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Cassidy v. Pocono Medical Center

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 31, 2013

JOE L. CASSIDY, Plaintiff,


RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.

Here we consider Defendant, Pocono Medical Center's Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Doc. 36.) With this Motion, Defendant seeks judgment in its favor on all remaining claims in Plaintiff's Second Amended Civil Action Complaint (Doc. 27): Count II for violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; Count III for Title VII retaliation; and Count IV for violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act for age discrimination and retaliation.[1] For the reasons discussed below, we conclude Defendant's Motion is properly granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff began her employment with Defendant as a registered nurse in the emergency room in February 2002. (Doc. 27 ¶ 17.) At the time of the allegations set out in her Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff was 44 years of age. (Doc. 37 ¶ 1; Doc. 41 at 13 ¶ 1.)

In May of 2011, Plaintiff was called into "a so-called informal meeting'" with her director, Edward Knuth, Pat Casole, and Pat Watkins and was questioned about her name being in a patient's chart. (Doc. 27 ¶ 19.) The patient was a hospital employee admitted to the emergency room on April 25, 2011. (Doc. 27 ¶ 24.) Plaintiff was accused of violating HIPAA by allegedly accessing the patient's chart.[2] (Doc. 27 ¶ 20.) Plaintiff was not involved in the patient's care. (Doc. 27 ¶ 21.) Plaintiff avers that she had never reviewed the chart and had no knowledge as to how her name was in the chart. (Doc. 27 ¶ 22.) She also avers that there are many ways someone else could have used Plaintiff's computer "or initiated some other mechanism by which Plaintiff's name was involuntarily placed in the patient's chart." (Doc. 27 ¶ 23.) At the meeting, Plaintiff said she knew nothing about the patient and denied accusations of "snooping" in the chart. (Doc. 27 ¶¶ 25-26.)

Several weeks later, Plaintiff was called to a formal meeting with Everett Saunders, Clinical Supervisor for the night shift, and Karen Giaquinto, Director of Compensation and Benefits. (Doc. 27 ¶ 30.) Plaintiff's union representative accompanied Plaintiff to this meeting. (Doc. 27 ¶ 31.) Plaintiff again denied allegations of wrongdoing, (Doc. 27 ¶ 32), informing the committee that she could not recall the night the patient was in the ER (Doc. 27 ¶ 33). Plaintiff was not given an option to see where her name appeared in the chart. (Doc. 27 ¶ 34.)

At her termination hearing on May 30, 2011, Plaintiff learned that her name had not appeared in the body of the chart but was in the lab results section. (Doc. 27 ¶ 36.) She also learned that approximately 25 names appeared on the chart and only four people (three nurses and a secretary) were disciplined. (Doc. 27 ¶ 38.)

Plaintiff was terminated on June 6, 2011. (Doc. 42 at 2.) Plaintiff was replaced by an individual under the age of 40. (Doc. 37 ¶ 46.)

Pamela Watkins, Defendant's Director of Internal Audit and Compliance, testified that she had discussions with eight employees implicated in the incident at issue: Plaintiff, Paul Vrablic, Steve Gember, Christina Cratch, Sasha Sallard, Kelly Kramer, Margarita Harlin, and Penny Glascow. (Watkins Dep. 24:7-25:7 (Doc. 36-5 at 3-4).) She further testified: 1) Vrablic had no explanation except to state he could have left his computer on and someone else had access to it: 2) Gember said he may have been in the computer system because the charge person may have had to move her car and he would have been the charge person for those few minutes and would check out the people in the ER; 3) Cratch did not offer any defense but did not admit access to the chart; 4) Sallard said she was coming on as the charge person at the time and she had reviewed a number of charts of patients, as necessary; 5) Kelly said she was to be assigned to the area where this patient was and had gone in to check on the situation with the patients but she was ultimately either not assigned to that area or reassigned to another are; 6) Harlin, whose name did not specifically appear in the record, was called in to a meeting for a different reason-something to do with a name set up in the past that had been misused by someone and was linked to a computer from which an improper log-in occurred and she had used the computer at some time that day; and 7) Penny Glascow, an employee who worked in radiology, offered the defense that maybe she left her computer on and someone else logged in. (Watkins Dep. 33:6-42:2 (Doc. 36-5 at 6-8).) In addition to Plaintiff, Defendant terminated Vrablic, Gember, and Glascow. (Watkins Dep. 42:5-43:14 (Doc. 36-5 at 8).) Watkins testified that Cratch would have been terminated, but she resigned before any decision was made. (Watkins Dep. 43:15-44:3 (Doc. 36-5 at 8).) Kratch had not been given an option to resign. (Watkins Dep. 43:17-21 (Doc. 36-5 at 8).) Sallard, Kramer, and Harlin were not terminated. (Watkins Dep. 44: 8-23 (Doc. 36-5 at 8).)

