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Ryliskis v. Uniontown Area Hospital

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 5, 2013



CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, with brief in support [ECF Nos. 34 and 35] and Plaintiff's brief in opposition [ECF No. 40]. After careful consideration of Defendant's motion, the filings in support and opposition thereto, the memoranda of the parties, the relevant case law, and the record as a whole, the Court finds that there is not sufficient record evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for Plaintiff, Christine Ryliskis, on her race-based hostile work environment claim. Therefore, for the reasons that follow, the Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

Procedural Background

Plaintiff, Christine Ryliskis ("Ryliskis" or "Plaintiff"), a former employee at Uniontown Area Hospital ("the Hospital" or "Defendant"), filed a three-count federal Complaint. In Count I, she alleged that she was subject to a hostile environment based on race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §2000e-2000e-17 (2008). In Count II, Plaintiff alleged retaliation, also in violation of Title VII. Count III, brought pursuant to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, mirrored the allegations set out in Counts I and II. On August 30, 2012, the Court issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that Court II be dismissed without prejudice and that Court III be dismissed with prejudice. [ECF No. 13]. Neither party filed objections to the Report and Recommendation which was adopted by the District Court on September 10, 2013. Thereafter, both parties consented to give the undersigned full authority to conduct all proceedings in this case, including the entry of final judgment, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). [ECF Nos. 17, 22].

Plaintiff did not attempt to revive Court II via an Amended Complaint; therefore, only Count I remains. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on May 14, 2013. [ECF No. 34]. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion will be granted.

Factual Background

As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are to be resolved most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party.

Plaintiff was employed by the Hospital as an operating room technician from April 2001 until March 24, 2011, when she alleges she was constructively discharged. She alleges that beginning in 2004, she experienced a racially hostile work environment. The first alleged incident occurred when Plaintiff overheard a coworker's phone conversation, in which the coworker said that she was not someone's "n_____."[1] [ECF No. 42-1 at pp. 21-23].[2] The coworker was not speaking to Ryliskis, nor is there evidence that she knew that Ryliskis was nearby. [Id.]. Ryliskis reported this incident to Linda Kunkel ("Kunkel"), director of the surgical suite and central sterile departments. [ECF No. 42-1 at p. 21]. Plaintiff does not recall Kunkel's response, or that the two discussed the matter again. [Id. at p. 24]. Kunkel does not recall that Plaintiff ever reported the incident. [ECF No. 37-6 at p. 10]. Plaintiff did not file a charge of discrimination regarding that incident, nor did she file a grievance with her union steward. [ECF No. 42-1 at pp. 25, 27].

Plaintiff stated that after speaking with Kunkel, she was "repeatedly harassed" by one of the operating room team leaders, Renee Lazuka ("Lazuka"). [ECF No. 42-1 at p. 27]. Ryliskis alleges that Lazuka used a tone of voice that was belittling. Ryliskis also complains that Lazuka once refused to let an RN cover for her during a scheduled vacation and denied permission for her leave work early on one day, insisting that she help aides stock supplies. [Id. at pp. 29-31]. Ryliskis stated that she reported Lazuka's behavior to team leader, Sandra Georgiana ("Georgiana").

Ryliskis states that the next racially motivated incident occurred two years later in 2006. Dr. Jack Kraus, the head of anesthesia, "almost pushed her flat on her face in front of a bunch of nursing students, " when he was on his way to the intensive care unit. [ECF No. 37-2 at p. 62]. She considered this to have been racially motivated because: "Because he tried to hurt me, and belittle me in front of a bunch of nursing students. And besides that, he tried to run me over with his car in the parking lot after that, and when I would walk in the break room he would shut up. He never had nothing to say to me." [Id.]. She did not report this incident to her supervisor. [Id. at p. 62-63].

The incident at the crux of Plaintiff's case occurred four years later, on April 24, 2010, while she was assisting in a same-day operating procedure with gastroenterologist, Dr. Fraser Stokes ("Stokes"). [ECF No. 42-1 at pp. 37, 41-47]. Dr. Stokes is not a hospital employee. [ECF No. 42-6 at p. 18]. Rather, Dr. Stokes is a member of a practice group called Southwestern GI. The practice group members have staff privileges at the Hospital. [ECF No. 36, par. 12]; [ECF No. 41, par. 12].

