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Morrone v. Jeanes Hospital

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 26, 2018



          ROBERT F. KELLY, Sr. J.

         Plaintiff Michael Morrone ("Morrone") filed suit in this Court against Defendants Jeanes Hospital ("Jeanes") and Karen Neale ("Neale") (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging violations of interference and retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 etseq., and common law wrongful discharge for workers' compensation retaliation.

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, which seeks dismissal of all claims in the action. Morrone has filed a Brief in Opposition, and Defendants have filed a Reply Brief. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Jeanes hired Morrone as a respiratory therapist in 1992, and his title later changed to senior respiratory therapist. (PL's Br. Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 6.) As a senior respiratory therapist, he was responsible for "perform[ing] prescribed diagnostic and therapeutic interventions and function[ed] as a resource person to achieve therapeutic goals in the care of [a] patient's cardiopulmonary dysfunctions with special expertise in the practice of a subspecialty in Respiratory Care, such as diagnostic testing such as pulmonary function or bronchoscopy." (Defs.' Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 4 (Senior Respiratory Therapist Job Profile) at 1.)

         Between March 2014 and June 2015, Neale, who at the time was a Respiratory Therapist Supervisor, supervised Morrone. (PL's Br. Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 7.) In June or July 2015, Neale became Respiratory Department Director and Paulette Vogler ("Vogler") became the Respiratory Therapist Supervisor. (Id. at 7-8.) Both Neale and Vogler had the authority to hire, discipline, and terminate respiratory therapists. (Id. at 8) (citing Ex. D ("Neale Dep.") at 17-18; Ex. E ("Vogler Dep.") at 9-10).

         In October 2016, Dr. Mary Ann Devine directed Morrone on the transport of a patient. (Defs.' Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 4.) While Morrone was eating his lunch later in the day, he spoke to Vogler about the complicated transport and that he would be receiving a "heart" (a patient returning from open-heart surgery). (Id. at 5.) Vogler stated she would meet Morrone on the floor when the patient came out of heart surgery. (Id.) When that time came, Morrone called Vogler's office, but she did not immediately appear. (Id.) Lindsey Howard ("Howard"), another respiratory therapist, offered to take care of the heart patient while Morrone made his transport. (Id.) Howard informed Morrone that her badge would not scan to run the "blood gas machine," which was necessary for the heart patient. (Id.)

         Respiratory therapists at Jeanes have badges not only for identification purposes, but also for credentials that allow them to access certain equipment. (Id. at 4.) Jeanes has a policy that prohibits employees from "assisting] others in gaining unauthorized access to Resources or accounts on the [Temple University Health System, Inc.] Network or any other system, including [the employee's] own account." (Id., Ex. 8 (Computer Usage Policy).) Notably, Howard's own badge would not have allowed her to run the blood gas machine. (Id. at 5.) Vogler later learned that Howard operated the blood gas machine by using Morrone's badge, resulting in Vogler informing Neale about the situation. (Id.) Neale and Vogler suspended Morrone and Howard for one day. (Id.) Morrone served his suspension on November 2, 2016, and he understood that any future infractions could result in termination. (Id. at 5-6.)

         On November 25, 2016, Morrone injured his knee at work while going up stairs to care for a patient. (PL's Br. Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 10.) He received an MRI a few days later and was diagnosed with a medial meniscus tear in his right knee. (Id.) Morrone then reported the knee injury to Vogler on December 3, 2016, and a workers' compensation claim was initiated that same day. (Id.) Morrone also requested and took time off from work as a result of the knee injury beginning on approximately December 8, 2016. (Id. at 11.) His FMLA medical leave lasted from December 8, 2016 to February 18, 2017. (Id. at 12.) At the time he took his FMLA leave, Morrone worked forty hours per week as a full-time senior respiratory therapist. (Id.)

