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Yeager v. UPMC Horizon

March 17, 2010

LINDSEY YEAGER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UPMC HORIZON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Lindsey Yeager (―plaintiff‖ or ―Yeager‖), a former health education specialist for UPMC's Womancare Center, commenced this gender-based discrimination and retaliation action against her former employer, defendant UPMC Horizon (―defendant‖ or ―Horizon‖). Plaintiff asserts claims for (1) hostile work environment, gender-based discrimination, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1963, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (―Title VII‖) (counts one and three), and (2) hostile work environment, gender-based discrimination, and retaliation in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 951, et seq.(―PHRA‖) (counts two and four). Defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment with respect to the PHRA claim for hostile work environment (count two) and plaintiff's retaliation claims (counts one, two, three, and four).

After considering the submissions of the parties, including the joint statement of material facts (Docket No. 42) (―J.S.‖), the court will grant defendant's partial motion for summary judgment with respect to plaintiff's claims asserted under the PHRA, and deny the motion with respect to plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claims to the extent she claims she was retaliated against by defendant prohibiting her from working at home, which she was previously permitted to do.

Factual Background

A. Introductory Facts

The factual background is derived from the undisputed evidence of record and the disputed evidence of record viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (―The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.‖).

Plaintiff was employed briefly by defendant in 2005, and again employed from February 2006 until her termination on April 4, 2008. (J.S. ¶ 1; Def.'s App. in Supp. of Mot. (Docket No. 32), Tab 1 (―Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32)‖) at 32, 150.) After working for one week in 2005, plaintiff returned to Horizon as a registered nurse (―RN‖) in the OB department on February 6, 2006. (J.S. ¶ 5; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 49.) During that time, she reported to Sue Lauffer (―Lauffer‖), manager of the OB department. (Id.)

Because plaintiff was having difficulty working with Lauffer, she approached Kimberly Leonard (―Leonard‖), about job openings that might be available. (J.S. ¶ 8; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 61.) Leonard was employed as defendant's director of nursing, defendant's assistant chief nursing officer, the director of Women's Health Services, and the director of the Womancare Center (J.S. ¶ 3; Def.'s App. in Supp. of Mot., Tab 2 (―Leonard Dep. (Docket No. 32)‖) at 9.) Plaintiff was interviewed and selected by Leonard for the health education specialist position based in the Womancare Center. (J.S. ¶ 9-10; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 62, 71; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 12.) Plaintiff started in the new position on December 10, 2006, at which time she began reporting to Leonard. (J.S. ¶ 12; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 72, 74; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 19.) In that position, plaintiff was responsible for maternal infant community education, staff development, private patient consultation, interfacing with physician offices, advocacy for breastfeeding, and breastfeeding support groups. (J.S. ¶ 10; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 62, Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 12.)

B. Dr. Meyn and the Sexual Harassment Incidents

Dr. Joseph Meyn (―Meyn‖) was a physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology and was employed at Horizon from June 2005 until March 2009. (J.S. ¶ 4; Def.'s App. in Supp. of Mot., Tab 6 (―Meyn Dep. (Docket No. 32)‖) at 10-12.) Yeager first met Meyn while working as a RN in the OB Department. (J.S. ¶ 7; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 57.) Beginning in October 2006, Yeager began dating Meyn, although plaintiff testified that the relationship was not consensual. (J.S. ¶ 14; Pl.'s App. in Opp. of Mot. (Docket No. 36), Ex. 1 (―Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36)‖) at 58, 75-76.) Yeager telephoned Meyn and sent him electronic text messages, but Meyn ―would just keep calling and bothering me. It wouldn't matter what time it was or what month it was.‖ (J.S. ¶ 15, 16; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 75-76.)

Leonard telephoned plaintiff on November 22, 2006 to offer her the position of health education specialist. (J.S. ¶ 11; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 71; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36), Ex. 66.) Plaintiff received a text message on the same day from Meyn which stated, ―Congrats. You have the lactation consultant job. Act surprised when they tell you. You owe me. Big time. Happy turkey day! JW.‖ (Id.) Leonard told plaintiff not to worry about the written warning that Lauffer had issued to her as Leonard was getting rid of Lauffer. (J.S. ¶ 23(f); Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 213.) Meyn made a similar representation to plaintiff. (Id.) After plaintiff was selected for the health education specialist position, Meyn told her that she was to have sexual intercourse with Leonard and him. (J.S. ¶ 23(d); Pl. Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 116.)

