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Christie v. Crawford County Memorial Hospital

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 18, 2018

RICHARD CHRISTIE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CRAWFORD COUNTY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL and BILL BRUCE, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Crawford County, Edward A. Jacobson, Judge.

         Richard Christie appeals from summary judgment entered in favor of defendants, dismissing his causes of action for discrimination and wrongful discharge against his employer.

          Michael J. Carroll of Coppola, McConville, Coppola, Carroll, Hockenberg & Scalise, P.C., West Des Moines, and Angela L. Campbell of Dickey and Campbell Law Firm, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Randall D. Armentrout and Leslie C. Behaunek of Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Des Moines, for appellees.

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and McDonald, JJ.

          VOGEL, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         Richard Christie appeals from summary judgment entered in favor of defendants, Crawford County Memorial Hospital (CCMH) and Bill Bruce, dismissing his causes of action for violations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and wrongful discharge against his employer. Because Christie has generated an issue of material fact on both claims, we reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Christie began working at CCMH in November 2007 as an EMT-Paramedic, responsible for driving emergency vehicles and assisting patients. He is homosexual. On January 27, 2014, CCMH terminated Christie after he called a supervisor a "fat fuck." He admitted he had called her that "a few times." Christie filed a grievance with the union after speaking with his supervisor, Bruce Musgrave. CCMH rehired Christie about a month later after he signed a zero-tolerance agreement containing various conditions such as making a written apology to various staff members. The agreement states, "Any defamation of character or profanity that is used to refer to any employee, patient or visitor within the Hospital or county EMS system is grounds for immediate termination without right to a [g]rievance for the next [twelve] months."

         In December 2014, Christie filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) alleging his termination was based on his sexual orientation and he was paid less than other, straight males working for CCMH. Christie based his complaint on information he received from both his supervisor and the human resources director who told him Bill Bruce, chief executive officer of CCMH, made derogatory comments about Christie's sexual orientation. In January 2015, Christie learned CCMH hired a paramedic who did not have the proper licensure. He reported CCMH to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH).

         In May 2015, Christie learned he was the subject of an investigation after a patient complained he made derogatory comments about her. Christie and another paramedic had responded to a call and helped a woman onto a gurney and then into the ambulance. The woman and the woman's mother reported Christie made comments about her weight and referred to injuring his back while carrying the woman down the stairs.[1] Christie admitted he called the emergency room and mentioned the woman was "heavy" and he said "Ow, my back" as he helped lower the patient down a flight of steps. Musgrave asked Diane Arkfeld, the director of patient and family services, to investigate the complaint. Arkfeld met with the patient and the patient's mother, and she passed her findings on to Musgrave. Musgrave also conducted his own investigation, speaking with police officers who assisted on scene as well as with Heather Rasmussen, the director of quality improvement, who interviewed the other paramedic on scene. After the investigation, Musgrave recommended Christie's termination from CCMH. On May 28, 2015, Christie was terminated for making "derogatory remarks" to a patient, contrary to prior instructions, thereby showing "continued lack of respect of others" and "insubordination."

         In May 2016, Christie filed a petition alleging CCMH had subjected him to discrimination based on his sexual orientation, retaliated against him after he filed a complaint with the ICRC, and violated public policy when it terminated him after he reported CCMH to the IDPH. CCMH denied the allegations. Discovery ensued. Following a motion for summary judgment filed by CCMH in April 2017, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of CCMH on each of Christie's claims.[2]Christie appeals.

         II. Standard of Review

         "We review a decision by the district court to grant summary judgment for correction of errors at law." Goodpaster v. Schwan's Home Serv., Inc., 849 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2014) (citing Iowa R. App. P. 6.907). "Summary judgment is proper when the movant establishes there is no genuine issue of material fact and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. (citing Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3)). "The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. (quoting Sallee v. Stewart, 827 N.W.2d 128, 133 (Iowa 2013)). As we determine whether the moving party has met this burden, we ...


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