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Emmell v. Phoenixville Hospital Company, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 29, 2018

LAUREN EMMELL, Plaintiff,
v.
PHOENIXVILLE HOSPITAL COMPANY, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          STENGEL, C.J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The plaintiff, Lauren Emmell, brought this employment discrimination action against her former employer, Phoenixville Hospital, where she worked as a nurse. She brings her claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Defendant Phoenixville Hospital moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, I will grant summary judgment with respect to the plaintiff's FMLA claims (Counts I and II of her amended complaint), and I will deny summary judgment with respect to the plaintiff's ADA and PHRA claims (Counts III and IV).

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Lauren Emmell began working as a nurse for Phoenixville Hospital in February 1988. (Doc. No. 29 ¶¶ 1, 2.) In January 2007, after working in other departments, she began working in the short procedure unit (SPU), where her responsibilities included preoperative and postoperative patient care. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 3.)

         The plaintiff's direct supervisor during the relevant time period was Mary Tannouri, who became the hospital's Perioperative & Endoscopy Clinical Nurse Manager and began overseeing the SPU in February 2008. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 8.) The SPU nurse coordinator, Rosie Bucci, oversaw staffing, management of patient flow, and assigning of nurses to various tasks. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         A. Plaintiff's May 2010 Performance Evaluation

         In Ms. Tannouri's May 18, 2010 evaluation of Ms. Emmell, she noted that the plaintiff needed “further development” in the category titled “[d]evelops and maintains collaborative relationship with others” because the plaintiff “was not working up to the same capacity [as others].” (Id. ¶ 10, Ex. D.)

         B. Plaintiff's May 2011 Performance Evaluation

         In the plaintiff's May 17, 2011 performance evaluation, Ms. Tannouri “noted that the plaintiff did ‘not share [patient] load or rotating shifts'” and observed that she “was not ‘work[ing] up to the same capacity as her colleagues.'” (Id. ¶ 15.) The defendant states that the plaintiff took longer than her colleagues to carry out tasks because she liked to chat with patients, while the plaintiff states that her slow pace stemmed from symptoms of her Lyme disease. (Id. ¶ 17; Doc. No. 33 ¶ 17.)

         In this 2011 evaluation, Ms. Tannouri rated Ms. Emmell as “Needs Improvement” in the following categories:

• “Serves as a model for professional behavior”
• “Facilitates the development of an effective team”
• “Works as a team player, supporting and assisting team members”
• “Maintains effective working relationships with physicians, department heads, patient [sic], visitors, and coworkers. Interacts with all customers in a pleasant and respectful manner, displays courtesy at all times”
• “Has received no [staff] complaints regarding attitude or performance”
• “Maintains a positive attitude and is willing to go the ‘extra' mile”

(Doc. No. 29 ¶ 21.)

         Ms. Tannouri's evaluation concluded that Ms. Emmell “was not meeting the expectations of a Clinical Level III nurse in the SPU because she lacked ‘the ability to see what was going on in the department, '” and Ms. Tannouri placed her on a performance improvement plan (PIP). (Doc. No. 29 ¶ 22.)

         C. Plaintiff's 2011 Performance Improvement Plan

         Ms. Emmell was placed on the 2011 PIP for 90 days, starting June 17, 2011. (Doc. No. 33 ¶ 23.) This PIP required her to spend less time admitting patients, to become “more globally aware” of when her colleagues needed assistance, and to “participate, equitably, in staff scheduling rotation, as needed.” (Doc. No. 29 ¶ 23.)

         D. Plaintiff's 2012 Performance Evaluation

         Ms. Emmell received her 2012 performance evaluation on June 18, 2012 and then completed a self-evaluation before meeting with Ms. Tannouri later the same day. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) The plaintiff rated herself as “Needs Improvement” in the following categories:

• “Works as a team player, supporting and assisting team members”
• “Completes duties during the shift with few exceptions. Coordinates work to achieve maximum productivity”
• “Maintains effective working relationships with physicians, department heads, patient [sic], visitors, and coworkers. Interacts with all customers in a pleasant and respectful manner, displays courtesy at all times”
• “Has received no [staff] complaints regarding attitude or performance”

(Id. ¶ 27.)

         At their meeting, Ms. Tannouri shared concerns “regarding Plaintiff's time management skills, productivity, and her ‘global awareness'”-similar concerns to previous years. (Id. ¶ 28.) Additionally, Ms. Tannouri noted that the plaintiff continued taking too much time to admit patients and that her global awareness had not improved from the previous year. (Id. ¶ 29.) Ms. Tannouri placed Ms. Emmell on a second PIP. (Id. ¶ 30.)

