The opinion of the court was delivered by: Siragusa, U.S. District Judge.
Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court on August 11, 1999, alleging
eight different causes of action and seeking compensatory and punitive
damages. Her complaint lists causes of action arising under Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including an allegation of discriminatory
termination from her employment, retaliatory termination of her
employment, defendants' alleged failure to accommodate her religious
beliefs, and a hostile work environment. She makes similar claims under
the New York State Human Rights Law. See N.Y. EXEC. LAW § 296.
Plaintiff alleges defendants*fn1
discriminated against her, and
ultimately terminated her employment, because of her deeply held
religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic. The case is before the Court on
defendants' motion for summary judgment. Defendants contend that they are
entitled to summary judgment because they allege plaintiff cannot
establish the essential elements of her religious discrimination claim,
her retaliation claim, her failure to accommodate claim, or her hostile
work environment claim. After reviewing all the papers filed in this case
in support of the motion and against it by plaintiff, and hearing oral
argument, the Court denies defendants' motion (document # 14) for summary
Defendants filed a Local Rule 56 Statement of Material Facts Not in
Dispute (document # 16) with their motion for summary judgment. Local
Rule of Civil Procedure 56 states, in pertinent part,
in any motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 56, there shall be annexed to
the notice of motion a separate, short, and concise
statement of the material facts to which the moving
party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried.
The papers opposing a motion for summary judgment
shall include a separate, short and concise statement
of the material facts as to which it is contended that
there exists a genuine issue to be tried. All material
facts set forth in the statement required to be served
by the moving party will be deemed admitted unless
controverted by the statement required to be served by
the opposing party. . .
The Clerk's docket sheet for this case reveals that plaintiff filed an
affidavit and memorandum on January 8, 2001 (documents ## 21 & 22), but
has not filed a "separate, short, and concise statement of the material
facts as to which it is contended that there exists a genuine issue to be
tried." Therefore, the facts in defendants' Local Rule 56 Statement are
deemed admitted pursuant to the Local rule.
The University of Rochester ("University") hired Maria Lotosky
("plaintiff") in 1988 as a nurse extern, and then as a full-time nurse in
1992. During the time period relevant to this litigation, plaintiff held
the nursing position of Research Nurse in the Anesthesiology Department
("Department"). In December of 1997, plaintiff was placed under the
direct supervision of Defendant Ann Holberton ("Holberton"), Lead
Clinical Research Coordinator. Janet Vaughn ("Vaughn"), a Nurse
Practitioner, supervised plaintiff's work and reported to Holberton
information relating to plaintiff's work performance. Plaintiff's primary
responsibilities as Research Nurse Coordinator were to facilitate
research studies and coordinate clinical trials with designated
pharmaceutical companies. Her duties included performing procedures as
required by protocols, reading patient consent forms, completing case
report forms, assisting investigators, and dispensing investigational
medications to patients.
In January of 1998, plaintiff informed Holberton of a conflict between
her religious beliefs and her job duties as Research Nurse Coordinator.
During her participation in what was referred to as the
morphine/guaifensin study, plaintiff expressed reservations to Holberton
about reading the patient consent forms. Plaintiff claimed that she could
not read the consent forms because certain forms of birth control are
proscribed by the tenets of her faith as a Roman Catholic. Plaintiff
suggested to Holberton that another nurse could read the consent forms to
the patients. However, Holberton informed plaintiff that such an
arrangement was a practical impossibility, and then suggested that
plaintiff may want to seek a transfer to another position to avoid any
conflict between her beliefs and her job duties.
When plaintiff discussed her reservations with Holberton, the only
nurse other than plaintiff and Holberton in the department was Kate
Grams("Grams"), and neither Holberton nor Grams could perform the patient
consent responsibility that was part of plaintiff's job. Holberton was
immersed in coordinating her own research studies and supervising the
other nurses at the on-site unit of the Department, while Grams was a
patient at the Center and a research nurse at the on-site unit of the
Department. Both Holberton and Grams had logistical problems in leaving
the on-site unit of the Department and traveling to the off-site Center*fn2
to perform plaintiff's job duties.
Holberton consulted with Susan Powell, Program Administrator, and
Defendant David Child to explore possible options or accommodations. They
determined that it was not feasible for another nurse to read the consent
forms to the patients. They concluded that they would be unable to
accommodate plaintiff's request without hiring a new nurse or disrupting
the already demanding work schedules of the Department nurses.
Although plaintiff contends that Vaughn could have read the consent
forms, Vaughn, as a Nurse Practitioner and plaintiff's supervisor at the
Center, would have had to abandon her own job responsibilities of direct
patient care and supervision of clinical studies to perform plaintiff's
job duties. In addition, the University did not want to pay a Nurse
Practitioner's higher salary to perform the job duties of a Research
Nurse Coordinator. Other than Holberton, plaintiff informed none of her
other supervisors of the conflict between her religious beliefs and job
responsibilities. Plaintiff continued to read the consent forms without
any objection. She requested neither a transfer nor a reassignment. The
University took no adverse employment action against plaintiff as a
result of her discussion with Holberton.
From the outset of her job in the Center, plaintiff's supervisor,
Vaughn, observed that plaintiff struggled with her new responsibilities.
Vaughn reported that plaintiff committed a potentially dangerous error in
a dose conversion of medication.
Vaughn also reported that plaintiff
failed to take the initiative to familiarize herself with certain
protocols and neglected to study a new medication involved in the study.
Additionally, there was an incident in which plaintiff dispensed a bottle
of medication to the wrong patient. Further, in February of 1998,
Holberton discovered that certain medications, such as ephedrine and
morphine, were administered to three of plaintiff's patients in deviation
of protocol. Although the anesthesiologist, who was the principal
investigator in the protocol, actually dispensed the drugs, plaintiff did
not remind the investigator that certain drugs were not to be
administered in the study even though her job responsibilities expressly
called for her to assist the investigators.
Plaintiff repeatedly refused to accept responsibility for her
mistakes. When Holberton discovered protocol deviations in the
disbursement of medication in the operating room, plaintiff commented
that such deviations were the "responsibility of the investigators." By
March of 1998, plaintiff's supervisors observed that the quality of
plaintiff's work performance had deteriorated significantly. Plaintiff
often appeared flustered, disorganized and unable to handle an increased
workload. In one incident, plaintiff told a patient that she would bring
medication to her home, and forgot to do so. On March 24, 1998, an
incident occurred where plaintiff gave a psychotic patient at the Center
a crucifix. More specifically, while plaintiff was working on the
morphine/dextromethorphan study, one the patients began experiencing
delusions and extreme paranoia. Vaughn asked the patient to visit the
Center for an evaluation interview to determine whether he should be
taken off the drug study. Vaughn reviewed the patient's problems with
plaintiff, and asked her to be present during the evaluation interview.
During the interview, the patient manifested obvious symptoms of extreme
paranoia. Prior to leaving the interview, the patient also asked whether
he should "borrow a friend's gun for protection."
After the interview, Vaughn discussed with plaintiff the gravity of the
patient's adverse reaction to the medication. When Vaughn left the room,
the patient told plaintiff that "he had no one to trust except his church
and Christ." He also mentioned "that he did not have a crucifix. . . ."
Following this conversation, plaintiff followed the patient to his car in
the Center parking lot and gave him a two-inch crucifix. At some point
during their conversations, the patient revealed to plaintiff that he was
going to "shoot anyone that came on his property" because ...