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Sandhya Nayak v. Anthony R. Pivarunas

March 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court



Plaintiff Sandhya Nayak (hereinafter, "Plaintiff") commenced this employment discrimination action by filing a Summons and Complaint in the State of New York, Supreme Court, County of Erie. (Index No. 2007-003304.) Therein, she alleges violations of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also brings state law claims of breach of contract and tortious interference with contractual relations and prospective economic advantage.

The case was removed to the United States District Court for the Western District of New York on April 12, 2007. (Docket No. 1.) Presently before this Court is Defendants Anthony Pivarunas, D.O. and James Hassett, M.D.'s Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn1

(Docket No. 31.) Also before this Court is Defendant University Medical Residence Services, P.C.'s Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn2 (Docket No. 37.) Plaintiff opposes thesemotions.*fn3 For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motions are granted.


A. Facts

During the relevant time period, Defendant Anthony R. Pivarunas, D.O., (hereinafter, "Dr. Pivarunas") was and continues to be the Program Director of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency Program (hereinafter, "Program") at Sisters of Charity Hospital (hereinafter, "Sisters") through the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Science (hereinafter, "University").*fn4 (Pivarunas and Hassett Stmt. ¶ 1.)*fn5 Plaintiff was accepted into the OB/GYN Program at the University as a third year resident in May 2003. (Pl. Aff. ¶ 6.)

Defendant James Hassett, M.D. (hereinafter, "Dr. Hassett") was and continues to be Professor of Surgery and Program Director of the surgery residency program at the University. (Pivarunas and Hassett Stmt. ¶ 2.)

Defendant University Medical Resident Services, P.C. (hereinafter, "UMRS") is a professional service corporation which serves as the formal employer of residents enrolled in training programs sponsored by the University. (Id. ¶ 3; Def. UMRS Memo., p. 2.) Plaintiff was employed by UMRS until she was terminated from the Program on May 23, 2005. (Pivarunas Dec., Ex. C; UMRS Stmt., Ex. B.)

1. Plaintiff's Application and Acceptance into the Program

Plaintiff contacted the University in April 2003 to inquire about a third year residency position to commence July 1, 2003. (Pl. Aff. ¶ 1.) On May 2, 2003, she submitted Letters of Reference, a Personal Statement, and Curriculum Vitae (hereinafter, "CV") to Dr. Pivarunas. (Id. ¶ 1; Pivarunas Dec. ¶ 3, Ex. A.) She was interviewed by Dr. Pivarunas and other physicians at Sisters, and was subsequently offered the position. (Pl. Aff. ¶¶ 3, 6.)

On June 8, 2003, Plaintiff submitted her Application and Employee Biographical Data Form (hereinafter, "Application") to the University. (Pivarunas Dec., Ex. B.) On that same date she signed a Residency Employment Agreement with UMRS. (Id., Ex. C; UMRS Stmt., Ex. B.)

Relevant to this action, Plaintiff provided Dr. Pivarunas with a list of residency programs she previously attended. (Pivarunas Dec., Ex. B.) On both her CV and Application, Plaintiff indicated she completed her first and second year residencies at "LSU Medical Center/UNMC" from July 1998 to April 2000. (Id., Ex. A, B.) Further, that she was a resident at Lankenau Hospital for her second and third year from November 2001 up to the time of the interview. (Id.) During the interview, Dr. Pivarunas questioned why there was a gap in Plaintiff's residency from April 2000 to November 2001. (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff informed him that she left LSU's residency program for family reasons. (Id.)

The Application required that Plaintiff state whether she had "ever been dismissed from or the subject of disciplinary action at a hospital while [she] w[as] in graduate medical training or had another type of affiliation." (Id., Ex. B.) Plaintiff wrote a note in response, stating she was placed on "academic probation" at Lankenau and had to repeat six months of her third year of residency. (Id.)

Plaintiff began working at Sisters on July 1, 2003. (Pl. Aff. ¶ 6.) She completed her third year and was promoted to fourth year residency in July 2004. (Id. ¶ 12.) That same year, she became one of two chief residents of the OB/GYN Program. (Pivarunas Dec. ¶ 18, FN.1.) After Plaintiff finished her fourth year, Dr. Pivarunas forwarded a letter to the American Board of OB/GYN indicating the successful completion of her residency. (Pl. Aff. ¶ 13.) He also signed a Personnel Transaction Form on April 22, 2005, indicating she would graduate from the University in June. (Id. ¶ 14.)

2. Plaintiff's Complaints of Being Overworked

On November 28, 2004, Plaintiff complained of being overworked in an e-mail to Dr. Pivarunas. (Pivarunas Dec., Ex. N.) Her e-mail was in response to allegations from a supervising attending physician that Plaintiff had failed to fulfill her duties as chief resident on several occasions. (Id.) Plaintiff's e-mail stated that she had worked more than twenty-four hours continuously, and on two or more occasions, worked seven days in a row without twenty-four hours off. (Id.) Plaintiff stated she did not report these violations of resident work hour rules to the University or to IPRO, a Health Care Quality Watch Group, so that the department would not have problems. (Id.)

