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Calaman v. Carlisle HMA, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 24, 2017

JEAN CALAMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CARLISLE HMA, LLC, D/B/A CARLISLE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Defendant,

          MEMORANDUM

          Hon. John E. Jones III Judge

         Presently pending before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (the “Motion”) (Doc. 34). Plaintiff Jean Calaman brings two counts against her former employer, Defendant Carlisle Regional Medical Center, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). (Doc. 12). The Motion has been fully briefed (Docs. 36, 40, 41) and is therefore ripe for our review. For the reasons that follow, the Motion shall be granted and the case closed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jean Calaman (“Plaintiff”) began her employment with Defendant Carlisle Regional Medical Center (the “Hospital”) in 1979. (Doc. 35, ¶ 1). Plaintiff started work as a Radiology Nurse in the Interventional Radiology Department (the “IR Department”) in 1989. (Id., at ¶ 2). Her responsibilities included “scheduling patients, communicating with physicians' offices regarding procedures, assessing patients, educating them regarding procedures, and pre- and post-sedation care of the patient.” (Id., at ¶ 3). Radiology Nurses are expected to be on their feet a majority of the time and not just to stand and walk, but to actually bear weight. (Id., at ¶ 4).

         At all relevant times, Jennifer Dorrough was the Director of Imaging Services and Pain Management and had ultimate supervisory responsibility over the employees in the IR Department. (Id., at ¶ 14). Before taking leave, the other full time Radiology Nurse in the IR Department was Tracy Van Pelt. (Id., at ¶ 12). In a December 17, 2012 performance evaluation, the IR Department Supervisor rated Plaintiff as “often falls below performance expectations, needs improvement” in the category of “Promotes teamwork and open communication.” (Id., at ¶ 19). The evaluation also stated, “need to work on communication w/ Tracy & myself. We need to be able to move forward w/ schedule planning between you and Tracy . . .” (Id., at ¶ 20). In a December 20, 2013 performance evaluation, the IR Department Supervisor again rated Plaintiff as “often falls below performance expectations, needs improvement” in the category of “Promotes teamwork and open communication.” (Id., at ¶ 22). The evaluation also stated “We need to work on communication - I think most of our issues can be put to rest w/ open dialogue between us all.” (Id., at ¶ 23). Plaintiff testified that she is “stubborn and . . . that doesn't always meet well with my co-workers.” (Id., at ¶ 17).

         Beginning in 2014, Plaintiff had trouble walking, pushing beds and standing for extended periods of time. (Id., at ¶ 30). She did not ask for any changes in her duties as a Radiology Nurse. (Id., at ¶¶ 31, 32). In June 2014, Plaintiff told Dorrough that she was going to have surgery on her foot. (Id., at ¶ 33). Plaintiff completed FMLA leave paperwork and it was approved by Dorrough and Tenna Synder, the Hospital's Benefits Manager. (Id., at ¶ 35). Plaintiff's last day of work in the IR Department was July 2, 2014. (Id., at ¶ 39). She anticipated a four week leave of absence, but this was ultimately her last day of work as a Radiology Nurse in the IR Department. (Id., at ¶¶ 38, 39).

         While the IR Department was staffed with part time nurses during her leave, Plaintiff recognized that her absence would place stress on Van Pelt as “the only full-time, permanently assigned Radiology Nurse.” (Id., at ¶ 42). In August 2014, while Plaintiff was on FMLA leave, Dorrough contacted Plaintiff by phone and asked whether she could return to work for light duty to alleviate hardship on her coworkers. (Id., at ¶ 43). Plaintiff declined to return to work, and informed Snyder of Dorrough's phone call. (Doc. 40, att. 1, ¶ 43).

         Plaintiff exhausted her twelve weeks of FMLA leave on September 25, 2014, but was physically unable to return to her original work position at that time. (Doc. 35, ¶¶ 48, 49). Following her twelve week FMLA leave, Plaintiff informed the Hospital that she required additional leave to have surgery on her other foot. (Id., at ¶ 50). The Hospital told Plaintiff that her position would not be held beyond her twelve week FMLA leave. (Doc. 40, att. 1, ¶ 51). The Hospital's Employee Handbook provides that an employee can request Personal or General Medical Leave beyond her FMLA leave, but provides that an associate may not take more than 26 weeks of combined leave in a single year. (Doc. 35, ¶¶ 54, 55). The Handbook further provides that the associate does “not have any automatic right to return to their previous positions, to equivalent positions, or to any position within the hospital.” (Id., at ¶ 56).

         On September 25, 2014, Snyder wrote to Plaintiff to provide her with a Personal/ Medical Leave application and inform her that her FMLA leave ended on September 25, 2014; the letter stated: “we cannot guarantee you a position if or when you are able to return to work.” (Id., at ¶ 60). Plaintiff checked a box on her Personal/Medical Leave application indicating she was seeking “Extension (no guarantee of reinstatement).” (Id., at ¶ 61). Plaintiff completed this form and it was approved by Dorrough on October 9, 2014. (Id., at ¶ 62). She completed a similar form that was approved by Snyder on October 1, 2014. (Id., at ¶ 64). Plaintiff acknowledged on this form that she “underst[oo]d that if granted an approved leave of absence, the facility cannot guarantee [her] position upon return to work.” (Id., at ¶ 63).