Shortly before Christmas in 2006, Meyn gave Leonard a substantial gift. (J.S. ¶ 23(b); Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 105-06.) Upon receiving the gift, Leonard stated in front of the entire staff that she was surprised she was the one who received the gift, as plaintiff was the one who was sleeping with Meyn. (Id.) Meyn occasionally went to Leonard's office to talk to her. (J.S. ¶ 23(c); Pl.'s App. in Opp. of Mot., Ex. 2 (―Meyn Dep. (Docket No. 36)‖) at 44-45; Pl.'s App. in Opp. of Mot., Ex. 4 (―Leoanrd Dep. (Docket No. 36)‖) at 30.) On one occasion, Leonard got angry at plaintiff for interrupting a discussion between Leonard and Meyn. (Id.)*fn1

Plaintiff gave Meyn oral sex on four occasions: three times between October and November 2006 and once on or around March 6, 2007. (J.S. ¶ 19; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 77.) On all four occasions, the acts of oral sex were against plaintiff's will. (J.S. ¶ 19; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 76-79.) From the beginning of the nonconsensual relationship, plaintiff had informed Meyn that his advances were not wanted. (J.S. ¶ 19; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 79-80.) During the March 2007 incident, Meyn removed plaintiff's clothing from above the waist, and attempted to remove the rest of her clothing. (J.S. ¶ 19; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 77-80.) Meyn pinned plaintiff, who was crying and protesting, to the bed. (Id.)

Plaintiff did not go to the police after any of the occurrences of oral sex with Meyn. (J.S. ¶ 19; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 79.) Plaintiff asserts that Meyn is an avid gun collector with well over 200 weapons in his collection. (J.S. ¶ 20; Meyn Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 25-26.)

When Meyn showed his collection to plaintiff, he told her words to the effect that ―he gets rid of whoever he doesn't like.‖ (J.S. ¶ 20; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 209, 217.) Meyn conveyed to plaintiff that he had been responsible for getting rid of a number of people in the hospital. (J.S. ¶ 20; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 209-10.)

On March 18, 2007, Meyn sent plaintiff a number of text messages that, in summary, stated that he was intensely attracted to plaintiff, he rebuked her for not wanting to make love, she would like the things he would do to her to the point that she would become addicted, and the next time he sees her they will be doing more than cuddling. (J.S. ¶ 54; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 220-21; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36), Ex. 66.)

C. Evaluations

Plaintiff's performance as an RN in the OB department was reviewed by Lauffer through a performance improvement plan on July 14, 2006, and a performance management review on August 6, 2006. (J.S. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Exs. 10, 11.) Plaintiff contends that one criticism made in the performance improvement plan concerning an inappropriate statement plaintiff made about the OB department to individuals in another department did not occur. (Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 52.)

In June 2007 plaintiff started having problems with Leonard while working as the health education specialist. (J.S. ¶ 57; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 63.) Plaintiff was issued a corrective action by Leonard on June 8, 2007, which noted plaintiff's performance issues were: ―(1) unprofessional behavior/poor impulse control/reactionary; (2) inability to work with co-worker towards common goal; (3) difficulty accepting criticism from manager/supervisor.‖ (J.S. ¶ 22; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 22; Def.'s App. in Supp. of Mot., Tab 3 (―Leonard Dec. (Docket No. 32)‖) ¶ 3.) The first two performance issues in the corrective action relate to personal conflicts with plaintiff and her co-worker, Dona Householder (―Householder‖). (J.S. ¶ 22(a); Pl.'sDep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 22.) Householder received a corrective action from Leonard on April 16, 2007 for violation of department work rules and policies. (J.S. ¶ 22(a); Def.'s Supplemental App. in Supp. of Mot. (Docket No. 40), Tab 1 (―2nd Leonard Dec. (Docket No. 40)‖), Ex. A ¶ 3.) The written warning resulted, in part, from issues relating to the ongoing conflict with plaintiff. (2nd Leonard Dec. (Docket No. 40), Ex. A ¶ 4.)

On the same day that plaintiff received the corrective action, she also received a performance management review rating her overall performance as a 2.05 out of 3. (J.S. ¶ 25; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 24.) Over the next two months, defendant determined that plaintiff's performance did not improve, and on August 7, 2007, plaintiff was issued a performance improvement plan. (J.S. ¶ 27; Leonard Dec. (Docket No. 32) ¶ 6; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 101; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 27.) In the performance improvement plan, Leonard noted that there had been ―no real improvement‖ since June 2007 and that there had been inconsistencies with plaintiff's time sheet. (J.S. ¶ 28; Leonard Dec. (Docket No. 32) ¶ 6; Leonard Dec. (Docket No. 32), Ex. C.) Under ―Description of the incident‖ Leonard wrote:

Corrective Action Form 6-8-07 regarding unprofessional/reactionary behavior. Meeting weekly with no real improvement. Frequently leaves work crying ‗I can't do anything right.' 7-31-07 Responded negatively to an e-mail sent to her reminding her to be respectful. Talked about incident to physician's co-workers. In addition, inconsistencies with time sheet. (J.S. ¶ 29; Leonard Dec. (Docket No. 32), Ex. C.)

