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Tara Williams v. Mercy Health System

March 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.



Plaintiff Tara Williams ("Plaintiff") brings this employment discrimination suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against Defendants Mercy Health System and Mercy Home Health Services ("Defendants"). Plaintiff's Complaint contains three counts: (1) Count I - wrongful termination based on retaliation; (2) Count II - wrongful termination based on racial discrimination; and (3) Count III - hostile work environment. Defendants answered denying all averments and asserting a variety of affirmative defenses. Currently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 39.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Defendants' Motion.


A. Factual Background

Plaintiff is an African-American female who commenced employment with Defendants on or about April 28, 2008, working as an Admission Nurse. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13, 14, 16. Defendants originally hired Plaintiff for the Suburban Home Health branch. Plaintiff's direct supervisor there was Linda Gusenko. Id. ¶ 19. In December 2008, Defendants transferred Plaintiff to the St. Mary branch, according to Defendants, because that branch needed additional staff. Defs.' Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. 2, ECF No. 39 [hereinafter Defs.'s Br.]. While there, Plaintiff's supervisor was Betsy Bullard. Plaintiff testified that Ms. Bullard stated to Plaintiff and her sister the following: "You people cannot just be rolling out of bed at 12:00, you people cannot just be lazy . . . ." Williams Dep. 111:5-6, May 19, 2011, Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot for Summ. J. Ex. A, ECF No. 42 [hereinafter Pl.'s Br.]. Plaintiff's time at the St. Mary branch was short lived; Defendants transferred Plaintiff back to her original Suburban Home Health branch before the end of 2008. Id. at 113:8-22.

When back at the Suburban Home Health Branch, Diane Guzzardo also supervised Plaintiff on an interim basis when Ms. Gusenko was absent. Gusenko Dep. 14:14-17, May 17, 2011, Pl.'s Br. Ex. B. Defendants contend that they eventually terminated Plaintiff on May 11, 2010, for allegedly falsifying a mileage reimbursement report and for falsifying medical records. Defs.' Br. 9.

During her approximately two years of employment, Plaintiff alleges Defendants participated in various acts of race discrimination. Plaintiff testified that Ms. Gusenko and Ms. Guzzardo would change Plaintiff's schedule without giving her notice. Williams 365:16-366:14. Plaintiff also compared her schedule to Caucasian nurses; Plaintiff contends those nurses were not subject to such changes. Id. at 366:15-368:17. Plaintiff testified that Defendants treated her differently than Caucasian nurses because Plaintiff had to report to work before seeing her first patient and had to use her vacation time if there was insufficient work. Id. at 374:10-23. Plaintiff testified that as early as December 2008 she informed her direct supervisor, Ms. Gusenko, about this alleged discrimination, but Ms. Gusenko also did not take steps to prevent or ameliorate this alleged discrimination other than speak with Ms. Guzzardo. Id. at 121:2-19; see also Gusenko Dep. 21:14-22:6 (acknowledging that Plaintiff complained she was being singled out).

Similarly, Plaintiff testified that Jennifer O'Connell, the head of human resources, knew about Plaintiff's complaints, yet did nothing to ameliorate the problem. Williams Dep. 134:20-136:4.

In addition to this alleged disparate treatment, Plaintiff testified about Ms. Guzzardo's various acts of alleged discriminatory conduct toward her. Plaintiff testified that, during a March 2010 telephone call, Ms. Guzzardo referred to herself in ethnic terms, calling herself a "Guido" and telling Plaintiff that she would "take care of" Plaintiff. Id. at 75:15-16. Plaintiff believed this was a physical threat, as she understood a "Guido" to be someone with mafia connections. Id. at 72:17-73:5. Plaintiff testified that during this conversation Ms. Guzzardo called Plaintiff a "coon" and a "nigger."*fn2 Id. at 89:5-90:21. In addition, Plaintiff testified that Ms. Guzzardo also called Plaintiff a "nigger" on one other occasion. Id. at 93:8-94:5. Finally, Plaintiff testified that Ms. Guzzardo told Plaintiff to "stay in her place." Id. at 73:6-13.

Plaintiff brought all of these alleged acts of harassment and discrimination to the attention of Ms. Gusenko, but contends that Ms. Gusenko took no action. Id. at 95:18-97:5. Plaintiff eventually informed Ruth Martynowicz, vice president of operations, of this alleged harassment. Martynowicz Dep. 35:10-23, May 23, 2011, Defs.' Br. Ex. C. Ms. Martynowicz testified that she told Plaintiff to bring her complaints to her supervisor. Id. at 35:23-36:3.

Plaintiff again complained to Ms. Gusenko in April 2010 about Ms. Guzzardo. Plaintiff told Ms. Gusenko that she planned to file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") regarding Ms. Guzzardo's harassment and discriminatory treatment. Williams Dep. 286:7-288:1. Plaintiff did contact the EEOC in April 2010, and filed an official questionnaire on April 26, 2010. See Pl.'s Br. Ex.


On May 3, 2010, Plaintiff met with Ms. Martynowicz, Ms. Gusenko, and Ms. O'Connell, to discuss Plaintiff's work performance. Ms. Martynowicz told Plaintiff that they believed Plaintiff falsified her mileage reimbursement reports for her travel. Martynowicz Dep. 105:16-23. In addition, Ms. Martynowicz informed Plaintiff of alleged patient mistreatment and falsification of medical records. In particular, Plaintiff allegedly failed to take a patient's blood pressure, but noted that she did take the patient's blood pressure on the patient's chart. Id. at 38:23-41:17. Moreover, Plaintiff allegedly had a patient admitted to a hospital for further medical care, but never documented this fact on that patient's record. Id. at 40:20-41:10.

Plaintiff attempted to refute or offer explanations for each of these alleged incidents, but Ms. Martynowicz alledgedly prevented Plaintiff from offering such explanations. Williams Dep. 229:12-230:11. Plaintiff also allegedly belched and spit during this meeting, though Plaintiff denies she acted in this way. Id. at 281:3-283:1. Plaintiff also testified that during her performance meeting either Ms. Gusenko or Ms. O'Connell muttered the word "niggers." Id. at 237:7-239:21. Following this meeting, Defendants terminated Plaintiff's employment and replaced her with a Caucasian nurse. See Martynowicz Dep. 47:13-17. Following her termination, Plaintiff brought the instant lawsuit.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed her Complaint on September 20, 2010.

ECF No. 1. Defendants moved to dismiss Count III of Plaintiff's Complaint - her claim of a ...

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