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Dupont v. Allina Health System

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 28, 2014

Debbie Dupont, Plaintiff,
Allina Health System, Defendant.

Brian T. Rochel and Michelle Dye Neumann, Schaefer Law Firm, LLC, Counsel for Plaintiff.

Tina A. Syring-Petrocchi and Amy C. Taber, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Counsel for Defendant.


MICHAEL J. DAVIS, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Allina Health System's ("Allina") motion for summary judgment.

I. Factual Background

Plaintiff was employed by Allina at the St. Francis Regional Medical Center from 1976 to July 2012 as an Environmental Services Aide ("ESA") and was a member of the Service Employees International Union ("SEIU"). ESAs are responsible for cleaning specific areas of the hospital assigned to them. Plaintiff worked on the day shift and was responsible for cleaning occupied patient rooms, discharge rooms and common areas, including waiting rooms, hallways and restrooms.

Plaintiff is 53 years old and was born with hearing and visual impairments and a heart murmur. She is deaf in her left ear and wears a hearing aid in her right ear. She is blind in her right eye, has limited vision in her left eye, and occasionally wears corrective lenses. Her visual impairment impacts her peripheral vision, but she drives a car - except at night and on highways - reads and watches television. Finally, Plaintiff's heart murmur causes her to be weaker than those without a heart murmur, but she is on medication for that ailment.

Plaintiff asserts that the combination of her disabilities creates issues with her development, comprehension and communication. (Gene Dep. at 111-12; Miller Aff. ¶¶ 5-7; Wangen Aff ¶¶ 11-13; Finley Aff. ¶ 3; Ex. 58.) Other employees report difficulty communicating with Plaintiff. (Ex. 30 at DD000363; Miller Aff. ¶ 5; Wangen Aff ¶ 11.)

In the spring of 2011, Allina put in place a system-wide standardized cleaning process. This process includes uniform productivity and performance cleaning standards ("cleaning standards"). (Harris Dep. at 17-18, 30, 33.) The cleaning standards were established based on surveys of its Environmental Services Department and a detailed analysis of square footage cleaned, cleaning times and the essential functions of the ESAs. (Id. at 18.) Allina disseminated an Environmental Services Cleaning Guidebook, and scheduled training sessions, to educate staff as to the cleaning standards. (Anderson Dep. at 22, 26; Harris Dep. at 33; Ex. L).) ESAs at St. Francis Regional Medical Center attended training on two days in May 2011. With the implementation of these cleaning standards, Allina asserts that a discharge room[1] should generally be cleaned in 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the room size and the equipment in the room. (Exs. M and LL; Harris Dep. at 56; Anderson Dep. at 26.) An occupied patient room, however, should be cleaned in approximately fifteen minutes. (Ex. M.)

Allina asserts that even before the cleaning standards were implemented, management had concerns about the time in which it took to clean assigned rooms. (Harris Dep. at 16; Nystrom Dep. at 22; Krueger Dep. at 16-17.) On occasion, she did not complete all of her assigned tasks during her shift, and her co-workers complained that Plaintiff's slowness resulted in them completing some of Plaintiff's tasks or that rooms would not be ready when needed. (Krueger Dep. at 19-20, 23; Harris Dep. at 33.) While her co-workers did help her complete her tasks in the past, such assistance allegedly became more burdensome when staffing at the hospital was dropped. (Harris Dep. at 34-35, 41.) To address this issue, Allina met with Plaintiff on multiple occasions to discuss ways for Plaintiff to complete her tasks timely, and provided Plaintiff with one-on-one training and shadowing opportunities. (Exs. U, V and W.)

Around 2010, Allina assigned Plaintiff to clean only common areas. (Plaintiff Dep. at 32; Krueger Dep. at 42-43.) Her supervisor at the time, Nancy Krueger, testified that Plaintiff was not able to complete her cleaning assignments by the end of her shift, and that after cleaning common areas for four to six months, Plaintiff asked that she be assigned to cleaning rooms in the pediatrics area. (Krueger Dep. at 42-45.) Plaintiff believes that her supervisor, Krueger, was being mean to her, and that Krueger made the decision for Plaintiff to resume cleaning patient rooms. (Plaintiff Dep. at 33, 35.) Plaintiff's brother witnessed Krueger talk loudly to Plaintiff and that Krueger appeared to lose her patience with and talk down to Plaintiff. (Gene Dep. at 36-37.)

