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Petrikonis v. Wilkes-Barre Hospital Co., LLC

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 30, 2013

ARTHUR J. PETRIKONIS, Plaintiff,
v.
WILKES-BARRE HOSPITAL COMPANY, LLC, Defendant.

OPINION

JOEL H. SLOMSKY, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case involves an allegation of employment discrimination. On February 10, 2011, Plaintiff Arthur Petrikonis ("Plaintiff") filed a Complaint against Wilkes Barre Hospital Company, LLC ("Defendant" or "Hospital"). (Doc. No. 1.) In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges he was terminated on account of his gender and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). Plaintiff seeks back pay, compensatory damages, attorney's fees, and a permanent injunction barring Defendant from discriminating against employees. (Id. 13-14.) Defendant filed an Answer and a Counterclaim for breach of contract. (Doc. No. 10.)

On April 23, 2012, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on both the discrimination and breach of contract claims. (Doc. No. 44.) Defendant's Motion and Plaintiff's Response have been fully briefed by the parties and the Motion is now ripe for disposition.[1] For reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Arthur Petrikonis is a fifty-three year old male. Defendant Wilkes Barre Hospital is a community-based hospital located in Northeastern Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 4-7.) From 1995 to 1996, Plaintiff worked for Defendant as a phlebotomist. (Doc. No. 44-2 at ¶ 6.) He then left the healthcare industry for seven years. (Id. at ¶ 7.) In 2003, Plaintiff returned to work at the Hospital and began attending classes at Luzerne County Community College ("LCCC") in pursuit of an Associate's Degree in Registered Nursing. (Id. at ¶ 10.) In 2009, Plaintiff applied for and received a $10, 000 student loan from the Hospital to pursue his degree in Nursing at LCCC.[2] (Id. at ¶ 11). On March 2, 2009, Plaintiff signed an Employment Commitment Letter in connection with this loan, stating in part:

You have been tentatively selected for aid in WVHCS - NURSING EDUCATION ALLIANCE PROGRAM - REGISTERED NURSE (hereinafter referred to as "Program"), in the amount referenced above. Designation of you, as an actual recipient of this aid, is contingent upon your execution of this Employment Commitment Letter and attached Promissory Note...
SECTION 1 - EMPLOYMENT COMMITMENT In return for the funds received from the Program, I, the undersigned, do hereby agree to full-time employment as a staff nurse for the following relevant period:
A three (3) year period of continuous employment as a licensed/registered professional employee beginning on date of licensure based on full-time status. If, I, the undersigned, opt for part-time employment, the employment commitment will be extended to five (5) years.
In the event that I, the undersigned, am unable to fulfill the Employment Commitment as a staff nurse for any reason, fail to pass a licensure examination (within six (6) months of graduation), or if I am terminated from employment for just cause before completion of the commitment period, I hereby agree to repay the portion of the loan that has not yet been forgiven, within three (3) months.

(Doc. No. 44-4 at 2.) On March 2, 2009, Plaintiff executed this agreement and signed a Promissory Note, stating:

I, Arthur J. Petrikonis (hereinafter referred to as "Borrower"), for the value received, the receipt and sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged, understand and agree that, unless I fulfill the obligations set forth in the Employment Commitment Letter attached hereto and incorporated herein, which I have entered into with WVHCS-Hospital (hereinafter referred to as "Hospital"), I am obligated to repay the total of each principal sum of the semester(s) in which I accept aid, with simple interest at the then current standard market rate of interest per annum, as published annually by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, until paid, together with any and all changes which may become due as provided in this Note. Borrower may, at any time, prepay all or any part of the unpaid balance without penalty.

(Id. at 4.) Plaintiff received the $10, 000 loan and agreed to the terms of the Promissory Note and Employment Commitment Letter.

During his clinical rotations as a nursing student, Plaintiff went through various patient care units at the Hospital. Towards the end of his Associate's Program at LCCC, the Department of Nursing advised him that his first choice for placement on the Hospital's 5East (orthopedic) Unit ("5E") had been granted and he would begin working on 5E in July 2009. He finished his clinical rotations and graduated from LCCC in May 2009. In July 2009, Plaintiff failed his nursing board examination. Subsequently, he continued working as a phlebotomist until he passed his Nursing examination in late October 2009.

