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Bennefield v. Mid-Valley Health Care, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 21, 2014



MICHAEL J. McSHANE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Stephanie Bennefield brings 10 state and federal claims alleging discrimination and retaliation for complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation and religion. Bennefield brings a related whistleblowing claim under ORS 659A.199(1). Bennefield agrees to voluntarily dismiss her federal sexual orientation discrimination claim, the wrongful termination claim, and the claim for punitive damages. As discussed at oral argument, defendant's motion for summary judgment on the religious discrimination and retaliation based on complaints of religious discrimination claims is GRANTED. Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims is DENIED.


Bennefield began working at the Hospital on May 2, 2011 on a 6-month probationary period. Bennefield told many co-workers, including her supervisors, that she was a lesbian. Bennefield alleges Linda Pitts, a co-worker, created a hostile work environment after Pitts found out Bennefield was a lesbian. Pitts found out Bennefield was a lesbian in early August 2011. Prior to that time, Pitts treated Bennefield respectfully.

Most of the disagreements between Pitts and Bennefield occurred in the operating room, when Bennefield would ask for a "count" of gauze and tools. Pitts would tell Bennefield to "pull your god damn head out of your ass, " and say no count was needed at that time. Pitts called Bennefield a "disgusting lesbian" and a "stupid lesbian" and generally created a hostile work environment. Sometimes, Bennefield would simply walk out of the operating room after Pitts yelled at her. At times, Pitts would purposefully arrive late to the operating room, knowing this would cause Bennefield to be unfairly disciplined.

Bennefield alleges she complained to the supervisors on numerous occasions. As the supervisors all state Bennefield never complained of discrimination (until after the decision had been made to fire Bennefield), his is a classic he-said, she-said situation. Bennefield's declarations are not all that clear on when or who she complained to, or what exactly she said. But she does state she complained to the supervisors, stated Pitts began acting differently after finding out she was a lesbian, and that the supervisors basically told Bennefield to work it out with Pitts. Bennefield worked under two preceptors, who shadowed and trained Bennefield. Bennefield states she told both preceptors of the discrimination, but the preceptors failed to act. Bennefield also states she told Charleney Hayden, the nurse manager of the discrimination. Hayden allegedly also failed to address the hostile work environment.

On October 27, at the end of the probationary period, Hayden and a precept met with Bennefield and informed her she was deficient in every category. They extended the probation period another 30 days. Bennefield states this meeting came as a surprise, as her precepts and supervisor had previously said Bennefield was proceeding at an acceptable level.

During a November 16 operation, Bennefield again asked Pitts for a count. Pitts refused and yelled at Bennefield. When the precept then asked for a count, Pitts obliged. Humiliated, Bennefield walked out of the operating room. The precept went to Hayden, who made the decision to terminate Bennefield's employment. Hayden asked Human Resources to prepare Bennefield's check in advance of a November 18 meeting where Hayden would fire Bennefield.

On November 17, Bennefield had another blow up with Pitts during a C-section, Bennefield went to Human Resources and filed a complaint alleging discrimination based on religion and sexual orientation. Defendants say this report was the first time they any supervisor or manager heard any allegations of discrimination against Bennefield. As noted, Bennefield states she made informal complaints to the supervisors for months.

Bennefield was placed on paid leave while Human Resources investigated the complaint. Pitts, who was on vacation, was not placed on leave. Bennefield states the investigation was a sham, and defendants never even asked Pitts about the complaints. Pitts was later disciplined for generally being rude, although defendants concluded Pitts had not engaged in any form of discrimination against Bennefield. Bennefield was fired on November 30.


The court must grant summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is "genuine" if a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Rivera v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 395 F.3d 1142, 1146 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A fact is "material" if it could affect the outcome of the case. Id. The court reviews evidence and draws inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Miller v. Glenn Miller Prods., Inc., 454 F.3d 975, 988 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999))


Retaliation for Complaining of Sexual ...

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