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Arana v. Temple University Health System

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 3, 2018



         Plaintiff Wanda Arana (“Arana”) brings this action under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. Stat. §§ 951 et seq. She alleges that her former employer defendant Temple University Health System (“Temple”) failed to provide her a reasonable accommodation, discriminated and retaliated against her, and interfered with her rights under the FMLA. Before the court is the motion of Temple for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.


         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986). Summary judgment is granted where there is insufficient record evidence for a reasonable factfinder to find for the nonmovant. See id. at 252. We view the facts and draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See In re Flat Glass Antitrust Litig., 385 F.3d 350, 357 (3d Cir. 2004).


         The following facts are not in dispute or are viewed in the light most favorable to Arana, the nonmoving party. In October 2007, Temple hired Arana as an Access Specialist in Temple's former Call Center. She was supervised by Kimberly Lloyd, the Call Center Manager, and Joseph Alfonsi, Director of the Call Center.

         In 2012, Temple partially eliminated the Call Center. At that time, Arana was transferred to the newly-created twenty-four hour Temple Access Call Center as a Call Center Specialist. Arana's supervisors became Anita Mitchell and Steve Lauer, who both held the title of Call Center Manager. Alfonsi remained as Director.

         Throughout her employment with Temple, Arana worked the night shift from 12:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Between two and four Call Center Specialists were assigned to that shift on any given night. As a Call Center Specialist, Arana was required to send and receive calls within Temple's hospitals. The calls included paging doctors, checking on patient status, and fielding general inquiries. Arana was also responsible for handling “STAT” calls, which are emergency calls for urgent patient care or for security issues. Her job was an extremely significant one. The lives of patients could depend on Arana and others in that position being at their posts and fulfilling their assigned duties.

         Arana would receive approximately 50-100 calls during a shift. Call Center Specialists must be logged into their computer to receive calls. Specialists receive a forty-five minute lunch break and another fifteen minute break each shift, which they are allowed to combine for an hour-long break.

         Arana suffers from migraines which make her sensitive to lights and computers and cause her to experience throbbing and dizziness. She also has diabetes and in March 2015 was diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening complication which can result in sweating, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, shakiness, weakness, headaches, severe pain, and dry mouth. Sometime in May of 2015, she was diagnosed with gastroparesis, another complication of diabetes resulting in delayed stomach emptying and slow transit of food through the gastrointestinal tract, which can cause abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

         Throughout her time at Temple, Arana requested and was granted FMLA leave due to her various medical conditions. Arana received FMLA leave from February 22, 2010 through March 7, 2010 for a surgical procedure. Later, Arana obtained intermittent FMLA leave for the period of August 8, 2012 through February 8, 2013 for her migraines. In 2015, Arana had FMLA leave for the period of March 20 through April 6, 2015. During this time she was hospitalized due to stomach issues associated with her diabetic ketoacidosis and gastroparesis. Arana was cleared to return to work on April 6, 2015 but thereafter was granted intermittent FMLA leave for the period of April 7, 2015 through October 7, 2015. The corresponding medical certification completed by Arana's physician states that Arana would need to be absent from work during flare-ups in her condition. Pursuant to this certification, Arana took FMLA leave on May 16, May 23, June 5, June 9-11, and July 7, 2015. Arana also left work early several times when she did not feel well.

         Mitchell, Lauer, and Alfonsi were all aware of Arana's FMLA leave. In addition, Arana discussed her medical condition with Mitchell in March 2015, after she was hospitalized for severe vomiting. Mitchell kindly assisted Arana with making medical appointments and arranged for Arana to meet with another employee to discuss diabetes management. At Arana's request, Mitchell helped Arana avoid a long wait in the Temple emergency room on May 3, 2015 by having Arana placed at the top of the priority list at the emergency room. Arana also discussed her condition with Alfonsi during her annual review in June 2015. Alfonsi inquired as to Arana's diagnosis and symptoms and stated “off the record, I think you should take some-take a short leave of absence until you get yourself together-get better.”[1]

         When taking intermittent leave, Arana would provide notice to her supervisors several hours before the start of her shift to enable them to find coverage for her. Prior to notifying her supervisor that she was not coming to work, Arana would contact other employees to ask if they could work her shift. Arana felt pressured to do so because her supervisors generally would inquire if there was such coverage whenever she was unable to work. However, Arana knew that she was not required to do so under Temple policy. Arana further admits that none of her supervisors ever directed her to look for coverage and that she did in fact use FMLA leave at times when she did not know whether there was coverage for her shift.

