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Daniel v. Raleigh General Hospital, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

August 1, 2018

SUSAN DANIEL, Plaintiff,
v.
RALEIGH GENERAL HOSPTIAL, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE C. BERGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Court has reviewed the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 43) and Memorandum of Law in Support (Document 44), the Plaintiff Susan Daniel's Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 48), and the Defendant's Reply in Support (Document 50), as well as the Complaint (Document 1-1) and all attached exhibits. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the motion for summary should be granted.

         FACTS

         The Plaintiff, Susan Daniel, initiated this action on August 14, 2017, by filing her complaint in the Circuit Court of Raleigh County, West Virginia. She named Raleigh General Hospital, LLC (Raleigh General) as the sole Defendant. Citing diversity jurisdiction based on the out-of-state citizenship of the sole member of the Raleigh General, LLC, the Defendants removed the action to this Court on September 14, 2017.

         Ms. Daniel was originally hired by Raleigh General as a pediatric floor nurse in March of 1997. Upon her hiring, Ms. Daniel attended an orientation where she was informed of the policies, procedures, and Code of Conduct regarding employees at the hospital, including the method by which employees could be disciplined. (Susan Daniel Dep., at 36:18-23, 100:22-101:3). Included in the employee code of conduct was the requirement that employees “conduct [themselves] in a manner which enhances the care, services, and image of the company.” (Id. at 41:20-24.) As affirmed by Ms. Daniel, this included ensuring “courteous interactions with coworkers, patients, and visitors, ” and “quiet and orderly conduct.” (Id. at 42:7-11.)

         Ms. Daniel earned praise and various accolades during her tenure as a nurse at Raleigh General, and considers many of her coworkers and supervisors as “lifelong friends.” (Id. at 101:14-22.) Slightly over two years into the job, however, she ran into her first of several disciplinary issues regarding these terms of the code of conduct. On October 13, 1999, Ms. Daniel's department director Margaret Weinberg took a disciplinary action against her by issuing verbal counseling regarding her customer service and communication skills. (Id. at 106:4-14.) According to the document reflecting the verbal counseling, Ms. Weinberg noted that Ms. Daniel's “[c]ustomer service skills are not meeting standards as set by the [hospital], ” and that there were “[r]epeated concerns . . . about interactions with staff and families, ” including inappropriate language. (Id.)

         Other similar disciplinary actions followed during the duration of Ms. Daniel's employment at the hospital. In January of 2000, Ms. Daniel was suspended without pay for two days based on an incident wherein Ms. Daniel took a patient with RSV virus through the hallway and to the nurses' station. (Id. at 115:14-24.) The report that accompanied the incident, read and signed by the Plaintiff, cited “on-going issues with her professional behavior, ” and that several employees voiced concerns regarding the Plaintiff's “unprofessional conduct while on duty.” (Id. at 109:14-19; 116: 13-21.) In April of 2002, Ms. Daniel was again verbally counseled by a superior because a physician complained that she responded rudely to him. (Id. at 124:12-126:10.) In July of 2004, a different superior issued a disciplinary action to the Plaintiff stemming from a patient complaint. The patient's family complained that, upon arriving to the Plaintiff's floor from the emergency room, the Plaintiff “was very rude to the ER staff” and the patient's family. (Id. at 132:22-137:1.) Ms. Daniel testified that she was disciplined for her unprofessional conduct and that she was on notice that future actions regarding rudeness or poor customer service could result in suspension or termination. (Id. at 136:22-137:6.)

         In December of 2006, Ms. Daniel was issued a verbal warning by a department director for inappropriately criticizing another co-worker in front of a physician. (Id. at 142:18-144:19.) According to the report issued in response to that verbal warning, the Plaintiff had been reprimanded a month prior “and told not to discuss or criticize employees.” (Id. at 144:15-145:6.) In May of 2007, Ms. Daniel was again reprimanded for giving another employee a “wet willy, ” wherein she got her finger wet and touched the ear of her co-worker. (Id. at 151:12-17.) Ms. Daniel admitted that she was trying to be a “fun nurse” and lighten the mood because her co-worker “looked like they were grumpy and didn't want to be at work.” (Id. at 150:22-151:1.) Ms. Daniel's acting department director Tammy Spurgeon issued a verbal warning in January of 2008 after Ms. Daniels argued with a West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources employee over whether a patient should be placed into foster care, and again a few months later after a patient accused Ms. Daniel of having a “very unprofessional attitude” and being “rude and nasty.” (Id. at 162:4-164.) Ms. Spurgeon also issued Ms. Daniel a written warning in April of 2008 based on a physician's complaint that Ms. Daniel was argumentative. That physician commented that Ms. Daniel has “excellent clinical skills but felt very upset by the way [Ms. Daniel] spoke to her.” (Document 43-2, at 97.) In her own testimony, Ms. Spurgeon admitted to being “very good friends” with Ms. Daniel, but that she had communication issues and “could cause havoc.” (Spurgeon Depo. at 14:24, 33:16-24.)

