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Casalino v. N.Y. State Catholic Health Plan

March 30, 2012

MARIE CASALINO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK STATE CATHOLIC HEALTH PLAN, INC., D/B/A FIDELIS CARE NEW YORK, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Loretta A. Preska, Chief United States District Judge

Opinion & Order

Plaintiff Marie Casalino ("Casalino" or "Plaintiff") brings this action against her former employer New York State Catholic Health Plan, Inc. ("Fidelis" or "Defendant") alleging unlawful gender discrimination in the forms of hostile work environment harassment, retaliation, and disparate treatment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. ("Title VII") and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq. ("NYCHRL" or "HRL"). Fidelis moves for summary judgment and dismissal of these claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED in part with prejudice and DENIED in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court presumes the parties' familiarity with the facts of this case, which are quite lengthy and have been set out in detail in the parties' 56.1 Statements and Counter-Statements [dkt. nos. 40-42, 48.] Nevertheless, the Court undertakes to include a brief summary of the facts for the purposes of this opinion, citing variously to Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement ("D. 56.1"), Plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Statement ("P. 56.1"), and Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Facts ("Def. Reply 56.1"). To the extent there appears to be a material dispute as to any fact referenced in this fact summary or opinion based on admissible evidence, the Court has endeavored to so indicate.

Casalino is a board-certified pediatrician with a subspecialty in Neonatal-Perinatal medicine. She holds a Master's Degree in public health. In 1998 Plaintiff moved from clinical and academic medicine into public health administration. In 2003 she entered the field of managed health care. In February 2005 she was hired by Mark Lane ("Lane"), Chief Executive Officer of Fidelis, as a medical director. Plaintiff reported directly to Dr. Marco Michelson ("Michelson"), Fidelis' Chief Medical Officer, and she worked out of Fidelis' headquarters in Rego Park, Queens. In autumn 2005 a second medical director, Dr. Nancy Klotz ("Klotz"), joined Fidelis and also began reporting to Michelson. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 312-15, 324.)

In October 2005 Fidelis acquired Center Care, another health plan located in Manhattan. After having received a generally positive 90-day written performance evaluation in June 2005, Fidelis appointed Plaintiff medical director of its new Center Care branch in addition to her other duties. She maintained offices at Center Care and at Fidelis. In March 2006, Michelson gave her a written performance evaluation with an overall score of "successful" which resulted in a raise. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 322-23.) At all times, Fidelis had a Code of Conduct and an Employee Handbook, both of which prohibited employee discrimination and harassment. The Handbook states that any allegations of harassment or discrimination will be "promptly and thoroughly investigated." It states that harassment can occur "over email, phone mail or other electronic media." The Handbook also sets forth a formal corrective action procedure, under which employees with performance problems are to be given two written warnings on a specific "corrective action form."

(P. 56.1 ¶¶ 331-41.)

In March 2006, Susan Davis ("Davis"), a supervisor for clinical services who worked in the Buffalo office, asked to speak with Diane Tucker ("Tucker"), Fidelis' Vice President of Human Resources, about what she called a "sensitive issue." Davis told Tucker that Michelson had been "loud," "unreasonable," and "unprofessional" in a telephone call with her. Davis also told Tucker that Liya Davidov ("Davidov"), in Fidelis' pharmacy department, had also had a similar interaction with Michelson. Davis had complained to Tucker in Human Resources about Michelson, and Tucker had told her that she would look into the matter and get back to her. According to Davis, Tucker never did so. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 348-60.)

On May 15, 2006, Vicki Landes ("Landes"), Director of Clinical Services and Davis's immediate supervisor, received a phone call from Michelson in which he became very angry and vocal, accusing her of not doing job and then slamming his phone down. Landes became very upset at the interaction and spent 10-15 minutes in a co-worker's office trying to compose herself. Landes then called Robert Fazzolari ("Fazzolari"), Assistant Vice President for Corporate Compliance. Fazzolari called her back with Regina Trainor ("Trainor"), Chief Legal Officer and Head of Compliance at Fidelis. Landes explained the incident to them, and they informed her that Tucker would be following up with her. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 361-75.) Landes also called Plaintiff, who was her direct supervisor, who was at home on medical leave at the time. Landes was very upset, and Plaintiff tried to help her regain her composure. Plaintiff told Landes that she was going to come back to work and help her with this incident. In the meantime, Plaintiff and Landes agreed that Landes should stay clear of Michelson. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 376-80.)

Human Resources did not contact Landes. On May 17 and 19, 2006, Landes e-mailed Tucker and Fazzolari requesting a follow-up on the Michelson situation. Tucker did not reply to either e-mail. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 382-85.) On May 17, 2006, Plaintiff returned to work, and Tucker came to visit her about the Landes-Michelson incident. Plaintiff reported to Tucker that she found it upsetting that Landes had been so frightened by the call and said she would do whatever she could to help smooth things over.

(P. 56.1 ¶¶ 386-89.) Tucker then spoke to Michelson and requested that he reprimand individuals, if at all, one-on-one and not with others around. (P. 56.1 ¶ 391.)

