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Scott v. District Hospital Partners, L.P

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 29, 2016

KAREN SCOTT, Plaintiff,



         Karen Scott, an African-American woman and former Case Management Associate at George Washington University Hospital, brings suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, claiming that she was terminated and subjected to a hostile work environment because of her race.[1] After discovery, it is clear that, in November 2010, the hospital notified Scott that it would be eliminating her position due to a departmental reorganization. Open to dispute is whether that reorganization was, indeed, the actual reason for Scott's termination. But there is simply no reliable evidence that the termination, or any of the hostile behavior Scott alleges, was based on her race. Accordingly, the hospital is entitled to summary judgment.

         I. Background

         Scott began work for the hospital on a temporary basis in August 2006. Pl.'s Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Opp'n”), Ex. 1 ¶ 3. Roughly a year later, Clial Beth Reinhart-the Case Management Director at the hospital-interviewed Scott for a full-time Case Management Associate position. Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (“Def.'s MSJ”), Ex. 2. In a post-interview response sheet recommending that Scott be hired, Reinhart gave Scott top marks in various experience, education, job knowledge, and skills categories, and offered the following general appraisal of her candidacy: “I have worked with [Scott] since [October] 2006 and have hands[-]on experience [with] the quality of her work. She is highly qualified.” Id. Scott was hired for the position the following month, in August 2007. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 ¶ 3. She would be supervised by Reinhart, and would be tasked with the “effective communication of information to and from insurance representatives, physicians, patients, families, and the healthcare team, ” including the processing of insurance claims. Def.'s MSJ, Ex. 1.

         The working relationship between Scott and Reinhart got off to a harmonious start. In a glowing introductory evaluation completed in November 2007, Reinhart gave Scott the highest rating possible on nearly every performance benchmark, and noted-among numerous other positive remarks-that Scott “clearly strive[d] for excellence in her work” and had been “key to the [department's] success.” Def.'s MSJ, Ex. 3. For her part, Scott wrote: “I love my job [and] my supervisor!” Id. This mutual admiration persisted. On an April 2008 evaluation, Reinhart again gave Scott near-perfect ratings and laudatory written feedback-describing her as “responsible, ” “reliable, ” “efficient[], ” and “cheerful[]”-and Scott again expressed exuberant satisfaction with her job and supervisor (“I adore my job; and I love [Reinhart's] management style. She is very motivational!”). See Def.'s MSJ, Ex. 4. There were fewer comments on subsequent evaluations, but Scott's ratings did not taper until 2010, and even then they remained at or above a “competent” level. Def.'s MSJ, Exs. 5-7. Reinhart approved pay raises for Scott in 2008, 2009, and 2010. See Def.'s MSJ, Exs. 8-9, 15.

         Somewhere along the line, however, Scott's relationship with Reinhart soured. One possible turning point was Reinhart's purported response to Scott's complaint, in May 2009, that three of her co-workers were practicing witchcraft, causing black dust or “goo” to emanate from the office's air vents. See Def.'s MSJ, Ex. 12 (“First Scott Dep.”) 123-37. According to Scott, Reinhart's initial reaction to this complaint was to “start[] screaming and hollering.” Id. at 132:11-15. Later, Reinhart offered to modify Scott's work station and to have maintenance check the vents, but in Scott's view that follow-up never happened. Id. at 133:4-14. Scott complains of another incident, in early 2010, where Reinhart supposedly started opening filing cabinet drawers near Scott's desk, “screaming” about how things were not properly organized, and telling Scott that she was crazy. Def.'s MSJ, Ex. 10 (“Second Scott Dep.”) 132-33. And several months later, in April 2010, Reinhart supposedly “screamed at [her] again . . . for propping open the door between the Case Management and Nursing office, ” which was secured with a code lock that Scott contends was “malfunctioning.” Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 ¶ 22. According to Reinhart's divergent version of events-which she recorded in an incident report-Reinhart merely asked Scott why the door was ajar. Def.'s MSJ, Ex. 11. (In the report, Reinhart explains that the “door should never be propped open as it has a coded . . . entrance key pad [with a code known only by] employees who work in the case management area.” Id.) Scott's response to the inquiry was “argumentative and confrontational”: She cited the need for air circulation, suggested that Reinhart should “call [her] attorney, ” and initially ignored Reinhart's request that she go home for the day in light of her defiant behavior. Id.

         Aside from these alleged incidents of “screaming, ” Scott complains about other kinds of unpleasant treatment by her supervisor. Reinhart apparently “threw mail” in Scott's direction (it is unclear whether the mail was thrown at Scott or merely on her desk), see Second Scott Dep. 147:6-148:15; Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 ¶ 11, and she made comments at departmental meetings that Scott felt were “belittl[ing], ” Second Scott Dep. 142:17-143:16. Reinhart also allegedly requested access to Scott's email account so that she could monitor administrative communications while Scott was out of the office, id. 101:5-17; permitted another employee but not Scott-at least at first-to work overtime, Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 ¶ 9; stopped telling Scott the time and location of weekly department meetings, id. ¶ 15; and “call[ed] Scott into her office for anything, including minor matters and matters that were not part of [Reinhart's] responsibilities, ” id. ¶ 23.[2]