         The Hospital provided Plaintiff with a status form for her General Medical Leave on October 17, 2014. (Id., at ¶ 75). The form stated: “It is important to note that your right to return to your previous position, to an equivalent or any position within the hospital shall not be guaranteed during the Personal/Medical Leave.” (Id.). Plaintiff requested leave from October 24, 2014 to November 23, 2014, again acknowledging that her position was not guaranteed upon return to work. (Id., at ¶ 76). Plaintiff was again provided with a status form on November 18, 2014, containing the same notice that her position would not be guaranteed. (Id., at ¶ 77). Plaintiff ultimately requested and was granted three four-week medical leaves of absence following her twelve-week FMLA leave. (Id., at ¶ 79).

         The Hospital received approval to fill Plaintiff's Radiology Nurse position in the IR Department on October 29, 2014. (Id., at ¶ 68). Plaintiff testified that she understood the Hospital's need for a second full-time IR nurse in the department. (Doc. 35, ex. A, 194:19-23). The position was filled by Scott Aldrich, a nurse working in another unit who had worked per diem in the IR Department during Plaintiff's leave. (Id., at ¶ 69). Aldrich submitted a transfer request on November 4, 2014 and began work as a full-time Radiology Nurse in the IR Department on December 8, 2014. (Id., at ¶¶ 72, 73).

         During her second four-week leave, in November 2014, Plaintiff reviewed job postings at the hospital and spoke with Susan Stuckey, Director of the Outpatient Surgery Center, regarding an open position as a part-time perianesthesia nurse. (Id.). Stuckey interviewed Plaintiff on November 12, 2014 at the request of Human Resources. (Id. at ¶ 83). Plaintiff testified about her interview with Stuckey: “she was concerned that I'd be able - that [the job] required you to be on your feet all day long and she didn't know if I could do that.” (Doc. 35, ex. A, 214:16-215:1). At the time of her interview, Plaintiff was still on medical leave and was not capable of performing the perianesthesia nurse position. (Doc. 35, ¶ 87).

         Plaintiff was not brought back for a second interview. (Doc. 25, ¶ 92). Stuckey testified that this decision was based on a conversation with Tracey Nicholson, who told Stuckey that Plaintiff was not a team player and would not be a good fit for the position. (Doc. 35, ex. W, 26:14-27:6). Stuckey further testified that this conversation with Nicholson was the only reason that she decided not to bring Plaintiff back for another interview. (Id.). Plaintiff disputes this decision making process and alleges that Stuckey did not bring her back for an interview due to her medical condition. (Doc. 40, att. 1, ¶ 93). However, Plaintiff testified that she did not know how the decision was made or why she did not receive a second interview. (Doc. 35, ¶ 94). At some point during this process, Dorrough spoke with Stuckey and told her that she would not re-hire Plaintiff because she “created a lot of tension in our department.” (Doc. 35, ex. B, 75:6-76:1).

         Plaintiff discussed other positions at the Hospital with human resources and the Chief Nursing Officer, Ann Spade, but did not interview or submit an application for any other position prior to the expiration of her medical leave on December 29, 2014. (Doc. 35, ¶ 98). Plaintiff submitted a return to work release on or about December 29, 2014 when her leave expired. (Id., at ¶ 99). On or about January 6, 2015, the Hospital corresponded with Plaintiff stating:

We regret to inform you that your employment as a Registered Nurse with Carlisle Regional Medical Center has ended effective December 30, 2014.
As you are aware, you have exhausted all FMLA time and additional medical leave, a total of six months. Your job protection status ended at the end of the FMLA phase. Although you were released to return to work effective December 29, 2014, no applicable position is available at this time based on your skill set.
You are welcome to continue to review job openings at the facility. If you have an interest in applicable openings, please complete the online application . . . .
(Id., at ¶ 100).

         In December 2014, Plaintiff met with Spade to discuss her job search within the Hospital. (Id., at ¶ 103). Spade informed Plaintiff of an open nurse position in the Hospital's Wound Clinic. (Id.). Plaintiff applied on January 2, 2015, but was not selected for the position. (Id., at ¶¶ 104, 107). The Hospital does not have any record of anyone being hired to fill that position. (Id., at ¶ 109). An identical position was posted on March 27, 2015 and subsequently filled, but Plaintiff did not submit an application for this posting. (Id., at ¶¶ 110-112). During their December 2014 conversation, Spade also informed Plaintiff of an opening in the Hospital's Medical-Surgical Unit, but Plaintiff was uninterested and did not apply. (Id., at ¶ 113-115).

         Dorrough posted an open position for the Hospital's Pain Clinic on January 27, 2015, for which Plaintiff submitted an application in February 2015. (Id., at ¶¶ 118, 121). Dorrough hired someone other than Plaintiff to fill this position. (Id., at ¶ 125). Plaintiff again applied for a position in the Pain Clinic in July 2015, but Dorrough filled this position without knowledge of Plaintiff's application. (Id., at ¶¶ 126-129). Finally, Plaintiff again applied for a position in the Pain Clinic in December 2015, but Hospital records do not indicate that there was an open position in the clinic at that time. (Id., at ¶ 131).

         Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on March 18, 2016, bringing two counts against the Hospital for violations of the ADA and FMLA.[1] (Doc. 12). The Hospital filed this Motion for summary judgment on November 1, 2016. (Doc. 34).

         II. ...


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