United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
R. Underhill United States District Judge.
lawsuit stems from the termination of Mary Ellen Taylor
(“Taylor”) from Yale New Haven Hospital
(“YNHH” or “the Hospital”) on March
31, 2016. Taylor alleges that her termination from YNHH
violated state and federal law. Specifically, Taylor's
Complaint alleges the following claims against the Hospital.
Count One: Reverse Discrimination on the
Basis of Race in Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964;
Count Two: Hostile Work Environment in
Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
Count Three: Retaliation in Violation of
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
Count Four: Discrimination on the Basis of
Race in Violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a- 60(A)(1);
Count Five: Hostile Work Environment in
Violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60(A)(1);
Count Six: Retaliation in Violation of Conn.
Gen. Stat. § 46a-60(A)(4);
Count Seven: Retaliation for Exercising FMLA
Rights in Violation of 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et.
moves for summary judgment on all of Taylor's claims. On
March 6, 2018, I held a hearing on the Motion for Summary
Judgment, at which I took the motion under advisement. For
the following reasons, YNHH'S Motion for Summary Judgment
Standard of Review
judgment is appropriate when the record demonstrates that
“there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact
and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986) (plaintiff
must present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a
properly supported motion for summary judgment).
ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court must construe
the facts of record in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all
reasonable inferences against the moving party.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587
(1986); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S.
144, 158-59 (1970); see also Aldrich v. Randolph Cent.
Sch. Dist., 963 F.2d 520, 523 (2d Cir. 1992) (court is
required to “resolve all ambiguities and draw all
inferences in favor of the nonmoving party”). When a
motion for summary judgment is properly supported by
documentary and testimonial evidence, however, the nonmoving
party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of
the pleadings, but must present sufficient probative evidence
to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986); Colon v.
Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir. 1995).
when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of
the evidence is summary judgment proper.” Bryant v.
Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991); see
also Suburban Propane v. Proctor Gas, Inc., 953
F.2d 780, 788 (2d Cir. 1992). If the nonmoving party submits
evidence that is “merely colorable, ” or is not
“significantly probative, ” summary judgment may
be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.
The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between
the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported
motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be
no genuine issue of material fact. As to materiality, the
substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only
disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit
under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of
summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or
unnecessary will not be counted.
Id. at 247-48. To present a “genuine”
issue of material fact, there must be contradictory evidence
“such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the non-moving party.” Id. at 248.
nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an
essential element of his case with respect to which he has
the burden of proof at trial, then summary judgment is
appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. In such a
situation, “there can be ‘no genuine issue as to
any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof
concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's
case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.”
Id. at 322-23; accord Goenaga v. March of Dimes
Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995)
(movant's burden satisfied if he can point to an absence
of evidence to support an essential element of nonmoving
party's claim). In short, if there is no genuine issue of
material fact, summary judgment may enter. Celotex,
477 U.S. at 323.
Ellen Taylor is white. Taylor was initially hired by YNHH in
May 2001 as a registered nurse. Def.'s Local Rule
56(a)(1) Stmt., Doc. No. 80-4 at 1. She was later promoted to
the position of nurse coordinator for the neuro-oncology
team. Id. As nurse coordinator, Taylor's duties
included handling new patient intakes, evaluating patient
responses, and coordinating with providers and social workers
at the outpatient neuro-oncology clinic at YNHH's Smilow
Cancer Hospital. Compl. ¶ 13. At all relevant times,
Taylor reported to Kathleen Moseman (“Moseman”),
Patient Services Manager, and Faith Kozikowski
(“Kozikowski”), the Assistant Patient Services
Manager. Id. ¶ 15. Both Moseman and Kozikowski
are white. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt., Doc. No.
80-4 at 1.
Taylor's Inappropriate Comments
Taylor's employment at YNHH there were numerous concerns
regarding her workplace communication. In October 2014,
Kozikowski met with Taylor after she made a series of
inappropriate comments to a white secretary. See
Doc. No. 80-1 (“Def's Br.”) at 3-4; Ex. 10 to
Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at 139. Taylor allegedly told the
secretary, “[y]our job sucks, ” “[t]hat
patient just needs to die, ” and “[y]ou're
never going to get it.” Id. Those comments
were reported by Deb Reynolds, the Clinical Secretary
Supervisor, who is white. Def's Br. at 3. Kozikowski
spoke with Taylor about the alleged comments and directed her
to enroll in effective communication training after
Taylor's November 30, 2014 performance
review. Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt., Doc.
No. 80-4 at 2.
29, 2015, Moseman and Kozikowski met with Taylor after Kris
Overstrum (“Overstrum”),  reported that Taylor made
her feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. See Def.'s
Local Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt., Doc. No. 80-4 at 4; Ex. 10 to
Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at 140-41. Specifically, Overstrum
alleged that Taylor said, “[y]ou [Overstrum] are of no
help to me . . . . You're not valuable . . . . We are not
a team . . . . I will not be going to any stupid meetings
about your orientation.” Ex. 10 to Taylor Dep., Doc.
No. 80-2 at 140; Ex. 12 to Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at 142.
When confronted with the report, Taylor said that she did not
recall uttering those statements, but if Overstrum
“says I did, then maybe I did.” Taylor Dep., Doc.
No. 80-2 at 46; Ex. 12 to Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at 142.
After the meeting, Moseman informed Taylor that her alleged
comments violated the Hospital's Code of Conduct and that
if her unacceptable behavior continued YNHH “would
pursue progressive discipline . . . that would result in a
formal tag on her employee record.” Ex. 12 to Taylor
Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at 142.