During the procedure, the song "Lady Marmalade" came on an operating room radio. Stokes allegedly sang a portion of the song containing the words "soul sista." Plaintiff also states that Stokes danced like a gorilla while singing. [ECF No. 42-1 at p. 47]. Stokes counters that he sang "to elevate the tone of the room because it was a busy day with lots of cases." [ECF No. 41 at par. 180]. While he admits to dancing, he denies dancing like a gorilla. [ par. 85]. He agrees that such dancing would be offensive to African Americans. [Id. at par. 189]. He also asserts that he did not believe that the song was "about black people." [ECF No. 42-3 at p. 16].

Ryliskis testified: "As I am trying to ignore him, he called out my name. Hey, Chrissy, you should be singing that song. When he said that, both individuals in the room, which are white, looked at me and I was very degraded. I was - I have never been the same since." [ECF No. 42-1 at pp. 46-47]. Stokes asked Plaintiff why she looked sad, and was so quiet. Ryliskis told him that she was tired of being harassed. [Id. at p. 90]. Stokes asked if someone in the room was harassing her, and Plaintiff answered, "[N]o, because [Stokes] was arguing with me." [Id.]. After that, Stokes was "nasty the rest of this case." [Id. at p. 92.]. "He added on about three more cases... and tried to make my life really miserable that day." [Id. at p. 93]. Ryliskis admitted that having cases added to a day's work "happens all the time, " that the other employees were required to remain, and that she was paid for her time. [Id. at pp. 94-95]. Plaintiff also admitted that she had performed hundreds of procedures with Stokes and he had never acted like this before. [Id. at pp. 45, 47].

On Monday, April 26, 2010, Plaintiff told her team leader, Georgiana, about the incident with Stokes. [Id. at p. 48]. Georgiana advised Ryliskis to speak to Kunkel, saying that she would do the same. [Id. at p. 49]. On April 27, 2010, Plaintiff met with Kunkel and related the Stokes incident. Ryliskis told Kunkel that she had been offended by Stokes' comments and the way he was dancing like a gorilla. [ECF No 42-5 at pp. 17, 21].

Kunkel documented the meeting with Ryliskis:

I spoke with Chris and told her I was sorry for what happened and that I ha[d] to pursue reporting her complaint. I asked her to write up the incident... and the conversations... between her and Dr. Stokes. Chris informed me she was planning on reporting the incident to her union steward. I reported Chris's complaint to [Rock, who] called Human Resources to notify them. Several days later Chris provided me with her notes... and I then gave [them] to... Rock.

[ECF No. 37-6 at p. 17]. Ryliskis delivered a letter to Kunkel, dated April 28, 2010, describing the incident in part, as follows:

This incident along with other uncountable remarks and gestures (such as farting at or towards me) leave me with a feeling of sadness and discomfort. His gorilla-like gestures are aimed toward the fact that I am African-American and are completely unacceptable anywhere, but especially in the workplace. Because of his higher authority, I feel belittled and intimidated because of his unprofessional behavior. I do not feel that I am being treated as an equal or a valued member of the time.
I am confident that there can be a solution to this problem of a hostile workplace. Thank you for your time and effort in looking into this problem and finding a resolution.

[ECF No. 42-8 at p.1].

Ryliskis alleges that Kunkel "harassed" her for about two weeks to supply more detail. [ECF No. 42-1 at p. 53]. "[Kunkel] pulled me off my job and make me go sit in her office and write the rest of this, and I wasn't allowed to work until I got done, because Kaminsky wanted it in HR." [Id.]. Ryliskis completed the supplement "about three or four weeks, almost a month maybe" later. [ECF No. 37-2 at p. 87]. On the back of her original complaint, Ryliskis wrote:

And then I said Dr. I Think that was very inappropriate and unprofessional & How u like it would if I was singing play that funky music white boy. Had 3 more cases to go and Dr. Stokes was asking me why I was looking so sad and why I was being quiet. I Told Him I was tired of coming to work and being Harassed. Just want to come to work and Do a Good job & take Care of pt. Then he ask me if someone in the Room was Harassing me and I said no ...

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