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Lemmons v. Georgetown University Hospital

March 1, 2007

LASHAWN LEMMONS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LaShawn Lemmons ("the plaintiff") brings this action against Georgetown University Hospital ("the Hospital") and Debbie Ellerby ("the defendants"),*fn1 alleging violations of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code § 2-1401 et seq. (2001), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (2000) ("Section 1981"), that were committed during the course of her employment as a laboratory technologist with the Hospital. On May 4, 2006, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting in part and denying in part the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation claims. Memorandum Opinion ("Opinion").*fn2 Currently before the Court is the plaintiff's motion to alter or amend the Court's judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) ("Pl.'s Mot.") and the defendants' motion for reconsideration pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) ("Defs.' Mot.").*fn3 For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies both parties' motions.

I. Background

The facts of this case are set forth in detail in this Court's prior opinion. Opinion at 2-11. However, it is helpful to recite them briefly here.

The plaintiff, an African-American woman belonging to a religious organization known as the Congregation of Universal Wisdom, has been employed by the Hospital as an at-will part-time technologist since 1999.*fn4 Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.") ¶¶ 10-12, 23; Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot.") ¶ 56. In the spring of 2002, the plaintiff voiced concerns to her immediate supervisors regarding the manner in which tuberculosis ("TB") samples were being handled and stored in the Hospital's main laboratory incubator. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16. In May 2002, "[w]hen no action was taken [by her supervisors] . . . to remedy the improper handling and storage of the TB samples," the plaintiff submitted a memorandum to defendant Ellerby and other Hospital personnel reiterating her concerns.*fn5 Id. ¶ 17. The plaintiff also alleged in this memorandum that one of her supervisors, Marcia Betaharon, was subjecting her to "some very deliberate and cruel harassment devices" and, inter alia, "increasingly using her power as Team Leader to unjustifiably criticize and complain about [the plaintiff's] work performance in such a way as to question the validity of [the plaintiff's] skills as a Microbiology Tech." Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants Georgetown University Hospital's and Debbie Ellerby's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Sum. Judg. Opp."), Exhibit ("Ex.") F (May 22, 2002 letter from LaShawn Lemmons to Sharon Novak, Debbie Ellerby, Zeni Evangelista, and David Garvin) ("May 22, 2002 Letter") at 1. Nowhere in the plaintiff's memorandum did she intimate that the harassment she described was racially based or racially motivated. See generally id.

As a result of its investigation into the plaintiff's allegations of harassment, the Hospital discovered that the plaintiff was not fully trained as a laboratory technologist. Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot. ¶ 25; see also Am. Compl. ¶ 21(d). This discovery led the Hospital to request that the plaintiff either undergo further training to become a qualified, full-time technologist or retain her present duties in a part-time capacity under a new title and a lower pay grade. Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot., Ex. 16 (August 30, 2002 letter from Debbie Ellerby to LaShawn Lemmons) at 1; see also Am. Compl. ¶¶ 21(f)-(i). The plaintiff refused to participate in the additional training "because she felt she was being railroaded into an unfair training regime that would ultimately lead to her termination." Pl.'s Sum. Judg. Opp. ¶ 41. Instead, the plaintiff elected, "with great reservations," to transfer to the part-time technologist position, where she remains to this date. Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot., Ex. 15 (September 23, 2002 letter from LaShawn Lemmons to Debbie Ellerby) at 2.

The plaintiff and the defendants also clashed over the Hospital's policy that all District of Columbia employees involved in direct or indirect patient care receive an annual health examination, including a tuberculin Purified Protein Derivative ("PPD") skin test, also known as a Mantoux test. Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot., Ex. 18 (Georgetown University Hospital Health Policy 501) at 1, 3. The defendants contend that the Hospital's health clearance policies are "strictly enforce[d]" and that "an employee's failure to take the required PPD test presents a significant risk of liability for the Hospital." Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot. ¶ 47. Nevertheless, after receiving notes from the plaintiff's physician, the Hospital granted the plaintiff a deferral from the PPD skin test for medical reasons in the spring of 2002 and 2003. Id. ¶¶ 51-53; see also id., Ex. 24 (March 28, 2002 note from Dr. Kumuda Reddy); id., Ex. 25 (April 24, 2003 note from Dr. Kumuda Reddy). In addition to raising a medical objection to the PPD tests, the plaintiff presented the Hospital with two letters signed by the Pastor of the Congregation of Universal Wisdom. Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot., Exs. 27 and 28 (August 26, 2003 and September 26, 2003 letters from Walter P. Schilling); see also Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot. ¶ 56; Pl.'s Sum. Judg. Opp. ¶ 56. These letters state that PPD skin tests "are forbidden by the religious [tenets] of the Congregation of Universal Wisdom," of which the plaintiff is a member.*fn6 Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot. ¶ 56.

Despite these religious and medical objections, Hospital personnel ultimately concluded that the plaintiff's continued refusal to submit to a PPD skin test was "unacceptable." Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot., Ex. 29 (November 4, 2003 e-mail from Paula Sullivan to Dr. Princy Kumar). Consequently, on November 19, 2003, the Hospital's Director of Health Services issued a Statement of Work Status, which indicated that the plaintiff was "not able to perform the essential functions of [her] job" due to her refusal to take the PPD skin test. Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot., Ex. 30 (Statement of Work Status). On that same day, Ellerby mailed the plaintiff a letter informing her that she was suspended without pay as of November 21, 2003, because of her "failure to comply with the health care requirements at Georgetown University Hospital." Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot., Ex. 31 (November 19, 2003 letter from Debbie Ellerby to LaShawn Lemmons). The letter further stated that the plaintiff had thirty days from the effective date of her suspension to complete all elements of her annual physical clearance or she would be terminated.*fn7 Id.

