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Gerstadt v. Lehigh Valley Infectious: Disease Specialists

March 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lawrence F. Stengel, J.



Dr. Kimberly Gerstadt was offered a job with Lehigh Valley Infectious Disease Specialists (LVIDS). Her employment was contingent on obtaining staff privileges at Lehigh Valley Hospital. When she began to prepare her application for the hospital's credentialing committee, Dr. Gerstadt was several weeks pregnant and suffering from morning sickness. Despite numerous letters of recommendation and support, her application was ultimately rejected. Because she failed to receive staff privileges, LVIDS withdrew its offer to Dr. Gerstadt. Her complaint alleges that the interviewers and other staff members knew of her pregnancy and used it against her.

Dr. Gerstadt filed this suit against LVIDS, two corporate parent organizations (the Lehigh Valley Health Network, Inc., and the Lehigh Valley Physician Group), and five individual physicians for discriminating against her because of her pregnancy. The defendants have filed a partial motion to dismiss. After reviewing the parties' memoranda I will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.

I. Background

Dr. Kimberly Gerstadt is an infectious disease physician. (Am. Compl. ¶ 5.) Lehigh Valley Infectious Disease Specialists (LVIDS) agreed to hire her in December 2006. (Id. ¶ 19.) At the time, LVIDS was an independent business organization that was "operated, controlled, and managed" by Lehigh Valley Physician Group (the Physician Group) and/or Lehigh Valley Health Network, Inc. (the Health Network). (Id. ¶ 6.) It is now wholly owned and operated by the Physician Group. (Id.) The Physician Group is wholly owned and operated by the Health Network. (Id. ¶ 7.)

A condition of Dr. Gerstadt's employment was that she obtain staff privileges at Lehigh Valley Hospital. (Id. ¶ 20.) Lehigh Valley Hospital is also owned and operated by the Health Network. (Id.) She began her application for staff privileges in January 2007, and the credentialing committee was scheduled to review it in April 2007. (Id. ¶¶ 21--22.)

The application process consisted of a series of interviews with members of the medical staff. (Id. ¶ 23.) In late March, the hospital contacted Dr. Gerstadt and informed her that an interview with Dr. Linda Lapos, President of the Medical Staff, had been inadvertently left out. (Id. ¶ 24.) Dr. Gerstadt would have to come back to the hospital to complete that interview. (Id.) At the time, she was approximately seven weeks pregnant and was experiencing severe morning sickness. (Id. ¶ 25.) She asked whether the interview could be delayed or be done over the phone, instead of in-person. (Id. ¶ 26.) She was told no exceptions would be made. (Id. ¶ 27.)

On April 9, 2007, Dr. Gerstadt went to meet Dr. Lapos, and was again experiencing severe morning sickness. (Id. ¶¶ 28--29.) While at the hospital, Dr. Gerstadt was told she would need to undergo a physical at least five days before she started work. (Id. ¶ 30.) Unsure of whether she would be able to return to the hospital again, she explained her pregnancy and the morning sickness, and asked if the physical could be performed that same day. (Id. ¶¶ 31--32.) She was told no exceptions would be made. (Id.)

On April 10, 2007, Dr. Gerstadt was contacted by Dr. Luther Rhodes and was asked to come back to the hospital to discuss a few issues. (Id. ¶¶ 34--35.) She went back in on April 12 and met with Drs. Jaan Naktin, Theresa Ryan-Mitlyng, and Rhodes. (Id. ¶ 36.) She was told that a reference from Crozer-Chester Medical Center was "not good." At the interviewers' request, she provided three more letters of recommendation from Crozer-Chester. (Id. ¶¶ 37--38.) The hospital then requested four more letters from Crozer-Chester. (Id. ¶ 40.) All seven letters were positive. (Id. ¶ 41.)

Drs. Rhodes and Naktin wrote letters supporting Dr. Gerstadt's application. (Id.) It is not known if Dr. Ryan-Mitlyng wrote a positive letter as well. (See id. (stating that Drs. Rhodes and Naktin wrote letters, but not if Dr. Ryan-Mitlyng had).)

Dr. Gerstadt's application was then sent to be reviewed by Dr. John Vanbrakle, Chair of the Credentialing Committee. (Id. ¶ 42.) He reportedly saw no problems. (Id. ¶ 43.) Other physicians at LVIDS spoke with Dr. John Fitzgibbons, Chair of the Health Network's Department of Medicine, to express their support since he was responsible for presenting Dr. Gerstadt's application. (Id. ¶ 45.)

At the May 10 Credentialing Committee meeting, the application was denied. (Id. ¶ 47.) Dr. Fitzgibbons did not attend the meeting. (Id. ¶ 48.) Within a few days of this decision, Dr. Gerstadt received two letters. The first came from the Health Network and was written by Dr. Ryan-Mitlyng. (Id. ¶ 49.) It stated that Dr. Gerstadt could not be employed at LVIDS because her credentialing application had been rejected. (Id.) The second letter, which came from Dr. John Hart on behalf of the hospital, stated that "since LVIDS had withdrawn their offer of employment, her application for staff privileges [at Lehigh Valley Hospital] was considered withdrawn." (Id. ¶ 51.)

Based on these facts, Dr. Gerstadt filed a complaint containing four counts: (1) pregnancy discrimination and disparate treatment in violation of Title VII*fn1 ; (2) hostile work environment, pregnancy discrimination, retaliation, and disparate treatment in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA)*fn2 ; (3) breach of contract; and (4) interference with contractual relations. (Id. ¶¶ 67--78.) She has also sued five of the physicians under the PHRA for aiding and abetting the discrimination: Dr. Fitzgibbons, Dr. Lapos, Dr. Vanbrakle, Dr. Ryan-Mitlyng, and Dr. Hart.

The defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Document #8) challenges all claims except for the Title VII and the PHRA against LVIDS, the Health Network, and the Physician Group. The plaintiff's response was late and includes a request for leave to file out of time. (See Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to File (Document #12).)

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 US 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id. See also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll., 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which he bases his claim. Conley, 355 U.S. at 47. Rather, the Rules require a "short and plain statement" of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id. The "complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1969. Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 897 F. Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" those elements. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965)).

III. Discussion

a) Leave to File

I will grant the request for leave to file. Counsel for the defendants has been notified of the untimeliness of plaintiff's response and does not object. (Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to File ¶ 11.)

b) Uncontested Dismissal of Retaliation, Hostile Work Environment, and Breach of Contract Claims

Because Dr. Gerstadt concedes to dismissing her retaliation and hostile work environment claims under the PHRA, her breach of contract claim, and her request for punitive ...

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