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Grewcock v. Yale-New Haven Health Services Corp.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 12, 2017

JILL GREWCOCK, Plaintiff,
v.
YALE NEW HAVEN HEALTH SERVICES CORPORATION, Defendant.

          RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jill Grewcock worked as a “clinical bed manager” for defendant Yale-New Haven Health Services Corporation. Plaintiff was also a nursing mother, and she needed to express or pump breast milk for her child during working hours. She was fired from her job after several months of conflict with her supervisors about whether she must use a designated lactation room to engage in pumping activity.

         Plaintiff has filed this action alleging that she was the victim of discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the cognate provisions of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. Defendant has now moved for summary judgment, contending in large part that plaintiff was fired for reasons having nothing to do with her nursing mother activities but because she improperly accessed the medical records of a relative of one of plaintiff's co-workers.

         I conclude that a nursing mother's ability to engage in nursing-related activity like expressing breast milk is subject to protection from discrimination under both Title VII and CFEPA. I further conclude that genuine fact issues remain to support plaintiff's discrimination and related retaliation claims. Accordingly, I will largely deny defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         Background

         The following facts are either not disputed or, where disputed, are presented in the light most favorable to plaintiff as the non-moving party.[1] Plaintiff started working for defendant in February 2011 as a Clinical Bed Manager. Doc. #17-4 at 1; Doc. #1 at 2 (¶ 7). According to the position description, a Clinical Bed Manager “is responsible for oversight of all patient admission, discharges and transfer activity” as well as “facilitating continuous throughput of patients from all points of entry . . . .” Doc. #22-7 at 2. During her time in the position, plaintiff generally received positive evaluations. Doc. #22-6 at 13-50.

         Plaintiff gave birth to a child in October 2013. Doc. #22-4 at 3. Two months later she returned to work from maternity leave. Doc. #17-2 at 6. After she returned to work, plaintiff expressed breast milk during the day when she was away from her child, and she used the office she shared with a colleague to do so. Id. at 7. Plaintiff discussed the matter with her direct supervisor, Piper Brien, who stated that she had no problem with plaintiff expressing milk; on occasion, Brien permitted plaintiff to express milk in her own office when plaintiff's office was occupied. Id. at 8. Over the course of the following year, plaintiff carried out her duties as normal and expressed milk at work without incident. Ibid.

         Nearly a year after plaintiff's return to work, defendant decided to require that plaintiff use a designated lactation room for her expressing activity. On December 1, 2014, Beth Ciotti, who had taken over from Brien as plaintiff's supervisor, forwarded to department employees an e-mail from Peggy Beley, the director of Patient Finance and Admitting Services, indicating that all nursing mothers should use the hospital's private lactation rooms. Doc. #17-4 at 2; Doc. #22-7 at 28. The e-mail explained that “[t]his is not an option, as it makes surrounding staff uncomfortable.” Ibid. Plaintiff was the only nursing mother in her department at that time. Doc. #17-2 at 12-13.

         Plaintiff approached Ciotti to state her concern about the email. Id. at 13. Ciotti explained that someone had complained and that she really could not argue with it from a corporate standpoint. Ibid. Plaintiff asked Ciotti if she could use Ciotti's office if needed, but Ciotti said that she was not obligated to do that. Ibid.

         Later that day, plaintiff raised the matter with Brien, who told plaintiff not to worry about it and that she would arrange for a clerical worker to cover plaintiff's calls while she was away from her desk in a lactation room. Id. at 13-14. Plaintiff replied that clerical staff lacked the ability to cover her duties, and this would compromise patient safety if she were away from her office. Id. at 14.

         Plaintiff started using the hospital's lactation rooms at times but she had difficulty finding rooms that were not already occupied, and her absences took a toll on plaintiff's workflow. Doc. #17-2 at 8, 9. Certain staff members refused to leave messages with the clerical staff. Doc. #22-7 at 26. Others would call and refuse to identify themselves. Ibid. On another occasion, plaintiff was unable to fully address a situation involving the arrival of a Life Star Helicopter. Doc. #17-2 at 9.

         Unhappy with the situation, plaintiff wrote an e-mail on December 5 to David Wurcel, who was Vice-President of Corporate Business and Beley's supervisor. Doc. #17-2 at 33. In the e-mail plaintiff stated that she wished to formally invoke the grievance process “due to my department's refusal to allow me to express breast milk in the privacy of the clinical bed manager's officer, or an adjacent vacant office, ” and she alleged that “my department is willing to compromise patient safety by allowing clerical workers to take messages of an emergent nature in my absence.” Ibid. Plaintiff was then contacted by Patricia Burke, Executive Director of Human Resources, on Wurcel's behalf, who told her that her complaint did not fall within the scope of matters that could be grieved. Doc. #17-4 at 3.

         Plaintiff followed up with Wurcel on December 8 with an “addendum” email to stress her dissatisfaction with the policy, to request to meet with him, and to state her concern about Burke's “bias” in the handling of the issue, because Burke had told plaintiff that she had been “‘accommodated with breast feeding long enough and it's time to return to business as usual.'” Doc. #17-2 at 31-32. Wurcel then responded on December 9 that he “would be happy to meet with you, ” but that he did not think the meeting was necessary, that “the organization has facilities available to meet your needs, ” and that “I would very much like you not [to] be angry about this decision but understand that we need to consider others needs on your team as well.” Id. at 31. Plaintiff responded that she would “continue to use the [lactation rooms in the] West Pavill[i]on as desired.” Id. at 31.

         In the meantime, plaintiff did not always use a lactation room, and this upset her supervisors. On December 2, plaintiff was expressing milk in the office that she shared with her co-worker Linda Konet, who was supportive of plaintiff's position regarding the lactation policy. Doc. #17-2 at 9, 18; Doc. #22-4 at 4. Brien entered the office and “yelled” at plaintiff “in a loud angry tone.” Konet and Brien proceeded to engage in a shouting match, and Brien slammed the door. Doc. #17-2 at 18; Doc. #22-4 at 4.

         Plaintiff continued to feel harassed by Ciotti and Brien. According to plaintiff, Ciotti and Brien frequently entered plaintiff's office without knocking. Doc. #17-2 at 17. When plaintiff had meetings with a co-worker in her office, Brien and Ciotti entered the office and said “You better not be pumping in here.” Ibid. If plaintiff had her breast pump within view, she was questioned about its presence, even if she had not been expressing milk in the office. Ibid. For her part, Beley became “hostile” toward plaintiff after she had filed the grievance with Wurcel. Doc. #17-2 at 23.

         A meeting was held on December 23, 2014, to address issues plaintiff was facing. Doc. #17-4 at 5; Doc. #17-2 at 34. At that meeting, Beley reiterated the policy that staff members who choose to express milk must utilize one of the lactation rooms. Doc. #17-2 at 34. Around the same time, plaintiff was told by Burke that she was not facing a disciplinary “write-up” for recently expressing milk in her office. Id. at 18, 34.

         About one month later, on January 23, 2015, plaintiff had a particularly urgent need to express milk and she resorted to using the bathroom. Id. at 16. On that occasion, Brien entered the bathroom, peered through the cracks of the stall, asked plaintiff if she was expressing milk inside the bathroom stall, reiterated that she was not allowed to do so, and ordered her out of the stall. Ibid. When plaintiff did not ...


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