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Warenecki v. City of Philadelphia

November 3, 2010

KATHY WARENECKI
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL.



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

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Kathy Warenecki brings this action for employment discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et. seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising from her termination as a medical assistant for the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health ("the Health Department"). Plaintiff asserts claims against the City of Philadelphia ("the City") and her former supervisors, Sharon McAfee and Darnell Wilkerson. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Beginning in 2003, Plaintiff was employed as a medical assistant at the Health Department, in the Ambulatory Health Services Unit ("AHS"). (Defs. Statement of Material Facts ¶ 1.)*fn1 She was, at all relevant times, assigned to Health Center #6 ("the Health Center"). (Id. ¶ 3.) In 2007, Defendant Sharon McAfee, Health Care Coordinator for the Health Center, became Warenecki's immediate supervisor. (Id. ¶ 5.) McAfee is African American. (Id. ¶ 6.) Defendant Darnell Wilkerson, Director of the Health Center, is also African American. (Id. ¶ 7; Wilkerson Decl. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff is white. (Defs. Statement of Material Facts ¶ 4.)

On Tuesday, May 13, 2008, AHS employee Tara Cameron drew Warenecki's blood in the laboratory at the Health Center, while both employees were on duty ("the May 13 incident"). (Id. ¶ 11.) McAfee observed Cameron drawing Warenecki's blood, and held a meeting in her office, with Cameron and Warenecki, to discuss the inappropriateness and ethical implications of having personal blood work done during their shifts. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) At that meeting, Warenecki stated that many AHS employees had blood and urine work done at the Health Center, and asked McAfee if she was singling Warenecki out because of her race. (Pl.'s Dep. at 29-30, 36-37.) McAfee stated that she was offended, and that she was not racist. (Id. at 30.) On May 16, 2008, Warenecki received a memorandum from McAfee ("the May 16 memorandum"), explaining that having her blood drawn at work was unprofessional. (Defs. Statement of Material Facts ¶ 14; Def. Ex. 5.) In addition, for approximately two weeks following the May 13 incident, McAfee "would constantly pull [Warenecki] to the side" and talk about the May 13 incident and Plaintiff's allegation of racism. (Pl.'s Dep. at 39-40.)

Warenecki, and her representatives from the District Council #33 Union, requested a meeting with McAfee and Wilkerson to discuss the May 16 memorandum. (Defs. Statement of Material Facts ¶ 16.) On June 17, 2008, Warenecki, along with Union representatives Linda Lee, Evon Sutton, and Adele Roberts, attended a meeting ("the June 17 meeting") with McAfee and Wilkerson. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) At the June 17 meeting, Warenecki stated that it was common practice for AHS employees and their families to have blood and urine work done at the Health Center and accused McAfee of singling her out on the basis of her race. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 20.) Warenecki stated that she had documents to prove that AHS employees and their families had lab work performed at the Health Center and referred to a manilla envelope that she had brought with her. (Id. ¶ 24.) Warenecki also stated that she had obtained the gonorrhea and chlamydia test results of one of her co-workers. (Id. ¶ 21; Pl.'s Dep. at 79-80.)

According to the Defendants, Warenecki then opened the envelope, removed her co-worker's gonorrhea and chlamydia test results, and slid the document across the table so that the co-worker's name and test results were clearly visible. (Def. Ex. 6; McAfee Decl. ¶ 19; Wilkerson Decl. ¶ 14; Roberts Decl. ¶ 8.) Warenecki denies removing any papers from the envelope or passing around any document with any employee's health information. (Pl.'s Dep. at 62-64, 79.) She maintains that she was bluffing when she referred to the envelope, which contained only her personal mortgage papers. (Id. at 60-62.) Warenecki also maintains that after the meeting, Wilkerson asked to see her in his office, where he stated that she "had a nerve to complain, because, you know, it's a well-known fact that, you know, that black people have been discriminated [sic] for hundreds of years...." (Id. at 56-57.)

