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Estate of Nancy Murray, et al. v. Uhs of Fairmount

November 9, 2011


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


This lawsuit arises from the termination of Nancy Murray's employment as a staff nurse for the defendant, UHS of Fairmount ("UHS").*fn1 Following her termination in May 2009, Murray filed a complaint against her former employer, asserting violations of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Murray claimed that her termination was either an interference with or a retaliation for her exercise of rights under the FMLA.*fn2 She also claimed actual and perceived disability discrimination and unlawful retaliation in violation of the ADA.

The defendant, UHS, moves for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court will grant the defendant's motion.

I. Factual Background

The facts presented here are undisputed unless

otherwise noted. Disputed facts are read in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the nonmoving party. See Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 251 n.12 (3d Cir. 2010).

A. Nancy Murray's Mental Health Issues and Leaves of Absence Nancy Murray worked as a staff nurse in the mental

health unit at UHS's Fairmount Hospital from June 25, 2007 until her termination on May 15, 2009. Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Facts ("Def.'s Stmt.") ¶¶ 1, 20; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Facts ("Pl.'s Stmt. Resp.") ¶¶ 1, 20; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("MSJ"), Murray Dep. 153-54, Ex. A ("Murray Dep."). Her boyfriend, Ira Newman, also worked at UHS until March 2009.

Pl.'s Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp."), Newman Dep. 104, Ex. E ("Newman Dep.").

Murray began suffering from depression in 2003. Her mental health issues subsided briefly in 2007 when Murray procured employment at UHS. At some point, although the record is unclear on when, Murray began suffering from depression again.

As a result, Murray was forced to take leave from work. See Murray Dep. 8, 10, 26, 27, 148, 150-51.

Murray took two leaves of absence from UHS: the first from December 24, 2008 to January 7, 2009, and the second from April 27, 2009 to May 4, 2009. She took these leaves because of her depression. Murray supplied a doctor's note upon returning from leave, but the doctor's note did not specify that mental illness was the reason for her absence. Murray Dep. 148; Pl.'s Opp., Ex. C (Note from Dr. Gary Cohen).

B. UHS's Awareness of Murray's Mental Health Issues After returning from leave, Murray told the charge nurse, Beth Ann Watson, in confidence that her anxiety and depression necessitated the absence.*fn3 Pl.'s Opp., Watson Dep. 56-57, Ex. D ("Watson Dep."); Murray Dep. 145. Beth Ann Watson forwarded Murray's doctor's note to the UHS human resources ("HR") department, but testified that she did not discuss Murray's mental condition with anyone else at UHS. Watson Dep. 57-60.

Theresa Mahoney, the HR director, was aware of Murray's medical absences in late 2008 and in 2009. However, she testified that she did not recall the reasons for the absences. In addition, Theresa Mahoney was not aware that Murray had any medical issues other than an infection and a dental issue; no one had ever told her Murray was suffering from anxiety or depression. MSJ, Mahoney Dep. 13-14, Ex. B ("Mahoney Dep.").

A few weeks before Ira Newman left UHS in March 2009, Jack Plotkin, the Chief Nursing Officer and Watson's supervisor, pulled Newman into his office to inquire about Murray's mental health issues.*fn4 In particular, Plotkin asked Newman how Murray was feeling and what medications she was taking. Newman Dep. 104-06. Murray herself also received inquiries about her mental health from both Beth Ann Watson and Jack Plotkin when she returned to work after her second leave of absence in May 2009. Jack Plotkin asked Murray how she was doing several times between her return to work on May 4, 2009 and her termination from UHS on May 15, 2009. Murray Dep. 164, 166, 170.

C. UHS Narcotics Distribution and Administration Procedure UHS has specific guidelines regarding the distribution of narcotics. Before being put in a position to distribute narcotics, UHS employees receive training regarding the distribution, accounting, and storage of narcotics. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 2, 5; Pl.'s Stmt. Resp. ¶¶ 2, 5.

