United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Nicholas Ranjan United States District Judge
Providence Care Center, LLC and Beaver Valley Associates, LLC
have moved for summary judgment [ECF 65] on
Plaintiff Shawana Wright’s various discrimination-based
claims. Providence terminated Ms. Wright shortly following
her involvement in a heated altercation with a co-worker. The
altercation was witnessed by multiple employees, each of whom
submitted witness statements. Those statements served as the
substantial basis for Providence’s determination that
Ms. Wright had engaged in “very serious
misconduct” in violation of its established policies.
Providence then promptly terminated both Ms. Wright and the
other employee involved in the altercation.
Wright claims that Providence’s decision to terminate
her based on her involvement in the altercation was
pretextual. Ms. Wright argues that she was actually
terminated due to her various disabilities and in retaliation
for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (the
“FMLA”). She further claims that she was
subjected to a hostile work environment while at Providence.
Based on these core allegations, Ms. Wright asserts
violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the
“ADA”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
the evidence offered by Ms. Wright creates a genuine dispute
of material fact or otherwise casts doubt on the undisputed
fact that her involvement in the altercation was a serious
violation of Providence’s established code of conduct
and, thus, a legitimate reason for firing her. The
intervening event of the altercation also renders untenable
Ms. Wright’s efforts to connect her termination to any
protected activity she may have engaged in beforehand.
Therefore, the Court will grant Defendants’ motion for
Ms. Wright’s Employment with Providence.
Wright is an African-American woman who was employed at
Providence for 13 years as a Licensed Practical Nurse
(“LPN”) until her termination on September 27,
2016. [ECF 67, at ¶ 1]. Providence is
a rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility with 180 beds
located at 900 Third Avenue, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
15010. [Id. at ¶ 2].
her employment, including at the time of her termination, Ms.
Wright reported to a number of different supervisors.
[Id. at ¶ 3]. In September 2016, Bernadette
Mehno was the Director of Nursing at Providence [Id.
at ¶ 4], Bobbye Lutz was the Resident Nurse supervisor
[id. at ¶ 5], and Raymond DeMarco was the
Administrator [id. at ¶ 6]. The chain of
command was as follows: Ms. Lutz reported to Ms. Mehno who,
in turn, reported to Mr. DeMarco. [Id. at ¶ 7].
the altercation, the parties agree that Ms. Wright was a
“fine nurse” and received positive performance
evaluations between 2003 and 2014. [ECF 75, at ¶
Ms. Wright’s Disability and Alleged Poor
Wright alleges she is disabled because she suffers from
allergic asthma, Oral Allergy Syndrome, migraines,
depression, and anxiety. [ECF 67, at ¶ 8]. On
July 23, 2015, Ms. Wright provided documentation to
Providence from her physician regarding her Oral Allergy
Syndrome, which causes her to have sensitivity to certain
fruits, vegetables, and latex. [Id. at ¶ 12].
Her physician requested that raw bananas not be served to Ms.
Wright’s clients while Ms. Wright was in attendance.
[Id. at ¶ 13]. According to Providence, it
offered a proposed accommodation of switching Ms. Wright to
the overnight shift, which she rejected. [Id. at
¶¶ 14-15]. However, Ms. Wright’s direct
supervisor, Ms. Lutz, also testified that no one at
Providence had an “interactive dialogue” with Ms.
Wright about potential accommodations that could be made for
Ms. Wright. [ECF 75, at ¶ 28].
Wright also asked that latex balloons not be brought near her
work area and that she be given time off to deal with
disability “flare-ups.” [Id. at
¶¶ 22-23]. Ms. Wright claims that latex balloons
were used to celebrate the “employee of the
month” despite management’s knowledge of her
latex allergy, which caused her to be sick at work.
[Id. at ¶ 33]. No specific details regarding
these events was provided by Ms. Wright, nor were they
corroborated by other witnesses. [Id. at
Wright further claims that Ms. Lutz “treated her
poorly” beginning in 2015. [Id. at ¶ 36].
She claims Ms. Lutz: gave her unwarranted discipline
[id. at ¶¶ 38, 53]; gave her a performance
evaluation that was worse than she believed she deserved
[id. at ¶ 42]; transferred her to a less
desirable unit and then transferred her back [id. at
¶¶ 43-49]; called her to be “pulled”
from her floor after being reinstated [id. at ¶
50]; spoke to her in a rude and condescending manner
[id. at ¶¶ 58-59]; and ignored her
[id. at ¶ 58].
