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Marsha E. Lewis v. Genesis Healthcare Corp

October 24, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, J.


Plaintiff Marsha E. Lewis brings suit against Defendant Garden Spring Center,*fn1 alleging that Garden Spring Center terminated her in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.; and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 951 et seq.*fn2 Additionally, Lewis alleges that Garden Spring Center failed to accommodate her disability in violation of the ADA. I exercise federal question jurisdiction over Lewis's ADEA and ADA claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over her PHRA claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Garden Spring Center has filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, I will grant Garden Spring Center's motion for summary judgment on Lewis's ADA claims, and deny the motion on Lewis's ADEA claim.


A. Lewis's Work at the Garden Spring Center

Marsha Lewis is a sixty-seven-year-old Licensed Practical Nurse ("LPN"). In 1988, she began working at Garden Spring Center, a nursing facility located in Willow Grove, PA. As a result of several medical problems, Lewis left Garden Spring Center in 1997. However, Lewis was subsequently rehired by Garden Spring Center in 1999.

From 2001 until her termination in 2008, Lewis worked in Section Three of Garden Spring Center as an LPN on the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift. Section Three housed approximately forty-nine residents. Two nurses shared the responsibilities for the residents in Section Three. Lewis was responsible for providing care to half of the residents (about twenty-four to twenty-five), while another nurse was responsible for taking care of the remaining Section Three residents. Each nurse did the following for his/her assigned residents: conducted two rounds of dispensing medications; provided necessary treatment/wound care; took physician's orders; and completed medical charts.

B. Lewis's Thyroid Condition

In approximately late 2007 or early 2008, Lewis began to lose weight and to experience weakness in her body. This weight loss was noticed by Lewis's 3-11 shift supervisor, Robert Gill, as well as by the Director of Nursing, Margaret Wilkie. Both Supervisor Gill and Director Wilkie were concerned about Lewis's weight loss.

In the summer of 2008, Lewis was diagnosed with a thyroid condition known as Grave's disease. In separate conversations, Lewis informed Supervisor Gill, Director Wilkie, and her unit manager, Susan Francis, that she had a thyroid condition. Lewis told Manager Francis that she "was having problems, . . . was weak, and . . . had a thyroid problem, and what it was . . . ." Lewis Dep. 202:5-16. Lewis also explained to Supervisor Gill "that she had a thyroid problem. She told [him] that they were having a hard time controlling it. And then over the course of conversations, she said she was hopeful they were going to get it under control." Gill Dep. 15:20-16:3. Supervisor Gill noticed that Lewis's hands would shake when she was working. Additionally, he observed that Lewis was slow in performing her job. Gill Dep. 16:20-17:8.

Due to her thyroid condition, Lewis experienced difficulty performing some aspects of her job as an LPN. Specifically, Lewis had difficulty standing on her feet for long periods of time, pushing the med cart, and administering eye drops and insulin injections. Lewis Dep. 179:19-180:3. Additionally, she experienced general exhaustion and weakness. Lewis Dep. 180:5-6.

As a result of these difficulties, Lewis had to park the med cart in the middle of the hallway when she was dispensing medications to residents and walk back and forth to it rather than pushing it the entire time, and she had to sit down about halfway down the hallway and rest for five minutes before administering medications to the remaining residents assigned to her.

Lewis Dep. 181:15-24. Additionally, when Lewis's hands were really shaky, she would have another nurse give eye drops to her residents. Lewis Dep. 203:8-21. No one had any problem with Lewis parking her cart in the hallway and taking a five minute break in the middle of passing out medications or with other nurses administering eye drops to the residents assigned to Lewis. Lewis Dep. 181:25-182:8, 203:22-204:25. Moreover, although Lewis's thyroid condition slowed her down, no supervisor or manager ever complained, or commented in a negative manner, about Lewis's productivity. Lewis Dep. 183:5-184:17.

In addition to affecting Lewis's ability to perform certain job functions, Lewis's thyroid condition impacted other areas of her life. Lewis could not walk or stand for more than forty-five minutes, after which she would need to take a break for five or ten minutes. Lewis Dep. 275:12-19. Additionally, Lewis could not climb more than three flights of stairs. Lewis Dep. 274:22-25. Lewis could not carry more than fifteen pounds; thus she could not carry heavy groceries or laundry, and she experienced difficulty using her vacuum that weighed approximately fifteen to twenty pounds. Lewis Dep. 272:12-20, 276:12-277:6. Furthermore, Lewis could not shovel snow, open jars, or scrub floors. Lewis Dep. 276:2-5, 278:2-18.

