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Carney v. Healthcare Services Group

May 18, 2010


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


After a two-day, non-jury trial in this retaliation case, I now set forth, in narrative form, my findings of fact and conclusions of law.

The defendant, Healthcare Services Group, Inc., is a Pennsylvania corporation that provides housekeeping, laundry, maintenance, and food services to healthcare institutions on a contract basis. The plaintiff, Josephine Carney, was hired by Healthcare Services Group in April 2002 as a full-time housekeeper. She was employed in that position until her termination in January 2008.

The issue to be decided in this case is whether the plaintiff was terminated in retaliation for having made complaints about sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination to her supervisors and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and for having filed a federal lawsuit, which the parties settled in 2008.

From 2002 until 2007, the plaintiff was assigned to work at the Silver Lake Center, a skilled nursing facility in Bristol, Pennsylvania. At trial, various employees testified that the plaintiff was regarded as a challenging and combative employee by her supervisors and co-workers. However, the plaintiff's personnel record does not reflect any instances of discipline during her first four years of employment, and none of the witnesses testified with any specificity in this regard. Further, the testimony conflicts with a written performance evaluation given to the plaintiff in early 2004 by her immediate supervisor, and the Account Manager at the Silver Lake facility, Kevin O'Connor. Mr. O'Connor identified the plaintiff as an overall "good" employee, whose performance was "satisfactory" in the area of "cooperation." This was the only written performance evaluation ever given to the plaintiff.

In mid-2006, the plaintiff began having a sexual relationship with Ronald Felder, who, at that time, had recently been hired to replace Mr. O'Connor as the Account Manager at the Silver Lake facility. The relationship occurred during and after working hours, and the plaintiff ended the relationship when she learned that Mr. Felder was married.

The plaintiff testified credibly that after she ended the relationship, Mr. Felder began harassing her. The harassment included assigning the plaintiff difficult work that was outside of her job description and pressuring her to resume the sexual relationship. The harassment worsened after Mr. Felder learned that the plaintiff was expecting a child with another man, although he no longer attempted to pursue a sexual relationship with her.

The plaintiff complained about the harassment to Mr. Felder and threatened to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She also complained to William Kauffman, the Regional Manager of the Silver Lake facility,*fn1 and Charles "Chuck" Batdorf, the District Manager of the facility.*fn2

In November 2006, Mr. Batdorf offered to transfer the plaintiff to a part-time position at D'Youville Manor in Yardley, Pennsylvania. The transfer was motivated by the plaintiff's complaints and by a possible vacancy in the Account Manager position at D'Youville Manor. Mr. Batdorf told the plaintiff that he was considering her for a promotion to the Account Manager position. The plaintiff accepted the part-time position, and during November and December 2006, the plaintiff worked two days a week at D'Youville Manor and three days a week at Silver Lake.

The Account Manager position never became available, and the plaintiff was transferred, at her request, back to a full-time position at Silver Lake. Mr. Felder, who was still employed as the Account Manager at Silver Lake in January 2007, issued three written employee warning notices to the plaintiff on January 2, 2007, January 30, 2007, and February 6, 2007, for her failure to maintain a professional and cooperative attitude and poor job performance. The plaintiff understood the notices to be further harassment, and on January 30, 2007, the plaintiff filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination.

On March 5, 2007, Mr. Kauffman permanently transferred the plaintiff from the Silver Lake facility to Manor Care in Yardley, Pennsylvania. The plaintiff initially requested the transfer, but later asked to remain at Silver Lake, because, in her view, she had not done anything wrong, and Mr. Felder should have been transferred away from Silver Lake. The plaintiff wrote to the defendant's Human Resources Department to complain about the transfer.*fn3

In response, in mid-March of 2007, Timothy McCartney, the defendant's in-house counsel, who also performed human resources functions for the company, contacted the plaintiff to discuss the letter and the EEOC complaint. The plaintiff testified that Mr. McCartney promised to investigate her complaint and said that he would "be in touch," but she never heard from him or from anyone else. Mr. Felder voluntarily resigned from Healthcare Services Group in mid-2007.

While at Manor Care, the plaintiff was supervised by Account Manager Brian Cunningham, who has since died, and Assistant Account Manager Linda Kolk. The plaintiff's personnel record does not reflect any instances of discipline while at Manor Care in 2007.*fn4 A former employee of Healthcare Services Group, Kristen Drenkhahn, testified that the plaintiff was treated differently than the other employees at Manor Care, and that she had been warned not to talk to the plaintiff by Mr. Cunningham because the plaintiff was "trouble." Another co-worker, Johnny Williams, testified similarly at trial. The defendants concede that Mr. Cunningham and employees at the Manor Care facility were made aware of the plaintiff's "legal issues" and alleged disciplinary problems.

On January 4, 2008, the plaintiff filed the federal lawsuit asserting sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination claims against the defendant. The following day, the plaintiff was involved in an altercation with the aforementioned co-worker, Mr. Williams. The plaintiff was eating lunch in the facility's employee break room when she and Marilyn Lopez, a food service manager at the facility employed by another company, heard shouting and ...

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