Once the cleaning standards were implemented in 2011, and Plaintiff failed to meet them, Allina issued Plaintiff a Level 1 corrective action on May 18, 2011 and was provided additional coaching. (Ex. X.) Plaintiff continued to take too much time to complete her cleaning tasks and as a result, Allina again met with Plaintiff on July 26, 2011 to discuss her failure to meet the cleaning standards and issued her a Level 2 corrective action. (Exs. Z and AA.)

Another meeting was held on August 9, 2011 concerning Plaintiff's work performance. (Ex. BB.) At this meeting was Plaintiff's manager, Jimly Harris, her supervisor, Nancy Krueger, human resource specialist Anita Nystrom, and Plaintiff's brother and his wife, Gene and Sue DuPont. (Id.) During this meeting, it was agreed that Becky Lucius, ESA lead, would provide additional training to Plaintiff. (Id.) At a follow-up meeting on September 15, 2011, Allina offered Plaintiff a transfer to an evening ESA position in a different area of St. Francis Regional Medical Center that had no patient care rooms and therefore no cleaning standards to comply with. (Nystrom Dep. at 40.) Plaintiff declined the position, stating she did not see well at night and therefore was not comfortable driving home at night and because there were car break-ins in the parking lot. (Plaintiff Dep. at 60-61.)

On September 18, 2011, Plaintiff submitted a job accommodation request form requesting additional time to do her job in an efficient manner. (Ex. E.) In response, Allina requested additional medical information and arranged for Plaintiff to complete a fitness for duty examination. (Ex. GG.) Allina continued working with Plaintiff to improve her turnaround time and to retrain her pending the results of the medical evaluation. (Harris Dep. at 37-38.)

On January 25, 2012, Allina received the results from Plaintiff's medical assessment. (Ex. HH.) The assessment provided Plaintiff was not able to provide a clear answer as to why her medical conditions prevented her from completing her job duties in a timely fashion. (Id.) The assessment further recommended that based on the totality of her medical history, "it seems reasonable that she may need some additional time to perform tasks." (Id.)

Allina thereafter met with Plaintiff to discuss her fitness assessment. Plaintiff informed Allina that she wanted between 75 minutes and 90 minutes to clean a discharge room, 120 minutes to clean an isolation room and 15 minutes to clean an occupied room. (Ex. II.) Allina responded that allowing more time to complete her work required lowering the uniformly-applied cleaning standards, which was not a reasonable accommodation. (Ex. FF.) Allina further explained that it was not a reasonable accommodation to pull other employees away from their unfinished work to help her complete her cleaning. (Harris Dep. at 39-40.)

On February 9, 2012, Allina placed Plaintiff on a medical leave of absence. (Ex. JJ.) She was directed to contact the service center to request a medical leave of absence, and to follow the instructions of the leave specialist. (Id.) Allina further instructed Plaintiff that if additional accommodations were identified, such accommodations would be discussed with Plaintiff. (Id.)

The next day, Plaintiff's brother Gene emailed Allina, on behalf of Plaintiff, stating that Plaintiff would return to work on February 15, 2012. (Ex. MM.) Allina responded that Plaintiff could return to work, but that she would be held to the cleaning standards, with or without accommodation. (Ex. OO.) Allina also informed Plaintiff that it was open to continued discussions and ideas related to reasonable accommodations that would allow her to do the essential functions of her job. (Id.) Sometime after the February 9, 2012 meeting, Gene and Sue Dupont met with Nystrom to discuss Plaintiff. (Gene Dep. at 79.) Gene asked Nystrom why, after almost 36 years, did Allina decide that Plaintiff could no longer do her job. Nystrom allegedly replied "I don't know why. I think she's probably older now." (Id.)

At some time, Allina discussed the accommodation of allowing Plaintiff to only clean offices. This accommodation was ultimately not offered because staff that clean offices are required to carry a radio, and in an emergency, they would be called away from cleaning offices or common areas to clean discharge rooms. (Nystrom Dep. at 45-46.) Plaintiff was not able to operate a radio, however, given her hearing impairment. (Id. at 43-44.)

Plaintiff returned to work on February 15, 2012. Allina claims that Plaintiff continued to fail to meet the cleaning standards and another Level 1 corrective action was issued. (Ex. P P.) At a meeting held on February 22, 2012, the participants discussed Plaintiff's failure to meet the cleaning standards, along with other performance issues. (Id.; Ex. QQ.) They also discussed a plan in which union steward Michelle ...

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