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Budhun v. The Reading Hospital and Medical Center

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 7, 2015

VANESSA BUDHUN, Plaintiff,
v.
THE READING HOSPITAL AND MEDICAL CENTER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

LAWRENCE F. STENGEL, District Judge.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff Vanessa Budhun worked for Berkshire Health Partners (BHP), an affiliate of defendant The Reading Hospital Medical Center (TRHMC), as a temporary employee from January 2008 until April 18, 2008 when she was permanently hired as a credentialing assistant.[2] She took the place of Ms. Linda Shriner.[3] Shriner had exhausted her available leave of absence on March 18, 2008 and was later terminated on April 3, 2008 when she did not return to work.[4]

As a credentialing assistant, Ms. Budhun was responsible for verifying and processing medical providers' credentialing applications.[5] On July 30, 2010, Ms. Budhun broke her right pinky finger and was fitted with a metal splint.[6] She took a leave of absence under the FMLA.[7] Ms. Budhun's doctor initially expected her to be out of work until September 8, 2010.[8] After a reevaluation on September 8th, he prescribed occupational therapy and wrote Ms. Budhun a note stating that she would be out of work at least until the next appointment on November 9, 2010.[9] Immediately after her appointment, Ms. Budhun emailed both Ms. Sherri Alvarez, her supervisor, and Ms. Stacy Spinka, a TRHMC Human Resources representative, updating them on her medical condition.[10] Both acknowledged receipt of that email within a day.[11]

At her first therapy session on September 10, 2010, however, Ms. Budhun's therapist indicated she may be back to work within a month.[12] Budhun continued to update Alvarez on her progress.[13] On September 13, Ms. Budhun emailed Ms. Alvarez and Ms. Spinka, saying that she believed her doctor would allow her to return to work by the end of September.[14] Spinka extended her FMLA leave until September 23, 2010, when it would be exhausted, and approved her for non-FMLA leave until November 9, 2010.[15]

On September 15, 2010, Ms. Alvarez, President of BHP Charles Wills, and Director of Health and Lifestyle Management Dawn Dreibelbis held a telephone conference with Spinka and her supervisor.[16] The meeting was to discuss Budhun's continued absence.[17] The fact that Budhun may be returning before the end of the month may not have been discussed.[18] At some point, Alvarez, Dreibelbis, and Wills decided that Budhun would be replaced.[19]

Ms. Budhun's splint was removed sometime before her September 23, 2010 therapy appointment.[20] On September 23, 2010, she called Ms. Alvarez to inform her that she should be returning to work the week of September 27, 2010.[21] That same day at 12:54 PM Mary Solynties, Wills' administrative assistant, submitted a form to Human Resources requesting that Ann Rushow replace Ms. Budhun. Rushow was a part-time medical claims repricer who was asked to fill-in for Budhun when she was out.[22] Ms. Rushow was offered the position on September 25, 2010, and Human Resources completed the necessary paperwork two days later.[23] Ms. Rushow did not begin working in this position until October 4th because she took a pre-scheduled vacation the week of September 27th.[24]

Alvarez and Dreibelbis attempted to reach Budhun on September 27th and 28th.[25] On September 29, 2010, Ms. Budhun sent an email telling Ms. Alvarez and Ms. Spinka that she would be cleared to return to work on October 4, 2010.[26] Alvarez and Dreibelbis then called Ms. Budhun and informed her that her position had been filled.[27] Through additional communications, Ms. Spinka informed Ms. Budhun that because of prior written disciplinary actions, she would not be able to transfer to another position within the hospital, but she would be eligible for rehire.[28] Ms. Budhun was asked to pick up her belongings and return her ID badge and keys on October 6, 2010.[29]

Ms. Budhun did not apply for another position at TRHMC and did not contact Human Resources or return to work after the expiration of her non-FMLA leave on November 9, 2010.[30] Due to her inaction, Ms. Budhun was formally considered separated from employment on November 10, 2010.[31] She contends that the events surrounding her termination and formal separation from TRHMC both interfered with her rights under the FMLA and were retaliation for invoking her rights under the FMLA. I granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant on both claims. Budhun v. Reading Hosp. and Medical Center, No. 10-CV-06921, 2011 WL 6002024, at *8 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 30, 2011).

Budhun appealed. The Third Circuit reversed on the interference claim, finding genuine disputes of material fact about whether Ms. Budhun invoked her right to return to work and whether she could perform an essential function of her job. Budhun v. Reading Hosp. and Medical Center, 765 F.3d 245, 256 (3d Cir. 2014). That claim will proceed to trial.[32] The circuit court remanded the retaliation claim for further consideration.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A dispute is "genuine" when "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party" based on the evidence in the record. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" when it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id.

A party seeking summary judgment initially bears responsibility for informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that "it believes 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 at trial, the moving party's initial Celotex burden can be met simply by demonstrating to the district court that "there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. After the moving party has met its initial burden, the adverse party's response must cite "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1). Summary judgment is therefore appropriate when the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a factual showing that is "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.

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court must draw "all justifiable inferences" in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The court must decide "not whether... the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other but whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff on the evidence presented." Id. at 252. If the non-moving party has produced more than a "mere scintilla of evidence" demonstrating a genuine issue of material fact, then the court may not credit the moving party's "version of events against the opponent, even if the ...


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