Watkins estimated Glascow's age to be from late 30's to mid-40's, Vrablic's age to be over mid-40's, Gember's age to be late 40's, and Cratch's age to be late 20's. (Watkins Dep. 42:18-22, 44:4-7 (Doc. 36-5 at 8); Watkins Dep. 58:3-18 (Doc. 41-3 at 16).)

Plaintiff alleges that she was improperly targeted because of her age and the fact that she had engaged in prior protected activity. (Doc. 27 ¶ 40.) In the earlier incident, Plaintiff asserts she "previously had refused to alter a medical record for Defendant and was previously terminated for accusing management of requesting that Plaintiff make the alteration." (Doc. 27 ¶ 47.) Pursuant to an arbitration award following a union grievance, Plaintiff got her job back and received sufficient back pay to make her whole. (Doc. 27 ¶ 48.) Plaintiff avers that her return to work in December 2010, allegedly "caus[ed] significant consternation to management." (Doc. 27 ¶ 49.) Deb Racke, a night clinical supervisor, was the individual who accused Plaintiff of falsely accusing management and was also involved in the accusations related to the patient's chart which resulted in Plaintiff's second termination. (Doc. 27 ¶ 51.) Plaintiff's retaliation claim is based on her assertion that Defendant retaliated against her because she won her job back after a March 2010 termination. (Doc. 37 ¶ 12; Doc. 41 ¶ 12.)

Plaintiff testified that before May 30, 2011, she was not subjected to age-related slurs by persons in the Emergency Department. (Plaintiff's Dep. 19:16-19 (Doc. 41-4 at 20).)

Edward Knuth, Defendant's clinical director of the emergency department, testified that in February 2013 (the time of the deposition) about 126 staff were employed in the Emergency Department at Pocono Medical Center. (Knuth Dep. 66:22-23 (Doc. 41-2 at 18).) Knuth estimated that the average age of a nurse in the Emergency Department was mid to late forties when Plaintiff was employed there and continued to be the same. (Knuth Dep. 66:9-18 (Doc. 41-2 at 18).) Karen Giaquinto estimated the average age of a nurse in the hospital to be about 47. (Giaquinto Dep. 46:2-6 (Doc. 36-3 at 4).) Giaquinto also testified that Defendant has a zero tolerance policy for HIPPA violations. (Giaquinto Dep. 25:23-26:4 (Doc. 36-3 at 3).)

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed this action on June 21, 2012. (Doc. 1.) Following the filing of Defendant Pocono Medical Center's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. 5), Plaintiff filed her First Amended Civil Action Complaint (Doc. 11). Defendant then filed Defendant Pocono Medical Center's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 13.) By Order of October 19, 2012, the Court granted the Motion in part and denied it in part. (Doc. 26.) On November 2, 2012, Plaintiff filed her Second Amended Civil Action Complaint (Doc. 27), the operative Complaint here as amended by stipulation ( see Docs. 33, 34). As set out previously, the claims remaining are Count II for ...

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