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Noecker v. Reading Hospital and Medical Center

January 27, 2010

REBEKAH NOECKER, PLAINTIFF
v.
THE READING HOSPITAL AND MEDICAL CENTER DEFENDANTS



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

MEMORANDUM

Rebekah Noecker was employed as a licensed practical nurse ("LPN") at the Reading Hospital and Medical Center. In October, 2006, she informed Reading Hospital she was pregnant and her ability to work would be limited because she could not lift more than twenty-five pounds. Because her job as an LPN required an ability to lift more than twenty-five pounds, Reading Hospital gave her "odd jobs" to perform. Most of the jobs were associated with a telephone survey Reading Hospital was conducting. On January 12, 2007, Reading Hospital informed Ms. Noecker it no longer had work for her to perform because the survey was ending, and her last day would be January 19, 2007. On January 19, 2007, Ms. Noecker began a leave of absence from Reading Hospital. She filed this employment discrimination action.

The Reading Hospital filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, I will grant its motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Ms. Noecker is an LPN. Statement of Undisputed Material Facts of Plaintiff, Rebekah Noecker at ¶ 1, Noecker v. The Reading Hospital and Medical Center, No. 08-3553 (E.D. Pa. filed July 19, 2009) [hereinafter Plaintiff's Undisputed Facts]. She was employed as an "LPN-MEDS" in the rehabilitation unit of the Reading Hospital. Ms. Noecker was hired as a part-time employee in April 2006, and became a full-time employee in September 2006. Id. at ¶ 3; Defendant's Statement of Undisputed, Material Facts at ¶ 1, Noecker v. The Reading Hospital and Medical Center, No. 08-3553 (E.D. Pa. filed July 15, 2009) [hereinafter Defendant's Statement of Facts].

On October 11, 2006, Ms. Noecker gave her supervisor, Barbara Combs, a note from her gynecologist providing Ms. Noecker could not lift more than twenty-five pounds. Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 30.; Plaintiff's Reply to Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts at ¶ 30, Noecker v. The Reading Hospital and Medical Center, No. 08-3553 (E.D. Pa. filed July 29, 2009) [hereinafter Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Facts]. The following week, at Ms. Combs request, Ms. Noecker presented Ms. Combs with a note from an obstetrician, confirming Ms. Noecker could not lift more than twenty-five pounds.*fn1 Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 31; Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Facts at ¶ 31.

In October 2006, Ms. Combs left Ms. Noecker a message on Ms. Noecker's home answering machine stating: we will have you do follow-up phone calls, but we're not sure how long that will keep you busy. Also, Reading Hospital does not have any light-duty soto-speak type jobs here. When all these side jobs are taken care of you will be officially off work . . . we can't have you being a med nurse or something like that because this will open a whole can-of-worms.

Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 32; Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Facts at ¶ 32. Ms. Noecker began receiving lists of odd jobs to do at work, including making follow-up phone calls, which were a part of a survey Reading Hospital was conducting. Ms. Noecker also handled admissions and discharges, patient education, and filled medications when the registered nurses attended daily meetings. Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶¶ 35-40; Plaintiff' Response to Defendant's Facts at ¶¶ 35-40.

On January 12, 2007, Kay Nichols-Wolfe and John Spillane met with Ms. Noecker to inform her that her duties would end on January 19, 2007.*fn2 Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 44; Plaintiff' Response to Defendant's Facts at ¶ 44. On January 13, 2007, Ms. Noecker sent an email to Robert Myers, then-assistant vice-president of human resources, explaining she had been informed she was "no longer needed on the floor," and her last day would be the following Friday. She stated she had viewed the Reading Hospital's "Modified Duty Accommodating Duty Program" policy on the intranet and questioned why the policy was not being applied to her. Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 46; Plaintiff' Response to Defendant's Facts at ¶ 46.

On January 17, 2007, Ms. Noecker met with Mr. Spillane and Ms. Nichols-Wolfe to discuss the Modified Duty Program. Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 48; Plaintiff' Response to Defendant's Facts at ¶ 48. Ms. Nichols-Wolfe and Mr. Spillane told Ms. Noecker the "Modified Duty Accommodating Duty Program" applied only to work-related illnesses or injuries.*fn3 Id. On January 17, 2009, Ms. Noecker gave Ms. NicholsWolfe a third doctor's note which restricted her from lifting, pushing, and pulling less than or equal to twenty-five to thirty-five pounds. Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 49; Plaintiff' Response to Defendant's Facts at ¶ 49.

On March 2, 2007, Ms. Noecker received a letter from Karen L. Kissinger, Benefits Administrator at Reading Hospital, stating Reading Hospital's records indicated Ms. Noecker was on an absence of work from January 20, 2007 through July 1, 2007, and such absence did not qualify under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Defendant's Motion at Exh. 2 at Exh. 11. The letter explained Ms. Noecker would receive a bill for the full costs of all medical expenses when she was on unpaid leave. Id. Following receipt of this letter, Ms. Noecker spoke with someone at Reading Hospital concerning her medical benefits and COBRA. Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 52; Plaintiff' Response to Defendant's Facts at ¶52. Plaintiff gave birth to twins on May 3, 2007. Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 54; Plaintiff' Response to Defendant's Facts at ¶ 54. A month or two later, she began receiving medical bills. Id.

Following the birth of her twins, Ms. Noecker visited the rehabilitation unit. Rebekah Noecker Deposition at 171. Following this visit, Valerie Geyer, Ms. Comb's replacement as nurse manager, called Ms. Noecker. Id. Ms. Geyer asked whether Ms. Noecker would be returning to work. Id. Ms. Noecker told Ms. Geyer to call Ms. Noecker's attorney. Id.

On May 8, 2007, Ms. Noecker filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which stated she held the position at the Reading Hospital from April 3, 2006 through "current" and was on a leave of absence effective January 19, 2007. Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 59, 62; Plaintiff' Response to Defendant's Facts at ¶ 59, 62.

On June 28, 2007, Ms. Noecker received a letter from Mr. Myers, then-Assistant Vice-President of Human Resources. The letter informed her that her leave of absence time had reached its limit, and, if she was unable to return to work, her status as an active employee would come to an end. Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶ 55; Plaintiff' Response to Defendant's Facts at ¶ 55. If she was unable to return, but wanted to be considered for re-instatement or re-hire, she could submit a letter of resignation, indicating this wish. Id. Ms. Noecker did not contact Reading Hospital after the June 28, 2007 letter, and did not submit a letter of resignation. Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶¶ 56, 58; Plaintiff' Response to Defendant's Facts at ...


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