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Jones v. Washington Health System

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 29, 2018

DEBRA JURIK JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON HEALTH SYSTEM A/K/A WASHINGTON HOSPITAL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          David Stewart Cercone, Senior United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         This matter is before the court upon a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Washington Health System (“Defendant” or “Washington Hospital”) (ECF No. 32). Also before the court is a Partial Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff Debra Jurik Jones (“Plaintiff” or “Jones”) (ECF No. 30). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion will be granted and Plaintiff's Motion will be denied.

         II. Factual Background

         From November 1, 1982 through June 30, 2014, Defendant employed Plaintiff as a nurse anesthetist. Defendant's Concise Statement of Material Facts (“Def. CSMF”) (ECF No. 33) ¶ 1; Plaintiff's Concise Statement of Material Facts (“Pl. CSMF”) (ECF No. 38) ¶ 1. In 2014, Defendant entered into a contract with Keystone Anesthesia (“Keystone”) to provide anesthesia services. Def. CSMF ¶ 3; Pl. CSMF ¶ 9. Although Plaintiff was offered continued employment with Keystone, she declined, resulting in her termination. Def. CSMF ¶¶ 5-6; Pl. CSMF ¶ 9. As of the date of her termination - June 30, 2014 - Plaintiff had accumulated 576 hours of sick time and was 57 years old. Def. CSMF ¶¶ 7-8.

         During the course of Plaintiff's employment, Defendant offered guidance to employees in the form of an Employee Handbook. The preamble to each relevant version of Defendant's Employee Handbook states:

The policies stated in this handbook are guidelines only and are subject to change at the sole discretion of the Hospital. This handbook should not be construed as and does not constitute a contract guaranteeing employment for any specific duration. Although we hope that your employment relationship with us is long-term, either you or the Hospital may terminate this relationship at any time, for any reason.

Def. CSMF ¶ 11; ECF No. 42 at 6.

         With respect to sick time, the Employee Handbook in effect at the time of Plaintiff's termination permitted employees to earn up to 96 hours of sick time per year and to accumulate up to 608 hours of sick time. Def. CSMF ¶¶ 13-14; Pl. CSMF ¶ 5. Prior to 2009, employees were also permitted to “buy back” sick time pursuant to a “Buy Back Sick Time Policy.” Def. CSMF ¶ 19; Pl. CSMF ¶ 6. Pursuant to that policy, Defendant agreed to “buy back” portions of an employee's sick time upon request, provided the employee satisfied a number of conditions. Def.

         CSMF ¶¶ 23-24. However, the Buy Back Sick Time Policy was eliminated in 2009 and was not included in Employee Handbooks issued after that date, including the handbook in effect at the time of Plaintiff's termination. Def. CSMF ¶¶ 21, 41; Pl. CSMF ¶ 8.

         III. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment may only be granted where the moving party shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and that a judgment as a matter of law is warranted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the court must enter summary judgment against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to his or her case, and on which he or she will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In evaluating the evidence, the court must interpret the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in his or her favor. Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 147 (3d Cir. 2007). The burden is initially on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence contained in the record does not create a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004). A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable trier of fact could render a finding in favor of the nonmoving party. McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005). Where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may meet its burden by showing that the admissible evidence contained in the record would be insufficient to carry the nonmoving party's burden of proof. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond his or her pleadings and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Id. at 324. The nonmoving party cannot defeat a well-supported motion for summary judgment by simply reasserting unsupported factual allegations contained in his or her pleadings. Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989).

         IV. Discussion

         Plaintiff contends that she is entitled to payment for her unused sick days pursuant to the Pennsylvania Wage Collection Law, 43 P.S. § 260.2(a) (“WPCL”), and the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq (“FLSA”). Plaintiff relies exclusively on the Employee Handbooks issued by Defendant, arguing that those handbooks created an express and/or implied contractual right to payment for unused sick time upon her termination. Defendant counters that the Employee Handbooks explicitly disclaim any contractual ...


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