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Jones v. Natchaug Hospital, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 25, 2019




         Plaintiff Franklin Jones filed this action against his former employer, Defendant Natchaug Hospital ("Natchaug"), claiming violations of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act ("CFEPA") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff claims that Natchaug's decision to promote another employee over him was motivated by discrimination on the basis of race and sexual orientation. Defendant moves for summary judgment ([Doc. # 32]), which Plaintiff opposes ([Doc. # 39]). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a Registered Nurse from May 2014 through December 2016. (Parties' L.R. Stmts. [Doc. ## 34, 39-1] ¶¶ 1, 29.) In addition to a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Central Connecticut State University earned in 1999, Plaintiff has a Diploma in Nursing from the University of Connecticut, earned in 2004; a Bachelor of Science in Nursing ("BSN") from the University of Connecticut, earned in 2013; and a Master of Science in Nursing ("MSN") from the University of Connecticut, earned in March 2016. (Ex. 16 (Resume) to Ex. 5 (Jones Aff.) to Pl.'s Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Doc. # 39-3] at 1.) Plaintiff has worked as a Registered Nurse since 2005. (Id.) From March 2010 to May 2014, he was the Assistant Nurse Manager at Alcohol Drug Recovery Center, Inc. in Hartford, Connecticut. (Id.)

         In June 2016, Natchaug created and posted an opening for a new Nurse Manager position on the night shift. (Id. ¶ 3.) The job posting included that a BSN was required and an MSN was preferred. (Id. ¶ 9.) It noted that a successful applicant was required to have "[s]trong communication, interpersonal and leadership and teambuilding skills" as well as "good organizational skills, " and the ability "to work with others, take direction, and work varying hours." (Ex. A (Job Posting) to Ex. 1 (Sullivan Aff.) to Def.'s L.R. Stmt. [Doc. # 34-1].) The Nurse Manager would be "responsible for the coordination, management and supervision of the unit staff, including nursing staff, clinical and therapy staff as assigned." (Id.)

         Gino D'Eliseo, then a Registered Nurse at Natchaug Hospital, was the first applicant to express interest in the new Nurse Manager position. (Id. ¶ 4.) Mr. D'Eliseo has a 1990 Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Central Connecticut State University and a 2013 Associate's Degree in Nursing from Goodwin College School of Nursing. (Ex. 15 (D'Eliseo Resume) to Pl.'s Opp. [Doc. # 39-3] at 1.) While employed by Defendant, Mr. D'Eliseo had volunteered to be trained as a "Super User" during Natchaug's implementation of two new programs, the EPIC medical records management program and the Pyxis medication management program. (Id.) In that role, he served as an expert for other employees with questions about those programs. (Id.) Mr. D'Eliseo also had experience managing a restaurant. (Ex. 3 (Tr. of Jones Dep.) to Pl.'s Opp. [Doc. # 39-3] at 66.)

         Mr. D'Eliseo interviewed for the open position on July 22, 2016 with Gale Sullivan, Defendant's Regional Director of Nursing. (Parties' L. R. Stmts. ¶ 4.) He interviewed again on August 8, 2016 with Nurse Managers Susan Woodman and Amanda Watkins, as well as the Regional Medical Director, Nursing Supervisors, and other nurses and mental health workers from the unit. (Id.)

         Ms. Woodman asked Plaintiff whether he planned to apply for the open Nurse Manager position, and several weeks later, on August 15, 2016, Plaintiff applied. (Id. ¶ 7; Jones Dep. at 30.) He interviewed that day with Ms. Sullivan and Ms. Watkins separately, and with Ms. Woodman a few days later due to scheduling conflicts. (Parties' L. R. Stmts. ¶¶ 7-8.) During her interview with Plaintiff, Ms. Sullivan discussed some concerns regarding his follow-through on a project designed to reduce patient falls, as well as some issues with scheduling. (Id. ¶ 7; Sullivan Aff. ¶ 15; Pl.'s Dep. at 32-33.) Following his interview, Ms. Sullivan, Ms. Woodman, and Ms. Watkins discussed Plaintiffs clinical and managerial strengths and weaknesses and decided not to conduct a second round of interviews with Plaintiff. (Parties' L.R. Stmts. ¶ 17.) Laurie Clinton, Regional Director of Human Resources, agreed with that decision. (Id.)

         Ms. Sullivan made the decision to hire Mr. D'Eliseo as the new Nurse Manager following discussions with Ms. Woodman, Ms. Watkins, and Ms. Clinton about each candidate's degrees, leadership skills, and operational skills. (Id. ¶ 16.) According to Ms. Sullivan, her decision was based on her "conclu[sion] that Mr. D'Eliseo was a stronger candidate for the Nurse Manager position due to demonstrated leadership skills." (Ex. 1 (Sullivan Aff.) to Def.'s L.R. Stmt. [Doc. # 34-1] ¶ 17.) "Based on" his interview performance and Ms. Sullivan's "knowledge of his employment record, " she "believed that Mr. D'Eliseo had demonstrated considerable leadership skills in his time at Natchaug, and had also demonstrated initiative by, for example, volunteering to serve as a Super User .... He was dedicated, enthusiastic, and well thought of by both staff and management." (Id. ¶ 11.) Ms. Sullivan represents that "Mr. D'Eliseo had significant managerial experience from his career before he entered nursing" and "agreed to enroll [] in a BSN program." (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.)