Ms. Wright’s FMLA Leave and Return to Work.
March 2016, Ms. Wright provided documentation to Providence
from her physician for other conditions, including migraines,
depression, and anxiety. [ECF 67, at ¶ 16].
This documentation stated that Ms. Wright is “unable to
perform any job function during flare-up due to multiple
symptoms arising from diagnosis.” [Id.]. As a
result, Ms. Wright exercised her rights under the FMLA and
was away from work from March 17, 2016 through July 11, 2016.
[Id. at ¶ 18]. According to Ms. Wright, while
on leave, Ms. Lutz repeatedly called her, asked her to submit
to certain medical testing, and encouraged her to return to
work early. [ECF 75, at ¶¶ 65-68].
6, 2016, Ms. Lutz wrote an email expressing a preference that
only two of five employees then out on FMLA leave would
return. [Id. at ¶ 81]. Ms. Wright infers that
Ms. Lutz was “speaking in code to her own management
that there was no desire for Wright to return to work”
without citing any evidence of record to support that
11, 2016, Ms. Wright returned to work without any
restrictions. [ECF 67, at ¶ 21]. Ms. Wright
claims that Ms. Lutz had a “bushel of bananas”
delivered to the nurses’ station the day that she
returned from FMLA leave. [Id. at ¶ 69]. The
bananas were immediately removed. [ECF 75, at ¶
70]. That same day, Ms. Wright claims Ms. Lutz told her
“she did not believe [Ms. Wright] was able to work and
should instead go out on Social Security Disability.”
[Id. at ¶ 76]. Ms. Wright’s testimony is
somewhat vague regarding this alleged statement. For example,
Ms. Wright states that she cannot “recall
exactly” whether Ms. Lutz even used the terms
“quit” or “resign” in the context of
the statement. [ECF 75-7, at ¶ 4].
September 23, 2016, Wright admits that she got into a verbal
altercation with a co-worker named Debra Sawyer. [ECF 67,
at ¶¶ 31-32, 36]. Ms. Sawyer is not disabled.
Several employees either witnessed or heard the altercation
and provided written statements. [Id. at ¶ 35].
By some accounts, Ms. Wright’s yelling could be heard
from another floor. [Id. at ¶ 34]. One witness
said Ms. Wright had to be separated from Ms. Sawyer.
[Id.]. Providence’s management admitted that
Ms. Wright “never struck anyone, never verbally
threatened anyone, and never used any profane
language.” [ECF 75, at ¶ 89].
Providence Care Center Employee Handbook (“PCC
Handbook”) “establishes work rules for each
employee to follow.” [ECF 67, at ¶ 22].
The PCC Handbook provides that:
All employees are expected to conduct themselves in a
dignified manner and to observe the basic rules of good
conduct while working for [Providence]. These rules involve
the exercise of common sense and appropriate conduct in
dealing with a supervisor, fellow employees, and residents.
Employees are expected to follow instructions and do the work
[Id. at ¶ 24]. The PCC Handbook lists examples
of general misconduct, “serious misconduct, ” and
“very serious misconduct.” [Id. at
¶ 25]. The PCC Handbook characterizes “fighting,
assault or any other disorderly conduct” as very
serious conduct. [Id. at ¶ 26]. The
“first offense of … very serious
misconduct” may result in discharge. [Id. at
Wright conceded that her altercation constituted
“disorderly conduct” in violation of
Providence’s policies. [Id. at ¶¶
38-39]. In light of this “very serious misconduct,
” Providence terminated Ms. Wright on September 27,
2016. [Id. at ¶ 42]. Providence also terminated
Ms. Sawyer’s employment due to her involvement in the
altercation. [Id. at ¶ 43]. According to
Defendants, three supervisors were involved in the decision
to terminate Ms. Wright: Ms. Lutz, Ms. Mehno, and Mr.
DeMarco. [Id. at ¶ 41].
Ms. Wright’s termination, a union grievance hearing was
held. Both Ms. Wright and her former union representative,
Denise Cox, participated in the hearing. [ECF
68-15]. According to the minutes of the proceeding,
neither Ms. Wright nor Ms. Cox mentioned alleged
discrimination or retaliation during that hearing.
Wright alleges that other LPNs engaged in conduct that could
be classified as “very serious misconduct” but
were not terminated. [ECF 75, at ¶¶
121-23]. Ms. Wright provides almost no information
regarding the particulars of those other incidents, including
the specific employee involved or when the conduct occurred.
