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Thomas v. St. Mary Med. Ctr.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 23, 2014

ILISA R. THOMAS
v.
ST. MARY MEDICAL CENTER, et al

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For ILISA R. THOMAS, Plaintiff: BRIAN K. WILEY, LEAD ATTORNEY, THE LAW OFFICES OF BRIAN K. WILEY, P.C., NORTH WALES, PA.

For ST. MARY MEDICAL CENTER, SUSAN FREIBERG, IN HER OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DONNA MARINO, IN HER OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, K. SIBEL, IN HER OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, Defendants: A. JAMES JOHNSTON, LEAD ATTORNEY, ANDREA MERYL KIRSHENBAUM, KATE A. KLEBA, POST & SCHELL, PC, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

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MEMORANDUM

Ditter, J.

Plaintiff, Ilisa Thomas, brings this employment discrimination action against her former employer, St. Mary Medical Center, and three of its employees, Susan Freiberg, Donna Marino, and K. Sibel,[1] in their individual and official capacities. Thomas alleges race and disability discrimination, retaliation, and other causes of

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action under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (" PHRA" ). For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Thomas, who is African-American, was employed by St. Mary Medical Center for approximately five years, from September 2007 to September 2012. She held the position of Patient Access Clerk and worked in various departments within the hospital during her employment. Thomas' immediate supervisor was defendant, Susan Freiberg, Director of Access Operations.

In January 2012, Thomas and her co-workers attended a meeting where they learned that the hospital was undergoing a reorganization and, as a consequence, she and her co-workers needed to reapply for their jobs. Thomas and her co-workers also learned that during this reapplication period they would have the opportunity for promotion to a " lead" position. Thomas reapplied for her job and applied for a promotion to " Evening Lead Patient Access Clerk." Compl. ¶ 26.

Thomas alleges that she was qualified for the promotion, according to the posted job description and requirements, which included being state-certified as a Certified Healthcare Access Associate. Thomas contends that she was the only one of her three co-workers that had the required certification, she had satisfactory work performance, and that she had experience working within nine different departments at St. Mary Medical Center. See id. ¶ ¶ 28, 30. According to the complaint, Thomas was not interviewed for the promotion despite meeting the job qualifications, while Caucasian applicants, who were less qualified in terms of experience and the requisite certification, were interviewed and eventually promoted. See id. ¶ ¶ 29-30, 33, 66.

In March 2012, Thomas was told she would be transferred to a different department, but was not informed about the status of her promotion application. Thomas contends that after she made multiple attempts to receive an answer from Freiberg on the status of her application, she finally learned on March 30, 2012, that she was not getting the lead position. See Compl. ¶ ¶ 35-40. Freiberg explained to Thomas that she was not promoted because she had " three write ups." Id. ¶ 41. Plaintiff alleges that Caucasian applicants, who were interviewed for the promotion, had " write-ups and adverse disciplinary histories." Id. 43.

Moreover, Thomas alleges that after she contested that she had a disciplinary history that would prevent her from being interviewed, Freiberg offered a " new reason" for her denial, stating that Thomas had a problem being " buddies" with her colleagues. Id. 45. During this conversation, Thomas told Freiberg that this was the third time Freiberg denied her a promotion, despite her qualifications and good work performance. Freiberg had no response.

Thomas contends her disciplinary history did not disqualify her from interviewing for the promotion. In fact, Thomas alleges that right after meeting with Freiberg, she spoke with Courtney Burnett, a representative from the Human Resources department, who told her that the write-ups in her file should not have prevented her promotion, since it was St. Mary Medical Center's policy to only consider disciplines within the 90 days preceding the promotion

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decision, and none of her write-ups fell within that time period. Id. ¶ 52-53. Thomas alleges that she had no such disciplines in the 90 days prior to March 2012, the earliest the promotion decision could have been made. Id. ¶ ¶ 53-54. Indeed, Thomas contends that she eventually obtained copies of write-ups in her file,[2] and of the three write-ups cited by Freiberg, all of which were for billing or other administrative errors, two were given to Thomas and all of her co-workers in the same position, and all three of them were issued more than 90 days before the promotion decision. Id. ¶ ¶ 70-73.

