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Jackson v. Lehigh Valley Physicians Group

January 29, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Genee.k. Pratter, J.


The workplace conduct of an employer and a co-worker forms the basis of this litigation. Ms. Wallice Jackson, a Certified Medical Assistant, filed an Amended Complaint against her employer, Lehigh Valley Physicians Group ("LVPG"), alleging claims of race discrimination/disparate treatment, unlawful retaliation, and termination under Title VII; violations of the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law, 43 P.S. §§ 1421et seq.("Whistleblower Law") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. §§ 951 et seq.; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and negligent infliction of emotional distress. LVPG filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, seeking to dismiss certain of Ms. Jackson's claims and demands, the dismissal of some of which Ms. Jackson concedes.*fn1 Thus, LVPG's remaining arguments for the Court's consideration are that 1) Ms. Jackson's Whistleblower Law claim should be dismissed due to the expiration of the statute of limitations; and 2) Ms. Jackson's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress should be dismissed because it is barred by the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act's exclusive remedy provision or, in the alternative, because the work-related conduct alleged is not, as a matter of law, extreme or outrageous.

For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants LVPG's Partial Motion to Dismiss as to Ms. Jackson's Whistleblower Law claim, but denies the Motion as to Ms. Jackson's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.


Ms. Jackson's factual allegations describe four different incidents: (1) the assault; (2) the blood pressure readings report; (3) the photograph; and (4) the termination.

A. The Assault

Prior to her employment at LVPG, Ms. Jackson had 30 years of experience as a Medical Assistant. On September 19, 2005, Ms. Jackson was hired by LVPG as a Certified Medical Assistant. She became the only black employee at LVPG.

Six months after Ms. Jackson began work at LVPG, a white co-worker, Ms. Patricia McElroy, approached her and said "because of you people coming here, I can't buy a house." Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 21S22. After Ms. Jackson "rebuffed" Ms. McElroy's "patently derogatory reference" to Ms. Jackson's race, Ms. McElroy allegedly intentionally ran a chair into Ms. Jackson, causing Ms. Jackson's left knee to hit her desk. Id. at ¶ 42. Ms. Jackson suffered a contusion on her left knee and was placed on limited duty; her contusion later escalated into phlebitis, resulting in extreme and chronic pain. The incident between Ms. McElroy and Ms. Jackson was marked as an "Assault / Verbal Abuse / Code Orange" on the Employee Incident Report filed by LVPG. Id. at ¶ 43.

After the incident, LVPG told Ms. Jackson that she and Ms. McElroy needed to "work together side by side in a professional manner," and closed the incident without terminating Ms. McElroy or placing her on any type of disciplinary leave. Id. at ¶¶ 46S47.

B. The Blood Pressure Readings Report

Eight months after Ms. Jackson began work at LVPG, she was assigned to mentor a new, white female orientee, Ms. Maria Olivera. Ms. Olivera was hired as a "Float," someone who is "screened and hired by [LVPG] for placement in various physician practices throughout the network in order to fill in for absent employees." Id. at ¶ 49.

Ms. Jackson noticed that Ms. Olivera was misreading blood pressure readings and recording false readings into a patient's medical record. Ms. Olivera admitted that she "never took a blood pressure before" and did not know the difference between diastolic and systolic readings, but yet refused to take Ms. Jackson's instructions regarding proper blood pressure reading and data collection techniques. Id. at ¶¶ 53, 56. Ms. Jackson reported her findings to Dr. Boulay, chief of gynecologic oncology and a white male, who promised to pass them on to Ms. Jackson's supervisor, Ms. Sandra Tkach.

Some time thereafter, Ms. Tkach verbally reprimanded Ms. Jackson for treating Ms. Olivera unkindly. Ms. Tkach refused to provide Ms. Jackson with details of Ms. Olivera's accusations against her or allow Ms. Jackson to respond to the accusations. When Ms. Jackson asked Ms. Tkach about the status of her report to Dr. Boulay, Ms. Tkach reportedly told her that it was none of her business.

Ms. Olivera completed her orientation with Ms. McElroy, not Ms. Jackson. However, Ms. Olivera continued to complain about Ms. Jackson to Ms. Tkach, resulting in "regular and routine" verbal reprimands of Ms. Jackson by Ms. Tkach. Id. at ¶¶ 66S68. These reprimands were purportedly based on Ms. Jackson's alleged "inappropriate behavior and the need for improvement," but at no time did Ms. Tkach provide Ms. Jackson with any details of Ms. Olivera's accusations against her. Id. at ¶¶ 69S70. Ms. Jackson left meetings with Ms. Tkach "confused and frustrated," and believed that Ms. Tkach was "set[ting her] up to fail." Id. at ¶¶ 71, 74.

C. The Photograph

Around the same time of Ms. Jackson's report to Dr. Boulay, a series of staff photos were taken, which included Ms. Jackson, for use in a public advertisement brochure. Some time later, another series of photos was taken, without Ms. Jackson's knowledge, which did not include Ms. Jackson. When Ms. Jackson asked why she had not been included in the second series of photos with the other employees, Ms. Tkach told her that "the photographer had lost it." Id. at ¶ 85. Ms. Jackson alleges that LVPG purposefully failed to include her in the brochure staff photo despite her status as a member of LVPG's staff.

D. The Termination

On September 13, 2006, Ms. Olivera complained to Ms. Alyssa Pauls, a registered nurse and white female, that she was "being treated unkindly by the other Medical Assistants." Id. at ΒΆ 90. The only Medical Assistants on LVPG's staff at the time were Ms. Olivera and Ms. Jackson, as Ms. McElroy was on maternity leave. The next day, on September 14, 2006, Ms. Tkach interviewed ...

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