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Bispham v. Hartford Hospital

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 23, 2016

MARGARETA BISPHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
HARTFORD HOSPITAL, Defendant.

          RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Victor A. Bolden United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, Margareta Bispham, brought this action in Connecticut Superior Court against Hartford Hospital, her former employer, asserting claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”), and negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Connecticut state law. ECF No. 1-1. Defendant, Hartford Hospital, removed the case to this Court, ECF No. 1, and now moves for summary judgment on all counts of the Plaintiff's complaint. ECF No. 24.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS summary judgment in favor of Hartford Hospital on all of Ms. Bispham's federal claims. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her remaining state law claims, and therefore REMANDS those claims to the Connecticut Superior Court.

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS

         Ms. Bispham was hired by Hartford Hospital on July 24, 1995 for a 24 hour per week Patient Care Associate (“PCA”) position on the general surgery floor. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 1, ECF No. 26.[1] As of the date this lawsuit was filed in 2014, Ms. Bispham was 52 years old. Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 1-1. Ms. Bispham became a full-time 40 hour per week PCA on the general surgery floor on August 27, 1995. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 2. On May 27, 2001, she applied for and received a transfer to a full-time PCA position on the Neuro/Trauma Intensive Care Unit (“ICU”) at Hartford Hospital. Id. ¶ 3. Ms. Bispham worked the 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM shift (“night shift”) in the ICU. Id. ¶ 5. Ms. Bispham was notified of her termination during a meeting on November 16, 2012. Ruszczyk Decl. ¶ 35, ECF No. 26-3.

         In 2011 and 2012, Kathryn Ruszczyk was the Nurse Manager assigned to the ICU. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 7. Ms. Ruszczyk was responsible for evaluating Ms. Bispham's job performance during the period from 2010 to 2012. Id. ¶¶ 8-10. Ms. Ruszczyk was 45 years old in November 2012. Ruszczyk Decl. ¶ 34.

         On February 8, 2013, Ms. Bispham filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) regarding the age and sex discrimination allegations in this case. Compl. ¶ 4. On April 23, 2014, the CHRO released jurisdiction. Id. The EEOC released jurisdiction on May 21, 2014. Id. Ms. Bispham filed the complaint in this case on July 16, 2014 in Connecticut Superior Court, and Defendants removed the case to this Court on August 4, 2014. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1.

         A. Plaintiff's Sexual Harassment Allegations

         During the period that Ms. Bispham worked night shift in the ICU, there was only one male PCA, J. King, who regularly worked the same shift in the ICU. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 54. Ms. Ruszczyk was manager to both Mr. King and Ms. Bispham. Id. ¶ 55. Hartford Hospital has a Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Policy. Sexual Harassment Policy, Nowakowski Dec. Ex. 1, ECF No. 26-1.

         In July 2010, Ms. Bispham spoke to Ms. Ruszczyk and alleged that Mr. King was sexually harassing her. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 56. Ms. Bispham had several meetings with Ms. Ruszczyk and with William Bell, the Human Resources Consultant then assigned to the ICU, regarding her allegations against Mr. King. Id. ¶ 60-63; Bispham Dep. 32:13-20, ECF No. 26-2. Mr. Bell and Ms. Ruszczyk also met with Mr. King to discuss the allegations, and Mr. King “became visibly and emotionally upset, ” “assured [them] that he never harassed Ms. Bispham, ” and “swore to [them] on the life of his still living mother that he would never do anything of that sort.” Ruszczyk Decl. ¶¶ 45-46.

         When Ms. Bispham first spoke to Ms. Ruszczyk to allege that Mr. King was sexually harassing her, Ms. Ruszczyk thought Ms. Bispham's report “was very general” and that she failed to “provide any special details, names of witnesses, or other evidence to support her allegations.” Ruszczyk Decl. ¶ 40. Ms. Ruszczyk had never before received complaints from any other ICU staff member alleging that Mr. King had sexually harassed or behaved inappropriately towards them. Id. ¶ 41. In Ms. Ruszczyk's experience, the ICU's female staff “uniformly regarded” him as an “appropriately collegial and hardworking PCA who was a collaborative and helpful [team] member.” Id. ¶ 42. As part of her investigation, Ms. Ruszczyk spoke to other members of the ICU staff, and “none of them supported Ms. Bispham's allegation, ” and one employee even “reported that Ms. Bispham would regularly swear and use other inappropriate language in the department.” Id. ¶ 47. Thus, Mr. Bell and Ms. Ruszczyk concluded that they could not substantiate Ms. Bispham's sexual harassment complaint. Id. ¶ 48.

         Despite being unable to substantiate Ms. Bispham's allegations, Mr. Bell and Ms. Ruszczyk suggested that Mr. King “apologize to Ms. Bispham for having done anything that might have made her feel uncomfortable, ” in an effort to resolve the situation. Ruszczyk Decl. ¶ 49. Ms. Ruszczyk also told Ms. Bispham that Human Resources (“HR”) had spoken to Mr. King regarding her allegations, but that the discussion between Mr. King and HR “was a confidential personnel matter” between Mr. King and HR. Id. ¶ 50. Finally, Ms. Ruszczyk also told Ms. Bispham to address any further complaints or concerns to Mr. Bell. Id. ¶ 51.

         Between the period when Ms. Bispham raised her sexual harassment complaints in July 2010 and the date when Mr. King retired on May 27, 2011, Ms. Bispham did not make any additional sexual harassment complaints. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 72. During this period, Ms. Ruszczyk also did not receive complaints from any other staff member alleging that Mr. King sexually harassed or behaved inappropriately towards them. Id. ¶ 73.