Thereafter, Landes attempted to stay clear of Michelson, but Plaintiff shortly found herself mediating an additional dispute between them. Michelson had sent Landes an e-mail accusing her of not doing certain work on Fidelis' website. Landes explained to Plaintiff that she had never been assigned the work. When Plaintiff attempted to explain this to Michelson, he reacted sharply, harshly criticizing Landes. Plaintiff told Landes they would try and address the website issue together and Landes could go through Plaintiff in her dealings with Michelson. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 393-400, 403-05.) Following this mediation, however, Plaintiff noticed that Michelson became more difficult for her to deal with. He attempted to marginalize Plaintiff in her meetings with Lane and Fidelis Chief Operating Officer Father Patrick Frawley ("Frawley"). He prevented Plaintiff from including her matters on the meeting agendas, interrupted her when she attempted to speak, and criticized her comments after she had spoken. Plaintiff eventually began taking notes and making comments in private conversations with participants after meetings ended. She told Michelson that she was being quiet due to his interruptions and criticisms whenever she spoke. Michelson then began criticizing Plaintiff's written submissions. He eventually became difficult to deal with on administrative matters like approvals for days off or time for medical appointments. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 417-24.)

In the autumn of 2006, Plaintiff was responsible for completing a project entitled Best Clinical Administrative Practices ("BCAP"), which required the completion and submission of a report and presentation to New York State in order to meet certain regulatory requirements for both Fidelis and Center Care. Michelson had assigned Plaintiff the task when she became Medical Director for Center Care in September 2005. Plaintiff and Michelson had difficulty coordinating his edits to the presentation leading up to its due date on September 8, 2006, particularly in light of Lane and Frawley's significant issues with an earlier draft that Plaintiff had submitted. On September 7, 2006, the night before the project was due and Plaintiff and Michelson were to present it once again to Lane and Frawley, having not received Michelson's edits by 5 p.m., Plaintiff left for the day. She assigned an administrative assistant the task of waiting for and then making any final changes Michelson might have. (See Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 139-52; P. 56.1 139-52.)

On September 8, 2006, while waiting to make the final presentation to Lane and Frawley, Michelson began berating Plaintiff in the anteroom outside Fidelis' executive office. Specifically, Michelson said he was frustrated that Plaintiff had not taken ownership for her projects and assignments, had not gotten her work done, and had left assignments for others. Klotz and two additional staff were present in the room during this interaction. After Plaintiff gathered herself, the meeting on the submission to the New York State Department of Health took place. After the meeting, Michelson called Plaintiff to his office and started yelling and waiving his hands. Plaintiff asked Michelson not to speak to her that way but "he just kept screaming and screaming." Plaintiff left Michelson's office, returned to her own, and broke down. She called Tucker who came to Plaintiff's office. Plaintiff informed Tucker that Michelson had treated her the way she had heard that he treated other women. Plaintiff remained in her office with the door closed for the rest of the day. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 454-58; Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 154-58.)

On September 13, 2006, Plaintiff met with Trainor and Fazzolari regarding the incident. She told them she had been frightened and reduced to tears and sobbing and that there were women who were afraid to be in an office with Michelson. Plaintiff told Trainor, "you have a problem employee who behaves inappropriately towards women and you are now on notice from me that you have to do something about him." Plaintiff felt that Trainor was unsympathetic. Trainor told Plaintiff that she felt this was an issue with Michelson's management style and that Michelson was trying to manage her. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 464-67.) Tucker did not conduct any further investigation into Plaintiff's complaint. Tucker did speak with Michelson, advising him to "adjust how he was interacting and figure out a way to work with Marie." (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 478-81.)

In October, Fidelis announced that Michelson was taking a leave of absence from the company effective November 1, 2006, and that Klotz would take over as acting Chief Medical Officer. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 488.) At her prior performance evaluation in March 2006, Plaintiff had requested that Michelson provide her with an interim performance evaluation in six months time. That review took place just before he left, on or about October 31, 2006. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 184.) In this review, Plaintiff received siX "needs improvement" scores in various areas, and Michelson reported that Plaintiff needed to improve her level of ownership over projects, be more willing to discuss her own shortcomings, be more involved in the clinical service departments, and better improve the credentialing process over which she was in charge. The overall score for the review was "Needs Improvement," which was the second lowest score possible to achieve. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 187-91.) On or about December 15, 2006, Plaintiff filed an extensive written response to this review with Fidelis in which she defended herself on substance and made no mention of retaliation or discrimination. She claimed that the review was unfair and that Fidelis' fiscal challenges may have compromised her performance. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 199-201.)

While working under Klotz during Michelson's leave of absence, Klotz informed Plaintiff that Lane and Frawley had a negative opinion of her work. Plaintiff told Klotz that she felt that Michelson had made an effort to diminish her in their eyes. Plaintiff worked closely with Klotz during this period, dividing up Michelson's responsibilities, and Klotz ultimately felt that she could not have done the work of acting Chief Medical Officer without Plaintiff's help. On December 7, 2006, after a series of presentations to a committee of the Fidelis Board of Directors, Klotz told Plaintiff that she felt that "we had turned a corner" in restoring Plaintiff's credibility.

