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Monique Vanstory-Frazier v. Chhs Hospital Company

November 29, 2011

MONIQUE VANSTORY-FRAZIER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHHS HOSPITAL COMPANY, LLC, T/D/B/A CHESTNUT HILL HOSPITAL, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff, Monique VanStory-Frazier, filed this action against CHHS Hospital Company, LLC, t/d/b/a Chestnut Hill Hospital, seeking damages and other relief for defendant's alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (the "FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (the "PMWA"), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 333.101 et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act (the "FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. In her amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendant violated the FLSA and the PMWA by failing to pay her overtime while she was employed as a front-desk supervisor with defendant's Chestnut Hill Family Practice. She further alleges that defendant interfered with her exercise of her rights under the FMLA by failing to restore her to the front-desk supervisor position upon her return to work after taking approved FMLA leave, and retaliated against her for taking such leave, first by transferring her to a lower-paying position upon her return and then by terminating her. Plaintiff has filed a motion for partial summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 as to her FLSA overtime claim. Defendant has moved for partial summary judgment as to plaintiff's FMLA retaliatory-termination claim. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny both parties' motions for summary judgment.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY*fn1

Plaintiff began working for the Chestnut Hill Family Practice, one of nine medical practices owned by defendant, in June 2006. (Pl.'s Statement of Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Facts") ¶ 1; Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def.'s Reply in Opp'n to the Mot. for Partial Summ. J. of Pl. ("Def.'s Opp'n Br.") at 9.) According to defendant, Chestnut Hill Family Practice has six attending physicians and eighteen residents at any one given time (Def.'s Opp'n Br. at 9) and more than a dozen staff members (Pl.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. Ex. B, Dep. of Kathleen Benish (June 24, 2009) ("Benish Dep.") at 13:23--15:4). Initially hired as a referral coordinator, plaintiff was promoted to the position of payment poster in October 2006. (Pl.'s Facts ¶¶ 2--3.) Both of these positions were hourly, "nonexempt" positions in which plaintiff was eligible for overtime compensation.*fn2 (Pl.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. Ex. A, Dep. of Monique VanStory-Frazier (June 23, 2009) ("Pl.'s 2009 Dep.") at 31:11--17; Benish Dep. at 17:15--18:1.)

In August 2007, plaintiff was again promoted, this time to the position of front-desk supervisor. (Pl.'s Facts ¶ 4.) In this position, plaintiff was reclassified as an exempt employee, and her salary was increased from $14 to $18 per hour. (Def.'s Opp'n Br. at 9; Pl.'s 2009 Dep. at 32:6--11, 56:9--57:6.) As front-desk supervisor, plaintiff acted as a liaison between the practice manager, Kathleen Benish, and the front desk, which at the time was staffed by five employees who handled patient check-in and check-out and answered the phones. (Pl.'s Facts ¶ 12; Def.'s Opp'n Br. at 10.) Plaintiff was responsible for the "smooth, efficient and appropriate functions of the office and support staff." (Pl.'s 2009 Dep. at 47:6--18.) Plaintiff also continued to have accounts-receivable duties, and was responsible for posting payments in the computer system. (Id. at 76:8--12, 164:20--165:4; Benish Dep. at 20:12--16, 21:8--13.) Plaintiff testified that while serving as front-desk supervisor, she worked approximately ten hours of overtime per week. (Pl.'s 2009 Dep. at 113:4--9.)

In March 2008, plaintiff submitted a request for medical leave under the FMLA. (Pl.'s Facts ¶ 16.) Benish approved the request on March 24, 2008, and plaintiff commenced her FMLA leave on April 3, 2008. (Id. ¶¶ 17--18.) Plaintiff returned to work on June 30, 2008, after being cleared by her physician to return. (Id. at ¶¶ 19--20.) Although plaintiff returned to the position of front-desk supervisor and "jumped right in and started picking up phone calls like [she] would normally do" (Pl.'s 2009 Dep. at 111:20--23), she was soon informed that her position was being eliminated. On or about July 14, 2008, plaintiff met with Benish, Jim Como, the human-resources director, and Theresa Ward, the director of physician practices, who advised her that Benish would be acting as front-desk supervisor. (Id. at 120:7--121:13.) They offered plaintiff a nonexempt position as an accounts-receivable representative (or "biller") at a reduced pay rate of $15.37 per hour. (Id. at 121:14--122:6.) Plaintiff accepted the position and began working for defendant as a biller. (Id. at 120:24--122:15.)

