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Roberts v. Saint Agnes Hospital

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

June 25, 2015




This is a race discrimination and retaliation case brought by pro se Plaintiff Benjamin Roberts ("Roberts") against his former employer, Saint Agnes Hospital ("the Hospital"), for purported violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 et seq. This Memorandum Opinion and accompanying Order address the Hospital's motion for summary judgment. See ECF No. 33. A hearing is not necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (Md.). For the reasons stated below, the Hospital's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. Roberts' complaint is therefore dismissed with prejudice.


The Hospital is a full-service hospital and Catholic health care ministry that provides care to the individuals that it serves in the Baltimore Metropolitan Area. See ECF No. 33-1 at ¶ 1. Within the Hospital, there are two laboratories, the Microbiology Laboratory - where Roberts was employed - and the Core Laboratory. See ECF No. 33-3 at ¶ 4. The laboratories perform tests on biological samples for patients of the Hospital. See id.

The Hospital's laboratories are required by federal law to comply with the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments ("CLIA") and its implementing regulations. See id. at ¶ 6; see also 42 C.F.R. § 493.1 et seq. As part of the Hospital's CLIA compliance, the Laboratory Services Department has issued written procedures governing all aspects of clinical work. See ECF No. 33-3 at ¶ 7. Employees are required to comply with those procedures. See id. The department is also subject to proficiency testing, a quality control program, and on-site inspections. See id. The laboratories are also accredited with the College of American Pathologists ("CAP"), a leader in laboratory quality assurance. See id. at ¶ 8. The consequences of failing to maintain and enforce established procedures can be significant for the Hospital. See id. at ¶ 9. For example, ensuring that laboratory employees follow established protocols is a condition of being accredited by CAP. See id. And failure to comply with CLIA and to enforce the required procedures can result in an enforcement action and possible sanctions against the Hospital, including facility closure and criminal penalties. See id.; see also 42 C.F.R. § 493.186.

One such required policy is the Laboratory Administration Occurrence Reporting policy. See ECF No. 33-3 at ¶ 10. This policy is designed to detect, investigate, report, track, and trend events that do not conform with established policies, processes, and procedures. See id. Under that policy, significant, unexpected, or unusual events are to be reported on an Occurrence Report Form ("ORF"). Examples of such occurrences include significant quality control problems or inappropriate remedial actions or documentation; deviations from policy or procedures; service issues such as delay of test results; and communication issues. See id. at ¶ 11. Every laboratory employee is expected to prepare an ORF whenever he or she becomes aware of an incident that constitutes an occurrence. See id. at ¶ 12.

Another important laboratory policy governs what are called "Alert Values." See id. at ¶ 14. This policy sets forth the procedures to be followed when a laboratory test produces results that show that a patient has a potentially dangerous or life-threatening infection. See id. Such a result is called an "Alert Value." See id. These Alert Value procedures must be followed whenever a lab employee receives a result indicating a potentially life-threatening infection. See id. Under these procedures, the employee must call in the result to the Emergency Department or Hospital floor where the patient is being treated within two hours of obtaining the result and document in the electronic medical record that the call was made as well as who received the call. See id. at ¶ 15. Failing to perform any of these steps is a violation of the Alert Value protocol. See id.

On October 24, 2005, Roberts, an African-American man from the Caribbean island of Turks and Caicos, was hired by the Hospital as a part-time employee assigned to work in the Microbiology Laboratory as the Lead Technologist. See id. at ¶¶ 18-19. The position of Lead Technologist includes a number of supervisory and administrative responsibilities, including but not limited to: writing and maintaining procedures, training checklists, and competency assessments of the Laboratory; participation in monthly financial reviews; performance appraisal, monitoring, and counseling of other employees; and facilitating sectional meetings. See id. at ¶ 20. But Roberts was never assigned any of these responsibilities. See id.; see also ECF No. 33-6 at 70.[1] Instead, Roberts' job duties were those of a Medical Technologist, which included performing lab tests, evaluating test results for clinical significance, and communicating those results to the appropriate hospital staff. See ECF No. 33-3 at ¶ 21; see also ECF No. 33-6 at 70. Roberts reported to Lead Technologists Jane Weiger ("Weiger") and Peg Kinch. See ECF No. 33-3 at ¶ 23.

In June 2006, the Hospital made the decision to re-align job titles of certain positions in the laboratories to better fit the responsibilities of the positions. See ECF No. 33-4 at 6. As a result, Roberts' job title changed to Medical Technologist. See id. This change in Roberts' title had no effect on his job duties or his pay. See ECF No. 33-6 at 78.

In December 2008, a vacancy arose within the Microbiology Laboratory for a Medical Technologist II, which would have been a promotion for Roberts. See ECF No. 33-4 at ¶ 8. The position was posted in accordance with the Hospital's standard job-posting process. See ECF No. 33-7 at 26. Roberts, who was aware of the Hospital's system of posting vacant positions, did not apply for this job. See ECF No. 33-6 at 81, 148. Ultimately, the Hospital selected Kelly Ward ("Ward"), a Caucasian woman, to fill the Medical Technologist II position. See ECF No. 33-4 at ¶ 8.

In February 2009, following a review of employee productivity, the Hospital concluded that Roberts was having difficulty completing his work within the defined hours of his shift. See ECF No. 33-3 at ¶ 29. As a result, Weiger met with Roberts to explain to him the importance of completing his work on time. See id. at ¶ 31. Weiger documented this counseling meeting in an Action Plan that was presented to Roberts at that time. See id.; see also id. at 48. According to Roberts, however, these difficulties arose from the fact that his workload was increasing and was becoming too much for him to complete within his scheduled hours. See ECF No. 33-6 at 57-61. During the months that followed, Roberts frequently complained to Weiger that, in his opinion, his workload was too high. See ECF No. 33-3 at ¶ 37. Then, in the fall of 2009, the Hospital undertook additional efforts to assess employee productivity. See id at ¶¶ 39-44. The results of these efforts revealed that Roberts was working longer hours than his colleagues, but was processing fewer specimens. See id.

In November 2009, a meeting was held between Roberts, Weiger, and other Hospital administrators during which he expressed, for the first time, his belief that he was being discriminated against because of his race and national origin. See ECF No. 33-6 at 78-79; see also ECF No. 33-3 at ¶ 46. The Hospital staff informed him that, in its view, this was not the case. See ECF No. 33-3 at ¶ 46.

In early 2010, Roberts' performance continued to suffer. Specifically, on January 26, 2010, Roberts failed to timely report an Alert Value on a positive blood culture. See id. at ¶ 54. Although the Alert Value Policy called for values to be called in and documented within two hours, the Alert Value in question was not called in for over 6 hours. See id. The Medical Technologist II working the day shift the next day, Ward, observed this and prepared an ORF. See id.; see also id. at 68.

That same day, Roberts also improperly loaded 64 samples into a laboratory machine called the BacT Alert. See id. at ¶ 55. Standard procedure called for patient data to be entered into the machine before samples were loaded; however, Roberts loaded the samples without loading patient data, which is called "anonymous" loading. See id. Anonymous loading requires the Technologist who later removes the samples from the machine to go back and enter the patient data, delaying the reporting of test results and imposing an unfair burden on that second Technologist. See id. Ward, the Technologist working the day shift, observed this and prepared an ORF. See id.; see also id. at 70. Although Weiger had previously told Roberts that anonymous loading may be done when the laboratory was busy, she also explained that it was not an acceptable general practice. See id. at ¶ 56; see also ECF No. 33-6 at 90-9. As a result of these incidents, a meeting was ...

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