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Perpetua U. Ezeh v. Bio-Medical Applications of Maryland

May 1, 2013

PERPETUA U. EZEH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BIO-MEDICAL APPLICATIONS OF MARYLAND, INC. D/B/A FRESENIUS MEDICAL CARE OF PORTER DIALYSIS -- ROSEDALE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: George L. Russell, III United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Perpetua U. Ezeh ("Ezeh") commenced this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (2012), alleging discrimination on the basis of race and national origin (Count I), retaliation (Count II), and wrongful termination in violation of public policy under Maryland common law (Count III). The Court dismissed Count III on August 8, 2012. (See ECF Nos. 34-35). Currently pending before the Court is Defendant Bio-Medical Applications of Maryland, d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care of Porter Dialysis -- Rosedale's ("FMC") Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 47). The Court, having reviewed the pleadings and supporting documents, finds no hearing necessary pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2011). FMC's Motion will be granted because Ezeh failed to produce sufficient direct or circumstantial evidence showing that discrimination was a motivating factor in her departure from FMC, and she failed to produce evidence of a causal link between her alleged protected activity and her departure.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

FMC operates 2,700 kidney dialysis clinics world-wide, including 27 in the State of Maryland. The clinics are staffed by Patient Care Technicians ("PCTs") and Registered Nurses supervised by a Medical Director and Clinical Manger ("CM"). The CM at each FMC clinic is also a registered nurse and is responsible for ensuring the care and safety of patients, hiring and firing staff, scheduling staff, maintaining an emergency plan for patient care, and responding to all emergencies.

On October 20, 2008, FMC employed Ezeh, an African-American woman of Nigerian national origin, as a CM in its Rosedale Clinic. Markswell Nwachinemere ("Max"), FMC Area Manager of Operations, hired Ezeh and became her immediate supervisor. In February 2009, FMC promoted Carol Miller ("Miller") to Director of Operations, which made Miller Ezeh's immediate supervisor in lieu of Max. Miller is Caucasian and Max is of Nigerian descent. Ezeh's tenure at FMC ended in September 2009. The parties disagree on the events that led to her departure.

A. Ezeh's Allegations

According to Ezeh, Miller held a bias against African-Americans, particularly those originating from African nations. Due to her bias, Miller allegedly sought to remove African subordinates from FMC by treating non-African employees favorably and discriminatorily instituting disciplinary actions.

Ezeh and former FMC CM Rashidat Taiwo ("Taiwo") claim that Miller openly discriminated against FMC's African employees. According to Taiwo, it was widely known throughout the company that Miller wanted to terminate African employees. Taiwo testified that during a CM meeting at FMC's Bestgate Clinic, Miller was so condescending and disrespectful to the participants that at least one CM began to cry. According to Taiwo, all of the CMs in that meeting were African-American. Miller also allegedly commented about the accents and mannerisms of African CMs during staff meetings. According to Ezeh, Miller would characterize the presentations of African CMs as "animated" while complimenting the presentations of their Caucasian counterparts. Taiwo testified that Miller stated she could not understand African employees' accents, directed them to "speak English," and stated it was as if they "never learned English." Taiwo also testified that Miller often called the African PCTs "stupid" and once told her that Max was "dumb."

According to Taiwo, Miller often made inappropriate facial and hand gestures behind African employees' backs, including "strangling" gestures. Taiwo also testified that Miller "pit" African employees against each other to make them quit. This allegedly included a method of placing African nurses on the floor to frustrate them to the point of quitting. Miller also allegedly allowed Caucasian employees with poor performance records to transfer, while terminating employees of other origins for comparable behavior. Taiwo testified that Miller told her the clinic was short-staffed because the African employees did not pass the requisite exams.

Ezeh avers that one of Miller's first instances of wrongful conduct against her specifically arose on January 29, 2009. That day, the water system malfunctioned at the Rosedale Clinic, which precluded the clinic from treating patients (the "water crisis"). That morning, Ezeh was out tending to a tooth ache and attempted to instruct the charge nurse, Sue Barton ("Barton"), on how to handle the situation. Upon hearing of the water crisis, Max instructed Ezeh to report to the clinic, but Ezeh did not do so until after her dental appointment. As a result of this incident, Max issued Ezeh a written reprimand and counseled her. According to Ezeh, Miller encouraged Max to issue the reprimand.

Ezeh also avers that Miller verbally counseled and harassed her for issuing a written reprimand to Barton, a Caucasian nurse, who allegedly twice directed a PCT to inject her with the drug Phenergan without authorization. Miller allegedly removed the written reprimand from Barton's file.

Miller also allegedly instructed Ezeh to report to work at 10:00 a.m. every morning while allowing her Caucasian counterparts to enjoy flexible schedules. Ezeh also alleges that Miller treated Caucasian CMs more favorably by failing to issue a written reprimand when another CM called out sick, without a doctor's note, and by attempting to have her work short-handed several staff, while assisting a Caucasian CM who was only short one staff member.

B. FMC's Allegations

According to FMC, Ezeh was an ineffective manager whose problems primarily stemmed from Ezeh's strained relationship with her subordinates. Max testified that Ezeh's employees complained that she was disrespectful and perpetuated a general lack of communication. This lack of communication allegedly included Ezeh's failure to inform her staff of changes regarding the schedule. According to Miller and Max, Ezeh's scheduling mishaps often resulted in an inability to keep her clinic fully staffed and prompted the expensive contracting of temporary staffing agencies. FMC discouraged agency usage because of the cost and, in March 2009, required prior approval. According to Max, Ezeh continued to use agency staff without approval. Max testified that the staffing issues Ezeh encountered were not present prior to her arrival. Max also stated that he counseled Ezeh several times regarding the various issues.

When questioned about the water crisis, Max testified that he issued the written reprimand to Ezeh without any coaxing from Miller. According to Max, Ezeh reported directly to him at the time of the incident. Max, Miller, and Susan Wilson ("Wilson")- FMC Regional Quality Manager-aver that Ezeh garnered low outcomes. Finally, when asked about Miller's alleged discriminatory animus, Max testified that he had no knowledge of such conduct. Max also testified that, on one occasion, Ezeh informed him of Miller's alleged statement regarding his intellect, but when he asked Miller and other meeting participants about the statement, everyone denied its existence.

Similarly, Miller testified that Ezeh had difficulty bringing her team together, which included a problem with accountability and attendance. During her deposition, Miller recapitulated several of the aforementioned issues Max identified. Miller also testified that Ezeh's clinic had a high turnover rate. As for accountability, Miller testified that Ezeh failed to relieve her workers as promised and was not available for clinic issues as they arose. Due to Ezeh's poor performance, ...


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