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Chughtai v. Kaiser Permenente

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 20, 2018




         Pending before the Court in this employment discrimination action is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc. (“Kaiser”). (ECF No. 42.) The matter has been fully briefed and no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Loc. R. 105.6. Upon consideration of the parties' arguments and the evidence in the record, the Court GRANTS Kaiser's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from the record and construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Holly Chughtai. Chughtai was first hired as a nurse by Kaiser in 2008. ECF No. 42-14 at 3 (Chughtai Dep. 24:15-17). In 2009, Chughtai applied and was selected for a position as a radiology nurse in Kaiser's Shady Grove Medical Center. ECF No. 42-14 at 7-8 (Chughtai Dep. 34:4-12; 37:16-18). In 2011, Kaiser informed Chughtai that she was being transferred to Kasier's Largo Medical Center (“Largo”). See ECF No. 42-14 at 10 (Chughtai Dep. 39:1-3). Chughtai, who suffers from thrombophilia, a blood-clotting disorder, opposed the transfer because the long commute would put her at risk for blood clots. See ECF No. 42-14 at 11, 13-14 (Chughtai Dep. 40:5-7, 45:14-16, 46:3-12). Chughtai spoke with Artine Hollis, her would-be supervisor at the Largo Center, as well as Derek Perkins, Hollis' supervisor at the time, and was informed that they would not be able to prevent her transfer. See ECF No. 42-14 at 11-12, 20 (Chughtai Dep. 40:5-41:6, 60:13-21). Chughtai then requested an accommodation through Kaiser's Integrated Disability Management program (“IDM”) in Kaiser's Human Resources department (“HR”). See ECF No. 42-14 at 12 (Chughtai Dep. 41:9-22); ECF No. 42-4 at 3-4.

         Although Chughtai's physician recommended that she not have any “prolonged periods of immobility including transcontinental airline travel or prolonged automobile commutes, ” ECF No. 42-4 at 53, Chughtai's physician never explained what constituted a “prolonged” period. Accordingly, Kaiser was unable to grant her an accommodation. ECF No. 42-4 at 4-6. Chughtai's physician noted that her only work limitation was “prolonged immobility” or “prolonged sitting, ” and that her normal work responsibilities were not affected by her thrombophilia. ECF No. 42-4 at 53, 59-60; see ECF No. 42-14 at 20 (Chughtai Dep. 60:1-5). So long as Chughtai was able to stand and walk once every hour, her condition would be adequately addressed. ECF No. 42-14 at 13-14, 20 (Chughtai Dep. 45:18-46:2, 60:1-5).

         Shortly after Chughtai's request not to be transferred was denied, Chughtai took FMLA leave. Prior to returning from leave, Chugtai again was transferred, this time to Kaiser's Gaithersburg Center (“Gaithersburg”). Chughtai never worked or set foot in Largo. ECF No. 42-14 at 10-11, 15 (Chughtai Dep. 39:21-40:3, 47:3).

         Chughtai was the only radiology nurse in Kaiser's Gaithersburg location. When Chughtai began working at Gaithersburg, her supervisor was Tyrone Hughley, who reported to Perkins. ECF No. 42-14 at 21 (Chughtai Dep. 65:11-17). Hughley and Perkins were subsequently terminated. From the record, it appears that their firing was precipitated in part by complaints that Chuhgtai had lodged against them. See, e.g., ECF No. 46-1 at 72 (Chughtai Dep. 273:10-14). In May 2013, Hollis and Angie Edwards replaced Hughley and Perkins as Chughtai's co-supervisors. ECF No. 42-6 at 2; ECF No. 42-8 at 13. Mohammad Malik, Regional Director of Imaging Services, also was a senior member of Chughtai's chain of command. See ECF No. 44-42 at 13 (Malik Dep. 12:7-16).

         When Chughtai began working in Gaithersburg, she complained to her supervisors that her workstation was not ergonomically designed. ECF No. 42-14 at 22-24 (Chughtai Dep. 72:1- 74:22); ECF No. 42-14 at 73-74; ECF No. 44-42 at 24 (Malik Dep. 24:9-17). Chughtai was directed to fill out Kaiser's ergonomic assessment form and to discuss her needs with the Employee Health Nurse. Chughtai requested a new chair and a full-sized writing surface. ECF No. 42-14 at 25-27 (Chughtai Dep. 77:16-79:17); see ECF No. 42-14 at 73-74. Due to the size of her work station, Kaiser was unable to provide Chughtai with a full-sized table, but Kaiser did provide Chughtai with an adjustable work surface and an ergonomic chair used throughout Kaiser's facilities. ECF No. 42-11 at 2.

         Shortly after Chughtai began working at the Gaithersburg Center, concerns began to surface about her workflow, including the scope of her responsibilities and the circumstances under which she was expected to assist radiology technologists (“radiology techs”) with preparing patients for procedures and starting IVs. See ECF No. 42-14 at 29-30, 31-32, 35, 36, 37 (Chughtai Dep. 92:9-93:13; 96:3-97:20; 102:7-11; 106:4-19; 109:1-19); see also ECF No. 42-14 at 75; ECF No. 44-42 at 18 (Malik Dep. 17:4-13). Conflicts surrounding Chughtai's work continued through her time at Gaithersburg. Radiology techs complained about Chughtai's performance; Chughtai disagreed, contending that her job duties were narrow, and did not involve screening patients and starting IVs. See, e.g., ECF No. 42-14 at 36 (Chughtai Dep. 106:8-12); ECF No. 42-14 at 84-85. Chughtai's narrow interpretation of her job was not shared by her coworkers or supervisors.[1] See, e.g., ECF No. 42-8 at 2-5, 8, 10; ECF No. 42-14 at 77.

