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Vanstory-Frazier v. CHHS Hospital Co.

January 5, 2010


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


Plaintiff, Monique VanStory-Frazier, sues CHHS Hospital Company, LLC, t/d/b/a Chestnut Hill Hospital, seeking damages and other relief for defendant's alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act ("PMWA"), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 333.101 et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. Plaintiff alleges that defendant violated the FLSA and the PMWA by failing to pay her overtime while she was employed as a front desk supervisor with defendant's Chestnut Hill Family Practice between August 2007 and August 2008. (Compl., Counts I & II.) Plaintiff further alleges that defendant interfered with her exercise of rights under the FMLA by failing to restore her to the front desk supervisor position upon her return to work after taking approved FMLA leave.*fn1 (Id., Count III.) Defendant has moved for partial summary judgment as to these three claims, and plaintiff has opposed the motion. For the reasons set forth below, the court will deny defendant's motion.

I. Factual Background*fn2

Plaintiff began working for the Chestnut Hill Family Practice (the "Family Practice"), one of nine medical practices owned by defendant, in June 2006. (Pl.'s Ex. A ["Pl.'s Dep."] 10-11, 18.) According to defendant, the Family Practice has six attending physicians and eighteen residents at any one given time (Def.'s Mem. 2) and more than a dozen staff members (see Pl.'s Ex. E ["Benish Dep."] 13-15). Initially hired as a referral coordinator, plaintiff was promoted to the position of payment poster in October 2006. (Pl.'s Dep. 21, 29-30.) Both of these positions were hourly, "nonexempt"*fn3 positions in which plaintiff was eligible for overtime compensation. (Pl.'s Dep. 31; see Benish Dep. 17-18.)

In August 2007, plaintiff was again promoted, this time to the position of front desk supervisor. (Pl.'s Dep. 37.) In this position, plaintiff was reclassified as an exempt employee, and her salary was increased from $14 to $18 per hour. (Id. at 32, 56-57.) Plaintiff testified that while serving as front desk supervisor, she worked approximately ten hours of overtime per week (id. at 113), although because defendant classified her as an exempt employee, she was not compensated for this additional work.

As front desk supervisor, plaintiff acted as a liaison between the practice manager, Kathleen Benish, and the front desk, which at the time was staffed by five employees who handled patient check-in and check-out and answered the phones. (Id. at 21, 41-42.) Plaintiff was responsible for the "smooth, efficient and appropriate functions of the office and support staff," including making certain that money was collected; that patients were being received well by the staff; that they were using appropriate phone language, appropriate gestures at the front desk; for those who were supposed to be answering the phone, that they would be answering the phones; for those who were supposed to be checking in, checking in, not reading, not doing other things; that the check-out person would be taking in the encounter forms as patients were finished being seen by the doctors; that that person would be entering the charges. (Id. at 47-48.) Plaintiff also dealt with "supervisory issues" that came up in the check-in process, handling "any problems with patients, if they came in late, if they did not present with their co-pay; overseeing verification." (Id. at 40-41.)

In addition to these responsibilities, because the practice was short-staffed at the time of plaintiff's promotion, she "ended up doing check-in and answering the phones." (Id. at 40.) In this capacity, plaintiff primarily "pick[ed] up the doctors' lines, emergency lines, because those were the calls that for the most part had to run back and forth with triage." (Id. at 54; see also id. at 40.) She also instructed the front desk staff to send "problem calls" to her so that the phone system would not get overloaded. (Id. at 49-52.)

Plaintiff testified that as front desk supervisor she was not involved in scheduling or training front desk employees. (Id. at 42.) However, for most of her time in the position, she received and decided other front desk employees' requests for time off (id. at 145-46), and she also instructed employees regarding changes she implemented (id. at 48-49). For example, when plaintiff changed the practice's sign-in sheet in order to comply with applicable law, she instructed the front desk staff to use the new form. (Id. at 48-49, 52-53.) She also gave the front desk staff specific instructions on how to handle problem calls. (Id. at 49-51.) Moreover, although plaintiff testified that she did not have the ability to discipline front desk employees (id. at 42), she did address performance issues with employees on occasion, reminding one chronically late employee that it was important for her to arrive on time (id. at 68-69) and reminding employees who failed to use the correct forms and phone protocols to follow the appropriate procedures (id. at 53).