Meyn never gave plaintiff a performance review, he did not observe plaintiff clinically, and never supervised her. (J.S. ¶ 13; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 84; Meyn Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 61-62.)

D. Reporting and Filing of Discrimination Charges

Yeager first reported Meyn's sexual harassment to Durniok on June 8, 2007 after receiving a corrective action. (J.S. ¶ 26; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 104.) Plaintiff repeated her complaint to Durniok on July 3, 2007. (J.S. ¶ 26; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 117-18, 207-08.) During the July 3, 2007 meeting with Durniok, plaintiff relayed the content of text messages and voice mails that Meyn left her. (J.S. ¶ 26; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 104, 207-08.)

Plaintiff reported to Leonard on or about August 7, 2007, that she was having problems with Meyn, because he was making sexual advances toward her. (J.S. ¶ 26; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 117-18.) Leonard responded to plaintiff by threatening her employment, saying, ―you can either resign or I will terminate you and ruin your employee file, it's your choice.‖ (Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 118.) Plaintiff complained to Durniok regarding this statement made by Leonard. (J.S. ¶ 60; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 118.) Durniok instructed plaintiff that ―nobody gets terminated without me saying so.‖ (Id.) On the same day, plaintiff was issued a performance improvement plan. (J.S. ¶ 27; Leonard Dec. (Docket No. 32) ¶ 6; Pl.'s Dep (Docket No. 32), Ex. 27.)

On September 11, 2007, Durniok received a fax from plaintiff containing a charge of discrimination to be filed by plaintiff with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (―EEOC‖). (J.S. ¶ 32; Durniok Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 39; Durniok Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 4.) On September 13, 2007, Durniok met with Meyn and informed him that plaintiff made a complaint of sexual harassment against him and questioned him about the allegations; Meyn was instructed to no longer have any contact with plaintiff and to inform Durniok if she contacted him. (J.S. ¶ 34; Meyn Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 35, 50-51; Durniok Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 30.)

On September 17, 2007, plaintiff signed a document titled ―Information for Complaints & Election Option to Dual File with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission‖ (―PHRC‖). (J.S. ¶ 36; Docket No. 32, Tab 7 (―Myers Dec. (Docket No. 32)‖) ¶ 4; Myers Dec. (Docket No. 32), Ex. A.) The form provided:

If you want your charge filed with PHRC, including this form as part of your EEOC charge, with your signature under the verification below, will constitute filing with PHRC.

(Id.)

On September 20, 2007, the EEOC transmitted plaintiff's charge of discrimination to the PHRC. (J.S. ¶ 36; Myers Dec. (Docket No. 32) ¶ 4; Myers Dec. (Docket No. 32), Ex. B.) This transmission letter stated that the charge of employment discrimination (EEOC Charge No. 533-2007-01785) was initially received by the EEOC on September 14, 2007. (Myers Dec. (Docket No. 32), Ex. B.)

On September 25, 2007, plaintiff filed a second charge of discrimination alleging that she was retaliated against because she filed her first charge of discrimination. (J.S. ¶ 38; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36), Ex. 45.) On or about April 15, 2008, plaintiff filed her final EEOC charge of discrimination alleging that her termination was in retaliation for her prior protected activity. (J.S. ¶ 53; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 48.)

E. Alleged Retaliation Incidents

Plaintiff alleged that the following incidents occurred in retaliation for filing her original charge and complaining about sexual harassment: (1) she received emails from Leonard; (2) after the EEOC complaint was faxed to Horizon on September 11, 2007, Leonard invited Meyn to eat lunch during a staff meeting at the Womancare Center and Meyn took the only open seat which was next to plaintiff; (3) she was forced onto a medical leave; and (4) she was contacted, during her leave, by Marsha Solo (―Solo‖) and asked to close the Womancare Center because plaintiff had keys. (J.S. ¶ 39; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 130-36.) Plaintiff admitted that she does not know whether Solo, a nurse, knew that plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination when she telephoned plaintiff with respect to closing the Womancare Center. (J.S. ¶ 40; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 135.)

After plaintiff first alerted Leonard to her complaint against Meyn, Leonard sent emails related to inconsistencies in plaintiff's time sheet and mileage. (J.S. ¶ 41; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Exs. 29, 33, 34.) One of the emails dated September 12, 2007, not only addressed alleged problems with plaintiff's time sheets, but also informed plaintiff that she is no longer to work from home and should only record hours spent at the Womancare Center or the Birth Place. (J.S. ¶ 41; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 110-11; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 33.) Plaintiff previously was allowed to work from home. (J.S. ¶ 41; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 113.) Plaintiff was working as a single parent and taking classes in a master's program. (Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 113-14; Pl.'s Br. in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. (Docket No. 34) at 12.) Plaintiff stated that Leonard knew and implicitly approved of the problems with plaintiff's time sheets long before Leonard sent the email, whereas defendant asserts that the inconsistencies in plaintiff's time sheet were raised on August 7, 2007 in plaintiff's performance improvement plan. (J.S. ¶ 41; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 113-14; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 27.)

