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Linda Nott v. the Reading Hospital and Medical Center

March 14, 2012

LINDA NOTT
v.
THE READING HOSPITAL AND MEDICAL CENTER



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

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 11.) For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion will be granted.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint on March 30, 2011. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff asserts the following claims: religious harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII") (Count I); religious discrimination under Title VII (Count II); and retaliation under Title VII (Count III). (Id.) Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on January 27, 2012 (Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 11), along with an accompanying Memorandum of Law (Def.'s Mem., ECF No. 12). Plaintiff filed her Brief in Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment on February 10, 2012. (Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 17.) Defendant filed a Reply Memorandum on February 24, 2012. (Def.'s Reply, ECF No. 21.)

II. BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff is Jewish. She is a registered nurse who was employed as a faculty member in Defendant's nursing school from 2004 until 2009. On June 11, 2009, she was terminated. (Nott Dep., Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 1 at 14, 33.) Plaintiff began employment with Defendant as a nurse educator, RN1. She was promoted to RN2 and eventually to RN3, the position she held when she was terminated. (Id. at 48-49.) Plaintiff had received merit increases on February 6 and August 7, 2005, August 6, 2006 and August 5, 2008. (Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 9.) Debbie Rahn, the Director of the nursing school at Reading Hospital, served as Plaintiff's supervisor from the early fall of 2007 until Plaintiff's termination in June of 2009. (Rahn Dep. 23-24, 36-37, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 2.) Prior to the fall of 2007, Rahn served as a curriculum coordinator. (Id. at 23.) Prior to Rahn assuming the role of Director, Joanne Kovach was Plaintiff's supervisor. (Id. at 25.) As Director, Rahn was responsible for the overall nursing program. Her duties included the hiring, disciplining and firing of faculty. (Id. at 37-38.) Rahn also was responsible for providing performance reviews to faculty members. (Id. at 39.) Rahn belongs to the United Church of Christ. (Id. at 6.)

A. The Religious Letter

In September or October of 2007, Plaintiff received a handwritten letter of a religious nature in her work mailbox. (Nott Dep. 103.) Other faculty members also received the letter. The letter was not addressed specifically to Plaintiff, but "implored the reader to accept Jesus Christ into their lives in order to be saved." (Id.) Plaintiff does not remember the exact words, but thought that the letter implied that the failure to accept Jesus Christ would result in "eternal damnation." (Id. at 103-04.) Plaintiff testified that upon receiving the letter, she was hurt, angry, and a "little bit frightened." (Id. at 106.) Neither Plaintiff nor Defendant knows who authored or delivered the letter. (Id. at 105; Rahn Dep. 213.) Plaintiff brought the religious letter to the attention of Rahn, who was the Director of the nursing school at the time. (Nott Dep. 119.)

Plaintiff thought that the letter was inappropriate and that it should be brought to the attention of the faculty. (Id. at 119-20.)Rahn refused to address the faculty about the letter. (Id. at 120.)*fn2

Plaintiff brought the letter to the attention of the faculty at the next faculty meeting. (Nott Dep. 126.) She told them that she was Jewish and that she thought that this type of communication was inappropriate. (Id. at 130-31.) Plaintiff testified that when she began to address the religious letter at the meeting, Rahn motioned to the recording secretary to stop taking minutes. (Id. at 131.) Rahn appeared to be disinterested and annoyed while Plaintiff was speaking about the religious letter. (Id. at 84-85.)*fn3 When Plaintiff was finished discussing the letter at the meeting, Rahn, in a condescending tone, asked if anyone had any questions. (Id. at 135; Wise Dep. 87-88, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 7.)

Plaintiff also complained to Rahn about Dolores Callahan, a faculty member who repeatedly failed to attend class and played loud Christian music in her office. (Nott Dep. 168-70.) Callahan left her employment with Defendant in 2006. (Id. at 169.) Rahn had not yet been promoted to Director at the time that Plaintiff complained and at the time that Callahan left the nursing school. (Nott Dep. 169; Rahn Dep.23-24, 36-37.)