While in the front desk supervisor position, plaintiff participated in at least a few monthly management meetings with Benish and Dina Baker, who managed the clinical department. (Id. at 28, 44.) Plaintiff testified that she did not discuss the hiring or potential termination of front desk employees in those meetings as that was "not the intent of the meetings," which instead focused on things like problems related to the transition from one computer system to another and patient issues. (Id. at 45.) She also denied having any ability to make recommendations regarding the hiring or termination of front desk employees. (Id.) Plaintiff generally did not complete performance reviews of front desk employees,*fn4 but she did complete "rounding reports," preparing "little synops[e]s of how they're doing at the front, what they're doing, if there are any issues that need to be addressed." (Id. at 43-44.)

Plaintiff also was required to continue performing her former payment poster function during her tenure as front desk supervisor. (Id. at 76, 164-65.)

In March 2008, plaintiff submitted a request for medical leave pursuant to the FMLA. (Def.'s Ex. 4 (Pl.'s FMLA leave request).) Benish approved the request on March 24, 2008 (id.), and plaintiff commenced her FMLA leave on April 3, 2008 (Pl.'s Dep. 82). After being cleared by her physician to return to work on "light duty" effective June 27, 2008 (Pl.'s Ex. C (Pl.'s certification of fitness for duty)), plaintiff returned to work on June 30, 2008 (Pl.'s Dep. 82, 109). Although plaintiff returned to the position of front desk supervisor and "jumped right in and started picking up phone calls like I would normally do" (id. at 111-12), she was soon informed that her position was being eliminated. On or about July 14, 2008, plaintiff met with Jim Como, the human resources director, Theresa Ward, the director of physician practices, and Benish, who advised her that Benish would be acting as front desk supervisor and offered her a nonexempt position as an accounts receivable representative (or "biller") at a reduced pay rate of $15.37 per hour. (Id. at 120-22.) Plaintiff accepted the position and has continued to work for defendant in this capacity. (Id. at 121-22.)

There is no dispute that plaintiff was not informed that her position was being eliminated until some number of days after she returned from FMLA leave. (See Pl.'s Statement of Facts in Resp. to Def.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ["Pl.'s Statement"] ¶ 26 ("On July 14, 2008, Plaintiff was informed that she was being removed from the position of Front Desk Supervisor."); Def.'s Mem. 6 (same, but asserting that date plaintiff was informed was July 7).) There is a dispute, however, as to when the decision to eliminate the position was made. Although Ward testified that "[t]he final decision [to eliminate plaintiff's position] was made when [plaintiff] came back from FMLA... [p]robably within a week" (Def.'s Ex. 7 ["Ward Dep."] 54), defendant concedes that Ward initially recommended eliminating the position as early as February or March 2008 (Def.'s Mem. 6), and Benish testified that the actual decision to eliminate the position was made in early March 2008, while plaintiff was still at work (Benish Dep. 25-26; see also id. at 45-46, 49, 52-53). However, plaintiff cites an email from Benish to Dan Barr, the assistant CEO, dated July 1, 2008, the day after plaintiff returned to work, in which Benish summarized the decisionmaking process concerning plaintiff's position as follows:

While [plaintiff] was away it was determined that we would restructure FP. We are doing away with that position, as the workings of the front desk were not hindered with her absence, and, I was able to work more closely with the front desk personnel.

Instead of a layoff, the decision was made to offer her another open position within the Business Office as an AR Rep bringing her back to her prior salary. (She held this position prior to her being moved into the Supervisor role). If you approve, we would like to meet with her tomorrow, and present this adjustment. (Pl.'s Ex. D (July 1, 2008, email from Benish to Barr).) Based on this email, plaintiff contends that ...

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