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LOTOSKY v. THE UNIV. OF ROCHESTER

January 28, 2002

MARIA LOTOSKY, PLAINTIFF VS. THE UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER; DAVID CHILD; ANN HOLBERTON; AND DENHAM WARD, M.D., DEFENDANTS.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Siragusa, U.S. District Judge.

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

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 judgment.

BACKGROUND

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.

It was plaintiff's job responsibility to read to patients of child bearing age a consent form explaining the medical need to use birth control while participating in certain drug studies. It was also plaintiff's job duty to explain to patients the implications of not using birth control, and to address any of their questions or concerns. In February of 1998, the University assigned plaintiff to work as Research Nurse Coordinator in the Pain Treatment Center ("Center"), an off-site unit of the Department.

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.

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 ...


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