On December 6, 2004, Dr. Pivarunas met with Plaintiff to discuss her assertions that she was overworked, and to find out why Plaintiff, who was responsible for scheduling residents, had not scheduled herself for time off. (Id. ¶ 26.) As a result of the meeting, Dr. Pivarunas took over the scheduling of residents previously done by Plaintiff and the other chief resident. (Id. ¶ 28.) Dr. Pivarunas instructed her to notify him if she found herself working more than twenty-four hours in a row, as she was allowed time off per the Resident Manual. (Id., Ex. O.) He also told her to be forthcoming during University surveys and IPRO visits. (Id. ¶ 29.)

The second time Plaintiff complained about being overworked was on May 3, 2005. (Id., Ex. U.) On that date, Dr. Pivarunas had arranged to meet with Plaintiff to discuss, among other things, concerns he had regarding her professionalism and interpersonal skills. (Id. ¶ 36, Ex. U.) Plaintiff responded that none of the issues were because of her; rather the problem was that others in the Program were not able to deal with her medical knowledge and her ability to do things. (Id.) She further stated that her poor behavior was the result of being overworked as chief resident and being on beeper call. (Id., Ex. U.)

Plaintiff also stated she felt she had been unfairly denied time off for vacation. (Id.) For instance, she was denied a week of vacation time in December 2004. (Id.) Dr. Pivarunas explained she was not granted the vacation time because the Resident Manual instructs that residents are not to take time off during the holiday season in addition to the time off they were already allotted. (Id.) He pointed out that the Program generously gave her sick time, vacation time, and days off for interviews. (Id.)

3. Probation

On May 14, 2005, Dr. Pivarunas received a complaint from Dr. Sheth, the supervising attending physician, and Dr. DeNagey, a resident, that Plaintiff refused to come to Sisters to evaluate a patient when she was chief resident of the day. (Id. ¶ 43, Ex. W.) Dr. DeNagey reported he paged Plaintiff twice with no response. (Id.) He then called her house and Plaintiff refused to come in to the hospital. (Id.) Dr. Pivarunas contacted Plaintiff to discuss the situation and she denied ever being asked to come in. (Id. ¶ 44.) Dr. Pivarunas checked with two nurses who were present when the phone call was made and they confirmed Dr. Sheth and Dr. DeNagey's account. (Id., Ex. X.)

As a result of this incident, Plaintiff was put on probation on May 14, 2005.*fn6 (Id. ¶ 45.) Dr. Pivarunas composed a letter explaining the probation and warning that further incidents demonstrating unprofessional behavior and dishonesty would result in dismissal from the program. (Id., Ex. X.)

4. Verification of Credentials

On March 23, 2005, Dr. Pivarunas sent a letter to Louisiana State University ("LSU") to verify Plaintiff's completion of her first and second years of residency so that she could sit for the OB/GYN Board examination. (Id. ¶ 34, Ex. S.) On April 15, 2005, he received a response from LSU stating Plaintiff completed her first year from July 1998 to June 1999. (Id. ¶ 35, Ex. I.) LSU would not discuss the situation any further. (Id. ¶ 35.) It was then that Dr. Pivarunas noticed discrepancies in Plaintiff's CV and Application.

On her CV, Plaintiff indicated she completed her first and second years at "LSU Medical Center/UNMC" from July 1998 to April 2000. (Id., Ex. A.) This led Dr. Pivarunas to believe, at the time of her interview, that she completed her first and second years at a single residency program. (Id. ¶ 4.) Similarly, on her Application, Plaintiff listed "LSU" and "UNMC" together under one bullet-point, making it appear she attended one residency program from July 1998 to April 2000. (Id., Ex. B.)

During the May 3, 2005 meeting that resulted in Plaintiff being put on probation, Dr. Pivarunas learned Plaintiff had attended the University of Nebraska Medical Center ("UNMC") for her second year of residency. (Id. ¶ 40.) UNMC and LSU are unrelated programs. (Id. ¶ 6.) Dr. Pivarunas asked Plaintiff to sign a letter of release for a copy of her resident file at LSU, and she refused. (Id. ¶ 39.)

Dr. Pivarunas sent a letter to UNMC on May 3, 2005 requesting documentation verifying Plaintiff's training and dates of affiliation. (Id. ¶ 41, Ex. V.) He received a letter from UNMC on May 20, 2005, stating Plaintiff accepted a second year position there and started her training on September 27, 1999. (Id. ¶ 50) She was placed on probation on March 30, 2000 and resigned from the program on May 1, 2000. (Id; Ex. CC.)

5. Termination and Grievance Hearings

On May 23, 2005, Plaintiff was terminated from the Program for misrepresenting facts on her employment application by not stating she was placed on academic probation at UNMC. (Id. ΒΆ 54, Ex. EE.) The Office of Graduate Medical Education (hereinafter, "OGME") Probation and Dismissal Policy states, "misrepresentation of facts or falsification of employment documents" ...

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