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Taylor v. Yale New Haven Hospital

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 26, 2019

MARY ELLEN TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
YALE NEW HAVEN HOSPITAL, Defendant.

          RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge.

         This 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. seq.

         YNHH 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 is granted.

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary 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).

         When 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).

         “Only 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.

         If the 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.

         II. Background

         Mary 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.

         A. Taylor's Inappropriate Comments

         During 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.[1] Def.'s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt., Doc. No. 80-4 at 2.

         On May 29, 2015, Moseman and Kozikowski met with Taylor after Kris Overstrum (“Overstrum”), [2] 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.

         In 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 at 144.

         B. Taylor's Suspension and Final Warning

         The 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.

         On 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.

         Accordingly, 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.

         On 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 137-38.[5]

         Later 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.

         C. Taylor's Termination

         On 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.[6]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. ...


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