On November 9, 2009, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a Registered Nurse and he began his assignment on 5E. His employment with the Hospital was pursuant to the terms of the Employment Commitment Letter. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 19.) At the time, 5E employed seventeen Registered Nurses. The Clinical Director of 5E was Judy Ragukas, who supervised Mary Beth Moss, the Clinical Leader. Moss was responsible for the day-to-day nursing care on 5E. The Orientation Program for nurses on 5E consisted of an 8-12 week program. The majority of the orientations were run by Pat Chivarella and Mary Carol Montagna, the most experienced nurses on 5E at that time. During the first six weeks of the Orientation Program, new nurses worked the 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. shift ("First Shift"), after which the nurse would be transferred to the shift he or she would be working full time. (Doc. No. 44-2 at ¶ 31.)

Chivarella served as Plaintiff's first preceptor and trained him on "the basics" of nursing. (Id. at ¶ 43.) By mid-November, Chivarella observed that Plaintiff had failed to progress and she spoke to Ragukas repeatedly about his lack of progress. (Id. at ¶¶ 52-59.) Subsequently, the Hospital switched Plaintiff's preceptor from Chivarella to Montagna. (Id. at ¶ 61.) Montagna made similar observations about his performance and spoke to Moss about her concerns. (Id. at ¶ 68.)

All nurses working on the Orthopedic Unit at the time were required to successfully obtain a "med pass" with the Unit's Clinical Leader, Moss, during their orientation. (Id. at ¶ 75.) A "med pass" is an assessment of whether a nurse is capable of administering medications in accordance with the applicable policies and procedures. (Id. at ¶ 74.) On December 8, 2009, Moss conducted a med pass assessment of Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 76.) Plaintiff did not perform well, so Moss scheduled a second med pass assessment for him. (Id. at ¶ 78.) Moss' conclusions about the second med pass were consistent with the earlier observations of Montagna and Chivarella: "He is not building on any skill or procedure that was accomplished the previous day; shows no initiative to complete a task on his own. He requires constant supervision or direction." (Id. at ¶ 81).

Based on the feedback from the med pass assessments and Plaintiff's preceptors, Moss and Ragukas prepared an Improvement Action Plan ("IAP") for Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 83.) The IAP identified problem areas for Plaintiff to work on, with the understanding that he would be terminated if he did not improve on his overall performance. (Id. at ¶¶ 85-87.) Ragukas advised Plaintiff that she would re-evaluate his performance on December 16, 2009. (Id. at ¶ 88.) During the period of his IAP, Montagna and Ragukas observed specific care issues in Plaintiff's charts and observed that he was still unable to complete an assignment without direction or supervision. (Id. at ¶ 98.) Therefore, on December 16, 2009, during the fifth week of Orientation, Ragukas decided to terminate Plaintiff's employment. Because he worked at the Hospital for five weeks after graduation, $256.42 of the $10, 000 student loan was forgiven, leaving a balance of $9, 743.58. The Hospital sought repayment of the amount due, but Plaintiff refused to repay the outstanding amount.

Plaintiff alleges he was not adequately trained by the nurses on 5E. Specifically, Plaintiff contends he was not given the opportunity to shadow a preceptor, was not given a training manual, and was not given training goals or objectives. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 21-24). With respect to the IAP, Plaintiff avers that the problems identified had no basis and were unwarranted in view of his level of training and orientation. Further, he contends the IAP provided an inadequate period of time in which to assess his work in response to the purported problems. (Id. at ¶¶ 28, 29). Notwithstanding the IAP, Plaintiff maintains that he developed many of the required skills and competently performed his work as a registered nurse. (Id. at ¶¶ 30-45.) Finally, Plaintiff asserts that the Hospital treated younger nurses and female nurses more favorably. (Id. at ¶¶ 25, 26.) Accordingly, Plaintiff claims that the reasons stated by the Hospital for his termination were ...


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