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Barnhart v. Regions Hospital

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

January 15, 2014

Michele Barnhart, Plaintiff,
v.
Regions Hospital, Defendant.

Barbara J. Felt, Esq., Clayton D. Halunen, Esq., Ross D. Stadheim, Esq., and Shaun M. Parks, Esq., Halunen & Associates, counsel for Plaintiff.

Cynthia A. Bremer, Esq., and Jaime N. Cole, Esq., Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., counsel for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DONOVAN W. FRANK, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment brought by Defendant Regions Hospital ("Regions") (Doc. No. 15), in which Regions requests that the Court award summary judgment as to the employment discrimination claims brought against it by Plaintiff Michele Barnhart ("Barnhart"). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the motion in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

In January 2008, Barnhart was hired by Regions as a Scheduling Specialist- Neurosurgery. (Doc. No. 18, Cole Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. A ("Barnhart Dep.") at 66-67 & Ex. 4.) In her position, Barnhart's duties included scheduling patient appointments, registering patients, verifying patient information and insurance, assisting physicians in administrative duties, answering phone calls, and communicating benefit changes to members. ( Id. at 96-97 & Ex. 9.) Barnhart's work schedule required her to be at work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ( Id. at 98-99.)

Barnhart's first supervisor was Cheryl Sarno ("Sarno"), a Nurse Clinician for Neurosurgery. ( Id. at 72.) Sarno reported to Linda Moses ("Moses"), Specialty Operations Manager for Neurosciences. ( Id. at 72, 80; Cole Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. B ("Moses Dep.") at 6-9.) Jill Goring ("Goring") supervised Barnhart from early 2011 through summer 2011. (Barnhart Dep. at 78.) Moses took on Goring's supervisory roles for certain individuals, including Barnhart, after Goring accepted a new position in August 2011. (Moses Dep. at 10, 14-20; Barnhart Dep., Ex. 6.) Carol Droegemueller ("Droegemueller") also became an interim supervisor at some point after Moses, during which time she supervised Barnhart and three other employees. (Cole Decl. ¶ 9, Ex. E ("Droegemueller Dep.") at 5, 6, 15.) While acting as supervisor, Droegemueller would "lean on" Moses to consult on certain issues, including issues relating to Barnhart's schedule and attendance. ( Id. at 30.)

In March 2010, Barnhart was diagnosed with Factor V Leiden.[1] (Barnhart Dep. at 100.) Barnhart was, among other things, prescribed Coumadin and told she must: limit the amount of time she sits and/or stands; wear TED stockings; eat a diet high in iron; and utilize a particular type of birth control. ( Id. at 267-68, 275-76.) In her Declaration, Barnhart claims that flare-ups of her disease (when blood clots are active) cause pain and difficulty walking, exercising, or engaging in other activities, as well as headaches, stomach aches, and cramping. (Barnhart Decl. ¶ 3.)[2]

Barnhart had a total of four blood transfrusions during the spring and summer of 2011. (Barnhart Dep. at 111-12, 257-58.) In addition, Barnhart had to have blood work done two to three times per week to monitor her condition. ( Id. at 111.) However, by her own count, Barnhart estimated that, after her diagnosis, she had her blood drawn a total of 16 times during the over eighteen months she worked at Regions. ( Id. at 197-98.) Barnhart contends that it became difficult for her to work on her normal schedule, which required her to be at work at 8:00 a.m. ( Id. at 100.)

In July 2010, Barnhart submitted a request for intermittent FMLA leave to accommodate her Factor V Leiden condition, and her request was approved. (Barnhart Dep. at 269 & Exs. 26, 33.) Her request was based on her physician's medical certification, which indicated Barnhart would need time for blood work and transfusions. ( Id. at 198-205 & Exs. 26, 33.) The certification specifically indicates that Barnhart's condition will not "cause episodic flare-ups periodically preventing the employee from performing his/her job functions" and that she will not require a reduced or part-time work schedule. ( Id., Ex. 26.) Barnhart also spoke with Goring, her supervisor, who assured Barnhart that she would accommodate her schedule. ( Id. at 202.)

Regions initially provided Barnhart with a flexible start time for the days on which she needed to have blood work, allowing her to come in between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. ( Id. at 175-79.) Barnhart claims that if she was going to be late, she would call a supervisor or a co-worker. ( Id. at 125.)

