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Shafeah Morrison v. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

September 8, 2011


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


Shafeah Morrison brings this action against Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Inc. ("TJUH"). Morrison, an African American woman, alleges that her former employer, TJUH, fired her because of her race. She brings claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). Currently before the Court are Defendant's motion for summary judgment, Defendant's motion to strike Plaintiff's amended disclosures, and Defendant's motion for reconsideration of the Court's August 17, 2011 Order. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted, and Defendant's motions to strike Plaintiff's amended disclosures and for reconsideration of the Court's August 17, 2011 Order are denied as moot.


A. Plaintiff's Employment at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

Morrison worked for TJUH as an "Emergency Department pool nurse." (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts in Supp. of its Mot. for Summ. J. [Def.'s SOF], No. 2.) An Emergency Department pool nurse ("ED pool nurse") is a registered nurse who must work a minimum number of hours on a part-time basis at TJUH, and who is evaluated and hired to work in the Emergency Department. (Id.) ED pool nurses fill vacancies in nursing schedules after staff nurses have selected or been assigned shifts. (Id.)

When a nurse finishes a shift, the outgoing nurse gives a hand-off report to the incoming nurse that typically includes information on each individual patient's history, diagnosis, treatment, and needs. (Pl. Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Pl.'s Opp'n] Ex. 2 [Matthew Dep.] at 21:16--24.) Hand-off communication provides the receiving nurse an adequate opportunity to ask questions about the patients. (Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 3 [Millinghausen Dep.] at 89:13--15.) TJUH's hand-off communications policy also notes the importance of "allowing opportunity for questions between the giver and receiver of patient information[,] . . .[l]imited interruptions to minimize the possibility that information would fail to be conveyed or would be forgotten[,]. . . [and the o]pportunity for receiver of hand-off information to review relevant patient historical data." (Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 14 [TJUH Hand-Off Communications Policy] at 1.) Similarly, TJUH's "Target Quality" newsletter for February 2008 highlighted the hand-off communications policy, focusing on the need to provide upto-date information, the opportunity to ask questions, and to limit interruptions. (Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 15 [Target Quality Newsletter] at 1.) Morrison, however, disputes whether the newsletter was distributed to nurses and whether TJUH made efforts to provide training to nurses on the hand-off policy. (Pl.'s SOF No. 19.) Nonetheless, Morrison agreed that maintaining good hand-off communication policies was a very important function for patient safety, that every hospital should treat hand-off report policies with utmost importance, and that if a hospital did not enforce such policies, lives could be at risk. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 5 [Morrison Dep.] at 176:15--177:8.)

B. Plaintiff's Conduct on March 28, 2008

On March 28, 2008, Morrison was working as a pool nurse in Area I--L on a shift scheduled to end at 3:30 p.m. (Id. at 142:15.) Morrison left her shift early and sought to give a hand-off report to Heather Matthew, who was working as a nurse in the Fast Track Area of the Emergency Room. (Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 10 [Morrison Handwritten Statement]; Matthew Dep. at 9:14--10:1.) Matthew was working a split shift from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., during which she would work the first half in the Fast Track Area and the second half in Area I--L. (Matthew Dep. at 9:12--19.) With a split shift, a nurse would generally wait for his or her replacement in the first assignment location to provide hand-off communication, and then he or she would go to the second assignment location to receive a hand-off report. (Millinghausen Dep. at 79:17--22.) This created a "three-way switch," in which two nurses needed relief and two nurses provided relief. (Matthew Dep. at 34:5--11.) With an 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift, the nurse would provide a hand-off report and receive one between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. (Id. at 79:12--15.)

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, Morrison's hand-off communications were inadequate. At 2:30 p.m., Morrison asked Matthew if she would receive the hand-off report early, to which Matthew responded that she was busy but that she would try. (Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 13 [Matthew Email to Sheehan].) Sometime between 3:00 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., Morrison left Area I--L and went to the Fast Track Area to give a hand-off report to Matthew, although Matthew had not yet received her relief and was continuing her duties in the Fast Track Area. (Morrison Handwritten Statement.) Morrison told Matthew that she had not gotten a lunch break, felt a migraine headache coming, and had to pick up her children from school, and then asked to give Matthew a hand-off report. (Id.) Morrison knew that Matthew was covering the Fast Track Area, which was on the opposite side of the department from Area I--L. Nonetheless, Morrison provided Matthew a brief hand-off report and told Matthew that she would leave her cell phone number at the desk if there were questions. (Id.; Matthew Email to Sheehan.) Matthew testified that she was distracted when Morrison provided her the hand-off report since, at that time, she was still overseeing her current patients. (Matthew Dep. at 19:5--22:24.)

After receiving the report, Matthew felt that the Area I--L patients were her responsibility, but being "physically on the other side of the department . . . they [we]re left uncared for." (Id. at 38:21--39:4.) Consequently, at 3:15 p.m., Matthew went to the Area I--L Day Shift Charge Nurse, Frank Rocco, to explain the situation and inform him that either she needed relief in the Fast Track Area or she needed coverage in Area I--L. (Id. at 42:22--43:3.) Rocco asked Stacey McKnight, the Evening Shift Charge Nurse, to look into the situation, and McKnight paged Morrison. (Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 1 [McKnight Dep. at 37:10--40:7].) Morrison heard, but failed to respond to the page and left the hospital. (Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 11 [Morrison Letter] at 3.)

C. Investigation of Plaintiff's March 28, 2008 Conduct

On March 31, 2008, Adrienne Sheehan, Nurse Manager for the Emergency Department, asked Morrison to come in before her shift, but Morrison stated that she was unavailable. (Morrison Letter at 1.) Sheehan then asked Morrison to come to her office when she arrived for her shift. (Id.) After arriving, Morrison met with Sheehan and Denise Shapiro, Nurse Manager for other nursing units, about Morrison's March 28, 2008 hand-off. (Id.; Millinghausen Dep. at 10:9--13.) Based on their conversation, Sheehan suspended Morrison pending further investigation. (Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 9 [Millinghausen Conference/Anecdotal Record] at 1.)

After her suspension, Morrison drafted a letter recounting her version of the events leading to her suspension and raising concerns about her treatment by Shapiro over numerous years. Morrison raised concerns about TJUH as a "clique-driven environment," with few African American nurses in the Emergency Department and Morrison's perception that she was "not wanted there." (Morrison Letter.) After TJUH further investigated, Morrison met with Sharon Millinghausen, Vice President Medicine, Cardiac Critical Care and Specialty Services and Sheehan. Morrison's mother-in-law attended the meeting to serve as Morrison's witness. Morrison explained her version of events, and she raised concerns about Shapiro, although she did not state that she believed she was being treated differently because of her race. (Millinghausen Dep. at 43:1--46:16.) Millinghausen testified that following the meeting, she believed that Morrison "did not . . . [understand] that she abandoned her patients and that . . . she did not respond to an overhead page that would have potentially clarified information . . . important to ensuring the patients get safe appropriate care." (Id. at 50:17--22.) Millinghausen emphasized that she had serious concerns that Morrison did not understand the ...

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