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Clinkscales v. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

May 6, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kauffman, J.


Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint (the "Motion"). For the reasons discussed below, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


This case arises from the dismissal of Plaintiff Karen Clinkscales ("Plaintiff") as an employee of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Accepting the allegations in the Fourth Amended Complaint as true, the relevant facts are as follows: In July 2003, Defendant Children's Hospital of Philadelphia ("CHOP") hired Plaintiff as an Intellectual Property Specialist. Fourth Am. Compl. ¶ 10. Plaintiff confirmed in writing with Defendants Denise Outlaw ("Outlaw"), a human resources manager, and Kurt Schwinghammer ("Schwinghammer"), a hospital director, the job duties she was expected to perform. Id. ¶ 11. Schwinghammer advised Plaintiff that she would have the option of advancing to the position of Licensing Associate or any other position within the department. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. Schwinghammer also told her that as an Intellectual Property Specialist, she would be responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the department, including management of the departmental budget, and that she "would essentially be his right hand." Id. ¶¶ 12-14. Based on the representations made by Outlaw and Schwinghammer, Plaintiff left her employment at Emory University and turned down another pending offer of employment. Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff was the first and only African American employee hired to work full-time in her department. Id. ¶ 20.

Shortly after beginning work in September 2003, "it became apparent to Plaintiff that her responsibilities had changed significantly from how they were communicated by the Defendants during her interview process." Id. ¶ 21. She was not permitted "to perform her job responsibilities independently" and faced hostility from Schwinghammer whenever she attempted to perform the duties as she understood them. Id. ¶ 22. Schwinghammer would, inter alia, read every piece of correspondence addressed to her and "attempt to prevent Plaintiff from utilizing her own independent thought processes" either by directing her how to respond to the correspondence, or by responding to the correspondence without her knowledge. Id. ¶¶ 28-30. According to Plaintiff, Schwinghammer did not place similar restrictions on or demonstrate a similar level of hostility toward white co-workers. Id. ¶¶ 23, 26. After Plaintiff requested information necessary to prepare the departmental budget, Schwinghammer told her that he would handle the budget. Id. ¶ 47. Plaintiff later discovered that Schwinghammer reassigned the budget along with some of her other duties to a white co-worker. Id. ¶ 50.

Plaintiff also alleges that Schwinghammer monitored her e-mails and phone calls but did not subject white employees to the same scrutiny. Id. ¶¶ 82-83. Schwinghammer excluded her from meetings that white co-workers were allowed to attend and copied a white co-worker on Plaintiff's e-mails in order to give others the impression that the co-worker was responsible for Plaintiff's duties. Id. ¶¶ 65-66. Plaintiff further asserts that despite his earlier representations concerning the Licensing Associate position, Schwinghammer told her that she was not qualified to become a Licensing Associate but instead permitted a white employee with less education and experience to assume the duties of the position. Id. ¶¶ 71, 75. Schwinghammer also "required Plaintiff to meet standards for advancement opportunities that were higher than those of her white co-workers" and would humiliate her by sending her accusatory, hostile e-mails with copies to other co-workers. Id. ¶¶ 84, 86.

In November 2003, Plaintiff complained of discriminatory treatment to Defendant Justina Green ("Green"), CHOP's Human Resources Director. Id. ¶ 87. Green suggested that Plaintiff apply for another position in the hospital. Id. ¶ 89. After Plaintiff made further complaints in 2004, Green told her that Schwinghammer's conduct was acceptable. Id. ¶ 90. Green at no time attempted to curtail Schwinghammer's behavior. Id. ¶ 91. In retaliation for her complaints to Green, Schwinghammer sent Plaintiff "an extremely hostile e-mail." Id. ¶¶ 99-101.

On August 11, 2004, Defendant Nelcine Dudley ("Dudley"), a human resources employee, met with Plaintiff to discuss Schwinghammer's behavior. Id. ¶ 107. At this meeting, Plaintiff advised Dudley "that the hostile working environment created by Schwinghammer had become detrimental to her health and that she could no longer work in such an environment." Id.

¶ 110. Dudley arranged a meeting with Plaintiff and Schwinghammer to discuss "clarification of roles and responsibilities," but not to address Plaintiff's harassment claims. Id. ¶ 118. During this meeting, Schwinghammer remained hostile, asserted that Plaintiff performed poorly during her probation period, and gave her specific instructions on how to handle "Office Actions." Id. ¶¶ 123, 128, 129.*fn1

Approximately one week later, on August 18, 2004, Outlaw called Plaintiff into a meeting with Dudley and Schwinghammer. Id. ¶¶ 135-136. At this meeting, Schwinghammer again questioned Plaintiff's competence and stated that she did not handle the "Office Actions" as he had instructed at the previous meeting. Id. ¶¶ 138-139. Plaintiff advised Outlaw that she was working in a hostile environment which was keeping her from performing her duties. Id. ¶ 148. Outlaw stated that she would conduct an investigation of Plaintiff's disputes with Schwinghammer and hold a subsequent meeting, but no meeting was ever held. Id. ¶¶ 154-155. Neither Dudley nor Outlaw would agree to follow up with Plaintiff to discuss her concerns. Id. ¶ 158.

On August 25, 2004, Schwinghammer sent Plaintiff a disciplinary "writeup" for her failure to follow his instructions, including his instructions on "Office Actions." Id. ¶ 159. Plaintiff refused to sign the document and explained that she wanted to speak with someone about the "writeup." Id. ¶ 160. When she was not contacted, Plaintiff called Green and explained that Schwinghammer had written her up in direct retaliation for her complaints of discriminatory treatment. Id. ¶ 164. Green declined to get involved and instructed Plaintiff to speak with Outlaw. Id. ¶ 165. Thereafter, Plaintiff spoke with Outlaw, who stated that she was aware of the writeup but took no further action. Id. ¶¶ 167-169.

Due to her work environment, Plaintiff was advised by her doctor to take time off in order to recover from a stress-induced physical disability and related ailments. Id. ¶ 174. At no time during her medical leave did Schwinghammer "contact Plaintiff to see if he could assist her with her work." Id. ¶ 175. In contrast, Schwinghammer contacted a white employee during that employee's medical leave and arranged to have her work completed during her absence, thus affording the white employee preferential treatment. Id. ¶¶ 176-180.

Because the hostile working environment continued, Plaintiff took a second medical leave approximately one week after returning to work. Id. ¶¶ 182-83. She requested intermittent medical leave, "meaning that she would be able to take leave as the need would arise." Id. ¶ 184. Two days after Plaintiff was out on intermittent medical leave, a consultant began taking over her job responsibilities. Id. ¶ 185. In October 2004, while on medical leave, Plaintiff again contacted human resources officials at CHOP about her discrimination complaints, and when they failed to investigate, she filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"). Id. ¶¶ 189-193. A copy of the complaint was also filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Id. ¶ 193.

While Plaintiff was out on medical leave, she received a letter from CHOP notifying her that if she did not return to work in December 2004, she would be placed on layoff status. Id. ¶ 197. She replied in writing, advising CHOP that her doctors considered her medically disabled and unable to work, but that she looked forward to returning when able to do so. Id. ¶ 198. Plaintiff explains that this letter to CHOP was a request for CHOP to accommodate her disability. Id. ¶ 199. Instead of accommodating Plaintiff, CHOP sent her a letter in January 2005 stating that it would seek to replace her and that if it were able to fill her position, her employment would be ...

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