         The relationship between Scott and Reinhart had clearly deteriorated, then, by November 2010, when Scott was terminated. See Def.'s MSJ, Ex. 17. However, the hospital does not suggest that Scott's firing was prompted by the relationship breakdown with her supervisor, Scott's bizarre accusations against her colleagues, or any deficiency in Scott's performance. Rather, the hospital claimed then-and maintains now-that Scott was terminated due to the hospital's reorganization of its case management department, which resulted in replacing Scott's position with one requiring a Registered Nursing (“RN”) degree. See Def.'s MSJ, Exs. 16-17. As Scott understands it, however, “there was no business reorganization”; the stated plan was merely a “ruse”-or pretext-for the termination. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 ¶¶ 29-30. In support of that view, Scott points to two employment listings, posted online by the hospital in July 2015, which advertise open Case Management Associate positions for which no RN degree is required. See Pl.'s Opp'n, Exs. 1A & 1B. According to Scott, “[t]his proves that the so-called business reorganization was a pretext[.]” Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 ¶ 38.

         Scott's characterization of the hospital's actual motivation behind her firing, however, has varied. Between January 2011 and January 2013, Scott brought a series of charges before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), challenging her termination on the grounds of race, religion, age, and disability discrimination, and eventually also alleging retaliation and hostile work environment. See Scott v. Dist. Hosp. Partners, L.P., 60 F.Supp.3d 156, 160-61 (D.D.C. 2014) (“Scott I”) (summarizing EEOC charges). In April 2013, after the EEOC dismissed Scott's various charges, she filed a five-count complaint in this Court, naming as Defendants the hospital's owner, District Hospital Partners, L.P., and management company, UHS of Delaware, Inc. (collectively, the “hospital”). Compl. ¶¶ 4-5. Scott brought claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e; and wrongful termination under D.C. common law. In particular, Scott alleged that the departmental reorganization was “a false pretext for discharging her in retaliation for [her] having insisted on an accommodation” (propping open the door) for her “disability” (shortness of breath, exacerbated by black dust from the air ducts). Compl. ¶¶ 21, 32. However, in the same complaint, Scott also alleged that her termination had been the product of race-based discrimination. “Reinhart, ” she claimed, “systematically discriminated against [her] and at least four others based on their race or national origin, to assure that they were let go from [the hospital] and replaced with non-minority individuals”-“a white RN” in Scott's case. Id. ¶ 32, 46. And she also alleged facts supposedly suggesting a race-based hostile work environment-such as an instance where Reinhart gave a white employee more opportunities for overtime pay. Id. ¶ 24.

         The hospital moved to dismiss all of Scott's claims, save her allegation of race-based termination. The Court granted the hospital's motion in part, dismissing the disability-related claims largely because Scott had failed to show that her alleged breathing difficulty was a recognized disability under the ADA. See Scott I, 60 F.Supp.3d at 164.[3] However, noting that Scott's allegations related to her race-based hostile work environment claim were “lacking in detail” but “just barely sufficient to satisfy” her pleading burden, the Court permitted that claim to proceed. Id. at 165. Accordingly, discovery commenced on two claims: that Scott's termination was race-based, and that she had been subject to a hostile work environment because of her race.

         The hospital has now moved for summary judgment on these remaining claims. Regarding the termination claim, the hospital contends that Scott has not produced sufficient evidence to dispute its legitimate explanation for her termination, i.e., that it resulted from a departmental reorganization and the consequent elimination of Scott's position. And the hospital argues that Scott cannot succeed on her hostile work environment claim because the record does not reveal her working conditions to have been sufficiently severe or abusive, or that any of the alleged hostility was racially motivated. Scott responds by citing the two Case Management Associate job postings discussed above, as well as three declarations, including her own, that were submitted following the close of discovery. With few exceptions, the assertions contained in these declarations are either vague and conclusory; seemingly unsupported by the declarant's personal knowledge; irrelevant to any material fact; or simply so bizarre as to be beyond reasonable belief. As discussed in more detail below, Scott has not produced evidence that would permit a reasonable juror to conclude that she was fired on account of her race. Nor has she shown that any hostility on the part of her supervisors was racially motivated. The Court will, accordingly, grant summary judgment for the hospital.

         II. Legal Standards

         A court must grant summary judgment if the movant “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, ” such that “judgment as a matter of law” is proper. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A material fact is one that could affect a suit's outcome under the relevant law, and a genuine dispute is one that a reasonable juror could resolve in favor of the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “[A] party seeking summary judgment . . . bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). But “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, ” a court must enter summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 322.

         While a party may, of course, cite to affidavits or declarations in support of its motion or opposition, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), such materials must “be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). It follows that “affidavits based upon [mere] belief are inadequate” at this litigation stage, Harris v. Gonzales, 488 F.3d 442, 446 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (citing Londrigan v. FBI, 670 F.2d 1164, 1174 (D.C. Cir. 1981)), and that “‘sheer hearsay' . . . ‘counts for nothing' on summary judgment, ” Greer v. Paulson, 505 F.3d 1306, 1315 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (quoting Gleklen v. Democratic Cong. CampaignComm., Inc., 199 F.3d 1365, 1369 (D.C. Cir. 2000)). While evidence need not be “in a form that would be admissible at trial, the evidence still must be capable of being converted into admissible evidence.” Gleklen, 199 F.3d at 1369. Moreover, self-serving allegations that are “generalized, conclusory and uncorroborated” do not establish a triable factual issue, at least where one would reasonably ...

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