B. Plaintiff's Allegations of Discrimination and Hostile Work Environment

After addressing the religious letter with the faculty, Plaintiff felt that she began to experience hostility and discrimination from other faculty members. Particularly, Plaintiff believed that the demeanor of Rahn, Patricia Shaner-Christy and Nancy Paradis towards her changed. (Nott Dep. 72-94.) They would not joke around with Plaintiff or say hello to her when she passed them in the hallway. (Wise Dep. 57-58; Wheeler Dep. 34, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 8.)

Rahn began to "nit pick" Plaintiff's work. (Nott Decl. ¶ 9, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 11.) One example was that Rahn attended one of Plaintiff's lectures and noticed that a Power Point slide contained inaccurate information. (Id.) When Rahn pointed out the inaccuracy, Plaintiff proposed to email her class to let them know of the error. Rahn responded that she did not like that idea. (Pl.'s Resp. to 2009 Perf. Appraisal at LN0993, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 53.) Other faculty members were permitted to correct mistakes by email. (Wheeler Dep. 37-38.) Rahn would also raise her voice at Plaintiff but not at other faculty members. (Nott Dep. 419-20.) On at least one occasion, Rahn hit her desk with her fists in Plaintiff's presence. (Id.) Rahn also required Plaintiff to prepare assignments while in the hospital, while other faculty members were permitted to prepare assignments at home. (Nott Decl. ¶ 9.)

Shaner-Christy became a faculty member with Defendant in June 2007. She identifies herself as Lutheran. (Shaner-Christy Dep. 6-8, 14-16, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 5.) Plaintiff complains that Shaner-Christy became noticeably rude and disrespectful to her but did not act this way towards other faculty members. During one encounter with Shaner-Christy, Plaintiff asked for help in procuring keys to the clinical areas for her students. (Nott Dep. 73.) Shaner-Christy replied with a sneer, "I would never do anything for you." (Id.) On another occasion, Shaner-Christy told Lori Wheeler that Plaintiff requested to use "Paid Time Off" days ("PTO") for Passover, slammed her book down and stated "I'll never do anything for [Plaintiff]." (Wheeler Dep. 15.)*fn4 Plaintiff was not present for this conversation. On another occasion, Shaner-Christy criticized Plaintiff's use of PTO time during the semester. (Nott Dep. 77-29.) Plaintiff had used approximately one week of PTO time to travel to Spain. (Id. at 80.) Plaintiff testified that Shaner-Christy never indicated that her attitude towards Plaintiff was because Plaintiff was Jewish. (Id.) Shaner-Christy never said anything demeaning to Plaintiff about her religion. (Id. at 81.)

Paradis became a faculty member with Defendant in August 2007, and identifies herself as Christian. (Paradis Dep. 6, 18, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 13.) Plaintiff complained that Paradis was also rude to Plaintiff. She would not say hello to Plaintiff when they passed in the halls and would not joke around with Plaintiff. (Wise Dep. 58.) On one occasion, Plaintiff was talking to another faculty member about having to shoot a raccoon on her property because it was attacking her dogs. (Nott Dep. 86-87.) Paradis overheard Plaintiff telling the story and responded to Plaintiff, "they should have just shot you." (Id.) Paradis would not help Plaintiff with her lectures, and criticized Plaintiff for being unprepared for lab. (Id. at 88, 195.)

Plaintiff believes that there is a pervasive undercurrent of Christianityat the nursing school. (Nott Dep. 114.) Plaintiff points to a number of things that demonstrate the existence of this undercurrent. For example, faculty members would scoff at the idea of having "holiday" parties as opposed to "Christmas" parties; employees complained that they were sick and tired of everyone taking the "Christ out of Christmas"; prayers were given at faculty and graduation dinners; Plaintiff was not allowed to say a Jewish prayer at these dinners; emails contained Christian content; the course schedule was manipulated so that Easter fell on spring break; and Bibles were passed out at new student orientations. (See Pl.'s Opp'n 15-16 (citing Wise Dep. 75, 64-65; Nott Dep. 113-15, 166-67; Rahn Dep. 159-66.).)

