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Crystal Delp v. Rolling Fields

August 1, 2012

CRYSTAL DELP, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROLLING FIELDS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Crystal Delp ("Plaintiff"), filed suit against Rolling Fields, Inc., ("Defendant"), alleging pregnancy discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., (collectively referred to as "Title VII"), and violations of the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2611 et seq. ("FMLA"). Presently pending before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 26]. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant is a senior living and nursing home facility owned and operated by Kimberly Braham-Moody ("Braham-Moody"), Marlene Braham and Cindy Godfrey. Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. p. 10; Pl. Def. Ex. H, Braham-Moody Aff. ¶¶ 2, 43.*fn1 In 2002, Defendant restructured its facility to create six (6) "neighborhoods" or units known as "Streets." Def. Ex. I, Caregiver Guide pp. 72-73; Def. Ex. H, Braham-Moody Aff. ¶3; Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. p. 11; Pl. Ex. E, Taylor Dep. p. 10. Each Street consisted of two families, composed of elder residents and staff members, which included a "grandparent" member. Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. pp. 11-12, 14; Pl. Ex. E, Taylor Dep. p. 10.*fn2 A "Care Team," whose individuals are referred to as "Caregivers," were comprised of Licensed Practical Nurses ("Licensed Caregivers"), Certified Nurses' Aides ("Certified Caregivers"), and Nurses' Aides ("Caregivers"), and are assigned to each Street. Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. p. 12; Def. Ex. I, Caregiver Guide p. 72.

Care Teams are encouraged to work in a cooperative manner, and Caregivers assigned to a particular Street are encouraged to discuss issues regarding the work environment, co-workers, and scheduling with the grandparents of that Street. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. pp. 49-50; Pl. Ex. G, King Dep. pp. 39-40; Def. Ex. I, Caregiver Guide p. 72. Each Care Team has one or two Caregivers that volunteer to serve as the Street's scheduling coordinator for the Care Team. Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. pp. 17-18.

Defendant maintained a CARE Board, which is a peer disciplinary team that dealt with conflicts within a Care Team. A, Delp Dep. pp. 53-54. Defendant's Caregiver Guide states:

When a conflict arises between caregivers, you should first consult with your CARE Board representative. If circumstances prevent you from meeting with your representative, you can approach another CARE Board advisor, a member of the Policy Review Committee or your Eden Grandparent.

Using the techniques described in the next paragraph on effective communication you should approach the caregiver with whom you have the problem and discuss your concerns. You can do this privately, with the CARE Board representative or with several caregivers, depending upon the individual circumstances.

Most issues will resolve themselves after the initial conversation; however, if the problem continues or matters become worse, your next step is to inform your CARE Board advisor. Your advisor will place you on the agenda and notify both parties of the date, time, and location of the next meeting. Both parties should provide a list of witnesses and copies of any supporting documentation to substantiate the case to the Advisor prior to the CARE Board Meeting.

Each party and the witnesses provide testimony to the CARE Board who will make a decision based upon the testimony provided. Once the determination is made, the Board is empowered to initiate corrective action as deemed appropriate, from sentencing the wrongdoer to community service hours up to and including termination of employment.

Def. Ex. I, Caregiver Guide pp. 27-28.

Once an issue was brought before the CARE Board, it had the discretion to impose a wide variety of discipline, up to and including termination. Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. pp. 34-35. The CARE Board could also reduce an employee's work hours from full-time to part-time, or reassign them to another Street. Id. In addition to the CARE Board, grandparents, administrators and Defendant's owners also had the authority to discipline and/or terminate employees. Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. p. 25; Pl. Ex. E, Taylor Dep. pp. 14, 35.

Plaintiff was initially hired by Defendant on August 9, 2004 but subsequently resigned on September 3, 2004 for personal health reasons. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. pp. 3436; Def. Ex. J; Def. Ex. L. During this first period of employment, there were no complaints about the Plaintiff and no discipline was imposed. Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. pp. 62-63. She was rehired by Defendant as a part-time Licensed Caregiver on November 5, 2007, and on February 29, 2008, she was transferred to a full-time position on Elm Street. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. pp. 36, 40; Def. Ex. H; Def. Ex. M. As a full-time Caregiver, Plaintiff worked various shifts, including daytime and overnight shifts, and typically worked three 12-hour shifts per week. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. p. 43.

