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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. North Memorial Health Care

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 6, 2017

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff,
North Memorial Health Care, Defendant.

          Tina Burnside counsel for plaintiff.

          Karen G. Schanfied, Esq., Krista A.P. Hatcher, Esq and Fredrikson & Byron, PA, counsel for defendant.


          David S. Doty, Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the court upon the motion for summary judgment by defendant North Memorial Health Care. Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants the motion.


         This Title VII dispute arises out of North Memorial's rescission of Emily Sure-Ondara's conditional offer of employment. North Memorial is a healthcare provider based in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. Wombacher Decl. ¶ 3. As part of an effort to attract a diverse workforce, North Memorial started the Advanced Beginner Program, which is a residency program that provides hospital experience to registered nurses. Id. ¶¶ 5-6. The employment terms and conditions for nurses hired under the program are governed by the collective bargaining agreement between North Memorial and the Minnesota Nurses Association (Union Agreement). See id. ¶ 8; Hatcher Aff. Ex. K.

         Sure-Ondara is a Seventh Day Adventist and nurse. In November 2013, Nicholas Wombacher, a Human Resources Generalist at North Memorial, emailed Sure-Ondrara and encouraged her to apply for the Advanced Beginner Program. Sure-Ondara Dep. at 151:12-20. Sure-Ondara applied for the a position in North Memorial's Collaborative Acute Care for the Elderly (CACE) unit. Wombacher Dep. at 25:25-26:10, 32:10-17; Sure-Ondara Dep. at 154:18-23. On November 11, 2013, after interviews with Wombacher and Anthony Levens, the Assistant Nurse Manager for the CACE unit, North Memorial extended Sure-Ondara a conditional offer of employment. Sure-Ondara Dep. at 153:7-9; Hatcher Aff. Ex. J. Sure-Ondara was scheduled to work the night shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and, per the Union Contract, was also required to work every other weekend. Wombacher Decl. ¶¶ 11-12; Hatcher Aff. Ex. J.

         After receiving the offer, Sure-Ondara told Lisa Clements, a Human Resources receptionist, that she could not work on Friday nights for religious reasons and would need an accommodation. Sure-Ondara Dep. at 159:6-8; Clements Dep. at 25:23-25. Lisa Minshull, a Human Resources generalist, called Sure-Ondara to obtain more information about her request, and Sure-Ondara explained that she could not work on Friday nights because she is a Seventh Day Adventist. Sure-Ondara Dep. at 160:17-161:15; Minshull Dep. at 20:6-21:11. Minshull advised Sure-Ondara that she was required to work every other weekend under the terms of the Union Agreement and that if she was unable to do so, North Memorial may need to offer the position to another candidate. Sure-Ondra Dep. at 161:22-162:6. Sure-Ondara responded that she would “make it work.” Sure-Ondara Dep. at 162:4-13; Minshull Dep. at 22:18-22; Hatcher Aff. Ex. M. Sure-Ondara explained that she would either find a substitute for her Friday night shift or come in if she could not find a replacement. Minshull Dep. at 26:2-7; Sure-Ondara Dep. at 162:8-19, 189:12-190:6. Wombacher, Melissa Smith, the Manager of Talent Management, and Renee Conklin, the Director of Human Resources met to discuss Sure-Ondra's accommodation request. Conklin Dep. at 43:23-44:10. They concluded that granting her request was not feasible, and they were also concerned that she would not show up for her Friday night shift. Therefore, they decided to rescind Sure-Ondara's conditional employment offer. Conklin Dep. at 61:21-62:13, 97:25-98:12; Smith Dep. at 35:17-37:25, 61:1-9; Wombacher Dep. at 64:6-21, 74:19-23.

         On November 20, 2013, Wombacher sent Sure-Ondara a letter stating that North Memorial could not grant her schedule modification request and revoking her offer of employment. See Hatcher Aff. Ex. N. The letter also stated that North Memorial was willing to consider her for other positions. See id. Sure-Ondara applied for other positions with North Memorial without success. Sure-Ondara Dep. at 231:8-232:10.

         On December 13, 2013, Sure-Ondara filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Comission (EEOC). See Hatcher Aff. Ex. Q. Sure-Ondara claimed that North Memorial had (1) engaged in religious discrimination by denying her requested accommodation; (2) discriminated against her because she was pregnant; and (3) retaliated against her for requesting a religious accommodation. See id. After an investigation, the EEOC concluded that there was probable cause to find that North Memorial had retaliated against Sure-Ondara by revoking her employment offer because she requested an accommodation. See Hatcher Aff. Ex. R. The EEOC also concluded that there was not a sufficient basis to pursue the religious discrimination or pregnancy discrimination claims.

         On September 16, 2015, the EEOC filed suit against North Memorial alleging that it violated 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) by retaliating against Sure-Ondara for requesting a religious accommodation. North Memorial now moves for summary judgment.


         I. Standard of Review

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is material only when its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. See ...

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