         E. Plaintiff's 2012 FMLA Leave

         During their June 18, 2012 meeting, the plaintiff explained that she had not been feeling well, and Ms. Tannouri recommended that she take a medical leave of absence. (Id. ¶ 33.) The plaintiff explained that her medical issues may have caused her slowness at work. (Doc. No. 33 ¶ 33.) This was the first time she shared her health concerns with Ms. Tannouri, and she had not yet received a diagnosis. (Doc. No. 29 ¶¶ 34, 35.)

         The plaintiff requested, was granted, and took FMLA leave from June 25, 2012 through August 7, 2012. (Id. ¶ 31.) Before she returned to work, Ms. Emmell's physicians “certified that they were familiar with Plaintiff's job duties, that she was fit for duty, and that she could perform her duties without restriction.” (Id. ¶ 36; Doc. No. 33 ¶ 36.) She received her 2012 PIP upon her return. (Doc. No. 29 ¶ 32.)

         F. Plaintiff's Lyme Disease Diagnosis

         On June 28, 2012, Dr. Philip Adelman treated Ms. Emmell for “diffuse pain.” (Doc. No. 33a ¶ 1.) “Dr. Adelman ‘noted that Plaintiff was experiencing ‘crushing headaches' and had [a] ‘near syncopal episode' at work.” (Id.)

         The plaintiff received positive test results for Lyme disease on August 14, 2012, about a week after returning to work from FMLA leave. (Doc. No. 29 ¶ 37.) She informed Ms. Tannouri of her diagnosis. (Id. ¶ 38.) The defendant states that Ms. Tannouri asked, “[a]re you better, ” and said, “thanks for telling me.” (Id. ¶ 39.) The plaintiff disputes that Ms. Tannouri thanked her and notes that she considered it inappropriate for Ms. Tannouri to ask, “[a]re you better?” (Doc. No. 33 ¶¶ 39, 41.)

         G. Plaintiff's 2012 Performance Improvement Plan

         Plaintiff's 2012 PIP required her to complete admissions within 20-25 minutes and, to that end, to multitask and eliminate unnecessary conversation with patients. (Doc. No. 29 ¶ 44.) Similar to her 2011 PIP, the plaintiff was expected to become more globally aware of her surroundings, to help when appropriate without being asked, and to “take multi-patient assignments, without being asked.” (Id. ¶¶ 45, 46.) Along with her 2012 PIP, Ms. Emmell received a “Second Written Warning” detailing the “exact same concerns and corrective actions” contained in the 2011 and 2012 performance evaluations and PIPs. (Id. ¶ 49.)

         On September 13, 2012, Ms. Tannouri amended the 2012 PIP by adding a “Daily Tracking Log” for plaintiff to monitor her progress. (Id. ¶ 51.) During a meeting on September 21, 2012, Ms. Tannouri explained that Ms. Bucci (who was also present) would delegate some of her patient care to the plaintiff so that Ms. Bucci could spend more time observing, advising, and directing the plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 55, 56; Doc. No. 33 ¶¶ 55, 56.).

         H. Plaintiff's Impairment

         During their September 13, 2012 meeting, when Ms. Tannouri amended the 2012 PIP, Ms. Emmell informed Ms. Tannouri that she may have a cognitive impairment due to her Lyme disease. (Id. ¶ 63.) Ms. Tannouri consulted with human resources, and on September 21, 2012, she explained that Ms. Emmell would need to “see her treating physician and return a completed fitness for duty certificate” indicating that she could safely perform her work. (Id. ¶ 66.) On September 24, 2012, Ms. Emmell returned a completed certificate from her physician, Dr. Adelman, and returned to work the next day. (Id. ¶ 67; Doc. No. 33a ¶ 3.)

         I. Plaintiff's Third Written Warning

         On January 28, 2013, the plaintiff received a “Third Written Warning” for substandard work. (Id. ¶ 68.) Ms. Tannouri had observed the same ongoing problems, including the plaintiff's “same poor work performance, including failing to be globally aware of what was going on in the SPU, resulting in her coworkers needing to assume more of the SPU's workload.” (Id. ¶ 69.) This warning called for “[i]mmediate and sustained improvement, ” and the plaintiff signed it “without comment or explanation.” (Id. ¶¶ 70, 71 (alteration in original).)

         The parties disagree as to whether Ms. Emmell asked Ms. Tannouri for accommodations as a result of her Lyme disease. The defendant states that the plaintiff “never asked Ms. Tannouri for any changes to her work environment or the way she was doing her job or anything about her work.” (Id. ¶ 72.) The plaintiff states that she “was informed by her neurologist that stress could exacerbate her symptoms, ” that she “told Ms. Tannouri that her work performance would improve if it were not for the stress caused by the ...


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