         Ms. Daniel was issued a similar verbal warning in 2010, and in 2014 she was ultimately suspended without pay for three days because of the way she handled a conversation with teenagers who volunteered at the hospital. During that incident, Ms. Daniel's supervisor explained that she “[sat] a poor example” for the teenagers and other staff by an inappropriate interaction in which she “demonstrated unprofessional communication” when raising her voice while having a conversation with the junior volunteer. (Document 43-3, at 44.) Her supervisor specifically noted in the written report of the incident that Ms. Daniel has a recorded history of unprofessional conduct with other staff, “especially in stressful times, ” and that she “appears to continue to have difficulty dealing with stressful situations and the varied pressures that can occur in a busy nursing department.” (Id.) Ms. Daniel agreed with her supervisor's assessment, and testified that it was fair. (Susan Daniel Dep., at 254:12-255:6.) Ms. Daniel was required to apologize to the junior volunteers with a member of the hospital's human resources staff present, but the supervisor who was present during the apology concluded that the apology “was not consistent with the hospital's standards of performance and service recovery.” (Document 43-3, at 44.) Her supervisor stated that Ms. Daniel “never admitted to being inappropriate in her previous remarks to the volunteers . . . and never accepted responsibility for her actions in connection with this incident.” (Id.) Based on this evaluation, Ms. Daniel was suspended for three days without pay. (Id.)

         After other similar warnings regarding professionalism and her conduct regarding patients and staff, Ms. Daniel received her final disciplinary action. In August of 2015, a new Director of Children's and Women's Services, Ms. Tamara Abel, responded to a “loud verbal argument between [a] patient's mother and [Ms. Daniel]” in a patient room. (Document 43-3, at 55.) After a discussion with the patient's mother, Ms. Abel determined that Ms. Daniel was arguing loudly with the patient's mother regarding her response time to a call light. (Id.) In the written discipline record, Ms. Abel noted that Ms. Daniel had previously been counseled for similar inappropriate behavior on January 30, 2015, July 18, 2014, July 2, 2014, and March 5, 2010. (Id.) Later, Ms. Abel reported the incident to the hospital's human resources director, Chris Beebe. Mr. Beebe and Ms. Abel reviewed Ms. Daniel's disciplinary history and determined that they would recommend terminating Ms. Daniel based on her history of unprofessional behavior. (Tamara Abel Depo. at 107.) That same day, Ms. Abel and Mr. Beebe discussed the incident with Ms. Daniel and terminated her employment at the hospital.

         Ms. Daniel initiated this action in response to her termination. She contends that, while her record does contain a history of disciplinary actions based on her conduct with patients and other hospital staff, she also has a history of filing complaints to hospital administration regarding patient care and safety. According to Ms. Daniel, many of the disciplinary actions that the hospital took against her stemmed from her making reports regarding concerns for patient safety. Ms. Daniel specifically alleges that the incident regarding junior volunteers stemmed from such a report, for example, and that while she “may have asked if [the junior volunteers] were the ones that had provided the patients with drinks, ” and “possibly told [one of the junior volunteers] that they weren't to be passing drinks for several reasons, ” she asserts that her actions were taken out of a concern for patient safety. (See, Daniel Depo., at 86:1-87:2.) Ms. Daniel alleges that the history of discipline stems from her “attempts to ensure compliance with policies that were designed to ensure patient safety.” (Compl., at ¶ 3.) She also claims that these retaliatory disciplinary actions against her created an environment of stress that forced her to take a month of medical leave. (Id. at ¶ 4.) In Counts I and II of her complaint, the Plaintiff alleges causes of action for age discrimination and disability discrimination based on the West Virginia Human Rights Act (WVHRA). In Count III, she alleges a claim of retaliation in violation of the West Virginia Patient Safety Act (WVPSA). In Count IV, the Plaintiff alleges a wrongful discharge claim in contravention of West Virginia public policy, and in Count V she alleges a hostile work environment claim.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The well-established standard in consideration of a motion for summary judgment is that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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)-(c); see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 549 (1999); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Hoschar v. Appalachian Power Co., 739 F.3d 163, 169 (4th Cir. 2014). A “material fact” is a fact that could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; News & Observer Publ'g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010). A “genuine issue” concerning a material fact exists when the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. FDIC v. Cashion, 720 F.3d 169, 180 (4th Cir. 2013); News & Observer, 597 F.3d at 576.

         The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. When determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must view all of the factual evidence, and any reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Hoschar, 739 F.3d at 169. However, the non-moving party must offer some “concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. “At the summary judgment stage, the non-moving party must come forward with more than ‘mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another' to resist dismissal of the action.” Perry v. Kappos, No.11-1476, 2012 WL 2130908, at *3 (4th Cir. June 13, 2012) (unpublished decision) (quoting Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985)).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court will not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, nor will it make determinations of credibility. N. Am. Precast, Inc. v. Gen. Cas. Co. of Wis., 2008 WL 906334, *3 (S.D. W.Va. Mar. 31, 2008) (Copenhaver, J.) (citing Sosebee v. Murphy, 797 F.2d 179, 182 (4th Cir. 1986). If disputes over a material fact exist that “can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party, ” summary judgment is inappropriate. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. If, however, the nonmoving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, ” then summary judgment should be granted because “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element . . . necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         DISCUSSION

         The Defendant moves for summary judgment on all of the Plaintiff's claims. Because the claims in Counts I and II both allege discrimination violations under the WVHRA, the Court will address those claims together, and then address each of the remaining counts. At the outset, however, the Court notes that the Defendant is correct regarding the two-year statute of limitations for adverse employment actions. According to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, “[t]he statute of limitations for employment discrimination cases brought to enforce rights under the West Virginia Human Rights Act . . . begins to run from the date a plaintiff first learns of the adverse employment decision.” State ex rel. Raven Crest Contracting, LLC v. Thompson, 807 S.E.2d 256, 260 (W.Va. 2017). Because the Plaintiff filed her complaint on August 14, 2017, any claims based upon alleged adverse employment actions that occurred before August 14, 2015, are barred.

         A. Disability and ...


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