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Tillman Henley v. Brandywine Hospital, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 23, 2019



          BAYLSON, J.

         I. Introduction

         In this case, Plaintiff, Yvette Tillman Henley, alleges that her employer, Defendant Brandywine Hospital, LLC (“Brandywine”), and her direct supervisor, Defendant Lisa Macmullen (“Macmullen”) (together, “Defendants”), unlawfully discriminated and retaliated against her on the basis of her race, disability, and for taking medical leave, in violation of federal and state law. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF 10, “Am. Compl.”) advances nine Counts:

         1. Count I: Discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment on the basis of race under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against both Defendants;[1]

         2. Count II: Discrimination and hostile work environment on the basis of race under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), against Brandywine;[2]

         3. Count III: Retaliation on the basis of race under Title VII against Brandywine;

         4. Count IV: Disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”), against Brandywine;

         5. Count V: Retaliation under the ADA against Brandywine;

         6. Count VI: Retaliation and interference under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (“FMLA”), against both Defendants;

         7. Count VII: Discrimination and hostile work environment based on race under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. (“PHRA”), against Brandywine;[3]

         8. Count VIII: Retaliation based on race under the PHRA against both Defendants;[4]

         9. Count IX: Aiding and abetting discrimination under the PHRA against both Defendants.

         Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss all Counts pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         II. Factual Background

         Taking Plaintiff's allegations as true, the factual background is as follows. Plaintiff is an African American female who resides in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Am. Compl. ¶ 7.) Brandywine, Plaintiff's employer, is a limited liability company existing under the laws of Pennsylvania that has its principal place of business in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) Since October 2011, Plaintiff has been employed full-time as a Registrar within the Emergency Room Registration Department at Brandywine. (Id. ¶ 14.) During the relevant time period, Macmullen was employed by Brandywine as Patient Access Supervisor and acted as Plaintiff's supervisor. (Id. ¶¶ 10-13.)[5]

         A. Plaintiff's Medical Conditions

         Plaintiff suffers from diabetes and hypokalemia (low potassium). (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff's conditions affect her ability to perform daily tasks, such as walking and running, as well as her stamina to engage in certain physical activities continuously over long periods of time, including sitting. (Id.) Diabetes and hypokalemia also cause frequent urination and fatigue. (Id.) Hypokalemia, specifically, may also cause elevated blood pressure. (Id.) However, neither of Plaintiff's conditions affects her ability to perform her job “fully and competently.” (Id. ¶ 19.)

         B. Plaintiff's Request for “Short Breaks”

         That said, Plaintiff “continuously informed her supervisors”[6] that she required “short breaks” to check her blood pressure and blood sugar levels two to three times during each eight-hour workday. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 17.) Plaintiff's “supervisors” would respond by accusing her of disappearing from work and taking unauthorized bathroom breaks. (Id. ¶ 16.) As a result, prior to November 2017, Plaintiff was not given any scheduled breaks to check her blood sugar (or blood pressure). (Id. ¶ 17.)

         C. February 2017-February 2018 FMLA Leave

         In a letter dated March 7, 2017, FMLA Source, Brandywine's FMLA leave administrator, sent a letter to Plaintiff, copying Macmullen, confirming that Plaintiff was granted intermittent FMLA leave from February 12, 2017 to February 11, 2018. (ECF 12-3, “Mot.” Ex. 1.)[7] The “[e]stimated frequency of absence” approved was “[o]n an intermittent basis for up to 2 treatment(s) or appointment(s) per month lasting up to 2 hour(s) per treatment/appointment and for up to 1 episodic incapacitation(s) per month.” (Id.)

         D. February 2017 Discipline

         On February 15, 2017, during the period of her approved intermittent FMLA leave, Plaintiff complained in writing to Macmullen and “her direct supervisor” about “improper statements” that were written about Plaintiff in a patient's registration record as well as “accusations about her work ethic.”[8] (Am. Compl. ¶ 21.) Nine days later, on February 24, 2017, Defendants issued Plaintiff an “Employee Counseling/Disciplinary Action Notice” about Plaintiff's tardiness (“February Written Warning”). (Id. ¶¶ 22, 25.) The February Written Warning stated:

Since January 1, 2017, [Plaintiff] has been late for 29 of 40 days (a few may be applied to FMLA). Being a few minutes late on occasion can be acceptable, being consistently late is a habit. This can also create issues with the prior shift getting out on time. [Plaintiff] was previously coached by the Patient Access supervisor [Macmullen] regarding her tardiness on the weekends. . . . Immediate and sustained improvement on tardiness must occur. If improvement does not occur, this will result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination[.]

(Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff alleges that “[a]t all times prior” to the February Written Warning, Plaintiff requested and was granted intermittent FMLA leave due to her “medical condition.” (Id. ¶ 24.) Also before the February Written Warning, Plaintiff “consistently and often requested clarification” of her intermittent FMLA leave. (Id. ¶ 30.) Other white employees of Brandywine, without converting the instant Motion to Dismiss into a motion for summary judgment under Rule 12(d). See Pension Ben. Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196

         E. April 2017 Meeting

         Two months later, in April 2017, Plaintiff met with Macmullen; Brandywine's Interim Human Resources Director, Lisa Goble; and Plaintiff's co-worker, Cheryl Lafond, to “clear the air” as to “issues . . ., including Plaintiff's use of intermittent FMLA time and/or time to take short breaks to check her blood sugar and blood pressure.” (Id. ¶ 31.) During this meeting, Goble told Plaintiff to “not even think about reporting [her] time to FMLA [Source], ” and that if Plaintiff did, Goble would contact FMLA Source and fight Plaintiff's request for FMLA leave directly. (Id. ¶ 32.) Goble also informed Plaintiff that “she kn[ew] all about medicine” and suggested that Plaintiff “maybe . . . should try to take [her] medicine in the morning or evening” rather than take short breaks. (Id. ¶ 33.)

         As of the April 2017 meeting, Plaintiff had used approximately eight hours of intermittent FMLA leave. (Id. ¶ 34.) After the meeting, Plaintiff was afraid to use her “approved and necessary” intermittent FMLA leave in fear of being further disciplined or terminated. (Id. ¶ 35.)

         F. Co-workers' Conduct

         Aside from Plaintiff's alleged issues with medical leave and short breaks, two of Plaintiff's co-workers, Heather Aubry and Lafond, a white woman, expressed to Plaintiff that they had problems registering and/or servicing African American Emergency Room patients. (Id. ¶ 36.)[9]Lafond and Aubry described African American patients as “ignorant, ” “rude, ” “disruptive, ” and “abrupt, ” as well as other “racially incentive names.” (Id. ¶ 37.) According to Lafond and Aubry, African American patients were nice to Plaintiff because Plaintiff is also African American. (Id. ¶ 40.) As a result, Lafond and Aubry have refused, and “often” continue to refuse, to handle the registration of African American patients. (Id. ¶ 39.) They “often” pass such patients off to Plaintiff because she is African American. (Id. ¶ 41.)

         Plaintiff informed Macmullen of Lafond and Aubry's “racially incentive and discriminatory” behavior, but Macmullen allowed this conduct to continue “on a regular basis.”[10](Id. ¶ 43.) For example, Lafond and Aubry have continued to refer to African American patients in a racially insensitive manner, and they “continuously” accuse Plaintiff of speaking “too much” with her African American supervisor[11] because they are both African American. (Id. ¶¶ 45- 46.) Plaintiff has not experienced similar complaints about white employees speaking with white supervisors. (Id. ¶ 42.)

         Further, in August 2018, Lafond told Plaintiff that white women were superior to and have more “class” than African American women. (Id. ¶ 48.) Lafond also stated that she “could sexually satisfy [Plaintiff's] husband and [another African American female employee's] husband.” (Id. ¶ 51.) Lafond has also made comments about African Americans who live in Coatesville and has told Plaintiff that she “[does not] even consider [Plaintiff] to be black . . . because [she] live[s] out in the country, and [she] [does not] sound or seem black.” (Id. ¶ 53.) As a result, Defendants have allegedly caused Plaintiff to “expand her job duties to de-escalate racially provoked incidents in the Emergency Room” and to ensure that African American patients are treated equally to white patients. (Id. ¶ 56.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have caused, and continue to cause, Plaintiff to suffer “loss of income, loss of salary, bonuses, benefits and other compensation.” (Id. ¶ 60.)

         III. Procedural History

         On December 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed charges of discrimination and retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, and the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. (Id. ¶ 4.) Following receipt of the Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC on July 23, 2018, Plaintiff filed the original Complaint in this case on October 22, 2018. (Id. ¶ 5; ECF 1.) On April 5, 2019, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) (ECF 7). On April 26, 2019, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, rendering the Motion to Dismiss the original Complaint moot (ECF 10, 11).

         On May 10, 2019, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF 12). Plaintiff filed a Response in opposition on May 31, 2019 (ECF 15, “Resp.”), and Defendants submitted their Reply in support on June 7, 2019 (ECF 16).

         IV. Legal Standard

         In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “accept[s] all factual allegations as true [and] construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen, Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal quotations marks and citations omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         The Court in Iqbal explained that, although a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that requirement does not apply to legal conclusions; therefore, pleadings must include factual allegations to support the legal claims asserted. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 684. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3) (“We caution that without some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she will provide not only ‘fair notice,' but also the ‘grounds' on which the claim rests.”). Accordingly, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         V. Discussion

         A. Parties' Contentions

         i. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         Defendants advance several reasons why Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed.

         First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims of racial discrimination under § 1981 (Count I), Title VII (Count II), and the PHRA (Count VII) must be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to allege that she suffered an adverse employment action. (Mot. at 8-14.) Defendants contend that even if Plaintiff had alleged an adverse employment action, Plaintiff has not alleged any adverse employment action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of racial discrimination, as necessary to state racial discrimination claims. (Id. at 12-14.) As to Plaintiff's race-based hostile work environment claims (Counts I, II, and ...

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