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Mary Beamer v. Herman Chiropractic Center

September 16, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge


I. Introduction

We are considering a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants, Herman Chiropractic Center, Inc. ("HCC"), NACHAS, Inc. ("NACHAS"), Larry Herman (Dr. Herman) and Jason Herman (Mr. Herman). This matter relates to the pregnancy and subsequent departure of Mary Beamer, a chriopractor, from NACHAS, a chiropractic office. After Dr. Beamer's separation from NACHAS, she filed the instant action alleging, among other things, sex discrimination and pregnancy discrimination. Defendants argue that no reasonable jury could find for the plaintiff because she has failed to proffer any evidence of discrimination or any evidence that defendants employed fifty employees, relieving them from any liability under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").

We will examine the motion under the well-established standard that no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, drawing all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Lawrence v. City of Philadelphia, 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d. Cir. 2008).

II. Background

The instant case arises out of an employment dispute on March 26, 2007. Dr. Mary Beamer and NACHAS, a Pennsylvania corporation that provides chiropractic services, entered into a four-year employment agreement. (doc. 24, ¶¶ 13-14.) The agreement allowed Dr. Beamer to train at Waynesboro location of NACHAS in office management while providing chiropractic care to patients. (doc. 24, ¶ 14.) According to the agreement, if Dr. Beamer left NACHAS before the end of the four-year period, she was required to pay $50,000 for training and lost patient services. (doc. 24, ¶ 16). Dr. Beamer began work at NACHAS in January 2006.

On February 22, 2007, Dr. Beamer discovered she was pregnant. (doc. 32, ¶ 36.) The following week, she notified Mr. Herman about her pregnancy. (doc. 24, ¶ 37.) On or about March 12, 2007, Dr. Beamer experienced pregnancy-related complications and left work. (doc. 24, ¶ 40.) On March 13, 2007, Dr. Beamer went to her doctor's office and was sent to the emergency room at Gettysburg Hospital. (doc. 32, ¶ 40.) At the emergency room, Dr. Beamer was diagnosed with hyper-emesis of pregnancy, which is a severe form of morning sickness that may cause dehydration. (doc. 32, ¶ 42.) While at the emergency room, Dr. Beamer was given a physician's note indicating that she was not able to work from March 13th through March 15th. (doc. 32, ¶ 42.) Dr. Beamer faxed the note to defendants on March 15th. (doc. 32, ¶ 43.)

On March 15th, the date she was scheduled to return to work, Dr. Beamer was not feeling better and called Dr. Herman, explaining she made an appointment with her OB/GYN that day and would not be at work. (doc. 24, ¶44.) In response, Dr. Herman asked if she was ever coming back to work. (doc. 24, ¶ 45.) That day, Dr. Beamer visited her OB/GYN physician, Dr. Marks, receiving a note and instructions from him not to return to work until March 21st. (doc. 32, ¶¶ 44-46.) Dr. Beamer called the NACHAS office and faxed the note to defendants the same day. (doc. 24, ¶ 48.) On March 19th, Dr. Beamer returned to the emergency room for complications of hyper-emesis of pregnancy. (doc. 32, ¶ 49.) After being treated, Dr. Beamer received a note from the ER physician indicating that she could not return to work until March 26th. (doc. 32, ¶ 49.)

Dr. Beamer returned to the emergency room at Gettysburg Hospital on March 25, 2007, suffering from heart palpitations and chest pressure, shortness of breath, and dizziness. (doc. 32, ¶ 51.) The morning of March 26th, Dr. Beamer called Dr. Herman on her way into work. (doc. 32, ¶ 54.) Dr. Beamer told Dr. Herman that she was heading into the office and was feeling better but was not 100 percent. (doc. 24, ¶ 56.) During that conversation, Dr. Beamer believed Dr. Herman stated "I don't want you coming back to the office because I don't like how you are running it." (doc. 24, ¶ 57.) Dr. Herman recalls the conversation differently. He remembers asking Dr. Beamer if she was able to return to work and she stated she was not coming back or able to do so. (doc. 24, ¶ 58.) Dr. Herman understood this to mean that she was quitting. (doc. 24, ¶ 58.) Dr. Beamer never received a termination letter from defendants. (doc. 24, ¶ 62.) Defendants cancelled Dr. Beamer's health insurance benefits within days of the March 26th phone call. (doc. 32, ¶ 58). In early April, defendants hired a replacement for Dr. Beamer. (doc. 32, ¶ 64.)

Dr. Beamer then filed for unemployment, indicating that she was fired because Dr. Herman did not like the way she was running the office. (doc. 32, ¶ 62.) Dr. Beamer also filed discrimination claims with the PHRC and the EEOC. (doc. 24, ¶¶ 68-70.) On October 1, 2007, Dr. Beamer received her right to sue letter from the EEOC and filed the present claim. (doc. 24, ¶ 70.)

III. Discussion

A. Discrimination on the Basis of Gender or Pregnancy Under Title VII and the PHRA, sex discrimination claims are analyzed using the framework in McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. at 802-3 Once the plaintiff has met her burden the defendant must present a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Id. If a legitimate reason is given by the employer, then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the employer's reason is pretextual. Id. Pretext is determined by examining the totality of the evidence. Bray v. Marriott Hotels, 110 F.3d 986, 991 (3d Cir. 1997).

Under McDonnell Douglas, the prima facie case is met if the plaintiff presents evidence that (1) she is a member of a protected class, (2) she is qualified for her position, and (3) she suffered an adverse employment action. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802. In pregnancy discrimination cases, the Third Circuit has interpreted the first element of the prima facie case to require evidence that the plaintiff is pregnant and the defendant knew of the pregnancy. Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 358, 365 (3d Cir. 2008). The Third Circuit adds an additional element, requiring a showing of a nexus between the adverse employment action and the pregnancy that raises an inference of discrimination. Id.

Plaintiff provided enough evidence to meet the prima facie case of discrimination. As a pregnant woman, Dr. Beamer established that she was a member of a protected class. Plaintiff presented evidence that defendants knew of her pregnancy. Specifically, she informed Mr. Herman of her pregnancy in the end of February 2007. (doc. 24, ΒΆΒΆ 36-37.) Dr. Beamer also provided physicians' notes regarding her absences from work which indicated pregnancy complications, putting defendants on notice of her pregnancy. The second requirement of the prima facie case is also met, because Plaintiff presented evidence that she is qualified for her position. Dr. Beamer was ...

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