year, during which the acts giving rise to this action occurred, the Residency program at the Hospital was comprised of 19 residents, 16 of whom listed countries of origin other than the United States.*fn1 In fact, only 5 of the 19 residents were "white," the rest hailing from various nations in Asia. Dr. Kumar was one of seven residents during the 2002/2003 academic year who listed his native country as India. (Doc. 35-24.)

Defendant UHHS terminated Plaintiff's employment on February 28, 2003 by letter of Dr. Maureen Litchman dated February 27, 2003. (Doc. 1 ¶ 28.)*fn2 According to Ms. Litchman's letter, Plaintiff's employment was terminated for a "serious violation of accepted professional standards" for allegedly attempting to kiss a Hospital employee and for making repeated advances towards her, all of which were rebuffed. (Doc. 35-1 ¶¶ 7-12). Plaintiff claims that this provided rationale for his termination was pre-textual, and that the true reasons for his termination are his race, national origin, and color. (Doc. 1 ¶ 47.)

According to Plaintiff, Defendant WVHCS controls the operations, finances, management, and personnel direction of Defendant UHHS, and further alleges that Defendant WVHCS caused and directed the termination of Plaintiff's employment. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 25, 29.) Defendants deny this administrative connection between the two entities, and further deny that Defendant WVHCS caused or directed Plaintiff's termination from employment. (Doc. 6 ¶¶ 25, 29.) Further, according to Plaintiff, Defendant Hospital controls the operations, finances, and personnel decisions of Defendant UHHS, and allege that Defendant Hospital caused and directed the termination of Plaintiff's employment. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 27, 30.) Defendants deny this administrative connection between the aforesaid entities, and further deny that Defendant Hospital caused or directed Plaintiff's employment to be terminated. (Doc. 6 ¶¶ 27, 30.) Plaintiffs further allege, and Defendants deny, that Defendant WVHCS controls the operations and finances of Defendant Hospital. (Doc. 1 ¶ 27; Doc. 6 ¶ 27.)

Defendant UHHS had accused Plaintiff of engaging in an unconsented to kiss of another Hospital employee, Ms. Tammy Kreidler, on February 26, 2003. (Doc. 1 ¶ 32.) The Hospital's video surveillance camera--located in the elevator in which this act occurred--filmed Plaintiff's interaction with Ms. Kreidler, including his hugging and attempting to kiss Ms. Kreidler. (Doc. 35-12 pp. 18-20; Doc. 35-13 pp. 1-3). Dr. Kumar also allegedly made other unwanted advances towards Ms. Kreidler, including telephoning her numerous times and stating that he "needed to see [her]", even though she repeatedly told Dr. Kumar that she had a boyfriend and was not interested in a relationship with him. (Doc. 35-1 ¶¶ 10, 12.) Ms. Kreidler sought guidance from a Hospital supervisor, Mr. Mike Marlott, regarding the occurrence in the elevator with Plaintiff. (Doc. 1 ¶ 33.) Mr. Marlott told Ms. Kreidler to speak with Ms. Barbara Halesey. Ms. Kreidler met on February 27, 2003 with Ms. Halesey, who is employed in the Human Resources Department of Defendant WVHCS. (Doc. 1 ¶ 35.) Ms. Kreidler recounted the events of February 26, 2003 to Ms. Halesey. According to Ms. Kreidler, during this meeting, Ms. Halesey made indications that her mind was made up as to what she wanted done with Plaintiff, and that she would make a recommendation to the appropriate decision-makers. (Kreidler Aff., March 22, 2003 2; Doc. 1 ¶¶ 37-38.) Defendants dispute what was discussed during this meeting. (Doc. 6 ¶¶ 37-38.) Plaintiff met later that same day with Ms. Halesey, Dr. Litchman, Dr. Deborah Spring (Plaintiff's residency advisor), and Len Paczkowski, a member of the Human Resources Department. (Doc. 35-1 ¶ 15; Doc. 45 ¶ 15.) At this meeting, Plaintiff repeatedly denied having been in an elevator the previous day with Ms. Kreidler. (Doc. 35-1 ¶ 16.) After Ms. Halesey told Dr. Kumar that she had viewed the surveillance video, which confirmed that he had been in the elevator with Ms. Kreidler the previous day, Dr. Kumar admitted to having rode in the elevator with Ms. Kreidler. (Id.) Dr. Kumar stated that Ms. Kreidler's prior comments--that he looked handsome and that his act in giving Ms. Kreidler his phone number "made her day"--had encouraged him to attempt to kiss her on February 26, 2003. (Id.) Also at this meeting, Dr. Kumar admitted to having kissed Ms. Kreidler "good-bye", but claimed that he never put his arms around her. (Id.) In deposition testimony given on August 8, 2005, Dr. Kumar admitted to having kissed Ms. Kreidler twice on the cheek before he left the elevator on February 26, 2003. (Kumar Dep. 70:4-5, August 8, 2005.) Dr. Kumar also admitted in this testimony that he had repeatedly lied when queried whether he had rode in the elevator with Ms. Kreidler on that date, claiming that he was nervous. (Kumar Dep. 79:5-12, 81:9, 88:4,10,15.)