On or about April 5, 2012, Thomas met with defendant, Donna Marino, Director of Human Resources. During that meeting, Thomas complained about being denied the promotion despite her qualifications and specifically explained how the write-ups relied upon by Freiberg were expired according to St. Mary Medical Center's policies. See Compl. ¶ 66-67. She pointed out that her write-ups were no different than those of Caucasian employees who were interviewed and eventually promoted. Id. Thomas also mentioned the fact that Freiberg had denied her a promotion on three prior occasions, and that she believed Freiberg's " statements and actions were racially-motivated, and that she was being subjected to disparate treatment as compared to Caucasian employees in the interview and promotion process." Id. 62.

Shortly thereafter, Marino emailed Thomas to say that, after discussing the matter with Freiberg, she agreed with Freiberg's decision, because the promotion she applied for required " supervisor/lead experience." Id. ¶ 75. Thomas alleges that such a requirement was never listed in the job posting nor was it mentioned during any of her previous discussions with Freiberg. Id. ¶ ¶ 75-76. Thomas contends, however, that multiple Caucasian candidates who were interviewed and promoted did not have supervisory or leadership experience. Id. ¶ 78.

Next, Thomas alleges that in May 2012, she informed the defendants that she was being treated for " depression, anxiety disorders and attacks, and suicidal ideations." Id. ¶ 83. Thomas contends that she provided written documentation and certification of her medical conditions from her treating physicians. Id. ¶ ¶ 84, 87. She alleges that the defendants responded by providing her with FMLA forms and approving her FMLA leave.[3] Defendants did not challenge the diagnoses or question her need for treatment. Thomas took leave from May 4, 2012, to July 27, 2012. Thomas alleges that the May 9, 2012 notice approving her leave notified her that her position was not guaranteed beyond July 27, 2012, and that she must be " medically cleared (i.e. fully healed)" before she would be permitted to return to work. Id. ¶ 96.

Nevertheless, Thomas alleges that the defendants failed to offer her a reasonable accommodation or engage in an interactive process in order to determine a reasonable accommodation that would have allowed her to continue her work even with her disability. Id. ¶ ¶ 91-93. In other words, Thomas felt the defendants " simply processed [her] out" on FMLA leave rather than engage in the appropriate interactive process to come up with a solution permitting her to work " even if not 'fully healed.'" Id. ¶ ¶ 94, 97.

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According to her complaint, on July 23, 2012, Thomas' physician " recertified that [her] disabilities persisted" and she sought a " scheduling accommodation beyond July 27, 2012." Id. ¶ 98. After discussions with defendants Marino and Sibel, St. Mary Medical Center's Benefits Coordinator, Thomas alleges that she was denied an extension of her FMLA leave and was never offered any other reasonable accommodation or " interactive dialogue" with her or her physician to determine an accommodation allowing her return to work. Id. ¶ ¶ 99-101.

In an attempt to avoid losing her job, Thomas drove to work on July 27, 2012, but before she arrived she received a call on her cell phone from Sibel telling her she could not return because defendants had received a note from her physician that plaintiff's " disabilities persisted." Id. ¶ 103. Thus, according to Thomas, she was not allowed to come back to work, was not allowed an extension of her leave, and defendants refused to discuss arrangements to allow her to resume work even with her ongoing disabilities. Indeed, Thomas alleges that, on July 31, 2012, she and her mental health provider communicated to defendants a " proposed accommodation [4] that would allow Plaintiff to resume working," but that requested accommodation was denied. Id. ¶ ¶ 109-110.

Finally, on August 16, 2012, Thomas alleges that she was " released to go back to work" by her physician, of which she informed defendants, but was told her position was no longer available. Id. ¶ ¶ 111-112. Plaintiff was " officially terminated" on September 4, 2012. Id. ¶ 117.

On June 11, 2013, Thomas commenced the present action by filing a sixteen count complaint. Thomas filed suit within 90 days of receiving her " Right to Sue Notice" from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) which was dated March 21, 2013, and she states that she has timely satisfied all of the administrative procedural prerequisites to filing suit under the relevant federal and state statutes. Defendants attached to their motion to dismiss a copy of the " Charge of Discrimination" filed with the EEOC, signed by Thomas and dated April 10, 2012.[5] See Defs.' Mot. Dismiss, Exh. A. Thomas does not allege any additional charges were made with the EEOC or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (" PHRC" ), nor does she allege any amendments were made to the copy that has been submitted by the defendants.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The standard of review for a motion to dismiss is well established. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) a complaint shall be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations. I must accept as true the facts and allegations contained in the complaint and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom and view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.

III. DISCUSSION

In their motion to dismiss, the defendants seek dismissal of several claims in their entirety and parts of other claims.

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Defendants argue that Thomas has failed to adequately plead certain claims and failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as to others. Both arguments ...


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