United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING HOSPITAL DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
MARK W. BENNETT, District Judge.
A medical records clerk and receptionist alleges that the medical director of the county hospital and medical center for which she worked subjected her to sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation during her employment. She alleges that when she eventually complained about this misconduct and sought a leave of absence to deal with resulting depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, the hospital and its managers subjected her to disciplinary action and ultimately fired her. She has asserted claims pursuant to the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA), IOWA CODE CH. 216; Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.; and state tort claims of sexual exploitation and assault and battery. The county answered the records clerk's claims and the medical director was ultimately dismissed from this lawsuit, for failure to take action against him within the time provided by local rules. The hospital, the companies that operated and managed the hospital, the hospital's human resources manager, and the hospital administrator have moved to dismiss many of the records clerk's claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted.
A. Factual Background
1. The pertinent record
"When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). Thus, the factual background to the pending Motion To Dismiss must be drawn from the factual allegations in plaintiff Nicole Whitney's Amended Complaint, unless other matters are also incorporated by reference, integral to her claims, subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, or in the record of the case. Miller v. Redwood Toxicology Lab., Inc., 688 F.3d 928, 931 n.3 (8th Cir. 2012) (citing 5B CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHUR R. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1357 (3d ed. 2004)). In this case, Whitney did not attach any documents or exhibits to her original Complaint or Amended Complaint, although she does allege in her Amended Complaint that she exhausted administrative remedies, because she timely filed charges of employment discrimination with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received a right-to-sue letter. The moving defendants have attached to their Motion To Dismiss various documents from the administrative record, which I may also consider on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Deerbrook Pavilion, LLC v. Shalala, 235 F.3d 1100, 1102 (8th Cir. 2000). I also note that the various counts of Whitney's Amended Complaint do little or nothing more than baldly allege the elements of her claims, without identifying the specific conduct on which they are based. Thus, the pertinent factual basis for her claims is found exclusively or almost exclusively in the Factual Background section of her Amended Complaint. Because Whitney rarely alleges that specific defendants took specific actions, I have indicated where she has alleged that "Defendants" took certain actions.
2. Whitney's allegations
a. The parties
Whitney alleges the following facts as the basis for her claims, which I must accept as true for present purposes. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94. Whitney was hired on approximately April 7, 2006, to work "for Defendants" as a medical records clerk and receptionist. Those "Defendants" are alleged to be the following: Franklin General Hospital, a county hospital established pursuant to IOWA CODE CH. 347 by defendant Franklin County, Iowa, allegedly doing business in Franklin County as "Franklin General Hospital" and "Franklin Medical Center Clinic"; Franklin County, a political subdivision of the State of Iowa; Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp., a Delaware corporation, doing business in Franklin County as "Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa, Corp." and "Franklin General Hospital, " and allegedly providing management services to Franklin General Hospital; Mercy Health Network, Inc., a Delaware corporation doing business as "Franklin General Hospital"; Brian Hansen, who was employed by the "Defendants" as a physician and as the hospital's medical director until his termination on approximately June 1, 2012; Victoria (Vicky) Kruse, who was allegedly "Defendants'" human resources manager; and Kim Price, who was allegedly "Defendants'" administrator. Non-defendant Koreen Van Horn was allegedly the clinic manager.
b. The alleged misconduct
Dr. Hansen became Whitney's family doctor in approximately October 2006, but thereafter he sexually harassed her by propositioning her, making sexually offensive comments towards her, showing her pornography on his computer, and masturbating in her presence. Dr. Hansen used his positions of authority as Whitney's doctor and employer to sexually abuse, assault, and exploit her, and repeatedly told her that nobody would believe her if she reported his abuse. Whitney was too afraid to report Dr. Hansen's abuse, and she thought that she was the only one that Dr. Hansen was sexually abusing. In January 2012, however, other women began reporting that Dr. Hansen had also sexually harassed and assaulted them. On approximately June 1, 2012, Dr. Hansen was fired for sexually harassing, assaulting, abusing, and exploiting at least eight women at Franklin General Hospital.