Plaintiff told Klotz she felt it was owing to Michelson's absence. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 493-505.) In mid-December, word spread that Michelson would be returning in January 2007. Plaintiff was very worried and spoke to both Klotz and Tucker about her concerns. Both assured her that things would be better upon his return. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 513-36.)

Klotz left for a vacation in Israel from December 21, 2006 through January 2, 2007. As of December 21, her October performance review notwithstanding, Plaintiff had never received a warning notice under the Fidelis corrective action policy as described in the Employee Handbook and had never been advised that she was in danger of termination. Her feedback from Klotz had been positive. (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 517, 600.) Beginning December 22, 2006, however, four incidents came to a head almost simultaneously which, according to Fidelis, were "significant performance deficienc[ies]" and largely formed the basis for Plaintiff's ultimate termination. (See, e.g., Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 216, 253.) They were: (1) Plaintiff's failure to revoke the credentials of a Dr. Cheng as a Fidelis provider consistent with Fidelis' policy regarding medical license revocations and the like; (2) Plaintiff's failure timely to revoke the credentials of a Dr. Florio for substantially the same reasons; (3) Trainor's realization that Plaintiff had "never given or ensured that Behavioral Health staff had proper access to Fidelis computer system when they were on-call at night and over the weekend;" and (4) the "Family K" incident in which authorization of provider services was granted without having a required negotiated rate in place for those services. Each of these incidents or issues arose on or after December 22, 2006, within a 10-day period.*fn1

Exactly what happened next at Fidelis is heavily disputed by the parties, as is Michelson's role, if any, in Plaintiff's ultimate termination. Michelson returned to Fidelis on January 2, 2007. That same day, Lane sent out an e-mail welcoming Michelson back and announcing that Klotz would be taking over the role of head of Center Care, which had been Plaintiff's position until that day. Plaintiff was not advised of this decision until the e-mail was sent out. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 274-75.) Fidelis states that this decision was made prior to Klotz's return to the office on January 3, 2007, and that "it did not mean that Plaintiff could not continue her employment at Fidelis." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 277.) Earlier that same day, however, with Michelson now back in the office, Lane had sent Michelson a draft of the same e-mail for his review and comment. Michelson replied, "Looks good. Is the unspoken message too obvious?" (P. 56.1 ¶¶ 583-89.)

Simultaneously, and as a result of the incidents in late December 2006, Frawley had prepared a memo to Klotz for her review upon her return and copied it to Trainor, Lane, and Plaintiff on the morning of January 3, 2007 when Klotz returned. The memo describes what Frawley felt were Plaintiff's "numerous performance deficiencies" and "serious concerns" about Plaintiff's work. Frawley describes "grave concerns relative to Dr. Casalino's judgment, ownership, and overall ability to perform appropriate oversight of a critical process that has significant regulatory and quality implications for the Plan and its members." Trainor responded to the memo via e-mail, largely concurring in his judgment. Though Klotz testified that she began the day with no intention of terminating Plaintiff, (P. 56.1 ¶ 591), after reviewing Frawley's memo, Trainor's e-mail, and additional materials on Plaintiff's performance, she resolved to terminate her. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 290.) Though Michelson had returned to Fidelis as Chief Medical Officer the day before, Fidelis represents that "Dr. Klotz had the authority to do so . . . because she was Plaintiff's supervisor during the December mishaps and Dr. Michelson was not yet fully integrated back into his role." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 290.)

Fidelis notes that Klotz was the sole decision maker in Plaintiff's termination and had no knowledge of Plaintiff's prior complaints about Michelson. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 215.) Similarly, Fidelis states that Michelson played no role in the decision. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 293-94.) Plaintiff, however, points to testimony from Trainor that a January 3, 2007 meeting was called in which Trainor, Lane, Frawley, Klotz, and possibly even Michelson attended and "a conclusion was reached at the meeting to terminate Casalino. It was discussed who would terminate her, and it was decided that Klotz would." (See P. 56.1 ¶¶ 290, 596-98.) Moreover, Klotz spoke with Michelson on January 3, 2007, prior to making her decision to terminate Plaintiff. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 290.) Later that day, Plaintiff was called into a meeting with Klotz and Tucker and was informed she was terminated. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 299; P. 56.1 ¶ 602.) Klotz later composed a memorandum laying out the performance failures resulting in Plaintiff's termination. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 300-02.)

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard of Review

The standard for summary judgment is uncontroversial. In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court resolves all ambiguities and draws all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Lindsay v. Ass'n of Prof'l Flight Attendants, 581 F.3d 47, 50 (2d Cir. 2009). "Summary judgment is appropriate only '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.'" Kwan v. Schlein, 634 F.3d 224, 228 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). "An issue of fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Lindsay, 581 F.3d at 50. "The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether ...


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