F. Family Medical Leave, Personal Leave, and Termination

On September 14, 2007, plaintiff sent Leonard an email informing her that she was going home from work for the day. (J.S. ¶ 35; Leonard Dec. (Docket No. 32) ¶ 11.) That day was the last day that plaintiff actually worked for defendant. (Id.) Plaintiff subsequently sought medical treatment for the emotional harm that she was suffering as a result of the alleged harassment, first at the emergency room and then through a counselor. (J.S. ¶ 35; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 85-86, 177-95.) Plaintiff's physician issued a ―Certificate to Return to Work/School‖ slip dated September 17, 2007, indicating that plaintiff would be indefinitely off work. (J.S. ¶ 35; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 144; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36), Ex. 51.)

On December 10, 2007, plaintiff was sent a letter by Leonard which stated:

You have been on Family and Medical Leave since September 28, 2007; this leave of absence will expire on December 21, 2007. I am enclosing a form for you to request a Personal Leave of Absence at the expiration of your FMLA on December 21, 2007.

The Personal LOA provides a fourteen (14) week extension at the end of the Family and Medical Leave if necessary. (J.S. ¶ 42; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 144-45; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 52.) Plaintiff requested and was granted a personal leave of absence. (J.S. ¶ 43; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 145-47; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 53.)

On February 26, 2008, Durniok sent a letter to plaintiff reminding her that UPMC employees are eligible for only twenty-six weeks of leave in a rolling year, and that her combined twelve-week FMLA leave and fourteen-week personal leave were to expire on March 28, 2008. (J.S. ¶ 44; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 149; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 56.) Failure of plaintiff to return to work by March 28, 2008 would result in termination of employment and removal from UPMC payroll. (Id.) This letter was sent in compliance with Horizon's leave of absence policy. (J.S. ¶ 44; Durniok Dec. (Docket No. 32), Ex. C.)

On March 5, 2008, plaintiff's counsel sent a fax to Durniok and others, stating Release to Return to work at UPMC-―another facility‖- (Response to Letter of termination if not returning). Kindly advise Ms. Yeager of the proposed facility-(not Hermitage)-that UPMC intends to have Lindsey return to effective 4/1/08! (J.S. ¶ 45; Durniok Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 44; Durniok Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 7; Durniok Dec. (Docket No. 32) ¶ 7.) The second page of the fax was a note from Dr. Susan Drolet, a clinical psychologist, which stated:

Lindsey Yeager is not to return to work at this time. Her problems with depression and anxiety are a direct result of the harassment and hostile work environment at UPMC Horizon. Ms. Yeager is targeted to return to work the last week in March. However, due to the aforementioned work environment at the Woman Care Center she will need to be placed at another facility. (J.S. ¶ 46; Durniok Dec. (Docket No. 32) ¶ 7; Durniok Dep. (Docket No. 32), Ex. 7.)

When plaintiff failed to return to work on March 28, 2008, Durniok sent plaintiff a letter dated April 4, 2008 informing Yeager that her employment was terminated pursuant to the personal leave of absence policy. (J.S. ¶ 47; Durniok Dec. (Docket No. 32) ¶ 8; Durniok Dec. (Docket No. 32), Ex. C.) Durniok stated that plaintiff's not returning to work was considered a voluntary resignation and her employment was being terminated in accordance with the personal leave of absence policy. (J.S. ¶ 48; Durniok Dep. (Docket No. 32) at 47.)

Plaintiff's position as the health education specialist was at the Womancare Center located in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, which is a stand-alone facility dedicated to women's health. (J.S. ¶ 49; Durniok Dec. (Docket No. 32) ¶ 9.) Durniok does not have the authority to transfer or relocate employees outside of Horizon to other business units. (J.S. ¶ 50; Durniok Dec. (Docket No. 32) ¶ 10.) Durniok could not recall whether he discussed the decision to terminate plaintiff's employment with his superior, Joel Yuhas. Prior to the expiration of her personal leave of absence, plaintiff did not bid on any open position at Horizon. (J.S. ¶ 51; Durniok Dec. (Docket No. 32) ¶ 11.)

Plaintiff was prepared to go back to work for UPMC in March 2008. (J.S. ΒΆ 55; Pl.'s Dep. (Docket No. 36) at 205.) Meyn was not reassigned; rather, he voluntarily left his employment at Horizon in March 2009 for a better opportunity. ...


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