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Carter v. Vna, Inc.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

July 30, 2013

TENIKA S. CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
VNA, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant VNA, Inc.'s ("VNA") Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion to Strike Plaintiff Tenika S. Carter's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 19, 23). The procedural challenge, notwithstanding, the underlying case involves a claim that VNA terminated Ms. Carter's employment, based on her pregnancy and request for maternity leave, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (2012) and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. (2012).

The issues have been fully briefed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2011). For the reasons that follow, VNA's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted and Ms. Carter's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment will be stricken.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are either undisputed or construed in the light most favorable to Ms. Carter. Ms. Carter worked full-time as a registered nurse for VNA, Inc., an entity member of MedStar Health, Inc. ("MedStar"), from December 7, 2006, until she was terminated on June 30, 2010. MedStar is a not-for-profit regional healthcare system serving Maryland and the District of Columbia.

VNA provides in-home healthcare services for patients who are disabled or living with a chronic condition. When a patient fitting these criteria is nearing discharge from a MedStar system hospital, his or her physician may write an order for at-home care and refer the patient to VNA. VNA maintains offices in each MedStar system hospital, including Good Samaritan Hospital ("GSH"), where Ms. Carter worked.

In 2009, due to a drop in its volume of business, VNA decided to downsize, resulting in a reduction in force ("RIF"). At that time, VNA had a RIF policy, which provided: "when there are fewer positions available than there are qualified employees who successfully meet competencies required for a given position, job eliminations will be based on the following factors and in the following order: performance assessments, including annual performance evaluations; department seniority; and company seniority." (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. App. 6, at 3 ["RIF Policy"], ECF No. 19-7). Instead of applying these criteria on a department-specific basis across all of its hospitals, VNA had an established practice of applying these criteria on a site-specific basis.

VNA implemented its RIF policy by first identifying which sites would have eliminations, and then by eliminating employees at those sites based on the policy. Ultimately, VNA terminated thirty employees as part of the 2009 RIF. After the 2009 RIF, VNA decided it needed to further downsize via another RIF in 2010. VNA narrowed its decision to implement the 2010 RIF to two Baltimore-area hospitals with dropping referral volume, one of which was GSH.

During the relevant time period, GSH employed Ms. Carter as a clinical consultant. In April 2010, Ms. Carter learned she was pregnant and informed her Human Resources Manager, Corrine Trancucci, that she wished to take FMLA leave for the pregnancy. On April 15, 2010, Ms. Trancucci informed Ms. Carter that her FMLA leave had been approved.

On May 12, 2010, however, Ms. Carter's supervisor, Shelly Garfield, informed Ms. Carter that her employment would terminate on June 30, 2010, pursuant to a RIF, unless she found another position at VNA or elsewhere within the MedStar system prior to that date. VNA explained that it needed to eliminate a clinical consultant position from GSH because clinical consultants were solely responsible for handling referrals, the volume of referrals at GSH were down, and thus GSH could manage with one less clinical consultant. VNA chose to eliminate Ms. Carter instead of Carol Bevans, who worked part-time as a clinical consultant at GSH and had more seniority within the system. At the time of Ms. Carter's termination, Ms. Bevans was the only other clinical consultant at GSH. There were, however, six other clinical consultants employed by VNA at other Baltimore-area hospitals: Patti Armijo, Cecilia Callahan, Cecilia Hawkins, and Catherine Stewart worked full-time; Jennifer McCarley and Gina Williams worked part-time.

On March 20, 2012, Ms. Carter commenced this civil action, claiming that she was terminated based on her pregnancy and request for maternity leave, in violation of Title VII and the FMLA. Following discovery, VNA moved for summary judgment.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the Court must grant summary judgment if the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party has the burden of showing that a genuine dispute exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). "[T]he 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." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 247-48.

A "material fact" is a fact that might affect the outcome of a party's case. Id. at 248; JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc. , 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). Whether a fact is considered to be "material" is determined by the substantive law, 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." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248; Hooven-Lewis v. Caldera , 249 F.3d 259, 265 (4th Cir. 2001).

A "genuine" issue concerning a "material" fact arises when the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. Rule 56(c) requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by its own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The nonmoving party "cannot create a genuine dispute of material fact through mere speculation or compilation of inferences." Deans v. CSX Transp., Inc. , 152 F.3d 326, 331 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting Beale v. Hardy , 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985) (internal quotations omitted)).

B. Analysis

1. Pregnancy Discrimination

Ms. Carter cannot survive summary judgment on her Title VII employment discrimination claim because she has not established a prima facie case or produced sufficient direct or indirect evidence that she was terminated because of her pregnancy.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA") requires employers to treat pregnant employees "the same for all employment-related purposes... as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work...." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). Courts analyze pregnancy discrimination claims in the same manner as any other Title VII sex discrimination claim. DeJarnette v. Corning Inc. , 133 F.3d 293, 297 (4th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted); Holmes v. E.Spire Commc'ns, Inc. , 135 F.Supp.2d 657, 661 (D.Md. 2001) (citation omitted). A plaintiff, therefore, bears the burden of showing that she was a victim of intentional discrimination. DeJarnette , 133 F.3d at 297. Additionally, a plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that defendants discriminated against her "because of her pregnancy." Id .; Holmes , 135 F.Supp.2d at 661; 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a)(1)-(2).

There are two methods for proving intentional discrimination in employment: (1) through direct or indirect evidence of intentional discrimination, or (2) through circumstantial evidence under the three-step, burden-shifting scheme set forth by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green , 411 U.S. ...


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