         By letter dated February 21, 2017, Jeanes informed Morrone that his leave exhausted on February 18, 2017. (Id. at 14.) On March 6, 2017, Morrone hand-delivered to Vogler his medical clearance, which stated he could return to work on March 10, 2017. (Id. at 15.) Morrone alleges that Neale required him to wait another two weeks, until approximately the end of March 2017, to return to work, and that upon returning, reduced his hours from forty per week to thirty-six. (Id. at 17.) Also, once he returned to Jeanes at the end of March 2017, his title was changed from "senior respiratory therapist" to "respiratory therapist." (Id. at 24.)

         On April 8, 2017, a patient required the administration of Aerosolized Epoprostenol ("Flolan"). (Defs.' Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 6.) Morrone requested the assistance of Kay Park ("Park"), who was a nurse, and Janice Cook ("Cook"), who was another respiratory therapist, in providing the medication. (PL's Br. Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 30) (citing Ex. A ("Morrone Dep.") at 91-92). In doing so, Cook "bagged" the patient, which means the patient was taken off the ventilator and manually resuscitated. (Morrone Dep. 92-93.) Park changed the pump and Morrone changed the nebulizer. (Id.) After the process was complete, Morrone wrote in his clipboard what he and Park had done, but he did not verify Park's work. (Id. at 94.) Jeanes' policy regarding Flolan provides that only a respiratory care practitioner is permitted to administer the medication. (Id. at 95-96.)

         On the night of April 8, 2017, Vogler received a phone call from Rebecca Redling ("Redling"), a respiratory therapist who took over when Morrone's shift ended. (Vogler Dep. 51.) Redling explained that she went to check on the patient who was being administered Flolan and noticed that the pump was set up incorrectly, resulting in the patient receiving no medication. (Id. at 51-52.) Vogler told Redling to have a private conversation with Morrone about the observation. (Id. at 52-53.) When Redling and Morrone spoke, Morrone said the mistake was not his fault because the nurse set up the Flolan pump. (Id. at 53.)

         Vogler notified Neale of the incident, and the two then informed Marie Gardner ("Gardner"), the "HR business partner" at Jeanes, of the infraction. (Id. at 52.) Vogler and Neale met with Morrone to discuss what occurred, during which he admitted that Park set up the pump and that he did not check it. (Id. at 55-56.) Vogler and Gardner interviewed Cook, who did not observe what Morrone or Park were doing because she was solely focused on bagging the patient. (Id. at 59.) Cook was not disciplined because she was not responsible for the patient. (Id. at 61.) Park was given a counseling note because the administration of Flolan, albeit improperly, was outside the scope of her responsibilities.

         Numerous individuals, including Gardner, the Vice President of Human Resources, Beverly Sherbondy, the Chief Nursing Officer, Denise Frasca, and Neale, met collectively to discuss the infraction and ultimately determined that Morrone's appropriate level of discipline was termination. (Defs.' Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 8) (citing Ex. 12 ("Gardner Dep.") at 90-91). The termination assessment was made based on the blood gas machine incident in October 2016 in conjunction with the Flolan error. (Id. at 91-94.) Jeanes terminated Morrone on April 17, 2017.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) states that summary judgment is proper "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). The Court asks "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether . . . one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the suit after applying the substantive law. Further, a dispute over a material fact must be 'genuine,' i.e., the evidence must be such 'that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.'" Compton v. Nat'l League of Prof'I Baseball Clubs, 995 F.Supp. 554, 561 n.14 (E.D. Pa. 1998) (quoting Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255).

         Summary judgment must be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, Ml U.S. at 322. Once the moving party has produced evidence in support of summary judgment, the non-moving party must go beyond the allegations set forth in its pleadings and counter with evidence that presents "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." See Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1362-63 (3d Cir. 1992). "More than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor" must be presented by the non-moving party in order to overcome a summary judgment motion. Tziatzios v. United States, 164 F.R.D. 410, 411-12 (E.D. Pa. 1996). If the court determines there are no genuine disputes of material fact, then summary judgment will be granted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         III. ...

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