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Miller v. St. Charles Health System, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Pendleton Division

December 16, 2019

MAYA MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
ST. CHARLES HEALTH SYSTEM, INC., an Oregon Nonprofit corporation d/b/a St. Charles Prineville, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PATRICIA SULLIVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff brings this lawsuit pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) 29 U.S.C. §§ 2615(a) and its state counterpart the Oregon Family Leave Act (“OFLA”), O.R.S. § 659A.183 against St. Charles Health System, Inc. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all four of plaintiff's claims. (Docket No. 47). The parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). See (Docket No. 20). Oral argument was held on October 8, 2019. See (Docket No. 61). For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is DENIED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff started working at the predecessor to St. Charles Prineville, Pioneer Memorial Hospital, in September 1999 (“the hospital”). First Amended Complaint ¶ 9 (Docket No. 44) (“FAC”). Plaintiff first began in a per diem position on the night shift and medical-surgical ward. Ames Decl. Ex. 2 (Miller Dep. Vol. I 27:20-23); Miller Decl. ¶ 1. She later transferred to a fulltime position as an intensive care unit (“ICU”) float nurse and then to a “resource nurse” position. Id. at (28:20-29:18). In the resource nurse position, plaintiff did not “have a patient load” and instead “cover[ed] the needs to all the hospital, [including] all of the departments.” Id. at (29:12- 18). Between 2006 and 2014, plaintiff regularly received positive performance reviews. Miller Decl. Exs. 1-7. Prior to 2016, plaintiff had “nothing in the way of discipline” with the exception of one incident from 2002. Becker Decl. Ex. 4 (Greene Dep. Ex. 12). In May 2016, plaintiff took FMLA leave to care for her ailing mother in Bulgaria. Miller Decl. ¶ 8; Becker Decl. Ex. 4 (Greene Dep. Exs. 1-2).[1] In a deposition, plaintiff testified she was familiar with the process for applying for protected leave. See Ames Decl. Ex. 2 (Miller Dep. Vol. I 132:5 - 18; Vol. II 282:22-283:3).

         Sometime in 2015, as the hospital moved to a newly constructed building, plaintiff transitioned to a position in the emergency department (“ED”). Miller Decl. ¶ 7. In April or May 2016, Michael Greene (“Greene”) became the Nurse Manager of the hospital's ED. Ames Decl. Ex. 2 (Miller Dep. Vol. I 36:8-9).

         The hospital used an incident reporting system, which is referred to by either of two acronyms: Safety Alert System (“SAS”) or Event Management System (“EMS”). Ames Decl. Ex. 4 (Arbitration Excerpts 21:21-22:3). Through the reporting mechanisms, hospital employees can report patient safety concerns, with the option of filing anonymous reports, triggering investigations conducted by management. Id. at (22:17-22).

         From April through the end of July 2016, the hospital received three such reports regarding plaintiff. On April 30, a SAS report alleged that plaintiff took a break without first ensuring the provider was fully informed of the treatment plaintiff had provided. Greene Decl. Ex. 1. On May 6, a SAS report alleged that plaintiff mishandled and mislabeled a patient's urine sample. Greene Decl. Ex. 2. On July 10, a caregiver sent an email concerning “a few complaints” he had received from a doctor in the ED: (1) plaintiff allegedly mismanaged a critical patient; and (2) plaintiff allegedly did not know how to “hang a propofol, ” which caused a different nurse “to come manage the drip because [the doctor] had no faith in [plaintiff's] ability to do it safely.” Greene Decl. Ex. 3.

         On July 27, Greene spoke with plaintiff and provided her with a documented “Verbal Coaching.” Greene Decl. Ex. 4.

         From August through the end of December 2016, the hospital received four additional SAS reports regarding plaintiff. On August 31, a SAS report alleged that plaintiff failed to properly dispose of a lorazepam syringe. Greene Decl. Ex. 5. On November 28, a SAS report alleged that, despite being asked to do so, plaintiff failed to repeat vital signs on a patient and reported that she had just done “them and they were fine.” Greene Decl. Ex. 6. On December 10, two SAS reports were generated that alleged that plaintiff incorrectly retrieved medicine from the hospital's management system and that plaintiff requested a medication that was intended for a different patient. Greene Decl. Exs. 7-8.

