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Joyner v. Sibley Memorial Hospital

June 12, 2003


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-974-98) (Hon. Brook Hedge, Trial Judge)

Before Ruiz and Glickman, Associate Judges, and King, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: King, Senior Judge

Argued March 26, 2002

Jeanette Joyner contends that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment on some counts in her complaint and dismissing, without prejudice, the remaining counts in favor of appellees Sibley Memorial Hospital ("Sibley") and Jill Stanton. *fn1 We affirm in part and reverse in part.


When the incidents underlying the claims in this case arose, Joyner was a part-time clerk typist in the Medical Records Department ("MR") and a part-time clerk typist in the Medical Staff Privileges Department ("MSP") at Sibley. This appeal arises out of a series of events involving Joyner and Stanton, who was an employee of the hospital and Joyner's then supervisor in MR.

A. Facts

Joyner is an African-American female who was sixty-one years of age at the time of the events giving rise to this action. She began her employment with Sibley in 1977 as a receptionist in MR. In 1981, Joyner transferred to a position of clerk typist in MSP. In 1992, Sibley underwent some administrative reorganization, and Joyner's post in MSP was reduced to part-time. However, she was also reassigned to part-time duties in her former department as clerk typist in MR, thus retaining a full-time status overall.

In November of 1996, there was a change in the management of MR, and Stanton assumed the position of Director. Shortly thereafter several incidents occurred, which Joyner asserts as the basis of her claims here. On December 9 of that year, Stanton issued a verbal reprimand to Joyner based upon a complaint Stanton had received regarding Joyner's allegedly inappropriate response to a request for a patient's file from a doctor's office. On December 30, Joyner received her 1996 performance evaluation, which reflected a lower score than she had received in previous years from other supervisors. This evaluation also deferred final disposition of Joyner's evaluation for ninety days, during which she was to complete a course on WordPerfect.

On January 9, 1997, Joyner was given an assignment, which she called "unusual," to obtain a large number of files from an adjacent building and then return the files once they had been properly coded. *fn2 As a result of a report that Joyner had left those files unattended, Stanton verbally admonished her. *fn3 On January 27, Joyner again received a verbal reprimand, her second, because she repeatedly punched in on the time clock more than a few minutes prior to her scheduled start time in violation of the procedures set forth in a recently circulated memorandum applicable to all employees.

On January 31, 1997, Joyner submitted a written response in her defense to the verbal reprimand dated December 9, 1996 relating to the complaint regarding an allegedly inappropriate response to a doctor's office's request for a patient's files. She maintained that the incident that precipitated the reprimand was simply a misunderstanding. She indicated that the person to whom she released the files, the husband of the patient whose files were the subject of the request, was satisfied with Joyner's performance. To support that claim, she submitted a commendation letter from the husband. Joyner's response, however, revealed her possible violation of hospital policy in two ways: release of confidential medical records without signed authorization from the patient, and solicitation of a letter of commendation from patients or their families. As a result, Stanton drafted a written reprimand on February 3, 1997 setting forth the two violations, and scheduled a meeting with Joyner for February 7, 1997.

The meeting was held in Stanton's office. At that meeting, Stanton characterized Joyner's explanation of events in her January 31 response as a "scenario," which angered Joyner, who then attempted to leave. Stanton then allegedly slammed the door on Joyner's hand in an attempt to prevent Joyner from leaving. Joyner then left the room, earning her a five-day paid leave in lieu of suspension for her "insubordination." Although she refused to return to MR upon the expiration of her leave, she remained employed as a clerk typist in MSP. She contends that all of these incidents amounted to discrimination based on her age and race.

B. Procedural Background

In her complaint, Joyner set forth seven causes of action against both appellees jointly and severally: (1) a count for assault and battery; (2) a count for intentional infliction of emotional distress; (3) a count for negligent hiring and supervision; (4) another count for negligent supervision; (5) a count of false imprisonment; (6) a count for constructive discharge; and (7) a count for age and race discrimination in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA").

The first count, assault and battery, was based upon Joyner's claim that during the February 7, 1997 meeting, Stanton crushed Joyner's hand in the door. Joyner also contended that, through this behavior, appellees "intentionally caused severe emotional distress to Joyner by way of extreme, reckless, and outrageous conduct" giving rise to the second count, intentional infliction of emotional distress. The third and fourth counts were based on Joyner's contention that Stanton was "manifestly unfit to serve as Director of Medical Records," and that Sibley's failure to recognize her unfitness and to take corrective action breached Sibley's duty of care to its employees "relative to their personal safety, security and well-being in application of [Sibley's] policies and practices."

The fifth count, false imprisonment, was also based on Stanton's conduct at the February 7 meeting, when Stanton directed Joyner to remain in the room and allegedly slammed the door on Joyner's hand, both of which "unreasonably den[ied] [Joyner] the right to leave the office." The sixth count, constructive discharge, was based on the fact that Sibley gave Joyner an "ultimatum" to return to her allegedly hostile work environment in MR or face termination, which Joyner claims Sibley knew would create undue hardship for Joyner. According to Joyner, this ultimatum "subjected [her] to a constructive discharge [that] caused her to loose [sic] benefits, income, prestige and honor." Finally, the seventh count, violation of the DCHRA, is based upon Joyner's contention that appellees' disciplinary actions directed toward Joyner were motivated by discrimination against senior members of minority groups.

On April 20, 1998, appellees filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, and Joyner filed an opposition on May 11, 1998. On November 28, 1998, with the consent of the parties, the trial court granted the motion in part by dismissing the claim against Stanton for negligent supervision (Count IV), *fn4 as well as ...

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