         According to Arana, she “felt like it was an inconvenience” for Temple when she took FMLA leave. In particular, she states that Lauer implied that Arana was taking advantage of her FMLA leave. Arana further states that when she attempted to call out on intermittent FMLA leave on a weekend in April or May of 2015, she was told by Lauer “there's no coverage. You have to come in.” Lauer was working from home at the time due to a terminal illness and died shortly thereafter. As a result of her conversation with Lauer, Arana reported to work. She later spoke with an individual in Temple Human Resources regarding the incident but did not complete a Temple Health Workplace Complaint Form. Arana was informed that Human Resources would speak with Alfonsi. Arana did not identify any other instance in which she requested but was denied FMLA leave.

         The parties agree that Arana had a history of poor performance and disciplinary issues that spanned the entirety of her employment at Temple. From 2008 through 2015, she received numerous Correction Action/Discipline Reports (“CADs”) for failing to follow Temple protocols when handling calls, for providing incorrect information to patients, for committing numerous scheduling and registration errors, and for excessive lateness. She also received CADs for mishandling STAT calls. On several occasions Arana responded to STAT calls incorrectly, on a delayed basis, or not at all.

         Temple maintains a Corrective Action Policy, which provides for progressive discipline with several steps: (1) discussion with the employee and the creation of a performance improvement plan; (2) written warning; (3) final written warning; (4) one-day suspension without pay; and (5) termination. Under Temple policy, however, certain infractions are considered “[g]ross neglect of duties including but not limited to job abandonment, patient abandonment or unauthorized sleeping on duty” and warrant immediate discharge.

         Arana was first placed on a performance improvement plan in 2008 for failing to utilize Temple's protocol manual when handling calls. On October 23, 2013 she received a written warning “for not meeting performance requirements specifically in the area of handling STAT calls.” On February 14, 2014, Arana received a written warning for violating Temple's Attendance and Lateness policy. Arana was informed that she had accumulated eight incidents of lateness and that two additional incidents could result in a final written warning. On March 18, 2014, Arana received a final written warning regarding her failure to follow proper protocol, including several errors with STAT calls. Thereafter on March 11, 2015, Arana received a one-day suspension for her continued failure to follow proper protocols. At that time Arana was advised that “[i]mmediate action is necessary, future occurrence will result in corrective action, up to and including termination.”

         On July 21, 2015, Alfonsi received a complaint from a nurse that she was having trouble getting through to the Call Center. He thereafter reviewed the Call Center records for that day and identified an hour and forty minute gap in Arana's log-in report, wherein Arana was logged out of her computer from 5:18 a.m. until 6:58 a.m. Arana admits that she was absent for an additional forty minutes and further states she was in the bathroom vomiting during this time. In his review Alfonsi identified another unexplained gap of time on July 22, 2015 and “start[ed] to see a pattern that [Arana] wasn't coming back from her break at an hour and she wasn't logged into the phone.”

         On July 24, 2015, Arana failed to return from a break on time. Mitchell discovered her in a conference room. According to Mitchell, Arana was asleep but awoke after Mitchell entered the room. Arana denies that she was asleep but admits that she was slumped in a conference room chair, under a blanket and with the lights off. Mitchell reported the incident to Alfonsi, who ultimately made the decision to terminate Arana on July 28, 2015 for job abandonment and unauthorized sleeping on duty. This conduct constituted gross neglect of duties under Temple policy and thus was grounds for immediate termination. Arana's termination notice stated in part:

On 7/21/2015, we investigated an unusual spike in abandoned calls and an unusual delay in answering the telephone in the call center. After reviewing the log in/log out report and the call recording system, we identified that you did not log in after your lunch break and were missing from your work station during your scheduled time from 6am to 7am. As a result of your unauthorized absence from your work station, only one employee was answering the telephones during the period of time which created risk for patients at Temple Hospital and Episcopal Hospital. You did not notify your supervisor about this missed time.[2]
On 7/24/2015, we noticed that you had not reported back from your lunch break. When we looked for you, we found you asleep in the conference room.

TUHS Corrective Action/Discipline Report (July 28, 2015) (emphasis added). The notice included the dates on which Arana had received prior discipline in the form of a first written warning, a final written warning, and a suspension. It also listed several recent occasions in May and June 2015 when Arana had been coached about job performance.

         Thereafter Arana commenced this action. The complaint includes the following claims: (1) Count I-Failure to Accommodate under the ADA; (2) Count II-Discrimination and Disparate Treatment under the ADA; (3) Count III-Retaliation under the ADA; (4) Count IV-Failure to Engage in the Interactive Process in Good Faith under the ADA; (5) Count V-Interference under the FMLA; (6) Count VI-Discrimination and Retaliation ...

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