         B. Plaintiff's Other Allegations

         Ms. Bispham has testified that her age discrimination claim is based on two incidents where she was denied time off to facilitate her attendance at the co-worker's funeral and the ICU department picnic. Bispham Dep. 81:7-16. In addition to these incidents, Ms. Bispham also alleges that her termination was based on her age because she was “one of the oldest PCAs on the unit.” Id. 81:17-22.

         In June 2011, Ms. Bispham requested time off to attend a co-worker's funeral. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 75. The funeral was not, however, scheduled to occur during Ms. Bispham's 11:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M. shift. Id. ¶ 77. Ms. Bispham's testimony acknowledges that the scheduled time for the funeral did not overlap with her shift. Bispham Dep. 85:21-86:6. Ms. Bispham's request for time off to attend the funeral was denied. Id. ¶ 76.

         In August 2011, Ms. Bispham requested time off to attend the ICU department's picnic. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 78. The picnic was not, however, scheduled to occur during Ms. Bispham's 11:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M. shift. Id. ¶ 79. Although there was no scheduling conflict between Ms. Bispham's shift and the picnic, Ms. Bispham testified that after working the night shift the previous night and attending the picnic the next day, she would be “too tired to come back in and do the night shift.” Bispham Dep. 83:16-22. Ms. Bispham's request for time off to attend the picnic was denied. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 80.

         C. Plaintiff's Performance Evaluations

         Ms. Ruszczyk conducted Ms. Bispham's performance review for 2010 to 2011 and gave her several ratings of “below expectations.” Ruszczyk Decl. ¶ 5. These “below expectations” ratings gave Ms. Bispham some indication that, based on feedback from the other ICU nurses, Ms. Ruszczyk had concerns about Ms. Bispham's “interactions with the [other] nurses” and her being “difficult” with regards to “task completion and assistance with patient care.” Bispham Dep. 51:11-23. In February 2012, Ms. Ruszczyk gave Ms. Bispham verbal counseling based on complaints from other ICU nurses regarding Ms. Bispham's job performance. Ruszczyk Decl. ¶ 6. Ms. Bispham recalls that, during this meeting, Ms. Ruszczyk discussed “continuing concerns about [her] refusing to assist team members with patient care when asked” and gave Ms. Bispham a verbal warning about these concerns. Bispham Dep. 52:9-19.

         On July 2, 2012, Ms. Ruszczyk issued Ms. Bispham a written warning. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 10; Written Warning, Ruszczyk Decl. Ex. 1. The written warning indicated that Ms. Bispham demonstrated several ongoing insubordinate behaviors including a “[f]ailure to complete delegated tasks as requested” by other nurses, [2] “[f]ailure to communicate/appropriately acknowledge team members when asked to assist with patient care task(s), ” and a “failure to report work related injury to Resource Nurse and Nurse Manager at time of injury.” Written Warning, Ruszczyk Decl. Ex. 1. The written warning notes that Ms. Bispham had been counseled multiple times with regards to these problems, most recently with the verbal counseling and warning in February 2012 and that, since then, Ms. Bispham “continue[d] to fail to assist her team members when asked to complete tasks appropriate and expected of her role.” Id. Ms. Bispham testifies that the complaints from the other nurses were inaccurate and that the other nurses were lying. Bispham Dep. 56:12-15.

         After Ms. Bispham received the written warning, Ms. Ruszczyk decided to move Ms. Bispham to an earlier shift so that Ms. Ruszczyk could provide more oversight and support to her. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 13. The written warning gave Ms. Bispham 30 days notice of her “[r]emoval from the [n]ight shift.” Written Warning, Ruszczyk Decl. Ex. 1. Ms. Ruszczyk originally asked Ms. Bispham to transfer to the 7:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. shift (the “day shift”), Ms. Ruszczyk's shift. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 15. Ms. Bispham told Ms. Ruszczyk that she could not work the day shift because she had another job that conflicted with it. Bispham Dep. 59:8-14. Instead, Ms. Ruszczyk agreed to transfer Ms. Bispham to the 3:00 P.M. to 11:00 P.M. shift (the “second shift”) instead, beginning the week of August 5, 2012. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 17; Bispham Dep. 59:15-19. Ms. Ruszczyk informed Ms. Bispham by email that this “transition [was] based on her sustained performance which [would] be re-evaluated periodically over the next 6 months.” Email, Ruszczyk Decl. Ex. 2.

         After receiving the written warning, Ms. Bispham met with Cherly Ficara, the Vice President of Patient Care Services at Hartford Hospital, to discuss the warning, her disagreement with it, and the other nurses' complaints. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 19; Bispham Dep. 62:3-23. In 2012, Ms. Ficara was age 51. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 21.

         On July 30, 2012, Ms. Bispham met with Beverly Sherbondy, the Director of Human Resources at Hartford Hospital at that time. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 22. During the meeting, Ms. Bispham discussed her disagreement with the written warning and the other nurses' complaints. Bispham Dep. 66:7-11. Ms. Bispham requested an opportunity to meet with Ms. Ruszczyk, the nurses who had complained to Ms. Ruszczyk, and Ms. Sherbondy to discuss the written warning and the complaints. Id. 66:12-15. Ms. Sherbondy later told Ms. Bispham that she discussed this possible meeting with Ms. Ruszczyk, but Ms. Ruszczyk had explained that the meeting was unnecessary because she already had “all the paperwork to substantiate what was said, ” so no such meeting occurred. Id. 66:20-24. In 2012, Ms. Sherbondy was age 59. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 23.

         In September 2012, Ms. Bispham met with Peter Fraser, the Vice President of Human Resources at Hartford Hospital, again to discuss the written warning. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 26. During the meeting, Mr. Fraser showed Ms. Bispham redacted copies of some of the other nurses' complaints, which were contained in emails to Ms. Ruszczyk. ...


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