At the time Plaintiff became full-time, Allyson DeVantier ("DeVantier") and Lynnette Mattson were the "grandparents" assigned to Elm Street who supervised, monitored and/or oversaw the Care Team. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. p. 50; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. p. 17. In June 2009, Sara King ("King") replaced Lynnette Mattson as a grandparent on Elm Street. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. p. 40; Def. Ex. G, King Dep. p. 7. The Elm Street scheduling coordinator in January 2010 was Heather Burkhart ("Burkhart"). Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. p. 46; Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. pp. 14, 60; Pl. Ex. H, Burkhart Dep. p. 13. At all relevant times Praetzel was the Administrator of Rolling Fields and Taylor functioned as the Human Resources Director. Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. pp. 7-8; Pl. Ex. E, Taylor Dep. p. 8.

Beginning in the summer of 2009, DeVantier and King observed that Plaintiff had a negative attitude, was treating her co-workers badly on the Street, and that other Elm Street Care Team members participated less frequently in meetings when Plaintiff was present. Pl. Ex. G, King Dep. pp. 49-53; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. pp. 50-51, 92. In late August or early September of 2009, Licensed Caregiver Mary Lynn Kerr complained to Praetzel that Plaintiff had called off work as a result of which she was required to work a 16-hour shift. Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. p. 89. Praetzel noted that Kerr was upset because she felt Plaintiff did not help other Caregivers or offer to cover their hours when needed. Id. Praetzel directed Kerr to discuss the issue with Plaintiff and attempt to work as a team. Id. at p. 89. Praetzel informed Braham-Moody of the complaint. Id. at pp. 105-106. Plaintiff concedes that Kerr initiated this complaint, but denies that she engaged in any wrongdoing. Pl. Response to Statement of Facts p. 5 No. 54.

During a CARE Board meeting on October 20, 2009, Plaintiff's interactions with another Licensed Caregiver, Laura Deal ("Deal") were raised and discussed. Def. Ex. S, 10/20/09 CARE Board Meeting Minutes; Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. pp. 153-154; Pl. Ex. L, Devantier Dep. pp. 48-49. The Board minutes reflect the following:

Elm Street --- . Laura [Deal] is also having problems with Crystal [Delp] and how she says things. Laura [Deal] and Elena [Reinhart] had a conversation with Crystal [Delp] and she was very upset.

Def. Ex. S, 10/20/09 CARE Board Meeting Minutes.*fn3 Plaintiff acknowledged that Deal was upset over an email Plaintiff had sent and that Deal characterized it as "rude." Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. pp. 54-59. Plaintiff further acknowledged that she and Deal had discussed the email in Elena Reinhart's presence. Id.

In November of 2009, Plaintiff learned she was pregnant and informed King, DeVantier, Praetzel and Braham-Moody. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. p. 84; Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. p. 107; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. p. 75. On or about November 17, 2009, she requested medical leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") due to complications with her pregnancy and it was promptly granted. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. pp. 84-86; Pl. Ex. E, Taylor Dep. p. 38; Def. Ex. O, 11/20/09 Leave of Absence Request Form. Plaintiff was released to return to work full-time without restrictions on or about November 30, 2009. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. p. 85; Def. Ex. P, 11/30/09 Return to Work Slip. Plaintiff does not dispute that she was granted the leave and returned to work in the same position with the same job duties and rate of pay. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. 84-86; Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. p. 114.

In January of 2010, Plaintiff learned that she was pregnant again and informed Praetzel, King and DeVantier at that time. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. pp. 86-88; Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. p. 110; Pl. Ex. G, King Dep. p. 44; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. p. 79. King and DeVantier were aware that Plaintiff was due to deliver in September of 2010 and would need time off at that point. Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. p. 114; Pl. Ex. G, King Dep. p. 45; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. pp. 79-81.

At about the same time, Burkhart, the scheduling coordinator for Elm Street, experienced difficulties working with Plaintiff. Pl. Ex. H, Burkhart Dep. pp. 21-22. Burkhart testified that Plaintiff had an "attitude," demanded a certain schedule, was rude towards her co-workers, and cursed at her several times. Id. at pp. 21-24. She also claimed that Plaintiff threw a set of keys at her. Id. at pp. 27-28. Burkhart voiced her complaints to Deb Hardy ("Hardy"), a CARE Board representative, in May of 2010. Id. at pp. 45-46, 54-56. Plaintiff acknowledged that she had "stressful interactions" with Burkhart over scheduling, but did not view those interactions as "negative." Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. pp. 77-78, 171.

