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PORRAS v. MONTEFIORE MEDICAL CENTER

July 12, 1990

PETRA PORRAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MONTEFIORE MEDICAL CENTER AND DR. MICHAEL SCIMECA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sweet, District Judge.

OPINION

Defendants Montefiore Medical Center ("Montefiore") and Dr. Michael Scimeca ("Scimeca") have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below the motion is granted with respect to the federal cause of action, and jurisdiction of the four pendent state claims is declined.

Parties

Montefiore is a voluntary, not for profit, acute care hospital with a contract with the New York City (the "City") Department of Health and Department of Corrections ("DOC") to provide medical and mental health care services to prisoners on Rikers Island.

Scimeca was hired as the Director of Mental Health at Montefiore-Rikers Island and became Porras' immediate supervisor on February 16, 1988. Scimeca is responsible for the delivery of mental health services at Rikers and supervises the performance of approximately eight Unit Chiefs, each one of whom oversees the delivery of services to inmates in a particular building. Scimeca reports directly to Charles Braslow, M.D. ("Braslow"), the Program Director at Montefiore.

Plaintiff Petra Porras ("Porras") is a 47-year old woman who commenced employment with Montefiore on or about April 22, 1985 where she was Unit Chief for Mental Health Services in building C-76 ("C-76"), the Correctional Institution For Men ("CIFM") on Rikers Island until her separation from employment on May 25, 1988. As Unit Chief for C-76 she was responsible for the delivery of mental health services for approximately 2,500 prisoners.

Prior Proceedings

On or about July 12, 1988 Porras filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in which she stated that she had been the subject of retaliation for refusing to side with the Montefiore administration on issues surrounding riots at Rikers Island, and further that beginning in 1987 she was intimidated and harassed. She also alleged sex and age discrimination. After an investigation, the EEOC issued a finding of no probable cause, and on June 19, 1989 Porras received her right to sue letter. On May 16, 1989 Porras filed summonses with both the Clerk of the Court for Queens and the Bronx, the respective counties of both Montefiore and the Rikers Island Clinic. Porras filed her complaint in this court on June 14, 1989 alleging five causes of action: sex discrimination under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964; a parallel state discriminatory cause of action under the New York State Executive Law; assault for the May 19, 1988 meeting with Scimeca; a violation of the personnel policies as to separation for cause; and a similarly pled cause of action under the employee manual for violation of the grievance procedures and other terms and conditions of employment. Montefiore's motion for summary judgment on all counts was heard on March 23, 1990 and considered fully submitted as of that date.

Porras' Employment History

Gale Siegal ("Siegal"), former Deputy Director of Mental Health Services and Dr. Robert Cohn ("Cohn"), former Program Director, interviewed Porras for the position of Unit Chief. As a nonunion, managerial employee, Porras did not have a contract of employment with Montefiore. Several days after Porras started working at Montefiore, Porras was given a copy of Montefiore Medical Center's Personnel Policies & Procedure Manual (the "Manual").

The Manual was updated, modified and revised continually. The Forward to the Manual states that it is intended as a guide and is not meant to provide the final answer for every problem that may arise. Further, the Forward provides that the Manual should never be used as a substitute for good judgment. Porras' employment application does not contain any language which expressly limits the condition under which her employment may be terminated. Porras contends that the employee manual contained commitments to her that she would be fired only for just cause and that there would be progressive discipline and a fair and equitable grievance procedure.

As a Unit Chief, Porras worked directly under Dr. Michael Gordon ("Gordon"), a board certified psychiatrist, who was then head of the clinic. Richard Schmit, a psychiatric social worker in another building, was included among the other Unit Chiefs who worked with Porras.

Porras' hiring coincided with the first year of operation of the Montefiore program at Rikers. The clinic was reviewed as part of the conditions for Montefiore's 21 million dollar contract with the City to supply health care services. The review of the program, including Porras' house and her programs, "was nothing short of glowing." The entire program was found to be excellent, and it was held up as a national example of a mental health clinic in a prison setting.

Gordon's review of Porras after her first year indicated that Porras' performance was outstanding. Porras received an all-A rating. In his comments under summary performance Gordon stated: "Ms. Porras has done an extraordinary job in requiring for and setting up a mental health program for a difficult population in a problematic multi-faceted setting. Her dedication and her resourcefulness are a model for all staff." Porras received a ten percent pay increase.

In or about October 1986, Porras became aware of allegations of correctional personnel brutality at Rikers Island. Many of these allegations came from the patients she served, and many allegations came as an outgrowth of the rioting that occurred on the Island in 1987. Porras spoke with Gordon and Dr. Grace ("Grace") a psychiatrist working in her unit in the fall of 1986 and indicated her sympathy and support for having the issue of brutality on the Island addressed. In October of 1986 Gordon contacted the United States Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York to discuss the allegations of severe brutality. Schmit, also disturbed by the brutality, contacted the investigator of Rikers Island and then spoke with an AUSA. Porras allegedly at all times indicated her sympathy and willingness to testify.

In October of 1986 the Montefiore administration discovered Gordon and Schmit's testimony and reporting of brutality. Gordon was contacted and told not to assist in the investigation and that he had violated the rules and had jeopardized Montefiore's contract with the City. Siegal, his deputy, allegedly told him he could not be trusted. According to Porras, similar messages allegedly were conveyed to Porras and Schmit.

According to Porras, Porras, like Gordon, was isolated and became the victim of a barrage of harassment by Siegal and Diana Torres, the Director of Human Resources. Porras spoke to Braslow about Siegal's threats and Braslow indicated he would investigate the situation but nothing allegedly changed. Porras began to get memos concerning problems with DOC although her relationship with the DOC was previously excellent. Gordon, isolated and cognizant that his job was in jeopardy, resigned. Schmit was also allegedly threatened, harassed and told by Siegal that he was not going to be trusted. Schmit was also told by Siegal that Porras was not to be trusted that she was disloyal and that she, Siegal, was going to get Porras fired.

In early 1987 Porras alleges that she began to experience intense harassment by Siegal. Allegedly, Siegal would constantly yell at Porras, refuse to return her telephone calls and refuse to assist Porras as a Unit Chief. Siegal requested that Porras side with Montefiore on the issue of the brutality charges and when Porras refused, Siegal allegedly indicated she would ...


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