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Remmick v. Magellan Health, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 27, 2017

LISA REMMICK, Plaintiff-Appellant,

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Jeffrey D. Farrell, Judge.

         Lisa Remmick appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants on her claims of disability discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation.

          Jill Zwagerman and Beatriz Mate-Kodjo of Newkirk Zwagerman, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Michael A. Dee and Megan Erickson Moritz of Brown, Winick, Graves, Gross, Baskerville & Schoenebaum, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellees.

          Heard by Tabor, P.J., and Mahan, S.J., [*] and Scott, S.J.


         Lisa Remmick, a former employee of Magellan Health, Inc., filed suit against Magellan[1] and her former supervisor, Julie Carlson, raising claims under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA) based on Remmick's mental health disability. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding no genuine dispute of material fact on her claims of disability discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation. Remmick now appeals. Finding no error, we affirm the court's grant of summary judgment.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         We start with an overview of the facts from the summary judgment record, taken in the light most favorable to Remmick, the nonmoving party. See Roll v. Newhall, 888 N.W.2d 422, 425 (Iowa 2016). At the age of sixteen, Remmick was diagnosed with depression. Her current diagnoses include recurrent, severe major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Remmick managed her illness, did "all the daily living tasks that people do, " graduated from college and graduate school, married, had two children, and worked as a social worker. Remmick used medications to treat her illnesses. When her medications became less effective, they were adjusted-known as a "med wash."

         In October 2001, Remmick began working for Magellan; she helped Iowa adults and children on Medicaid find mental health professionals, hospitalization, and treatment programs. She was promoted from regular case manager to intensive case manager (ICM) in August 2008. Remmick described her ICM job duties as "extremely more difficult" than the duties of a regular case manager: "We were working with the sickest of the sick population, the homeless, the extremely, extremely mentally ill, children in PMIC situations, which are psychiatric mental institutes for children."[2]

         In June 2010, Carlson became Remmick's supervisor, and Remmick told Carlson she struggled with mental health issues. Carlson thought Remmick was a good employee and assigned her to train new staff; Carlson "was impressed by how [Remmick] worked with members and advocated for them." According to Carlson, Remmick received quarterly bonuses most of the time.[3]

         2012 Medical Leave.

In the fall of 2012, Remmick's depression flared, and she told Carlson about her suicidal ideation. A few weeks later, Remmick told Carlson her doctor wanted her to take medical leave for treatments. Magellan accommodated her October request for leave, and Remmick returned to work on December 10, 2012.

         Winter 2013.

Upon Remmick's return to work, she believed her co-workers were dismissive and cold to her. She observed they no longer talked or lunched with her. Remmick felt isolated.

         Spring 2013.

Remmick told Carlson she thought her co-workers were treating her differently than they had treated another co-worker who had needed personal leave-"[t]hey sent [the co-worker] care packages and cards, but they didn't send [Remmick] anything when she had been on leave." In response, Carlson told Remmick: "They know that she's getting cancer treatments. [She] is openly sharing her illness. It's easy to support someone when you know exactly what's going on and you know how to support someone." Carlson found it hard to respond to Remmick's complaint because Carlson believed Remmick's co-employees had called and sent flowers. Although Remmick testified the atmosphere at work upon her return from this leave made her illness worse, she did not contact human resources or ask Carlson to take any action.

         Summer 2013.

According to Remmick, she again spoke to Carlson in June 2013 about her worsening depression and health. According to Carlson, in June or July 2013, Remmick explained she would be doing a special therapy over her lunch period, and Carlson knew Remmick had an intermittent FMLA leave set up for the therapy. At the end of July 2013, Remmick's therapist noted the new therapy had worsened Remmick's condition.

         August 2013 Medical Leave.

Approximately August 2, Remmick received a bonus for her work production. Remmick was voluntarily hospitalized for one night on Sunday, August 4, for suicidal ideation. Remmick stated she had been having increased anxiety over the last month, was nauseous, and was not eating well. She also told hospital employees there was not a precipitating factor causing her feelings. The hospital's doctor changed her medications and discussed disability benefits with her.

         Remmick tearfully talked to Carlson on Friday, August 9, "brainstorming options." Remmick told Carlson she did not think she could do her job anymore, she was overwhelmed and stressed, and she wished she had taken the position another employee had just filled. Remmick acknowledged: "[I]t's really not an option now because that position's full." Carlson remembers saying, "I've noticed . . . you're struggling and that you're just not advocating for your clients like you did a year ago." When Remmick became defensive, Carlson recalled telling Remmick her job was not in jeopardy.

         During Remmick's regular morning appointment with her psychiatrist on Monday, August 12, she stated she felt only a little better than when she was hospitalized. Her doctor noted:

She feels she does not function as well at work. Her boss pulled her aside and had a conversation with her about her lack of energy and ambition and caring for the clients the way she had previously. Nonetheless, this was not a work reprimand, it was not a written letter, and her boss assured her that she should not be worried about termination.

         The doctor took Remmick off work "for the time being" for a med wash and to wait for the new medicine regime to work, planning to see her the next week. Remmick returned to work and had an emotional talk with Carlson about taking another leave. According to Carlson, Remmick was crying and shaking. Remmick told Carlson she was not eating or sleeping and was overwhelmed. Remmick talked about how important her job was to her and her concern her co-workers would be even more hostile to her if she took another leave when the team was already "short-staffed." Remmick recalled "it was a condition of me getting out the door that day" "that I would need to stand before my co-workers and share my illness."

         Carlson brought the first two co-workers into a private office to talk with Remmick. Carlson stayed for that emotional conversation while Remmick shared the details of her struggle with mental illness and her need for medical leave. Remmick recalls she was crying and one co-worker in the first meeting asked her very "prying" questions. The other co-worker gave Remmick a hug. Carlson brought in the other two co-workers and then left for a personal training appointment. Remmick again shared her illness with her co-workers. The co-worker who worked Polk County with Remmick immediately became angry and yelled at Remmick, stating Remmick's medical leaves were her causing stress. After these emotional conversations, Remmick left on leave. Remmick was humiliated by being forced to disclose her private medical information to her co-workers. Carlson admitted Remmick's medical leave was not any business of Remmick's team members under Magellan's policy.

         While Remmick knew "her work would have to be reassigned while she was on leave, " Carlson opted to assign Remmick to a new territory upon her return to work. In a phone call with Carlson, Remmick learned of Carlson's decision. Remmick believed working a new territory "would be like the start of a whole new job."

         September 2013-Notify Management and Management Investigation.

On September 3, Remmick met with her therapist, whose notes state her psychiatrist would release her to work. The therapist's notes also discussed Remmick's "occupational problems":

[Remmick] spoke to [her] lawyer this morning, she needs to return to work on Friday, letter will be sent to workplace . . . . If she doesn't and she uses up all her FMLA, she is at risk of being fired . . . . Went over what she can say if asked to meet with supervisor and bosses-what they need to know is in FMLA paperwork . . . . Additional concerns at work: . . . co-worker who is judgmental-she can look from her to [family pictures], can pray for her. . . . .
Additional Notes Regarding Goals and Objectives: Focused primarily on ...

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