In early 2010, Deal again complained about Plaintiff's general lack of communication with her Care Team, as well as her treatment of Caregivers. Pl. Ex. G, King Dep. pp. 68-69. Deal reported that the newer Caregivers felt intimidated by Plaintiff, and that in her daily interactions with them she was "short." Id. Deal's concerns were relayed by King to DeVantier, who, in turn, discussed them with Elena Reinhart. Id. at pp. 69-70.

During a CARE Board meeting on March 9, 2010, Plaintiff's difficulties interacting with other Caregivers on Elm Street were raised and discussed. Def. Ex. T, 3/9/10 CARE Board Meeting Minutes; Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. pp. 119, 143-144; Pl. Ex. G, King Dep. pp. 60-61; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. pp. 48-49. As reflected in the Board minutes:

Elm Street -- Brittany Reinhart and Danielle Crawford are having a difficult time with Crystal Delp being gruff. Dule [Miller] and Brittany [Reinhart] spoke to Crystal [Delp] and things seemed to improve. .

Def. Ex. T, 3/9/10 CARE Board Meeting Minutes. Plaintiff does not dispute that Dule Miller and Brittany Reinhart spoke to her, but characterized the interaction as "informal." Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. p. 63.

On May 7, 2010, DeVantier met with Caregiver Nicole Varee ("Varee"), concerning complaints Varee had regarding Plaintiff's treatment of her on Elm Street. Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. pp. 31-34. Varee informed DeVantier that she did not want to work with Plaintiff because Plaintiff was "gruff and rude" to her. Id. at pp. 32-33.

On May 9, 2010, Deal sent an email to Harding, an Elm Street CARE Board representative, wherein she reported that Varee and Brooke Hollobaugh ("Hollobaugh"), had complained to her that they were having difficulties with Plaintiff but were "scared" to approach her. Pl. Ex. C, Praetzel Dep. pp. 118-119; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. pp. 42-43; Def. Ex. W, 5/9/10 Email. Harding showed Deal's email to DeVantier on May 10, 2009 and informed DeVantier that she would be following up. Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. pp. 42-44.

Sometime after May 10, 2010 the decision was made by Braham-Moody, King and DeVantier to reassign Plaintiff, as well as Deal, from Elm Street. Pl. Ex. G, King Dep. pp. 95-96; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. pp. 64-65; Def. Ex. H, Braham-Moody Aff. ¶ 10. Plaintiff was reassigned as a result of the prior complaints and her inability to positively interact with her co-workers. Pl. Ex. G, King Dep. pp. 95-96; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. pp. 36, 40, 45-46, 49-53, 55-56; Def. Ex. H, Braham-Moody Aff. ¶ 10.

On May 19, 2010, Plaintiff met with King and DeVantier and was informed that she was being reassigned from Elm Street. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. p. 99; Pl Ex. G, King Dep. p. 98; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. pp. 89-90. King and DeVantier allege that they informed Plaintiff that she was being reassigned because of several complaints of co-workers concerning her treatment of them. Pl. Ex. G, King Dep. pp. 98-101; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. pp. 89-90. According to King and DeVantier, Plaintiff was also informed that she was expected to finish out her two-week work schedule on Elm Street. Pl. Ex. G, King Dep. p. 99; Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep. p. 91. King and DeVantier contacted three representatives from Ash, Birch and Cherry Streets to confirm that they would assist Plaintiff in covering her hours she would have worked on Elm Street. Pl. Ex. L, DeVantier Dep.p. 91. Plaintiff was informed that hours would be available for her to work on Ash, Birch and Cherry Streets, and that she should contact the scheduling coordinator on those Streets to secure hours. Id.

Plaintiff, on the other hand, claims that she was told she was being "pulled" from Elm Street because she was "too passionate" about her job and that she would need to find hours elsewhere in the home. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. p. 99, 109. She also claims she inquired as to whether she could continue to work full-time but was informed it was not "guaranteed." Id. at pp. 138-139. She also denied having been told that she was to complete her two week schedule on Elm Street. Id.

On May 26, 2010, Plaintiff again met with King and DeVantier. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. pp. 105-106. Plaintiff admits that she was told at this meeting that she was being reassigned because other Caregivers had complained she was intimidating. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. pp. 116-117. Following this meeting, Plaintiff met with Taylor and Cara Gilchrist ("Gilchrist"), the scheduling coordinator for Cherry Street, regarding the scheduling of shifts for Plaintiff on other Streets. Pl. Ex. A, Delp Dep. pp. 119-120; Pl. Ex. E, Taylor Dep. p. 46. Plaintiff contends that at that meeting she was only offered two day shifts the following week, with one being on Cherry Street. Pl. Ex. ...


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