On approximately June 7, 2012, Whitney reported to "Defendants" that Dr. Hansen had sexually abused her, as well. On approximately June 28, 2012, the "Defendants" disciplined Whitney for engaging in sexual relations on "Defendant's premises and on company time, " based on Dr. Hansen's sexual abuse, assault, and exploitation of her. "Defendants" also disciplined Dr. Hansen's other victims for having sexual relations on company property and on company time, also premised on Dr. Hansen's sexual abuse, assaults, and exploitation of them.
Whitney suffered from major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of sexual abuse, assaults, and exploitation, and she was sometimes unable to work because of these mental health conditions. "Defendants" repeatedly disciplined Whtiney because of her absences from work necessitated by her mental health conditions, which had, in turn, been caused by the abuse that the "Defendants" committed and permitted.
In August 2012, Whitney's treating mental health professionals recommended that she take a leave of absence. Whitney told Koreen Van Horn about her need for leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and Van Horn said that they would need to talk to Vicky Kruse about the matter. When Whitney arrived for a meeting with Van Horn and Kruse regarding her request for FMLA leave, however, Van Horn and Kruse "greeted her with disciplinary action." That disciplinary action was allegedly for Whitney's absences necessitated by her mental health conditions, which had been caused by the abuse that "Defendants" had allegedly committed and permitted, for mentioning the abuse in the workplace, and for failing to "punch out" before picking up lunch for other employees in the office. "Defendants" allegedly recognized that Whitney's workplace comment regarding the abuse was a way to cope with the trauma that she had experienced, but they punished her anyway. Other employees who did not "punch out" before picking up lunch for the office allegedly were not disciplined, but those employees had not reported sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation by hospital doctors. Whitney told Van Horn and Kruse that she believed that the "Defendants" were retaliating against her because of her complaints of sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation, but the "Defendants" failed to investigate this complaint of retaliation.
c. Whitney's administrative complaints and the aftermath
Whitney filed her administrative civil rights complaints "against Defendants" on
September 12, 2012. On September 25, 2012, the Iowa Board of Medicine suspended Dr. Hansen's medical license for, among other things, a pattern of sexual misconduct including nonconsensual sexual contact with female patients and/or coworkers. The "Defendants" knew of this action by the Iowa Board of Medicine on or shortly after September 25, 2012.
Whitney took FMLA leave during August of 2012, and she gradually worked her way back up to working full time by October 23, 2012. After Whitney returned from FMLA leave, Kim Price refused even to acknowledge her when they saw each other at work. At some point during the fall of 2012, Lee Elbert replaced Koreen Van Horn as clinic manager and became Whitney's new supervisor. Whitney alleges that, on November 5, 2012, the "Defendants" again disciplined her by placing her on a "Performance Action Plan" for allegedly talking excessively and using foul language. When Whitney asked for examples of instances of such misconduct, the "Defendants" refused to provide any. Other employees who had not reported sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation by hospital doctors or who had not filed civil rights complaints were not disciplined for such vague or minor infractions as excessive talking or using foul language.
On December 3, 2012, the "Defendants" fired Whitney for allegedly "engaging in non-productive behaviors, " having an "unprofessional attitude, " and for poor attendance. The "Defendants" again refused to provide any examples of when and how Whitney had committed such misconduct. Whitney's poor attendance was caused, in large part, by the abuse that the "Defendants" had committed and permitted against her.
Whitney alleges that Dr. Hansen, Kruse, Price, Van Horn, and Elbert were all agents of Franklin General Hospital, Franklin County, Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp., and Mercy Health Network, Inc., and were acting within the scope of their employment at all relevant times.
