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Polen v. Pottstown Hospital - Tower Health

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 16, 2019



          Baylson, J.


         This employment action arises from Defendant Pottstown Hospital - Tower Health's dismissal of Plaintiff Linda Polen from her position as Director of Radiology. After Plaintiff was dismissed, she filed a Complaint alleging three counts of employment discrimination and retaliation:

1. Count I: Retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act;
2. Count II: Discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; and
3. Count III: Discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

(Compl. ¶¶ 55-80.) Before this Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion will be denied.


         Plaintiff was the Director of Radiology at Pottstown Hospital from 2011 to 2018, where she supervised over ninety employees within the Radiology Department. (Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“SUMF”) ¶¶ 3, 5, 111, ECF 16.) Starting in 2016, Plaintiff reported to Chief Nursing Officer Theresa Pierce. (Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 9.) CNO Pierce was part of the Hospital's leadership team, along with Chief Executive Officer Richard Newell. (Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 8.)

         In 2017, Plaintiff had shoulder surgery, which required her to take FMLA leave from June 13, 2017 to July 13, 2017. (Def.'s SUMF ¶¶ 18-19, ECF 13.) A few weeks after Plaintiff returned to work, she received an annual performance review from CNO Pierce. (Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 15; Pl.'s Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Opp.”) Ex. G.) In her review, Plaintiff's performance was consistently rated as meeting or exceeding expectations, including in areas concerning her leadership and teamwork abilities. (Pl.'s Opp. Ex. G at 3-8) When CNO Pierce met with Plaintiff about her review, CNO Pierce expressed concern about losing “seasoned members of her team” because of their age. (Def.'s SUMF ¶ 15.) Plaintiff assured CNO Pierce that she intended to work for at least five more years. (Polen Dep. 73:20-74:11, Jan. 3, 2019, Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.'s MSJ”) Ex. 6, ECF 13.)

         Plaintiff later required another shoulder surgery, and took FMLA leave from February 13, 2018 to March 12, 2018. (Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 36.) When she returned, Plaintiff attended physical therapy and discussed her progress with CNO Pierce. She told CNO Pierce that her recovery was not progressing as she had hoped, and that she might “have a total shoulder [surgery], ” to which CNO Pierce responded, “[o]h, you would be out for a long time. (Pl.'s SUMF ¶¶ 39-42.)

         Several days after Plaintiff returned from her second FMLA leave, she met with CEO Newell and HR Director Ruta Ore. During the meeting, CEO Newell criticized certain Facebook posts Plaintiff made while she visited the Cayman Islands during her FMLA leave. While on leave, Plaintiff went to the Cayman Islands to take care of several personal issues. (Pl.'s Opp. Ex. M at ¶ 238-39.)[1] Plaintiff posted a picture on Facebook of herself standing in the water while she was in the Cayman Islands. (Def.'s SUMF ¶ 27.) In the meeting, CEO Newell accused Plaintiff of swimming during her leave and said that if she could swim, then she could return to work. (Pl.'s SUMF ¶¶ 85-87.)[2]

         During the same meeting in which CEO Newell discussed Plaintiff's Facebook post, the group also discussed Lead Radiology Technician Deborah March. (Def.'s SUMF ¶ 30.) March was one of two lead technicians who reported to Radiology Operations Manager Susan DeSanto, who in turn reported directly to Plaintiff. (Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 47.) Multiple employees had complained to CEO Newell about March, and the Hospital decided to suspend March pending the results of an internal investigation by HR Director Ore. (Def.'s SUMF ¶¶ 31-33.) During March's suspension, the other Lead Radiology Technician, Brenda Swankoski, assumed March's duties. (Def.'s SUMF ¶ 48.)

         Following the investigation, CEO Newell, CNO Pierce, Plaintiff, and HR Director Ore met and decided to terminate March's employment because of the hostile work environment she created. (Def.'s SUMF ¶¶ 49-51.) Brenda Swankoski became the sole Lead Technician in the Radiology Department, and permanently assumed March's duties. (Def.'s SUMF ¶ 57.)

         Following March's dismissal, CEO Newell asked Kimberly Schneider to continue investigating the Radiology Department. (Def.'s SUMF ¶ 58.) HR Director Ore was transitioning into a per diem role, and Schneider was transitioning into the role of HR Director. (Def.'s SUMF ¶¶ 3-4.) In preparation for her investigation, Schneider met with Plaintiff and discussed issues in the Radiology Department. (Def.'s SUMF ¶ 61.) Plaintiff told Schneider that there was discontent within the Department between two groups of employees: those loyal to Deborah March, and those loyal to Brenda Swankoski; ...

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