Ms. Kreidler learned on February 28, 2003 that Plaintiff had been fired. (Doc. 1 ¶ 39.) Ms. Kreidler met on March 3, 2003 with Drs. Maureen Litchman and Richard English, who were Directors of the Wyoming Valley Family Practice Residency Program. (Doc. 1 ¶ 40.) At this meeting, Ms. Kreidler told the doctors that she did not believe what had happened warranted Plaintiff's termination, and that she did not intend for that outcome to occur when she initially spoke to Mr. Marlott. (Doc. 1 ¶ 41.) Ms. Kreidler was then referred again to meet with Barbara Halesey later that same afternoon. (Doc. 1 ¶ 42.) At this meeting, after reiterating to Ms. Halesey that she did not believe what Dr. Kumar did warranted termination, Ms. Halesey said to Ms. Kreidler "[Y]ou shouldn't worry about other people so much. Maybe you should just worry about yourself. Everyone has problems. From what I understand, you have a son but don't have a husband." (Kreidler Aff. 2.) Ms. Halesey also stated to Ms. Kreidler at this meeting, with regard to Plaintiff, "they just come over here to get their education and then they go back." (Kreidler Aff. 2.) Defendants deny this statement having been made by Ms. Halesey. (Doc. 6 ¶ 44.) According to Ms. Kreidler and as alleged by Plaintiffs and denied by Defendants, Ms. Halesey appeared to be hostile during this meeting towards Dr. Kumar. (Kreidler Aff. 2; Doc. 1 ¶ 45; Doc. 6 ¶ 45.) Finally, Ms. Kreidler stated in her affidavit that "[f]rom her statement and her attitude I believed that she had made her recommendations [to terminate Dr. Kumar's employment], at least in part, on the basis of Dr. Kumar's national origin, being Indian." (Kreidler Aff. 3.) Ms. Kreidler was not permitted to attend Dr. Kumar's grievance hearing, even though she had indicated her willingness to do so. (Id.)

On December 22, 2004, Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) against UHHS, WVHCS, and the Hospital. On December 15, 2005, Defendants filed their Answer (Doc. 6) to Plaintiff's Complaint. On July 28, 2006, Defendants filed the present motion for summary judgment (Doc. 33), along with a supporting brief (Doc. 34) and a statement of undisputed material facts with attached exhibits (Doc. 35). On August 31, 2006, Plaintiff filed an answer to Defendants' statement of undisputed material facts and counterstatement of undisputed material facts, and a brief in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Docs. 45, 46.) On September 15, 2006, Defendants filed a reply brief to Plaintiff's brief in opposition to the present motion for summary judgment, and an answer to Plaintiff's statement of undisputed material facts and counterstatement of undisputed material facts. (Docs. 47, 48.)

This motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if "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). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the ...


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