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Mary Lou Fieni v. Franciscan Care Center

September 30, 2011


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


Plaintiff Mary Lou Fieni ("Plaintiff" or "Ms. Fieni") brings this action against her former employer, Defendant Franciscan Care Center ("Defendant" or "Franciscan"), pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended ("ADEA"),*fn1 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"),*fn2 alleging that she was improperly terminated on the basis of age and disability, and in retaliation for receiving workers' compensation benefits pursuant to a claim for workplace injury.*fn3 Now before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment*fn4 as to all claims.


Ms. Fieni's employment with Franciscan Care Center began on or about January 24, 2000, and ended on June 23, 2008.*fn6 Franciscan is a long-term care and rehabilitation facility affiliated with St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware. Ms. Fieni was first hired as a Scheduler, with responsibility for setting and monitoring nursing staff schedules, tracking licenses and certificates for nurses and other employees, and processing payroll submissions and invoices.*fn7

Ms. Fieni's physical problems appear to have started around March 2007, when she transferred to a position as a Supply Coordinator, where her duties included monitoring and maintaining inventory and processing supply charges.*fn8 At some time toward the end of that month, Ms. Fieni suffered a workplace injury to her back while lifting a box.*fn9 She alleges this injury was due to Franciscan's negligence in failing to inform her that the Supply Coordinator position would require her to lift more than fifty pounds and climb ladders, because she would not have accepted the position had she known of these requirements.*fn10 Thereafter, Ms. Fieni's physician imposed restrictions on her ability to lift and push, requiring her transfer to a less physically demanding position.*fn11

Ms. Fieni was offered the position of Unit Clerk, where her responsibilities would include clerical and filing functions for patients. Franciscan claims it created a third full-time Unit Clerk for the express purpose of accommodating Ms. Fieni's need for a less physically demanding job, as Franciscan already employed two Unit Clerks.*fn12 Before this transfer took place, however, Ms. Fieni suffered a second workplace injury, slipping and falling on a wet floor; Franciscan reported this accident to its workers' compensation carrier, and, after arthroscopic surgery on her knee, Ms. Fieni took a leave of absence from December 12, 2007 through January 12, 2008.*fn13

On January 12, 2008, Ms. Fieni returned to work in her new position as Unit Clerk for the "East Wing" of the Franciscan facility,*fn14 replacing a departing part-time Unit Clerk. Ms. Fieni joined two other full-time Unit Clerks, Greta Gibson and Tina Spence, under the supervision of new Nursing Home Coordinator/Administrator Michele Young and Director of Nursing Cathy Hawkinson.*fn15 On May 12, 2008, Ms. Young and Ms. Hawkinson presented the Unit Clerks with a new form entitled "Expectations of the Unit Clerk," which all three Clerks signed.*fn16 Shortly

thereafter, on May 21st, Ms. Hawkinson issued a written warning to Ms. Fieni for refusing to call a physician when directed to do so, and for failing to review and cancel lab orders as needed.*fn17

On May 26th, Ms. Hawkinson issued Ms. Fieni a written warning for "poor judgment in ordering supplies" which resulted in a large shipping charge.*fn18 There is significant dispute between the parties as to the quality of Ms. Fieni's job performance both as a Unit Clerk and in her earlier positions, and what role her performance played in Franciscan's decision to terminate her.*fn19

Ms. Young has testified that soon after her own arrival at Franciscan in January 2008, at the direction of Franciscan's affiliate Saint Francis Hospital, she was tasked with downsizing Franciscan's staff due to the Hospital's financial difficulties.*fn20 As part of this effort, Ms. Young and Charlene Wilson, Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Development, reviewed Franciscan's positions and determined that only two positions were budgeted for Unit Clerks.*fn21 Accordingly, Ms. Young terminated Ms. Fieni, because she was the Unit Clerk with the shortest tenure in that position.*fn22

On July 30, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging unlawful discrimination by Defendant, in violation of the ADEA and ADA. Within ninety days of the receipt of the EEOC's "Notice of Right to Sue" letter, Plaintiff initiated an action in this Court. Defendant answered in a timely fashion, and subsequently filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment within the time permitted by the Court.


Upon motion of a party, summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."*fn23 Summary judgment may be granted only if the moving party persuades the district court that "there exists no genuine issue of material fact that would permit a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party."*fn24 A fact is "material" if it could affect the outcome of the suit, given the applicable substantive law.*fn25 A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence presented "is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."*fn26

In evaluating a summary judgment motion, a court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party," and make every reasonable inference in that party's favor.*fn27

Further, a court may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations.*fn28 Nevertheless, the party opposing summary judgment must support each essential element of his or her opposition with concrete evidence in the record.*fn29 "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted."*fn30 This requirement upholds the "underlying purpose of summary judgment [which] is to avoid a pointless trial in cases where it is unnecessary and would only cause delay and expense."*fn31 Therefore, if, after making all reasonable ...

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