Wilkerson reported the events of the June 17 meeting to Dr. Thomas Storey, Director of AHS. (Defs. Statement of Material Facts ¶ 26.) Dr. Storey advised Wilkerson to reclaim the medical records which Warenecki claimed to have brought to the meeting. (Id. ¶ 27.) When Wilkerson asked Warenecki for the records, she told him that the envelope contained only mortgage papers and that she had been bluffing at the meeting. (Id. ¶ 29.) Wilkerson reported this information to Dr. Storey, who stated that he would handle the matter. (Id. ¶ 30.) Dr. Storey determined that Warenecki's actions violated AHS's policies and provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA") that relate to the privacy of certain health information. (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.) He recommended to Philadelphia Department of Public Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz that Warenecki be suspended for thirty days pending dismissal. (Id.) Dr. Schwarz approved the recommendation. (Id.)

On July 21, 2008, McAfee, through Wilkerson, sent Warenecki a memorandum ("the July 21st memorandum"), explaining that her actions at the meeting were considered a violation of federal law and AHS policy. (Def. Ex. 6.) The July 21st memorandum also stated that McAfee and Wilkerson recommended that Warenecki be suspended for thirty days with intent to dismiss. (Id.) On July 28, 2008, the Disciplinary Panel of the Health Department sent Warenecki another memorandum ("the July 28th memorandum"), notifying her that she would be suspended for thirty days pending dismissal. (Def. Ex. 12.) Warenecki immediately requested an appeal. (Id.) Warenecki was served with a formal Notice of Suspension and a Notice of Intention to Dismiss on September 5, 2008. (Def. Exs. 13, 14.) She was served with a formal Notice of Dismissal on September 17, 2008. (Def. Ex. 17.)

The Complaint asserts claims against the City, McAfee, and Wilkerson for the deprivation of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the law pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts I, II, III). The Complaint also asserts claims against the City pursuant to Title VII. The Title VII claims assert that the City of Philadelphia discriminated against Warenecki on the basis of race, in reprimanding and terminating her (Count V), and that the City retaliated against Warenecki, in suspending and terminating her, because she objected to the discriminatory treatment to which she and other white employees were subjected at AHS (Count VI).*fn2 Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all counts on the ground that the record before the Court does not contain sufficient evidence to support any of Warenecki's claims.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). An issue is "genuine" "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id.

"[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the movant's initial Celotex burden can be met simply by "pointing out to the district court -- that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325. After the moving party has met its initial burden, the adverse party's response "must -- by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule -- set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). That is, summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party fails to respond with a factual showing "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

"'While the evidence that the non-moving party presents may be either direct or circumstantial, and need not be as great as a preponderance, the evidence must be more than a scintilla.'" Galli v. N.J. Meadowlands Comm'n, 490 F.3d 265, 270 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Hugh v. Butler Cnty. Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005)). "Evidence that is merely colorable or not significantly probative is insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact for trial." West v. Lincoln Benefit Life Co., 509 F.3d 160, 172 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, and El v. Southeastern Pa. Transp. Auth., 479 F.3d 232, 238 (3d Cir. 2007)).

III. DISCUSSION

A. The Discrimination Claims

In Counts II, III, and V, Plaintiff asserts discrimination claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et. seq.

Section 1983 provides a remedy against "[e]very person" who, under the color of state law, deprives another of his rights arising under the Constitution or federal law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "By its terms, of course, the statute creates no substantive rights; it merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere." City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816 (1985) (plurality opinion) (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 140, 144 n.3 (1979)). "Thus, '[t]o establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [a plaintiff] must demonstrate a violation of a right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States....'" Mark v. Borough of Hatboro, 51 F.3d 1137, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995) (alterations in original) (quoting Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1993)).

The Fourteenth Amendment states that "[n]o State shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U.S. Const. Amend. XIV, § 1. This is "essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike." City of Cleburne, Tex. v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985) (citing Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 216 (1982)). "'To bring a successful claim under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 for a denial of equal protection, plaintiffs must prove the existence of purposeful discrimination. They must demonstrate that they received different treatment from that received by other individuals similarly situated.'" ...


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