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Whitney v. Franklin General Hospital

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division

April 21, 2015



MARK W. BENNETT, District Judge.


A. Factual Background

Despite the parties' voluminous statements of facts, I find that the facts sufficient to put in context plaintiff Nicole Whitney's claims and the parties' arguments concerning summary judgment can be set forth rather briefly. In 2006, Whitney was hired as a medical records receptionist at defendant Franklin General Hospital (the Hospital), and she continued in that position until she was terminated on December 3, 2012. Whitney was employed and paid directly by the Hospital, but Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp., and Mercy Health Network, Inc., (the Mercy Defendants) controlled operations of the Hospital under agreements pursuant to which Mercy would provide management services and certain key personnel, including a chief executive officer/administrator, to operate the Hospital. The parties dispute whether the Mercy Defendants, or their employees, had the authority to terminate employees of the Hospital or merely had "input" on hiring and firing decisions of employees employed directly by the Hospital. The Mercy Defendants hired defendant Kim Price to serve as Chief Executive Officer of the Hospital in July 2010.

Whitney alleges that, from 2006 through 2009, Dr. Brian Hansen, the Hospital's Medical Director and her personal physician, engaged in sexual harassment and sexual exploitation of her. Whitney did not report any sexual misconduct by Hansen while it was occurring and did not know that Hansen was sexually exploiting other female employees at the Hospital during and after the time that he harassed and exploited her. On May 18, 2012, two other women reported sexual harassment by Hansen, and, after an investigation revealed that Hansen had sexually harassed at least eight women, Hansen was fired on June 1, 2012. On June 7, 2012, after Hansen had already been fired, Whitney reported to the defendants' investigator what she described as a "consensual" sexual relationship with Hansen, although Whitney contends that her statements and conduct during that report should have indicated that the sexual relationship was not "consensual." It was not until August 2012 that Whitney expressly reported to her superiors that Hansen had actually sexually harassed and exploited her. Whitney admits that "nobody knew" about Hansen's conduct with her, or any relationship between them, until 2012.

Between December 5, 2011, and September 26, 2012, Whitney used twelve weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, including leave for treatment for depression, anxiety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in August 2012. Upon her return from leave in the fall of 2012, Whitney began working half days. Although Whitney had requested a reduced schedule, she contends that the defendants dictated that she start by working half days "for a week or two." Whitney also asserts that, in October and November of 2012, she requested leave on a number of specific days, because of anxiety and depression, and that she requested intermittent leave as an accommodation, but that the defendants never engaged in any dialogue with her about her possible leave arrangements, just documented her absences. The defendants contend that Whitney never told them more about her condition or what leave arrangements would accommodate her.

The defendants contend, and Whitney disputes, that throughout her employment, Whitney displayed problems with attendance, productivity, and "professionalism" in the workplace, which distracted her co-workers. Whitney contends that her performance reviews were good, although they admittedly included identification of areas for improvement. The defendants contend that Whitney took excessive time off and violated the Hospital's time-keeping procedures by failing to "clock out" for lunch. After a third disciplinary action, Whitney was given a "last-chance" warning on November 5, 2012, which notified her that further discipline could result in termination. During a meeting on November 5, 2012, with the clinic manager and the Hospital's human resources manager, Whitney was presented with a Performance Action Plan that required her to limit the amount of time that she spent visiting co-workers and visitors, to treat co-workers with respect, and to improve her productivity. A follow-up meeting pursuant to the Plan was scheduled for December 6, 2012. Whitney was not given any negative feedback after the November 5, 2012, meeting, but she was terminated on December 3, 2012, before the scheduled follow-up meeting occurred.

Whitney filed an administrative charge of discrimination on September 12, 2012, with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC), then amended that administrative charge on January 17, 2013. After Whitney received a right-to-sue letter from the ICRC, she filed this lawsuit.