Plaintiff testified, however, that even though she had not previously performed the job of biller, and even though Benish had always said that "training is essential for any position," she did not receive training for her new position. (Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. Ex. C, Dep. of Monique VanStory-Frazier (Aug. 10, 2011) ("Pl.'s 2011 Dep.") at 14:10--14; Pl.'s 2009 Dep. at 129:3--5.) According to plaintiff, when she asked for training, Benish sent her an e-mail instructing her to "go online and teach [herself]" and to ask a co-worker if she had any questions. (Pl.'s 2011 Dep. at 14:16--22.) Plaintiff testified that she "was the only person that [she] kn[e]w of who was never trained for that position." (Id. at 19:17--18.)

Plaintiff filed this action on August 18, 2008, about a month after she was moved to the position of biller. She claimed that defendant had improperly classified the position of front-desk supervisor as exempt, and had failed to pay her overtime wages while she served as front-desk supervisor, in violation of the FLSA and the PMWA (counts I and II). She also asserted claims for interference and retaliation under the FMLA stemming from defendant's failure to restore her to her former position upon her return from FMLA leave and to instead transfer her to a lower-paying position (counts III and IV). After discovery, defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to plaintiff's FLSA and PMWA overtime claims, as well as her FMLA interference claim, which I denied in a memorandum and order dated January 4, 2010.

Meanwhile, plaintiff continued to work at the Chestnut Hill Family Practice. But on August 28, 2009, while its motion for partial summary judgment was pending, defendant terminated plaintiff.

Plaintiff testified that the day before she was terminated, Benish told her to work at the front desk. According to plaintiff, when she asked Benish why she was being told to work at the front desk, given that Benish had previously told her that she should not be at the front desk because she did not have good customer-service skills, Benish told her to "do what I say." (Pl.'s 2011 Dep. at 8:6--25.) Plaintiff testified that she worked at the front desk without any problems, but that sometime in the afternoon she was called to Como's office. (Id. at 9:7--23.) Benish, Como, and John Clarkin, a human-resources generalist, were there, and Clarkin allegedly told her that "whatever we tell you to do you better do, and [Benish is] your boss so you better listen." (Id. at 9:24--10:11.) According to plaintiff, she told them that she "felt that [she] was being harassed, and that [she] didn't want to be harassed any longer." (Id. at 11:13--18.) She asked, "[W]hy do you keep listening to this person, because I haven't done anything wrong." (Id. at 11:18--21.) Plaintiff testified that Clarkin yelled at her, saying, "[I]f I have a boss I'm going to do what I'm told, and you better do what you're told." (Id. at 11:22--12:4.)

The next morning (the day that plaintiff was fired), plaintiff was approached by Benish and Diane Holder, the billing manager, regarding the voiding of payments. (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ("Def.'s Br.") at 5; Pl.'s 2011 Dep. at 19:2--7.) According to plaintiff, she told them that she was not voiding checks and that she "follow[ed] exactly what [she] was told." (Pl.'s 2011 Dep. at 19:7--8.) She further explained to them that "since [she] was never trained, [she] would always call athena [the billing organization (see Benish Dep. at 74:7--10)] to get specific instructions on what [she] was to do on each and every claim." (Id. at 19:8--11.)

Benish, on the other hand, in a written account of the meeting, said that plaintiff "was defensive, rigid and rude" and that she "exhibited very unprofessional behavior in her demeanor, tone, through her entire interaction with [Holder]." Benish claimed that plaintiff "did not allow [Holder] any time to fully explain [the problem]," asserting that plaintiff "kept interrupting, displaying a push back attitude." According to Benish, Holder was "verbally attacked" by plaintiff. (Def.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. Ex. C (statement of Kathleen Benish).)

Similarly, in her written account of the meeting, Holder claimed that plaintiff's behavior "was hostile, verbally rough, and defensive." Holder stated that she contacted Ward and the human-resources department after the meeting to report plaintiff's behavior. (Id. Ex. C (statement of Diane Holder).)

In her written account of the day's events, Ward said that after Holder informed her about the meeting, she (Ward) met with Clarkin and Como, and they decided to issue a written warning to plaintiff and to suspend her for a day and a half. (Id. Ex. E (statement of Theresa Ward) at 1.)

Again, the parties' accounts of what happened next differ.

