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Gordon v. Holy Cross Hospital Germantown, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 29, 2019

PEGGY GORDON, Plaintiff,
v.
HOLY CROSS HOSPITAL GERMANTOWN, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Peggy Gordon, a former employee of Holy Cross Hospital Germantown, Inc. ("Holy Cross"), has filed this civil action alleging that Holy Cross discriminated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (2012); 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act ("MFEPA"), Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 20-606 (West 2015). Pending before the Court is Holy Cross's Motion for Summary Judgment. Having reviewed the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are presented in the light most favorable to Gordon, the non-moving party. Gordon, who is African American, began working as an Emergency Room Technician at Holy Cross in April 2012. After she was hired, Gordon participated in a week-long training program on Holy Cross's policies and procedures and received copies of Holy Cross's Confidentiality Policy and Code of Conduct. From November 2016 until Gordon was terminated on February 23, 2017, Bridget Plummer, Holy Cross's Director of the Emergency Department and Behavioral Health, served as Gordon's direct supervisor. Plummer is white. Gordon states, and Holy Cross does not dispute, that until the events which led to her termination, she maintained a spotless employment record and was never disciplined by Holy Cross.

         On February 22, 2017, at approximately 8:30 or 9:00 p.m., Gordon went into Emergency Room 9 to prepare to draw the blood of a white female patient ("the Patient") who was accompanied by a white male family member ("the Family Member"). The Patient was crying, and when Gordon put the tourniquet on the Patient's arm, before she inserted the needle, the Patient began screaming at Gordon, "Take it off, take it off. You don't know what you're doing. I want you to go find me somebody else who knows what they're doing. You need to get out and go away." Gordon Dep. at 64, ECF No. 70-1. Gordon took the tourniquet off the Patient, apologized to her, and exited the room. She went to the nursing station to report that the Patient was very upset and asked the charge nurse, Patty Cleavenger, to go talk to the Patient. Cleavenger agreed to do so.

         While Gordon was at a computer at the nurse's station, the Family Member, who was dressed in a United States Army uniform, came out of the Patient's room and began walking towards Gordon, waving his hands and yelling at Gordon that she had left the room without helping the Patient, that no one was helping the Patient, and that someone needed to come back in and help her. Gordon informed the Family Member that she had left the room because the Patient had asked her to do so, but the Family Member continued yelling that Gordon was supposed to help the Patient and not leave her. According to Gordon, at this point, she looked to Cleavenger as well as a Montgomery County police officer ("the Officer") who was on duty and observing the situation, to intervene. Both failed to do so. Both Cleavenger and the Officer are white.

         When the Family Member saw that the Officer was not going to intervene, he continued berating Gordon and finally closed his fist and yelled, "I will bang your head in." Id. at 72. Then, another Holy Cross employee, Maggie Lanham, who is white, came out from between Rooms 9 and 10, stepped between Gordon and the Family Member, put up her hands and told the Family Member that he needed to go back to the Patient's room. For a few minutes, she attempted to convince him that he did not have to behave the way he was acting. The Family Member then went back into Room 9 with the Patient.

         A short time later, the Family Member stepped outside Room 9 again and yelled for someone to come in and help the Patient. Again, Gordon went to Cleavenger and asked her to help the Patient or call the night supervisor. Cleavenger told Gordon that she would call the night supervisor later, so Gordon tried to call the night supervisor herself, but no one answered the phone. At some point during this exchange, a different nurse went into the Patient's room to help the Patient.

         Although the Family Member did not physically threaten her again, Gordon still perceived him as posing a threat to her safety. She turned to the Officer and asked why he had not helped her and noted that whenever white employees are engaged in a conflict with patients or visitors, the Officer always steps in. According to Gordon, the Officer stated that he would not intervene because the Family Member was in military uniform. Gordon then asked the Officer to call 911, but the Officer stated that there was no emergency situation requiring a 911 call. Gordon then called hospital security. Two security officers responded to the scene: Adam Washington, who is African American, and Kristin Warfield, who is white. Gordon told Washington and Warfield what had happened and that she still felt threatened by the Family Member because when security was not present, he would come out and look for her. She also asked them to go talk to the Family Member. The Officer, however, remained present and told them, "[W]e're not doing anything about it." Id. at 91. Gordon then stated to the Officer, "You do not let the white employees go through this. Why [isn't] anyone helping me?" Id. at 92. Both the Officer and Washington and Warfield declined her request that they go talk to the Family Member. Gordon then told them that she was going to call a hotline to find out what her rights were.

         Gordon then proceeded to use the phone at the nurse's station to call a local television station's hotline known as "7 On Your Side." Id. at 102. The nurse's station was approximately two doors away from Emergency Room 9, where the Patient and the Family Member were located, and was in an area with other employees and patients nearby. When no one answered, Gordon left a voicemail message stating her name, that she was in Maryland, and that she had a problem with the military and police. She did not use the Patient's name or the Family Member's name and did not disclose any personal information about the Patient or the Family Member. Shortly after this call, the Patient and the Family Member apologized to Gordon for threatening her.

         Washington, who had been standing next to Gordon while she called "7 On Your Side," reported the call to the Cleavenger. The call was also reported to the Holy Cross Security Supervisor, Fred Carmen, Jr., who then called Plummer, Gordon's direct supervisor, at home. According to Plummer, Carmen stated that Gordon had made the phone call in an intimidating manner, within view of the Family Member. After receiving Carmen's phone call, Plummer contacted Cleavenger and asked her to bring Gordon to a private location so that the three of them could discuss what had happened. The parties disagree about the length and substance of that conversation: Plummer has described a lengthy discussion about Gordon's encounter with the Family Member, while Gordon states that Plummer just told her that she would be fired for calling the hotline.

         Regardless, it is undisputed that Plummer and Gordon had a longer discussion about the incident the following day after Plummer and Sharon Brader, the Nursing Director of Holy Cross, conducted an internal investigation. According to Plummer, during the meeting, Gordon admitted that she contacted "7 On Your Side" within earshot of the Patient's room. At the end of the meeting, Plummer and Brader stepped outside to discuss the information provided by Gordon and consult with Human Resources regarding the appropriate course of action. They decided that Gordon should be terminated for knowingly violating Holy Cross's Confidentiality Policy and Code of Conduct. The termination letter that they provided to Gordon stated, in relevant part: "When you did not follow your chain of command and contacted the media regarding a difficult interaction with a family, you violated the Holy Cross Health: Confidentiality policy and Holy Cross Health Standards of Conduct. Your behavior was reckless. Therefore, your employment with Holy Cross Health is terminated effective today, February 23, 2017." Termination Notice at 8, ECF No. 58-3.

         On May 22, 2017, Gordon filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, which was cross-filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that her termination from Holy Cross was the result of race discrimination. On August 21, 2017, the EEOC issued to Gordon a Notice of Right to Sue based on its determination that it would not be able to complete its administrative processing of her charge within 180 days of its filing. On November 20, 2017, Gordon timely filed this lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland. Holy Cross removed the case to ...


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