         On December 19, plaintiff reported to her medical provider, in a regularly scheduled checkup, that her mother's health conditions were causing her increased stress. Miller Decl. Ex. 8 at 4.

         On December 23, Greene spoke with plaintiff about the November 28 and December 10 incidents and followed-up by sending her an email later that day. Ames Decl. Ex. 2 (Miller Dep. Vol. I Ex. 5).

         On February 10, 2017, plaintiff received her annual review assessing her performance from January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2016. Miller Decl. Ex. 9. Greene assessed the following in his portion of the review:

“Goals - ‘What you do'”

“Safety”

“Solid (3)”

“Safety-Medication Administration”

“Solid (3)”[2]

“Service-Patient Satisfaction”

“Outstanding (4)”

“Quality”

“Solid (3)”

         Id. at 1-4.

“Accountability - ‘How you do it'”

“Accountable for keeping commitments”

“Solid (3)”

“Acts professionally and receives feedback graciously, even when it's hard to hear”

“Marginal (2)”

“Acknowledges mistakes, learns from them and constantly works to improve”

“Marginal (2)”

“Asks for directions when not clear about expectations”

“Solid (3)”

         Id. at 4-5.

“Caring - ‘How you do it'”

“Personalize each interaction in the workplace”

“Solid (3)”

“Treats others with respect, kindness and dignity”

“Commendable (4)”

“Listens and responds to others with empathy and thoughtfulness”

“Solid (3)”

“Shows appreciation to others through words and actions”

“Solid (3)”

         Id. at 5-6.

“Teamwork - ‘How you do it'”

“Seeks different perspectives and appreciates diversity”

“Solid (3)”

“Works with others to provide a safe, respectful healing environment”

“Solid (3)”

“Offers to help others and asks for assistance when needed”

“Marginal (2)”

“Acknowledges the talents and contributions of the team”

“Solid (3)”

         Id. at 6. In the “Overall Evaluation Comments” section of the review, Greene noted that plaintiff had “shown improvement in med scanning in 2016, ” took “direction from the ED coordinator well, demonstrate[d] follow-thru [sic] with assigned tasks and has taken initiative to work with ED Coordinators on triaging waiting room patients, ” but that she “could communicate urgency and priorities with peers better[.]” Id. at 8.

         In February 2017, four incidents were the subject of SAS reports involving plaintiff. On February 10, a SAS report alleged that plaintiff failed to properly order a procedure for a patient. Greene Decl. Ex. 10. On February 11, plaintiff self-reported that she administered aspirin to a patient with chest pain. Greene Decl. Ex. 11. On February 18, a SAS report alleged plaintiff discharged a patient without notifying the patient's physician. Greene Decl. Ex. 12. On February 19, a SAS report alleged plaintiff administered the wrong dosage of medication to a patient. Greene Decl. Ex. 13.

         After becoming aware of the February incidents, Greene arranged to meet with plaintiff. See Becker Decl. Ex. 4 (Greene Dep. Ex. 10). On March 2, Greene met with plaintiff to discuss the incidents; Human Resources (“HR”) partner, Matt Oakes (“Oakes”), and plaintiff's Oregon Nurses Association Union (“ONA”) Representative, Courtney Niebel (“Niebel”) also attended the meeting. Ames Decl. Ex. 6 (Oakes. Dep. 8:8-11; 29:3-5).[3] That same day, email correspondence between Greene, hospital management, and HR staff indicated that although “[t]ermination was not on the table, ” and “remedial education & testing” was warranted, a “final written corrective action with a performance plan” would likely be administered. Becker Decl. Ex. 4 (Greene Dep. Ex. 12).

