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Bayan v. Sullivan

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 30, 2016

NAMI BAYAN, Plaintiff,
v.
GAIL SULLIVAN, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Dr. Nami Bayan (“Plaintiff”), a former participant in the Geriatric Fellowship Program at the University of Connecticut Health Center (“GFP”), initiated this one-count lawsuit against his former supervisor, Dr. Gail M. Sullivan (“Defendant”), Program Director for the GFP. Compl., ECF No. 1. Dr. Bayan claims that Dr. Sullivan discriminated against him and terminated his employment with GFP based on his national origin and religion in violation of his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Id.

         Dr. Sullivan has moved for summary judgment, arguing that (1) Dr. Bayan's performance deficiencies, not his national origin, caused his discipline and eventual termination; (2) Dr. Sullivan was not the ultimate decision-maker regarding Dr. Bayan's discipline and termination; and (3) Dr. Sullivan is entitled to qualified immunity because her actions were objectively reasonable. Def. Mot. in Supp., ECF No. 26-1.

         For the reasons set forth below, Dr. Sullivan's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         A. FACTUAL SUMMARY

         The record reflects the following undisputed facts.

         Dr. Bayan was employed as a Fellow with the University of Connecticut Geriatric Fellowship Program ("GFP”) from July 2010 until June 10, 2011. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 1-2. At the time of his application to the GFP, Dr. Bayan's references from prior employers were largely positive, though they noted that Dr. Bayan had struggled with some “interpersonal difficulties” and had challenges with “complex patients, ” and his record included a period of academic probation. Sullivan Aff. 4, ECF No. 26-3; Bayan Applic. Materials 3-4, 6, Def. Ex. 1, ECF No. 26-3. Dr. Bayan was hired for the GFP in July 2010. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 2.

         The fellowship involved doing clinical rotations at various different health centers. Id. at ¶ 4. Dr. Bayan began to receive negative reviews during his first clinical rotation, which was at the Hebrew Home and Hospital, in July of 2010. Id. at ¶ 5. Dr. Maureen Dana, the director of that site, noted in her evaluations that Dr. Bayan needed “improvement in receiving feedback.” Sullivan Aff. ¶ 8; Hebrew Home Eval. 5, Def. Ex. 3, ECF No. 26-3. In and around October 2010, similar concerns were echoed by another supervisor at that site, Dr. Sharon Farber, who noted that Dr. Bayan “continues to have difficulty receiving and learning from criticism.” L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 6-7; Farber Eval., Def. Ex. 4, ECF No. 26-3.

         Around this time frame, a concern arose about some of Dr. Bayan's practices when diagnosing patients. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 7. In response, the GFP's Clinical Competency Committee (“Ed Committee”) recommended a training exercise to help Dr. Bayan improve in this area. Id.; Sullivan E-mail 11/19/2010, Def. Ex. 5, ECF No. 26-3. For multiple months following this recommendation, Dr. Bayan resisted participating in the training exercise. Id. In light of the issues surrounding Dr. Bayan's performance and his responses to feedback, the Ed Committee drafted a remediation plan, issued November 30, 2010, recommending in part that Dr. Bayan participate in a “standardized patient clinical skills assessment” and “relax [his] defensive posture.” Remediation Plan, Def. Ex. 6, ECF No. 26-3.

         During a different rotation at the St. Francis Palliative Care Center, Dr. Bayan's supervisor and care team members indicated similar problems with his performance and his interpersonal interactions, including some concerns about his “difficulty relating to women or staff of 'lower status, '” his perceived inattentiveness and lack of interest, and “difficulty developing a plan of care” within the standards of the program. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 9; Rowland E-mail 11/30/2010, Def. Ex. 7, ECF No. 26-3; St. Francis Eval., Def. Ex. 11, ECF No 26-3. In December 2010, Dr. Bayan communicated via e-mail with Dr. Sullivan and his clinical preceptor Dr. Kuchiel, criticizing Dr. Sullivan and others for evaluating him negatively in the remediation plan. Bayan E-mail 12/02/2010, Def. Ex. 8, ECF No. 26-3.