According to Ward, that afternoon she and Clarkin called plaintiff into Benish's office for a "counseling session" and to inform her that she was being suspended (Benish was not there). Clarkin reportedly said that human resources had received a complaint from Holder about plaintiff's behavior, at which point plaintiff "abruptly got up, opened the office door, walked out to her desk and started to quickly look into her pocketbook." Ward told her that "this was inappropriate, and that she needed to return to the office." But plaintiff reportedly stated, "'No, no, I will be with you,' as she held up her hand to [Ward]." Plaintiff then grabbed her cell phone and walked away. When plaintiff returned to the office, Ward told her that her "abrupt exit was completely inappropriate." According to Ward, plaintiff responded by shouting, "No, no, it was not, this is harassment," as she "wav[ed] her hand vigorously back and forth." After Clarkin and Ward said that plaintiff could be viewed as harassing them, plaintiff reportedly "jumped up from her chair, waving her hand back and forth, started to scream[,] '[T]his is harassment, and I am done!' and left the office again." She said, "[I]f you are going to fire me, fire me! Whatever you are going to do to me do it, I am done! I want something in writing though." Clarkin "stated that [plaintiff] would not receive something in writing." According to Ward, plaintiff returned to her desk and "continued to yell." When Ward told plaintiff that she "needed to calm down and lower her voice as she was disrupting the office and patients," plaintiff yelled, "'No! I am not going to stop. I don't care anymore who hears me! I am done! I am not going to let HR harass me anymore! You all believe Kat [Benish], you all think that Kat is right, no, no! I am done! You will get yours! The law is on my side!'" At that point Ward asked Clarkin whether they should call security. Plaintiff then "started to yell, '[G]o ahead, call security, I am going to call security on you! You are harassing me. I am going to call the police,'" and began gathering items from her desk. (Id. at 1--2.)

Plaintiff, on the other hand, testified that after she was called into the meeting with Ward and Clarkin, she said, "[O]h, excuse me, please, one moment, I need to make a call." (Pl.'s 2011 Dep. at 40:23--41.1.) She testified that she did not wait for a response but "just jumped up because [she] didn't want any drama" and "went to the bathroom . . . [to] call [her] attorney's office" (id. at 42:14--43:3) to tell her attorney that she "felt that she was being harassed again" (id. at 20:3--7). She testified that when she returned, Clarkin "started banging on the desk," saying, "[W]ho do you think you are, nobody told you to leave." (Id. at 20:9--14.) According to plaintiff, Clarkin was "screaming and acting inappropriately." (Id. at 44:8--15.) Ward, meanwhile, "kept saying, you're just so inappropriate." (Id. at 20:15--20.) According to plaintiff, she "opened the door and said, [N]o more harassment. No more harassment." (Id. at 20:21--22.) In response, Clarkin banged on the desk and said, "[G]et back here." (Id. at 20:22--24.) Plaintiff replied that she was not going to talk to him behind a closed door. Clarkin then started yelling, "[G]et out, get out, get out." (Id. at 20:24--21:1.) Plaintiff testified that she asked whether she could have something in writing, to which Clarkin replied, "I'm not giving you nothing." (Id. at 21:2--4.) Plaintiff then went back to her desk, collected her things, and left. (Id. at 47:12--50:5.)

Plaintiff was terminated after that meeting (although plaintiff testified that she believed that she was terminated at that meeting, when Clarkin told her to "get out" (id. at 45:17--23, 50:6--13)). According to the termination letter prepared by defendant, she was terminated because of her "[i]nsubordination"; "[o]utbursts of anger"; "[d]eliberate failure to adhere to organizational policies without adequate evidence to support the alternatives chosen"; "[i]nappropriate responses, language or behaviors"; and "[e]xhibit[ion] [of] behaviors that affect others' working environments." (Def.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. Ex. F (termination letter), at 2.)

Thereafter, plaintiff sought to assert new claims relating to her termination, and the parties agreed that it would be more efficient to litigate all of plaintiff's claims together. Accordingly, I stayed the action. On February 1, 2011, plaintiff sought leave to file an amended complaint to assert facts regarding her termination in further support of her FMLA retaliation claim, which I granted on March 3, 2011. After conducting additional discovery, the parties have now filed motions for partial summary judgment. Plaintiff seeks partial summary judgment as to her FLSA overtime claim, and defendant seeks partial summary judgment as to plaintiff's FMLA retaliatory-termination claim.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion for summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 ...


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