B. Procedural Background
1. Whitney's Amended Complaint
Whitney filed her original Complaint (docket no. 2) in this matter on August 29, 2013, and her Amended Complaint (docket no. 4) on September 23, 2013. In Count I of her Amended Complaint, Whitney asserted claims of sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation by the "Defendants" in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). In Count II, she asserted claims of sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation by the "Defendants" in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In Count III, she alleged disability discrimination and retaliation by the "Defendants" in violation of the ICRA. In Count IV, she alleged failure to accommodate her disabilities, disability discrimination, and retaliation by the "Defendants" in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In Count V, she alleged interference with FMLA leave and retaliation for exercising FMLA rights by the "Defendants" in violation of the FMLA. In Count VI, she alleged "sexual exploitation" by Dr. Hansen and sought relief only against Dr. Hansen. In Count VII, Whitney alleged a claim of "assault and battery, " apparently against all of the "Defendants."
2. The defendants' responses
On November 19, 2013, Franklin County filed its Answer (docket no. 22), denying Whitney's claims and asserting various affirmative defenses. On January 14, 2014, the Clerk of Court entered an Order Of Dismissal (docket no. 39) dismissing Brian Hansen from this action, because no appropriate action had been taken within the time provided by applicable local rules.
On December 3, 2013, defendants Franklin General Hospital, Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp., Mercy Health Network, Inc., Victoria Kruse, and Kim Price, whom I will call collectively "the Hospital Defendants, " filed the Motion To Dismiss With Prejudice (docket no. 28) now before me. In that Motion, the Hospital Defendants seek dismissal, with prejudice, of Counts I, II, III and IV of Whitney's Amended Complaint as to Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp., Mercy Health Network, Inc., and Victoria Kruse; Counts II and IV of Whitney's Amended Complaint as to Kim Price and Victoria Kruse; and Counts V, VI and VII of Whitney's Amended Complaint as to all of the Hospital Defendants. In a Resistance (docket no. 31), filed December 16, 2013, Whitney indicated her intention to dismiss voluntarily various claims in her Amended Complaint against various defendants, but resisted dismissal of other challenged claims. On December 24, 2013, the Hospital Defendants filed a Reply (docket no. 34) in further support of dismissal to the challenged claims that Whitney had indicated she would not voluntarily dismiss.
3. Voluntary dismissals and remaining claims
On January 24, 2014, the parties filed a Stipulation To Dismiss Without Prejudice (docket no. 42) for dismissal of certain parties and claims. Pursuant to that Stipulation, I filed an Order (docket no. 43), on January 24, 2014, dismissing without prejudice all claims against Victoria Kruse; Counts II, IV, and VII against Kim Price; and Count VII against Franklin General Hospital, Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp., Mercy Health Network, Inc., and Franklin County. Thus, the chart below shows the claims originally asserted against each of the defendants and the claims remaining after voluntary or involuntary dismissals, with claims in bold italics challenged in the Hospital Defendants' Motion To Dismiss.
Defendant Original Claims Remaining Claims I (ICRA-sex), II (Title VII-sex), III (ICRA-disability), I, II, III, IV, V Franklin County IV (ADA-disability), V (FMLA), VII (Assault) Franklin General Hospital I, II, III, IV, V, VII I, II, III, IV, V Mercy Health Services- Iowa Corp. I, II, III, IV, V, VII I, II, III, IV, V Mercy Health Network, Inc. I, II, III, IV, V, VII I, II, III, IV, V Victoria Kruse I, II, III, IV, V, VII None Kim Price I, II , III, IV, V, VII I, III, V Brian Hansen I, II, III, IV, V, VI,  VII None
Thus, even if the Hospital Defendants' Motion To Dismiss is granted in its entirety, this case will proceed against defendant Franklin County on Counts I (ICRA-sex), II (Title VII-sex), III (ICRA-disability), IV (ADA-disability), and V (FMLA); against defendant Franklin General Hospital on Counts I, II, III, and IV; and against defendant Kim Price on Counts I (ICRA-sex) and III (ICRA-disability). Also, the only parts of the Hospital Defendants' Motion To Dismiss still in dispute pertain to Whitney's state and federal claims of sex and disability discrimination ...