August 2015, two African American nurse's aides filed a
complaint against Taylor, after she allegedly made a racial
remark. When Taylor summoned the two nurse's aides for
help moving a patient to an examining table, Taylor stated
that the patient tends to get nervous around others and that
it is “not because you are black.” Taylor Dep.,
Doc. No. 80-2 at 24; Ex. 13 to Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at
143. Kozikowski spoke with Taylor about the complaint and
Taylor later apologized. Ex. 13 to Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2
Taylor's Suspension and Final Warning
events that led to Taylor's suspension and final written
warning arose in October 2015. On October 27, Khaliah Fisher
(“Kay” or “Fisher”), a biracial
clinical secretary and intake specialist, reported to her
department manager that Taylor made racially insensitive
comments towards her. Pl's Local Rule 56(a)(1), Stmt.,
Doc. No. 87-1 at 16. Fisher reported that Taylor came to her
work area because there was a patient who asked to meet
Fisher. Def's Br. at 6; Fisher Dep., Doc. No.
80-2 at 248. Fisher was apprehensive about meeting that
particular patient because of comments the patient made over
the phone. Def's Br. at 6; Fisher Dep., Doc. No.
80-2 at 249. When Taylor introduced Fisher to the patient,
the patient said, “You're Kay?” and refused
to shake Fisher's hand. Def's Br. at 6; Taylor Dep.,
Doc. No. 80-2 at 20-22. Taylor then led Fisher out of the
room and once they were in the hallway, allegedly said
“did you see the look on her face? I don't think
she expected you to be a ni - a black, a black.”
Def's Br. at 6; Fisher Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at 250. Fisher
went directly to her department manager and reported the
incident. Def's Br. at 7; Fisher Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at
258. At her department manager's request, Fisher provided
a written account of the incident via email and sent it to
Karen Michaels, a member of the leadership team at Smilow
Cancer Hospital. Def's Br. at 7; Fisher Dep., Doc. No.
80-2 at 261.
October 28, the day after the alleged incident, Fisher
reported that Taylor brought her a box of chocolates because
she “was sorry for any misunderstanding” the day
before. Def's Br. at 7; Fisher Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at
261. Fisher also reported that later in the afternoon Taylor
yelled at her for giving a patient the wrong information over
the phone. Def's Br. at 7; Fisher Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at
262. Those reports were forwarded to Catherine Lyons, the
Executive Director of Patient Services, who asked YNHH Human
Resources to conduct a formal investigation of Fisher's
allegations. Pl's Opp., (Doc. No. 87) at 6.
on October 29, Julie Wurcel (“Wurcel”), Senior
Employee Relations Specialist for YNHH, and Moseman met with
Taylor to discuss Fisher's allegations. Def's Br. at
7; Taylor Aff., Doc. No. 80-2 at 163. At the meeting, Taylor
“vehemently” denied calling or beginning to call
Fisher the N-word. Ex. 16 to Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at
146. Wurcel then met with Fisher on November 3, where Fisher
repeated her version of the incident. Def's Br. at 7; Ex.
19 to Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at 152. Wurcel also spoke
with Moseman and Kozikowski and reviewed their counseling
notes relating to Taylor's “documented history of
interpersonal conflicts” with her co-workers. Def's
Br. at 8; Wurcel Aff., Doc. No. 80-3 at 2. Wurcel's
investigation “revealed a pattern of inappropriate and
unprofessional behavior.” Id.
November 5, Moseman met with Taylor and informed her that she
was being suspended for five days without pay and issued a
formal written warning due to the severity of Fisher's
allegations and Taylor's history of interpersonal
conflict with her colleagues. Def's Br. at 8; Pl's
Opp. at 7. When Taylor returned to work on November 16, she
was issued a final written warning dated November 11, in
connection with the October 27th incident. Def's Br. at
8; Ex. 8 to Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at
that month, Taylor was issued her year-end performance
evaluation, dated November 24, 2015. The evaluation included
criticism of Taylor's communication skills with her
colleagues. See, e.g., Ex. 7 to Taylor Dep., Doc.
No. 80-2 at 132 (“Mary Ellen does not consistently
demonstrate appropriate communication with the members of her
team and has refused to speak to her nursing peers unless
absolutely necessary. She does not consistently display or
demonstrate respect, empathy, enthusiasm and interest in the
needs of others.”). On December 3, Taylor filed a
complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and
Opportunities (CHRO) alleging reverse race discrimination
stemming from her suspension and final written warning.
Def's Br. at 9; Ex. 25 to Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at
159-66. In the complaint, Taylor alleges that YNHH allowed
Fisher to retaliate against Taylor by intentionally
withholding new patient referrals and essential patient
information from Taylor. Pl's Opp. at 11; Ex. 25 to
Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at 164. Taylor alleges that her
complaint regarding Fisher's retaliation was ignored by
Kozikowski and YNHH management. Pl's Opp. at 12; Taylor
Dep., Doc. No. 87-2 at 49.
February 15, 2016, Fisher filed a second complaint regarding
Taylor's workplace conduct. Def's Br. at 9; Ex. 17 to
Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at 149. Fisher's second
complaint alleges that Taylor called Fisher a “f**king
idiot” and “glorified secretary” at the
Hospital.Def's Br. at 10; Ex. 17 to Taylor Dep.,
Doc. No. 80-2 at 149. In addition, Fisher alleges that Taylor
made a series of inappropriate race-related comments about
patients: “I didn't know he was black, he spoke so
well on the phone” and “I can't stay in the
room too long with those types of people.” Ex. 17 to
Taylor Dep., Doc. No. 80-2 at 149. In response to
Fisher's complaint, Wurcel began a second investigation
by meeting with Fisher on February 29, 2016, along with other
members of YNHH management. Ex. H to Fisher Dep., Doc. ...