C. The March 2009 Grievance Letter

On March 5, 2009, Plaintiff submitted a written grievance to Rahn, Thomas Hackett, Director of Human Services, and Donna Weber, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer (the "Grievance Letter"). (Mar. 5, 2009 Email, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 34; Hackett Dep. 6, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 4; Weber Dep. 7, 60-62, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 7.) The Grievance Letter is entitled "Horizontal and Vertical Violence," and is four pages long, single-spaced. (Grievance Ltr., Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 31.) The first paragraph of the Grievance Letter states that Paradis and Shaner-Christy have been increasingly hostile towards Plaintiff. (Id.) The Grievance Letter next mentions the religious letter that Plaintiff received in the fall of 2007:

[In a]pproximately October/November of 2007 I showed Deb Rahn an anonymous letter of a religious nature that was placed in my mailbox and that of other faculty members at work. I told her I thought it was inappropriate in the workplace and asked her to address the faculty regarding it. She refused to, so I did. I reminded the faculty that I am Jewish, and that all emails and hard-copy messages of a Christian nature should cease, period. I stated that I respected their religious preferences and that I expected the same respect from them. (Id.) The Grievance Letter then states that "[j]ust after this, [Paradis] became very vocal, asserting that there was much disorganization of" Plaintiff's classes. (Id.) The remainder of the Grievance Letter complains about not receiving an evaluation from Rahn during the 2007 academic year, despite Plaintiff's requests; Plaintiff's performance evaluation in 2008 being lower than it had been in previous years; Shaner-Christy's issue with Plaintiff's use of PTO time during the semester; Rahn's process for performance evaluations, which takes into account comments from other faculty members; Paradis' comment about the rabid raccoon; and the general hostility towards Plaintiff from Rahn, Paradis and Shaner-Christy. (Id.) The only portion of the Grievance Letter that relates to Plaintiff's religion is Plaintiff's mention of receiving the religious letter in 2007. The word "discrimination" does not appear in the Grievance Letter. (Id.)

Plaintiff handed the Grievance Letter to Rahn in person when she met with her on March 5, 2009. (Nott Decl. ¶ 7.) The meeting was in response to a request by Plaintiff to teach upper level nursing courses. (Id. at ¶¶ 1-4.)*fn5 Rahn denied Plaintiff's requests due to Plaintiff's performance issues at the time. (Nott Decl. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff met with Rahn to discuss specific examples of performance issues. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Plaintiff advises that Rahn could not provide examples but instead raised her voice at Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 6.)*fn6 Rahn submitted a fourteen-page response to the Grievance Letter, wherein she disputed the accusations contained in the Letter, and predicted that Plaintiff submitted the grievance to protect herself from an unsatisfactory review. (Rahn Resp. to Grievance Ltr., Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 44.) Rahn explained in depth Plaintiff's performance issues, including Plaintiff's lack of preparing and planning for her teaching responsibilities. (Id.) Rahn also expressed surprise to see the circumstances surrounding the religious letter contained in the Grievance Letter since Plaintiff "did not express dissatisfaction with that plan and indeed thanked [Rahn] for giving her the opportunity to discuss" the letter with the faculty. (Id. at LN1175.)

Hackett investigated the Grievance Letter. (Hackett Dep. 19.) Hackett did not investigate the religious letter given the amount of time that had passed between the time Plaintiff received the religious letter and the time Plaintiff submitted her Grievance Letter. (Id. at 42.) The investigation instead focused on the majority of Plaintiff's allegations, such as the interpersonal relationships between Plaintiff and some of her co-workers. (Id.) Defendant issued a decision on the Grievance Letter on March 29, 2009, which instituted the following actions: (1) Rahn was to instruct the other faculty members to provide respectful requests/responses to Plaintiff when they have issues; (2) Rahn was to advise Shaner-Christy and Paradise to cease negative remarks and behaviors towards Plaintiff; and (3) Plaintiff was encouraged to review her October 2008 performance evaluation. (Grievance Decision Ltr., Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 38.)

D. Performance Reviews

Performance evaluations are prepared by the Director of the nursing school. The evaluations rate a faculty member's performance in various categories and weighs each category to arrive at an overall performance score out of 100. (Feb. 2005 Eval., Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 18.) Im each performance category a score of one, two, or three, is given. A score of one is given when the performance is deficient, a score of two is given when the performance consistently meets standards, and a score of three is given when the performance consistently exceeds standards. (Id.) A ...


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