[Id.]. Defendants counter that, to the extent they
even happened, those incidents involved “nursing
errors” rather than intentional misconduct and,
therefore, are not comparable. [ECF 83, at 13].
Ms. Wright’s EEOC Charges of Discrimination.
September 15, 2015, Ms. Wright filed a Charge of
Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (the “First EEOC Charge”) alleging
that she was “being discriminated against because of
[her] race … and [her] disability.” [ECF 67,
at ¶ 44]. The EEOC dismissed Ms. Wright’s
First EEOC Charge on June 29, 2016. [Id.].
October 14, 2016, Ms. Wright filed another Charge of
Discrimination with the EEOC (the “Second EEOC
Charge”) and cross filed it with the Pennsylvania Human
Relations Commission. [Id. at ¶ 48]. According
to the Second EEOC Charge, Ms. Wright believed that her
termination was “discriminatory (based upon [her] race
and/or health) and retaliatory.” [Id. at
¶ 49]. She also alleged discrimination based on race,
national origin, retaliation, and a failure to
accommodate/hostile work environment. [Id.].
Wright filed her original complaint on June 7, 2017,
asserting claims under the ADA, the PHRA, the FMLA, Title
VII, and § 1981. [ECF 1].
September 6, 2017, Defendants partially moved to dismiss Ms.
Wright’s Complaint on the grounds that many of her
claims were either untimely or not encompassed within the
scope of her Second EEOC Charge, and, therefore, outside the
Court’s subject matter jurisdiction. [ECF 6].
On September 27, 2017, Ms. Wright filed her First Amended
Complaint in response. [ECF 12]. Defendants then
filed a substantially identical partial motion to dismiss the
First Amended Complaint on October 10, 2017. [ECF
December 7, 2017, Judge Conti (the previous judge assigned to
this case) granted Defendants’ motion in part,
dismissing Ms. Wright’s racial discrimination claims in
their entirety and dismissing Ms. Wright’s disability
discrimination claims to the extent that they are based on
conduct occurring prior to December 19, 2015. [ECF 25, at
17]. Judge Conti allowed Ms. Wright to file a Second
Amended Complaint following her order.
February 15, 2018, Ms. Wright filed her Second Amended
Complaint. [ECF 29].
March 1, 2018, Defendants, once again, moved to partially
dismiss and Judge Conti, once again, granted the motion in
part. [ECF 32]. On April 12, 2018, Judge Conti
entered an order dismissing Ms. Wright’s FMLA
interference claim and her retaliation claims under Title VII
and § 1981. [ECF 38].
discovery, on December 13, 2018, Ms. Wright withdrew her
remaining racial discrimination claims under Title VII and
§ 1981. [ECF 63]. All that remains of the
Second Amended Complaint are Count I for violations of the
ADA, Count II for violations of the PHRA, and Count III for
retaliation under the FMLA.
timely filed a motion for summary judgment on January 23,
2019 [ECF 65], with a brief in support [ECF
66], and concise statement of material facts [ECF
67]. On March 1, 2019, Ms. Wright filed a response to
the motion for summary judgment [ECF 72], a brief in
opposition [ECF 74], a counter statement of facts
[ECF 75], and a response to Defendants’
concise statement of material facts [ECF 76].
Defendants submitted a reply to Ms. Wright’s counter
statement of facts [ECF 82] and reply brief [ECF
83] on March 22, 2019. Defendants’ motion is ripe
judgment is warranted “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). At summary judgment, the inquiry is
whether the evidence presents “a sufficient
disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it
is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of
law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). In making this determination, a
court must “consider all evidence in the light most
favorable to the party opposing the motion.” A.W.
v. Jersey City Pub. Schs., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir.
moving party shows an absence of material fact, “the
non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the
record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the
pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument.”
Berckeley Inv. Grp. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195,
201 (3d Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). If the
non-moving party “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 at trial, ” summary judgment is warranted.
Celotext Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).
respect to the sufficiency of the evidence that the
non-moving party must provide, a court should grant a motion
for summary judgment when the non-movant’s evidence is
merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative. Anderson,
477 U.S. at 249-50. There must be more than “a
scintilla of evidence” supporting the non-moving party
and “more than some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts.” Id. at 252, 261 (internal
DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
Disability Discrimination Claims Under the ADA and