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Rifai v. CMS Medical Care Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 21, 2017



          Schmehl, J.


         Plaintiff, Muhamad Aly Rifai, M.D., brings this suit against his former employer, CMS Medical Care Corporation, Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital and Andrew E. Harris (“Defendants”). After a Motion to Dismiss, the remaining claims brought against Defendants are Title VII claims for national origin and religious discrimination, a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), a claim under the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law, and a breach of contract claim. Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants, Defendants' Statement of Material Facts, Plaintiff's opposition to the motion, and Defendants' reply. Also pending is Defendants' Motion for Leave to Amend Answer to Amended Complaint, Plaintiff's opposition and Defendants' reply.



         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(c). “A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by ‘the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact.” Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-248 (1986)). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         In undertaking this analysis, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. “After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party.” Pignataro v. Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Reliance Ins. Co. v. Moessner, 121 F.3d 895, 900 (3d Cir. 1997)). While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, meeting this obligation shifts the burden to the non-moving party who must “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.


         Plaintiff is a medical doctor who is board certified in psychiatry. (Rifai Dep., pp. 9-10.) Defendant CMS is a Pennsylvania corporation that provides health care services by managing physician practices and is a subsidiary of Blue Mountain Health System (“BMHS”). (Harris Dep., pp. 10-11.) Defendant Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital is a hospital located in Carbon County, Pennsylvania that is also a subsidiary of BMHS. (Harris Dep., pp. 9-10.) Defendant Andrew Harris (“Harris”) is President and CEO of BMHS and its subsidiaries, including CMS. (Harris Dep., pp. 10-11.)

         On March 7, 2011, Plaintiff and CMS executed a written employment contract (“Contract 1”) for a three-year term to employ Plaintiff as a physician and to provide medical services at Gnaden Huetten, as well as Palmerton Hospital. (Rifai Dep., pp. 33-35, Ex. D.) Plaintiff was to earn a $250, 000 base salary, and would be “eligible to receive 75% of all fees collected for professional services in excess of $250, 000 per year.” (Ex. D, ¶ 2(a); Rifai Dep., p. 45.)

         On May 1, 2012, Plaintiff and CMS executed a second written employment contract (“Contract 2”) to replace Contract 1 and run for a period of three years. (Ex. F.) The section of Contract 2 titled “Compensation” stated that “Physician's salary shall be THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS ($300, 000.00) per annum, payable biweekly in equal installments. . . In addition to the base salary, the physician will be eligible for incentive compensation. Physician will be eligible to receive 75% of all fees collected for professional services in excess of $325, 000 per year. Physician will receive 20% credit for Nurse Practitioner collections. Compensation will be capped at $400, 000.00.” (Ex. F.) Paragraph 10 of both contracts states: “The Agreement will terminate if either party gives the other party written notice of such party's desire to terminate the Agreement at least one hundred twenty (120) days prior to the intended termination date.” (Ex. D and Ex. F, ¶ 10.) Both Contracts also state: “This Agreement may be terminated immediately by CMS upon the occurrence of any of the following: . . . (e) The Physician engages in willful or intentional breach or gross neglect of his duties under this Agreement.” (Ex. D and Ex. F, ¶ 11.) In addition, Paragraph 1(b) of both Contracts provides, in pertinent part: “[T]he Physician shall comply with all policies, rules and regulations of CMS, including any corporate compliance policy or code of conduct now or hereafter adopted by CMS. . . “ (Ex. D and Ex. F, ¶1(b).)

         On January 2, 2013, Harris gave Plaintiff 120 days' notice of CMS' decision to terminate his employment via letter. (Ex. X; Rifai Dep. at 162.) On January 5, 2013, Plaintiff sent an email titled “Last Thoughts” to Dr. Kondash, Nurse Practitioner Maureen McFarland, Harris and Terry Purcell, that among other things, stated:

However, in our meeting this past Wednesday, I asked you and Terry one question in God' [sic] name; would you let you children sign the contract that Drew Harris gave us ? you both couldn't answer. This fact and the outpouring of emotions from everyone I met in the hospital in the last 3 days made me realize that we were all prisoners inside Blue Mountain Health System and the warden is torturing everyone and holding everyone hostage to his ego and whimes [sic]. I hold no ills toward you, my and Dr. Abbas' solace is that we have 118 more days to go. My conern [sic] is for the mentally ill of Carbon County, with the best psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, PA and therapists gotten rid of, who will be there for them? May God bless the employees of Blue Mountain Health System (Sans warden), the people of Carbon County and have mercy on our souls.

(Ex. BB.)

         Harris testified at his deposition that “at the end of reading that email my life was at stake, ” and that he felt threatened by the email because it read “[a]lmost like a goodbye letter.” (Harris Dep., pp. 67-69.) Purcell and McFarland also testified at deposition that they found the email to be threatening. (Purcell Dep., pp. 101-103; McFarland Dep., pp. 60.) Blue Mountain Health System has a zero-tolerance Workplace Violence Policy that prohibits conduct that “creates a reasonable fear of injury to another person.” (Ex. DD.) Harris testified that he determined Plaintiff's email was threatening and violated the Workplace Violence Policy, and therefore, decided to terminate Plaintiff immediately. (Harris Dep., pp. 66-93.) Accordingly, on January 7, 2013, Harris sent Plaintiff a letter informing him that CMS was terminating his employment for cause pursuant to Paragraph 11 of Contract 2. (Ex. FF.) Paragraph 11 of Contract 2 states that termination for cause is effective immediately; however, Harris' January 7, 2013 letter stated Plaintiff's termination was effective May 7, 2013. (Ex. F; Ex. FF.) Between January 14 and 23, 2013, Plaintiff went to GHMH and completed patient medical files. (Rifai Dep. at 277.)

         C. ...

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