         On September 2, 2016, before the decision was announced publicly, Plaintiff was informed that another employee had been hired to fill the open Nurse Manager position. (Parties' L.R. Stmts. ¶ 19.) During that meeting, Ms. Sullivan gave Plaintiff feedback about why he was not chosen for the open position. (Id. ¶ 20-21; Sullivan Aff. ¶ 20.) She also offered to mentor Plaintiff for a leadership position, offered to send him to internal leadership classes, and provided a list and schedule of those classes.[1] (Id. ¶ 20-21; Sullivan Aff. ¶ 20.)

         On September 13, 2016, Plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ("CHRO") claiming that the decision to promote Mr. D'Eliseo was influenced by Plaintiffs "race (African-American), color (black), and sexual orientation." (Ex 4. (Verified Answer of Respondent) to Pl.'s L.R. Stmt. [Doc. # 39-3]; see Ex. 1 (Amended CHRO Complaint) to Pl.'s L. R. Stmt. [Doc. # 39-3]; Parties L.R. Stmts. ¶ 24.)

         On November 21, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a resignation later to Defendant by email, indicating that his last day of work would be December 11, 2016 and that he was leaving for a job at Windham Hospital. (Parties' L.R. Stmts. ¶ 25.) Defendant Natchaug Hospital and Windham Hospital are both Hartford HealthCare facilities. (Ex. A (Pl.'s Email to Woodman and King) to Ex. 3 (Clinton Decl.) to Def.'s L.R. Stmt. [Doc. # 34-3].)

         Between November 21 and December 8, 2016, a Licensed Practice Nurse ("LPN") working with Plaintiff reported that she witnessed Plaintiff pocketing a patient's medication and that Plaintiff encouraged her to take some too, due to the medication's high street value. (Parties' L.R. Stmts. ¶ 26.) While Defendant investigated this report, Plaintiff was placed on a paid administrative suspension. (Id. ¶ 27.) During this time, Ms. Sullivan and the Human Resources department took statements from employees, reviewed medication documentation, and reported the matter to the Department of Public Health as required. (Id.)

         On December 8, 2016, Plaintiff and his union representative were scheduled to meet with Ms. Sullivan, Ms. Clinton, and others concerning the LPN's allegations. (Id. ¶ 28.) Before that meeting, Plaintiff met with his union representative. (Id.) The representative advised Plaintiff that he should resign from his position at Natchaug effective immediately, instead of waiting until December 11, 2016. (Id.) That day, Plaintiff sent a second resignation email to Defendant, "confirming [his] resignation at Natchaug Hospital effective immediately." (Id. ¶ 29.)

         Plaintiff was not told the results of any investigation into the allegations by the LPN, but he was told by his union representative that an investigation was conducted. (Pl.'s Dep at 142-43.) Plaintiff concluded that the investigation did not find anything because otherwise his license would have been suspended. (Id.)

         Plaintiff asserts that when he arrived at Windham Hospital on December 12, 2016 for orientation, he was told that he was not cleared to begin orientation there and that his job offer had been rescinded. (Id. at 143; Pl.'s Decl. [Ex. 5] to Pl.'s L.R. Stmt. [Doc. # 40] ¶ 51.)

         II. Discussion

         Summary judgment is appropriate where, "resolv[ing] all ambiguities and draw[ing] all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought, " Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 137 (2d Cir. 2008), "the movant shows 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). "A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Williams v. Utica Coll. of Syracuse Univ., 453 F.3d 112, 116 (2d Cir. 2006) (quotation marks omitted). "The substantive law governing the case will identify those facts that are material, and '[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.'" Bouboulis v. Transp. Workers Union of Am., 442 F.3d 55, 59 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court may consider depositions, documents, affidavits, interrogatory answers, and other exhibits in the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

         "The moving party bears the initial burden of showing why it is entitled to summary judgment." Salahuddin v. Goord,467 F.3d 263, 272 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). "Where, as here, the nonmovant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may show prima facie entitlement to summary judgment in one of two ways: (1) the movant may point to evidence that negates its opponent's claims or (2) the movant may identify those portions of its opponent's evidence that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, a tactic that requires identifying evidentiary insufficiency and not simply denying the opponent's pleadings." Id. at 272-73 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). "If the movant makes this showing in either manner, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to point to record evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact." Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). "Like the ...

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