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Nagle v. Comprehensive Women's Health Services, P.C.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 26, 2018

JUDITH NAGLE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMPREHENSIVE WOMEN'S HEALTH SERVICES, P.C., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          'ROBERT D. MARIANI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         On January 7, 2015, Plaintiff Judith Nagle filed a Complaint against Defendant Comprehensive Women's Health Services, P.C. ("CWHS"). (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs Complaint contains three counts: Count I - Violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"); Count II -Violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"); and Count III -Violation of the Pennsylvania Wage Payment Collection Law ("WPCL").

         Following the completion of discovery, Defendant CWHS filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 21) requesting that summary judgment be granted in its favor on all three Counts. The Court subsequently referred the motion to Magistrate Judge Carlson for the preparation of a Report and Recommendation ("R&R").

         On January 19, 2018, Magistrate Judge Carlson issued a Report and Recommendation (Doc. 33) recommending that this Court deny Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendant CWHS filed Objections (Doc. 34) to the Magistrate Judge's R&R, to which Plaintiff Nagle filed a Response (Doc. 36).

         For the reasons that follow, upon de novo review, the Court will adopt the pending R&R and deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         II. Analysis

         A District Court may "designate a magistrate judge to conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, and to submit to a judge of the court proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition" of certain matters pending before the Court. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). If a party timely and properly files a written objection to a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, the District Court "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." Id. at § 636(b)(1)(C); see also, Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011); M.D. Pa. Local Rule 72.3.

         Here, Defendant objects to the Magistrate Judge's R&R in its entirety. Defendant argues that the Magistrate Judge specifically erred in two respects: (1) by finding that Plaintiff met her burden under McDonnell-Douglas of demonstrating that a jury could determine that CWHS' reasons for firing Plaintiff were pretextual; and (2) by relying on a "belatedly submitted affidavit" in recommending that summary judgment should be denied on Plaintiffs WPCL claim. (See Doc. 34-1).

         Defendant does not object to the R&R's finding that Plaintiff met her prima facie burden under McDonnell-Douglas. When the burden thus shifted to Defendant, CWHS' articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory rationale for terminating Plaintiff was that she could not perform the job duties of her position. Defendant listed fourteen performance-related issues to support its rationale for Plaintiffs termination. (Doc. 28-12, Ex. 10). This Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that because Defendant offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory rationale for terminating Plaintiff, the burden shifted back to Plaintiff under McDonnell-Douglas to show that these reasons were mere pretext.

         Thus, Defendant's first Objection asserts that the Magistrate Judge was incorrect in finding a material dispute of fact as to pretext where the record shows that Defendant had a list of enumerated reasons demonstrating Plaintiffs performance issues (see Doc. 34-1, at 4-7), and Plaintiff failed to show that all of the reasons provided by Defendant were pretextual (id. at 9). Defendant also contends that Plaintiff admitted to the veracity of certain of these performance issues (id. at 7-9) and argues those issues are therefore not in dispute.

         However, upon review of the record, the Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Carlson that Plaintiff has proffered sufficient evidence to create a triable dispute of fact with respect to whether Defendant's articulated justifications for Plaintiff's termination are merely a pretext. Despite CWHS' assertion that Nagle "admitted that the nine issues referenced [as reasons for her termination] were her responsibility and that she failed to discharge those responsibilities" (Doc. 34-1, at 9), the record is not as clear as Defendant contends. As the Magistrate Judge explained, "Ms. Nagle's testimony is frequently equivocal and occasionally in direct disagreement with the defendant's blanket contentions", and in response to some of the issues identified by the defendant, "Ms. Nagle provided context and a more nuanced explanation about them that undermined the defendant's assertion that the shortcomings were entirely undisputed." (Doc. 33, at 20). The R&R sets forth the numerous disagreements between CWHS and Nagle as to precisely what the performance issues were, and the extent to which they were due to Nagle's actions, and notes that Nagle "provides explanation and detail with respect to each proffered reason for her firing", and that, looking at all evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, it cannot be said that she has failed to dispute each allegation. (Id. at 20-26). Further, Plaintiffs declaration submitted in opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment provides in-depth retorts to each and every one of Defendant's fourteen bullet point reasons for her termination, which, if viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, create factual disputes regarding whether Defendant's proffered legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for Plaintiff's termination were a pretext for discrimination. Additionally, with respect to the ADA claim, in addition to the reasons set forth in the R&R, the Court notes that Plaintiff was informed that her job was being restructured or eliminated during the period of time that she was off from work due to her purported health condition and she was terminated upon her return to the office. The temporal proximity of these occurrences also calls into question Defendant's articulated rationale.

         Nonetheless, even if Plaintiff failed to specifically and in-depth refute each and every articulated reason set forth by Defendant for her termination, CWHS still cannot succeed on its summary judgment motion. Although a plaintiff must cast sufficient doubt upon each of the legitimate reasons proffered, it does not mean that he or she

must cast doubt on each proffered reason in a vacuum. If the defendant proffers a bagful of legitimate reasons, and the plaintiff manages to cast substantial doubt on a fair number of them, the plaintiff may not need to discredit the remainder. That is because the factfinder's rejection of some of the defendant's proffered reasons may impede the employer's credibility seriously enough so that a factfinder may rationally disbelieve the ...

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