         As a result, Chughtai's supervisors, Hollis, Edwards, and Alicia McCullough (a regional manager with oversight over Chughtai's department), discussed with Chughtai her duties and their expectations within the radiology department. See ECF No. 42-8 at 3; ECF No. 42-14 at 38-39 (Chughtai Dep. 261:4-262:21); ECF No. 42-10 at 1; No. 44-41 at 22-28, 33-34 (Hollis Dep. 21:2-27:14, 32:12-33:1). Chughtai complained to Malik and to Kaiser's Chief Operating Officer, Linda Collins, that these conversations were harassing and retaliatory. See, e.g., ECF No. 42-14 at 40-41, 50-51, 81, 82 (Chughtai Dep. 268:18-269:10; 309:19-310:20). Chughtai also reported to Malik that Edwards, Hollis, and McCullough harassed her by assigning her duties not in her job description. ECF No. 42-14 at 40-41 (Chughtai Dep. 268:11-269:20); ECF No. 42-9 at 2-3; see also ECF No. 46-1 at 38-40 (Chughtai Dep. 239:2-241:8). Chughtai reported that she believed these actions were leveled against her because she had complained about Perkins. See ECF No. 42-14 at 81; see also ECF No. 46-1 at 71-72 (Chughtai Dep. 272:21-273:9). Chughtai further viewed her Largo transfer as “harassment.” ECF No. 42-14 at 41, 52 (Chughtai Dep. 269:12-22; 311:3-6).

         Collins asked Malik to investigate Chughtai's allegations. Malik engaged Jamie Green, a regional nurse, to audit the scope of Chughtai's role to determine whether her assignments were appropriate for a radiology nurse. Green confirmed they were. ECF No. 44-42 at 26 (Malik Dep. 25:5-18); ECF No. 42-9 at 3; ECF No. 42-7 at 2, 3-4. Additionally, Green observed that Chughtai failed to follow proper protocol in transferring a patient from the radiology department to Kaiser's Clinical Decision Unit, the equivalent of an emergency room. This incident functionally left the patient unattended, which Green viewed as a lapse in Chughtai's clinical judgment. ECF No. 42-7 at 2-3; see also ECF No. 44-43 at 41-42, 69 (Edwards Dep. 40:12- 41:18, 68:4-8).

         On July 23, 2013, Hollis and Edwards met again with Chughtai to discuss concerns about her work. At the meeting, Hollis and Edwards informed Chughtai that she could be subjected to a corrective action. See ECF No. 42-8 at 5, 13. This meeting culminated in a confrontation, the exact details of which are contested. For the purposes of this motion, the Court assumes, as Chugtai describes, that the conversation took on an aggressive tone. Chughtai attempted to disengage from the meeting and left the room. Hollis and Edwards followed Chughtai back to her work station and confronted her in a physically aggressive manner, repeatedly telling her to leave the building. See ECF No. 42-14 at 42, 43-48 (Chughtai Dep. 286:3-21, 288:2-293:22).

         Following this altercation, Chughtai began experiencing anxiety and other health-related complications. Chughtai requested FMLA leave, which was denied because she had not worked the requisite number of hours in the previous year to be eligible for such leave. ECF No. 42-14 at 87-89. Chughtai nevertheless was approved for six months of leave in accordance with her collective bargaining agreement. See ECF No. 42-14 at 94. During Chughtai's leave, Timothy Cradduck became her supervisor. ECF No. 42-5 at 2. When Chughtai's leave expired, Cradduck informed her in writing of her expected return date. ECF No. 42-5 at 3, 11. Chughtai was unable to return to work because she was suffering from migraine headaches, anxiety, and depression, and was continuing to undergo medical evaluations. ECF No. 42-14 at 62-64, 66-67 (Chughtai Dep. 351:10-353:2; 358:13-359:12). Chughtai requested an extension of her leave from an unidentified Kaiser staff member. ECF No. 42-14 at 60-61 (Chughtai Dep. 348:16- 349:22); see ECF No. 42-14 at 97-98; ECF No. 42-4 at 6. No. additional leave was granted, and when Chughtai did not report back to work, her employment was terminated. See ECF No. 42-14 at 99.

         On March 24, 2014, Chughtai filed a complaint with the Montgomery County Office of Human Rights. ECF No. 42-14 at 100-01. Thereafter, Chughtai filed suit in this Court, alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII and Montgomery County Human Rights Law (Counts I & II), disability discrimination in violation of the ADA and Montgomery County Human Rights Law (Counts III & IV), and associated race and disability retaliation claims (Counts V-VIII). See ECF No. 16 (Amended Complaint). Kaiser moves for summary judgment in its favor on all counts.

         II. ...

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