         On January 26, 2011, during his rotation at a Veteran Affairs facility, Dr. Bayan failed to attend a scheduled osteoporosis clinic without following the proper procedures for reporting his absence. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 15. Following this incident, Dr. Sullivan recommended to the Ed Committee that a Letter of Deficiency be issued to Dr. Bayan. Id. at ¶ 16; Sullivan E-mail 2/1/2011, Def. Ex. 13, ECF No. 26-3. Two weeks after this absence, on February 13, 2011, Dr. Bayan reported to Dr. Rathier that he had fallen on ice and suffered an injury, and he took several weeks off of work as a result. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 19-22. His treating physician indicated that he would be able to return to light work on March 14, 2011. Id. at ¶ 22; Physician Letters, Def. Ex. 19, ECF No. 26-3. However, on March 16, 2011, Dr. Bayan failed to appear at a scheduled rheumatology clinic, and although he did notify one of the doctors at the clinic of his absence, he did not notify all of the proper individuals. Id. at ¶ 24; Sullivan E-mail 3/18/2011, Def Ex. 21, ECF No. 26-3. At Dr. Sullivan's recommendation, the Ed Committee approved and issued a Letter of Deficiency on March 18, 2011. Mar. 2011 Ltr. of Deficiency, Def. Ex. 22, ECF No. 26-3. Dr. Bayan refused to sign the letter. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 38; Bayan E-mail 4/19/2011, Def. Ex. 35, ECF No. 26-3.

         After this letter was issued, Dr. Bayan wrote multiple e-mails to Dr. Sullivan and others denying the accuracy of the negative evaluations, stating that Dr. Sullivan had “impaired judgment, ” and reiterating that he did not find the Letter of Deficiency to be acceptable. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 27-31; Def. Ex. 36; Bayan E-mail 4/11/11, Def. Ex. 27, ECF No. 26-3; Bayan E-mail 4/11/11, Def. Ex. 28, ECF No. 26-3. These communications resulted in an Ed Committee meeting in April 2011, during which the Ed Committee approved a draft Addendum to Dr. Bayan's Letter of Deficiency, which required weekly performance evaluations and detailed increased concerns about Dr. Bayan's professionalism and interpersonal communications. Addendum, Def. Ex. 29, ECF No. 26-3. Following the receipt of the Addendum, Dr. Bayan continued sending e-mails to Dr. Sullivan and others objecting to the negative evaluations. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 35-41.

         In May of 2011, the Ed Committee met and decided to extend Dr. Bayan's first year in the program from July 2011 through August 2011. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 42-43. Dr. Bayan responded with e-mails to Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Kuchiel objecting to the Ed Committee's decision. Id. at ¶¶ 46-49. In these e-mails, Dr. Bayan described Dr. Sullivan as needing a “psychiatry evaluation” and as having a “poor fund of knowledge.” Bayan E-mail 5/29/11, Def. Ex. 46, ECF No. 26-3; Bayan E-mail 5/27/11, Def. Ex. 43, ECF No. 26-3. The Ed Committee met again and decided to suspend Dr. Bayan from the program, citing concerns regarding Dr. Bayan's “professionalism and communication skills, ” and they also recommended that Dr. Bayan undergo a Fitness for Duty evaluation. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 58; Suspension Letter 5/31/11, Def. Ex. 54, ECF No. 26-3.

         After receiving the suspension letter, Dr. Bayan sent an e-mail referring to Dr. Sullivan as a “big fraud.” L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 59; Bayan E-mail 5/31/11, Def. Ex. 56, ECF No. 26-3. In June 2011, the Ed Committee met and determined that Dr. Bayan would be terminated from the program if he refused to participate in the Fitness for Duty evaluation. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 61. In the meantime, Dr. Bayan agreed to meet with a counselor through the GFP's Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”), and he eventually agreed to participate in the Fitness for Duty evaluation. Id. at ¶¶ 60-62. The evaluation ultimately determined that Dr. Bayan was fit for duty, but the evaluator noted that Dr. Bayan “paints himself as the victim” and expressed concern that Dr. Bayan's conduct suggested a personality disorder. Id. at ΒΆ 63. In June 2011, the Ed. Committee decided to ...


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