Regions asserts that in January 2011, Barnhart began exhibiting performance deficiencies. On January 21, 2011, Barnhart was counseled on her performance, at which time Barnhart was told she had difficulty with the accuracy and thoroughness of scheduling and documentation. ( Id. at 173-75 & Ex. 19.)[3] Barnhart was counseled again in September 2011, based on several scheduling-related complaints from other department supervisors and staff. ( Id. at 167-73 & Exs. 15, 18; Moses Dep. at 37-46.) In October 2011, Barnhart received a written reprimand issued by Moses for performance issues. (Barnhart Dep. at 161-63 & Ex. 12; Moses Dep. at 91-96 & Exs. 3, 4.) The notes from the related employee-supervisor conference read in part:

This has an impact on external customers, internal coworkers, leaders, surgeons and patients. It causes lack of satisfaction in customers not being responded to, lack of accountability regarding who was contacted and delays in responses. Since others on the team have repeatedly experienced your lack of follow-through, this has created inefficiency and workarounds for others on the team, and dissatisfaction and lack of confidence in your performance as others see you as unreliable.

(Barnhart Dep., Ex. 12.) Additional complaints were made regarding Barnhart's performance. ( Id., Exs. 16-17.)

Regions also asserts that Barnhart had attendance and tardiness issues.[4] In September or October 2011, Barnhart was informed that she was required to page Moses if she was going to be late (meaning past her 9:00 a.m. start time) or absent, so that Moses would know whether and when Barnhart would be at work, and so Moses could ensure proper staffing. (Moses Dep. at 84, 88 & Ex. 4.) Barnhart acknowledges that between November 17, 2011 and January 6, 2012, she had twelve documented start times after 9:00 a.m. (Barnhart Dep., Ex. 12.) Barnhart claims that those late starts occurred on days when she attempted to have blood work[5] or when she felt ill because of her condition. (Barnhart Decl. ¶ 5.) During her deposition, however, Barnhart acknowledged that she was late on occasion for reasons that included "running late, " "not feeling well, " and taking her daughter to an appointment. (Barnhart Dep. at 180-86.) Also during her deposition, Barnhart was unable to recall an occasion when she was late because she was having blood work done or any appointment she had to cancel because of work. ( Id. at 181-82, 249-56.)[6]

Barnhart claims that Moses told her that she could not schedule medical appointments during work hours. (Barnhart Dep. at 299-300.) When Droegemeuller became Barnhart's supervisor, Droegemueller advised Barnhart that she needed to inform Droegemueller if she was going to be late (after 9:00 a.m.). (Droegemueller Dep. at 22-23.)

On January 9, 2012, Barnhart received an email from Moses inquiring about her start time: "What is your regular start and stop time? I'm approving timecards and there is a lot a [sic] variation in your start times." (Barnhart Dep., Ex. 21.) Barnhart responded: "I thought we agreed if I got here from 8:30 to 9:00 [sic] if this has changed I will make it one or the other. I was adjusting my [FMLA] time so I didn't have to take time off during the day for bloodwork and such." ( Id. )

In the evening of January 12, 2012, Barnhart slipped and fell in a St. Paul parking lot, suffering injuries to her head and face. (Barnhart Dep. at 137-40.) Barnhart claims that the next morning, January 13, she notified two former supervisors and a co-worker of her fall and that she was going to seek medical attention. ( Id. at 150.) Barnhart did not call her current supervisor. ( Id. at 137-56.) Barnhart provided a doctor's note and returned to work on January 17, 2012. ( Id. at 243.)

Moses pulled and reviewed Barnhart's time records. (Moses Dep. at 102-03.) Droegemueller discussed Barnhart's attendance issues with Moses and Agerbeck. (Droegemueller Dep. at 29-31, 46-47.) On January 19, 2012, Droegemueller and Agerbeck met with Barnhart to discuss her attendance issues and failure to follow the arrangements for calling her supervisor when she would be late. (Agerbeck Dep. at 28-30.) During this meeting, Barnhart stated that she felt she was being treated differently because of her disability. (Barnhart Dep. at 298-99.) For example, Barnhart stated:

I said I felt I was being discriminated against. I was the only one that had to get FMLA paperwork for absences or when I was gone. I had to get a doctor's note.... I was told that I needed to schedule my appointments around work scheduled hours, if I had anything to schedule. They didn't want me to do it in the morning or - I couldn't do it in the morning, because sometimes I was there till after 9:00, so just sometimes I would just leave, and I couldn't schedule them after 2:00.

( Id. ) On that same day, Barnhart was suspended for one day (January 20, 2012) without pay for "continued excessive tardiness" and not reporting properly, and for failing to contact a supervisor for absences on December 18, 2012 and January 13, 2012. (Agerbeck Dep. at 49-53 & Exs. 1, 4.)

On February 2, 2012, Barnhart filed a grievance related to her suspension. (Barnhart Dep. at 211-218 & Ex. 27.) Her grievance stated, in part:

B.) It had been agreed upon by my previous supervisors Cheryl Sarno and Jill Goering [sic] that I could flex my start times periodically because I was on FMLA for a blood disorder, in which I was subject to frequent INR's, Labs, and Transfusions. [Moses] had asked me verbally that I schedule these so they did not interfere with phone ...

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