C. Garden Spring Center's Planned Change in the Nurse Coverage System

In October 2008, Garden Spring Center announced that it was going to change its staffing system beginning on November 1, 2008. Under the old system, two nurses were assigned to each Section of the facility and each nurse on the Section performed all of the nursing duties for half of the residents. The new system created a "medication nurse" and a "charge nurse" for each Section. The medication nurse would be responsible for dispensing medications to all of the residents in the Section. The charge nurse would be responsible for all other nursing duties, including charting, wound care, and desk duties. Many nurses, including Lewis, objected to this change because they felt it would be difficult for one nurse to pass medications to all residents.

Lewis was informed by Manager Francis, that when the new system was implemented, she would be transferred to Section One to serve as the medication nurse. Lewis 68:17-69:12. Section One had twenty-six residents, and was much smaller than Section Three, which had forty-nine residents. 98:4-10. Manager Francis planned to transfer Lewis to Section One because she thought it would be easier for her there. Lewis Dep. 68:22-25. Lewis believed that if she became the medication nurse on Section One she would be standing and passing out medications for her entire eight hour shift. Lewis Dep. 63:24-64:5. Lewis told Manager Francis that she believed her new assignment was unfair because she could not stand and pass out medications for her whole shift. Lewis Dep. 63:6-64:5. Additionally, Lewis told Manager Francis that she would like to stay on Section Three, but Francis said, "[N]o, you're going to Section [One]." Lewis Dep. 70:8-16.

D. The October 23, 2008 Incident and Lewis's Termination

On the evening of October 23, 2008, Lewis was working at Garden Spring Center. She was at the ice bucket filling a resident's cup when she saw Resident A,*fn4 who was in a wheelchair, approach and speak to Teri Ripley, the other nurse on duty in Section Three. Following this exchange, Nurse Ripley left her med cart and went to Room 203, the room shared by Resident A and Resident B. Resident A then approached Lewis, screaming and hollering, "[Resident B] is going to kill himself." Lewis Dep. 149:13-19. Before Lewis could put down the ice cup, Resident A knocked the cup out of her hand, spilling ice on the carpeted floor in front of a resident lounge. There were four or five residents in the lounge who would have to cross over the area where the ice was spilled in order to exit. Lewis stopped and kicked the ice cubes to the side of the floor because she knew that Nurse Ripley had already gone to Room 203. It took Lewis no more than thirty seconds to clean up the ice. Then Lewis went to Room 203 to help Nurse Ripley with Resident B. Resident B had slashed through his nightgown. When Lewis arrived, she observed that Nurse Ripley had taken a pair of scissors away from Resident B.

The day after the incident, Patricia Keyes, the Garden Spring Administrator, received a verbal complaint from Resident A that his roommate had attempted to commit suicide, and that a nurse had not responded in a timely manner. Administrator Keyes informed Manager Francis of Resident A's complaint and asked her to speak with Resident A. Manager Francis wrote down Resident A's account of the suicide incident, which stated the following: "Later that night I saw [Resident B] with scissors and he was trying to kill himself. I got up into w/c [wheelchair] and went to nurse and she said I had something/someone in to see Resident B, I will be there. It seemed like 5-10 minutes before the nurse came down." Def. Ex. P. In this account, Resident A also stated that earlier in the day, around lunch or dinner, he had reported to a male nurse that Resident B was talking about killing himself. At the time Resident A allegedly reported his concern to a male nurse, there were no male nurses on duty. Garden Spring Center never determined whether Resident A made this statement to someone he mistook for a male nurse or whether the statement was a fabrication.

Following the suicide incident, Lewis also wrote an account of what had occurred. She provided the following explanation:

[Resident A] rolled up to me and started yelling that his roommate was trying to kill himself. I was getting ice from the ice container for another resident. Resident A knocked the ice cup out of my hand and spilled ice all over the floor. I cleaned up the ice and went to resident's room. The resident's nurse was already ...

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