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Greaves v. Shinseki

United States District Court, Third Circuit

July 18, 2013

MADIA GREAVES, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC SHINSEKI, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

GENE E.K. PRATTER, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Madia Greaves, a nurse employed by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) at its Philadelphia Veterans Administration Medical Center (“PVAMC”), alleges that the VA discriminated against her based upon her national origin. The VA has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment which would, if granted, dispose of the case in its entirety. For the reasons set forth below, this Motion will be granted.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

For purposes of this Motion, the Court considers whether the record presents any genuine issues of material fact that would allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of Ms. Greaves. See Miller v. Ind. Hosp., 843 F.2d 139, 143 (3d Cir. 1988); see also Anderson v. Wachovia Mortg. Corp., 621 F.3d 261, 267 (3d Cir. 2010) (noting that at the summary judgment stage, courts must draw all reasonable inferences and resolve conflicting evidence in favor of the non-moving party). With this standard in mind, the facts set forth here are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

Ms. Greaves, who is Liberian by national origin, accepted a position with the PVAMC as a Registered Nurse, Level I (“Nurse I”) in October 2006. Since the start of her employment, Ms. Greaves has worked as a Nurse I in Unit 2C, a long-term care nursing unit of the Community Living Center (“CLC”) at the PVAMC. She serves as a Charge Nurse for her unit, and her responsibilities include supervising other nurses and overseeing patient care. Ms. Greaves alleges that in March 2010, the VA unreasonably failed to promote her from Nurse I to Registered Nurse, Level II (“Nurse II”), on the basis of her Liberian national origin.

Approximately once a year, the PVAMC reviews a nurse’s performance and evaluates the nurse’s eligibility for promotion. A promotion from the position of Nurse I to the position of Nurse II requires: (1) a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (“BSN”); (2) 2 to 3 years of nursing experience; and (3) achieving performance requirements known as “performance dimensions, ”[1] which comprise (i) practice, (ii) professional role, (iii) collaboration, and (iv) scientific inquiry.

Nurse I and Nurse II nurses have the same responsibilities and perform the same duties, but a Nurse II is expected to perform those duties at a “higher level” by advancing his or her professional abilities and achieving measurable outcomes that benefit the unit as a whole. Suppl. Mem. L. in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. (Doc. No. 31). For example, while a Nurse I may “[d]emonstrate[] proficiency using the nursing process in providing care for clients with complex nursing care needs, ” a Nurse II is expected to “[a]ppl[y] the nursing process to systems or processes at the unit/team/work group level to improve care.” VA Handbook 5005/27 (Doc. No. 31, Ex. 9).

The VA’s process for evaluating a nurse’s eligibility for promotion generally proceeds in the following sequence: (1) an optional self-evaluation by the nurse; (2) a Proficiency Report prepared by the nurse’s supervisor, which incorporates the self-evaluation (if provided) and rates the nurse’s performance; (3) review of the rating in the Proficiency Report by the Associate Chief Nurse; (4) review of the Proficiency Report by the VA Nurse Professional Standards Board (“Board”), of which three to five voting members (from a pool of approximately 16 members) issue a Board Action with a recommendation as to promotion; (5) review of the Board Action by a Nurse Executive; and (6) final approval of the Board Action by the Medical Director.

As it had done it previous years, the VA used this process to review Ms. Greaves’s performance from October 2008 through October 2009.[2] The parties dispute whether Ms. Greaves provided a self-evaluation of her 2009 performance to her Nurse Manager and direct supervisor, Brian Griffin. On November 13, 2009, Mr. Griffin prepared a Proficiency Report of Ms. Greaves’s 2009 performance, which did not incorporate any self-evaluation because, as the report notes, Ms. Greaves “[w]as offered [the opportunity] to provide feedback into her proficiency report but did not conduction [sic] a self-evaluation.” Doc. No. 17, Ex. 4. The Proficiency Report gives Ms. Greaves an overall rating of “satisfactory, ” which meant that she “has met all criteria; at times exceeds expectations.”[3] Associate Chief Nurse Theodore Clay, Mr. Griffin’s supervisor, reviewed the ratings given in the Proficiency Report. Ms. Greaves signed the report, acknowledging that she had reviewed it and had had an opportunity to discuss it with Mr. Griffin before it was submitted to the Board.

On December 10, 2009, the Board issued a Board Action recommending the non-promotion of Ms. Greaves. The Board Action, signed by Board members John Boudwin, Velma Stewart, and Linda Garvin, and by human resources executive Josephine Langston-Davis, explains that although Ms. Greaves met the educational and experience requirements expected of a Nurse II, she did not meet any of the required performance dimensions.

Nurse Executive Cynthia Heidt agreed with the Board’s recommendation, and Margaret Caplan, [4] for and in the absence of Medical Director Richard Citron, made the final decision to approve the Board’s recommendation and decline to promote Ms. Greaves.

On March 19, 2010, Ms. Greaves received a memorandum from Ms. Heidt informing her that she had been denied promotion. Doc. 17, Ex. 1. On May 17, 2010, she filed a timely complaint with the VA’s Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) office, alleging that her non-promotion was based on her national origin, and claiming that the employment discrimination occurred in April 2010. On June 17, 2010, the VA began investigating her complaint.

On March 25, 2011, the VA Office of Employment Discrimination and Complaint Adjudication issued a final agency decision[5] and Notification of Right to Sue, informing Ms. Greaves that she had 90 days to file a civil action in a United States District Court.

Ms. Greaves filed a Complaint in the District Court for the District of New Jersey on June 23, 2011, which was transferred to this district on October 5, 2011.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

A court shall grant a motion for summary judgment “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). An issue is “genuine” if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A factual dispute is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). Under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence presented on the motion in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. However, “[u]nsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment.” Betts v. New Castle Youth Dev. Ctr., 621 F.3d 249, 252 (3d Cir. 2010).

At the summary judgment phase, the movant bears the initial responsibility to inform the court of the basis for the motion and to identify those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue, the movant’s initial burden can be met simply by “pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Id. at 325. After the moving party has met the initial burden, the non-moving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuinely disputed factual issue for trial by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a factual showing “sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

III. DISCUSSION

As a threshold matter, the Court will address the scope of Ms. ...


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