         Oakes testified that the purpose of the meeting was to provide plaintiff with an opportunity to present “her side of the story” and provide additional information to help the hospital understand why “those events occurred.” Ames Decl. Ex. 6 (Oakes Dep. 29:7-11). The meeting resulted in a two-week administrative suspension. See Id. at (29:18-21). After the meeting, plaintiff asked Greene for permission to “take leave to care for [her] mother in Bulgaria” and that she was “prepared to take leave immediately[.]” Miller Decl. ¶ 16. In response to her request, Greene said that she could not take leave while she “was already on administrative leave.” Id. at ¶ 17. The hospital's handbook directs supervisors to “work with Human Resources and designated third party leave administrator in providing [FMLA] leaves of absence.” Miller Decl. Ex. 11.

         The following day, March 3, Greene completed a seven-page investigative report analyzing the February 2017 SAS reports.[4] Becker Decl. Ex. 5 (Greene Dep. Ex. 13); see also Greene Decl. Ex. 15. Greene concluded that plaintiff “failed to follow standard work” procedures as shown in the February 10, 11, 18, and 19 SAS Reports. Becker Decl. Ex. 5 (Greene Dep. Ex. 13 at 1-7). He recommended termination. Id. at 7.

         As a result of Greene's investigative report, plaintiff, Greene, Oakes, and Niebel met on March 15 and plaintiff was issued a final written warning. Ames Decl. Ex. 6 (Oakes Dep. 30:5- 14). In order to return to work, plaintiff was to be monitored by an assigned nurse leader for two shifts and was required to complete nine “competencies.” Ames Decl. Ex. 2 (Miller Dep Vol. I, Dep. Ex. 6). During the meeting, plaintiff “made a request for leave to care for her mother[.]” Miller Decl. ¶ 20. Greene instructed plaintiff the date of her next shift and that she “needed to complete two competencies before taking leave.” Id.

         On March 17 and 18, plaintiff successfully completed her competencies. Miller Decl. ¶ 21; Ames Decl. Ex. 6 (Oakes Dep. 45:2-8). Plaintiff then asked Greene “for permission to take leave to care for [her] mother, ” to which Greene directed plaintiff to contact human resources. Miller Decl. ¶ 21. Plaintiff “attempted to contact human resources multiple times between March 18 and March 24, 2017, including leaving voicemails and requesting return phone calls.” Id. at ¶ 22. On March 24, an HR employee contacted plaintiff about her request for leave and plaintiff contacted the hospital's third-party leave contractor, Unum. Id. at ¶ 23. Plaintiff requested leave beginning March 25 for her “own serious health condition.” Miller Decl. Ex. 13 at 2. On March 27, Unum informed plaintiff that she was eligible for leave “[a]s of the date of [her] request, ” pending certification. Id. at 7. Plaintiff also requested beginning April 7 for her “parent's serious health condition.” Miller Decl. Ex. 13 at 1. Unum similarly informed plaintiff, on March 27, that she was eligible for leave “[a]s of the date of [her] request, ” pending certification.” Id. at 3.

         On March 19, the day after completing her competencies, Greene wrote in a SAS report that plaintiff failed to follow a physician's order in removing a catheter. Greene Decl. Ex. 16 On March 26, a SAS report alleged that plaintiff left the door to the medication management system unlocked and unattended.[5] Id. Based on these incidents, the hospital elected to take disciplinary action. Ames Decl. Ex. 6 (Oakes Dep. 45:9-15).

         On April 3, plaintiff, Greene, Oakes, and Niebel met to discuss the SAS reports “to get an understanding of [plaintiff's] side of the story.” Id. at (Oakes Dep. 46:3-10); see also Notice of Discharge at 1. In plaintiff's Notice of Discharge, plaintiff disputed Greene's account of the March 19 incident and stated the catheter “fell out.” Ames Decl. Ex. 2 (Miller Dep. Ex. 7 at 4) (“Notice of Discharge”). The Notice of Discharge also includes an incident, undated, alleging that plaintiff sent a lab ...


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