B. Procedural Background

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. Only certain claims in her Amended Complaint[1] remain pending in this case, after voluntary dismissals of certain parties and after I granted in part and denied in part the defendants' December 3, 2013, Motion To Dismiss With Prejudice (docket no. 28). See Memorandum Opinion And Order Regarding Hospital Defendants' Motion To Dismiss (docket no. 44), published at Whitney v. Franklin Gen. Hosp., 995 F.Supp.2d 917 (N.D. Iowa 2014). The remaining claims against the Hospital and the Mercy Defendants are the following: sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA), IOWA CODE CH. 216, in Count I; sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17, in Count II;[2] disability discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ICRA in Count III; failure to accommodate disabilities, disability discrimination, and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., in Count IV; and "discrimination" in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., based on adverse action allegedly taken because Whitney took FMLA leave, within the scope of § 2615(a)(1) and Pulczinski v. Trinity Structural Towers, Inc., 691 F.3d 996, 1007 (8th Cir. 2012), in the remaining part of Count V. The remaining claims against Price are Count I, Count II, and the remaining part of Count V. A jury trial on these claims is set to begin on June 1, 2015.

This case is before me on the defendants' February 2, 2015, Motion For Summary Judgment (docket no. 74). Whitney filed her Resistance (docket no. 79) to that Motion on February 26, 2015, the defendants filed their Reply (docket no. 89) on March 16, 2015, and Whitney filed her Sur-Reply (docket no. 100), with leave of court, on April 13, 2015. This case is also before me on Whitney's March 9, 2015, Motion For Leave To Amend Complaint (docket no. 87). The defendants filed their Resistance (docket no. 97) to that Motion on March 26, 2015, and Whitney filed no timely reply. Although the defendants requested oral arguments on their Motion For Summary Judgment, I have not found oral arguments to be necessary, in light of the applicable law and the parties' briefing and other submissions. Therefore, I will resolve both motions before me on the parties' written submissions.


A. The Defendants' Motion For Summary Judgment

Despite the voluminous briefs by the parties concerning the defendants' Motion For Summary Judgment, I find that the determinative issues on that Motion can be addressed far more briefly. I will begin with a summary of the applicable standards for summary judgment, then turn to consideration of the various grounds for summary judgment asserted by the defendants.

1. Applicable standards

Summary judgment is only appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c) (emphasis added); see Woods v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir. 2005) ("Summary judgment is appropriate if viewing the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."); see generally Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Thus, "[t]he movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ' and must identify those portions of [the record]... which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.'" Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) ( en banc ) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). In response, "[t]he nonmovant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ' and must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)).

When the parties have met their burden, the district judge's task is as follows:

"On a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts.'" Ricci v. DeStefano, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 2658, 2677, 174 L.Ed.2d 490 (2009) quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (internal quotations omitted). "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000), quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'" Ricci, 129 S.Ct. at 2677, quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348.

Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042-43. "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Ryan v. Capital Contractors, Inc., 679 F.3d 772, 776 (8th Cir. 2012). However, summary judgment is particularly appropriate when only questions of law are involved, rather than factual issues that may or may not be subject to genuine dispute. See, e.g., Cremona v. R.S. Bacon Veneer Co., 433 F.3d 617, 620 (8th Cir. 2006).

2. Whitney's sexual harassment claims

a. Arguments of the parties

I will begin my consideration of the defendants' Motion For Summary Judgment with their arguments that Whitney cannot prevail on her sexual harassment claims under the ICRA and Title VII. The defendants argue that Whitney's sexual harassment claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations and her failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Somewhat more specifically, the defendants argue that Whitney did not report any sexual harassment by Hansen during the 300-day limitations period before she filed her administrative complaint and that she cannot use a "continuing violation" theory, because none of the conduct within that limitations period that she did complain about was harassment-at most, it was retaliation. The defendants argue that Whitney has not alleged sexual harassment by anyone other than Hansen. They contend that, considering Hansen to be Whitney's "supervisor, " the undisputed facts show that the sexual harassment claims fail ...

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