On September 22, 2003, before her suspension for refusing to take the PPD skin test, the plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a lawsuit against the defendants in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Defs.' Mot., Ex. 30 (Complaint). Following her suspension, the plaintiff retained counsel and filed an amended complaint on May 9, 2004. Am. Compl. at 8. In her amended complaint, the plaintiff alleged discrimination and retaliation under the DCHRA, which "provid[es] for a private right of action against employment discrimination on the basis of, inter alia, race, color, sex, national origin and religion," and Section 1981. Id. ¶¶ 1-2. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants "engaged in a concerted pattern of discrimination and retaliation against her," which included: (1) reducing her hours, "thus denying [her] the opportunity to continue working in a full-time capacity, causing [her] to lose her health insurance and other benefits"; (2) refusing to allow her to work overtime; (3) demoting her one grade in salary; and (4) telling her "that she was no longer qualified to perform the duties she had been performing satisfactorily for almost three years." Id. ¶ 21. The plaintiff therefore claims that the defendants "have intentionally engaged in discrimination and retaliation against [her] because of her race and because of her protected activity." Id. ¶¶ 26, 29. The plaintiff's amended complaint expressly states that she "refused to take the Mantoux PPD tuberculosis test on religious and medical grounds" and that she was suspended from her employment based on this refusal. Id. ¶¶ 21(j)-(k). However, the plaintiff does not specifically set forth a cause of action for religious discrimination in the Statement of Claims section of her amended complaint. See id. ¶¶ 24-34.

On May 20, 2005, the defendants moved for summary judgment on the plaintiff's racial discrimination and retaliation claims. Defs.' Sum. Judg. Mot. at 1. Due to the illness of her counsel, the plaintiff requested, and was granted, multiple extensions of time in which to respond to the defendants' motion before finally filing an opposition brief on September 5, 2005.*fn8 See Dkt. Nos. 16, 21, 23 (motions to file out of time); see also Pl.'s Sum. Judg. Opp. Then, on September 21, 2005, the plaintiff's counsel filed a motion to withdraw from his representation of the plaintiff, citing his "deteriorating health" and his doctor's advice that he "cease all professional activities as quickly as possible." Motion to Withdraw at 1. The Court granted this motion in December 2005, and the plaintiff proceeded without the representation of counsel until the defendants' summary judgment motion was resolved. December 14, 2005 Minute Order.

On May 4, 2006, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order which granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Opinion at 32. First, the Court found that the plaintiff "ha[d] completely failed to demonstrate that any of the unfavorable employment decisions alleged in the complaint give rise to an inference of intentional [racial] discrimination." Id. at 15. Second, the Court found that the plaintiff's retaliation claims "are not based on any activity statutorily protected by the DCHRA or Section 1981." Id. at 22 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court therefore concluded that the plaintiff had not established a prima facie case of race discrimination or retaliation and granted summary judgment to the defendants on these claims. See id. at 13-24, 32. However, the Court also concluded that the plaintiff had articulated a cause of action for religious discrimination under the DCHRA in the amended complaint, based on her representation that she was suspended for refusing to take the PPD skin test despite her stated religious objections. Id. at 24-26; see also id. at 25-26 (concluding "that the plaintiff's complaint, when read as a whole under the liberal pleading standards of [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8], provided the defendants with sufficient notice of the plaintiff's claim of religious discrimination under the DCHRA") (internal quotation marks, bracketing, and citations omitted). Because the parties failed to address this claim in their summary judgment pleadings, id. at 24, and because the plaintiff's federal and constitutional claims had been resolved, id. at 26, the Court remanded this action to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, id. at 26-32.

On May 18, 2006, the defendants filed a motion for reconsideration of the Court's conclusion that the plaintiff's complaint advanced a claim of religious discrimination. Defs.' Mot. at 1. Specifically, the defendants argue that (1) the plaintiff's amended complaint "does not state a claim for religious discrimination under the Federal Rules," id. at 8; (2) "[t]he natural narrowing of claims and issues through the pretrial process made clear that [the] [p]laintiff was not pursuing a religious discrimination claim," id. at 6; see also id. at 10 (contending that "[the] [p]laintiff's subsequent descriptions of her claims in both her Joint Statement of the Case . . . [and] her sworn deposition testimony[] made it clear that [she] was not bringing a [claim of religious discrimination]"); and (3) to the extent the plaintiff did articulate a religious discrimination claim in her complaint, she "unequivocally abandoned that claim in her deposition," id. at 9.*fn9 In response, the plaintiff argues that (1) she articulated a cause of action for religious discrimination under the DCHRA in her amended complaint, Pl.'s Opp. at 5; (2) the Joint Statement of the Case is not dispositive of her religious discrimination claim, because the omission of a claim from a "joint status 'meet and confer' statement" does not serve to bar or waive that claim if it is adequately stated in the complaint, id. at 5-6; and (3) her deposition testimony should not be construed as an abandonment of her claim of religious discrimination, id. at 6-9.

On May 31, 2006, having retained new counsel, the plaintiff filed a motion to alter or amend the Court's order granting summary judgment as to her claim of retaliation.*fn10 Pl.'s Mot. at 3. The plaintiff contends in this motion that due to "her prior counsel's illness and subsequent withdrawal from the case," certain relevant documents were not included or referenced in her opposition to the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Id. at 1-2. The plaintiff further asserts that these documents demonstrate that, contrary to the Court's conclusion, she engaged in statutorily protected activity sufficient to state a prima facie case of retaliation under the DCHRA and Section 1981. Id. at 2-3. The defendants, however, argue that the plaintiff's motion to alter or amend judgment is untimely filed, Defs.' Opp. at ...


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