The UHS pharmacy delivers medication when needed to a locked med room near the nurse's station for which only a nurse has the key. Murray Dep. 111-12; Watson Dep. 20-21. UHS tracks narcotics distribution via two documents: (1) the Pharmacy Controlled Drug Unit Supply Record (the "Pharmacy Record") and (2) the Schedule II Controlled Substance sheet (the "Schedule II"). First, the nurse that receives narcotics from the pharmacy counts and signs for the amount received on the Pharmacy Record. Second, that same nurse enters the corresponding amount received from the pharmacy on the Schedule II, which is also kept in the locked med room. See Murray Dep. 111-12; Watson Dep. 20-21.

The medication administration record ("MAR") contains the doctor's orders regarding how much medication each patient on the unit is supposed to receive, and when. Every administration of narcotics to a patient is recorded on the Schedule II to keep a constant count of how many narcotics are in the medication drawer. See Murray Dep. 89; Plotkin Dep. 76; Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 6-10; Pl.'s Stmt. Resp. ¶¶ 6-10.

Occasionally, nurses have to "waste," or dispose of narcotic medications -- for example, if a patient refuses to take them or a nurse pours out too many pills. UHS's wasting procedure requires that another nurse "witness" the disposal of the drugs - usually down the sink drain. The witness must then sign the Schedule II to confirm the waste. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 11; Pl.'s Stmt. Resp. ¶ 11.

At the end of every shift, the leaving and oncoming nurse count the narcotics in the medication drawer to make sure there are no discrepancies between the count and the amount listed on the Schedule II. If there is a discrepancy in the narcotics count, the nurses must call the nursing management or supervisor about the problem. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 10, 12; Pl.'s Stmt. Resp. ¶¶ 10, 12.

D. The May 14, 2009 Narcotics Mistakes The record reflects that Nancy Murray made two narcotics-related mistakes on May 14, 2009, shortly after she returned from her second leave of absence: (1) Murray did not secure a witness's signature for narcotics that she wasted; and

(2) Murray mistakenly signed for 25 doses of Adderall from the pharmacy when only 23 doses were provided. Although the first error occurred before the second, the Court recites the facts here in reverse.

1. Discrepancy Between the Pharmacy Record and the Schedule II

On May 14, 2009, the Schedule II reflected that the medication cart contained five 10 mg pills of Adderall at the beginning of the Nancy Murray's 7:00 a.m. shift. That day, Murray signed out two 20 mg doses (4 pills total) of Adderall for a patient named "A.M." and one 10 mg dose (1 pill) of Adderall for a different patient. With the Adderall count down to zero, Murray ordered more Adderall from the pharmacy. Pl.'s Opp., Ex. G (Schedule II); Murray Dep. 122.

When the pharmacy technician arrived, Murray signed the Pharmacy Record, mistakenly acknowledging that 25 doses (10 mg) of Adderall were provided to her. In fact, the pharmacy provided only 23 doses to Murray.*fn5 When she signed the Adderall into the Schedule II, Murray recorded only 23 doses (10 mg) of Adderall. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 13-15; Pl's Stmt. Resp. ¶¶ 13-15; Murray Dep. 122-23.

2. Lack of a Wasting Signature

According to Murray, patient "A.M." refused to take some of her Adderall on May 14, 2009. Another nurse, Elizabeth Rody, watched Murray waste some Adderall down the sink.*fn6

However, Nurse Rody was called away on a psychological emergency before she could sign the Schedule II as a witness to wasting, as required by UHS narcotics procedures. Although Murray admitted that she should have done so, Murray did not otherwise indicate on the Schedule II that any of the Adderall she signed out for "A.M." had been wasted. After Murray's shift, the oncoming nurse, Debbie Stabler, signed off on the Schedule II despite the absence of a wasting signature. Murray Dep. 126-27, 131-36.

Murray did not report to her supervisors either the mistake she made in signing out 25 doses of Adderall from the pharmacy or her inability to secure a witness's signature for wasted medication. Murray Dep. 135-36; Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 17-18; Pl.'s Stmt. Resp. ¶¶ 17-18.

E. Investigation of the Narcotics Mistakes and Murray's Termination on May 15, 2009 The following day, a different nurse on the unit contacted Jack Plotkin, the Chief Nursing Officer, with concerns about the administration of medication to patient "A.M." on May 14, 2009. The nurse informed Plotkin that she could not find a doctor's order that justified the ...

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