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Pamela Williams v. the Mount Sinai Medical Center

May 8, 2012

PAMELA WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE MOUNT SINAI MEDICAL CENTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew J. Peck, United States Magistrate Judge:

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Pamela Williams, a forty-six year old African American woman, brings this action against defendant The Mount Sinai Hospital,*fn1 alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL") and the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"). (Dkt. No. 1: Compl. ¶¶ 1, 6, 35-43; Dkt. No. 6: Answer at 1.) Williams asserts that Mt. Sinai unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of her race and color. (Compl. ¶¶ 36, 39, 42.)

Presently before the Court is Mt. Sinai's summary judgment motion. (Dkt. No. 22: Notice of Motion.) The parties have consented to decision of this case by a Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Dkt. No. 9.) For the reasons set forth below, Mt. Sinai's summary judgment motion is DENIED.

FACTS

In August 1995, Williams began working as a phlebotomist in Mt. Sinai's Clinical Microscopy Unit. (Dkt. Nos. 35 & 43: Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 1.) From May 1996 until her discharge in March 2011, Williams worked as a Patient Care Associate ("PCA") in Mt. Sinai's GP 8 East, Orthopedic Unit, Surgical and Medical Specialties and Emergency Services ("8 East"). (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 2.) PCAs assist registered nurses with patient care, including "assisting patient with activities of daily living, collecting specimens and performing procedures; maintaining a safe, clean environment." (Dkt. No. 23: McEvoy Aff. Ex. 1: Williams Dep. at 19-20 & Dep. Ex. 2: PCA Position Description.)

On October 19, 2009, Jennifer Jaromahum began working as 8 East's Clinical Nurse Manager and was responsible for the "day-to-day nursing operation" and the management of PCAs and nurses. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 28-29; McEvoy Aff. Ex. 2: Jaromahum Dep. at 19-20, 160-61.) Williams consistently received positive performance reviews in her position as PCA and did not receive formal discipline until 2010, after Jaromahum became her manager. (Williams Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ P1, P33.)*fn2

Mt. Sinai's Disciplinary System

Mt. Sinai uses a progressive discipline system. (Dkt. No. 43: Williams Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ P27; Dkt. No. 23: McEvoy Aff. Ex. 2: Jaromahum Dep. at 66-68, 110; Dkt. No. 38: Steiner Aff. Ex. 9: Johnson Dep. at 10-27.) Typically, a first warning is issued in the first instance where discipline is necessary, and when additional discipline is necessary, it becomes more severe.

(Williams Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ P27; Jaromahum Dep. at 66-68; Johnson Dep. at 10-27.) The last three disciplinary steps generally are a final warning, a final warning with suspension and termination. (Williams Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ P27; Jaromahum Dep. at 66-68, 110.) In some instances, however, progressive discipline may not apply. (Williams Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ P28; Johnson Dep. at 16-20.)

Managers must contact a Senior Labor Relations Specialist ("Specialist") in the Labor Relations Department before discipline more severe than a documented counseling is issued. (Dkt. Nos. 35 & 43: Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 23; Dkt. No. 26: Cohen Aff. ¶ 3.) While managers can recommend a level of discipline, Specialists determine the discipline to be imposed on the employee. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 25.) The manager drafts the warning notice at the instruction of the Specialist, and after the Specialist approves the notice, the manager issues it to the employee. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 26-27.)

April 17, 2010 Patient Complaint

On April 17, 2010, a discharged patient emailed Jaromahum complaining that Williams "was rude and very difficult to get help from." (Dkt. Nos. 35 & 43: Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 35, P17; Dkt. No. 23: McEvoy Aff. Ex. 2: Jaromahum Dep. at 46-50 & Dep. Ex. 1: 4/17/10 Patient-Jaromahum Email.) Jaromahum discussed the patient complaint with Williams and "encouraged her to be careful with her patient interactions." (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 36, P17; Jaromahum Dep. at 48-50.)

May 13, 2010 Patient Complaint

On May 13, 2010, another patient complained to Jaromahum that Williams had told the patient to "'hold it'" as the patient was about to vomit. (Dkt. Nos. 35 & 43: Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 37, P13; Dkt. No. 23: McEvoy Aff. Ex. 1: Williams Dep. at 25-27 & Dep. Ex. 8: 5/13/10 Doc. Counseling; McEvoy Aff. Ex. 2: Jaromahum Dep. at 104-10.) Jaromahum gave Williams a documented counseling and stated that further incidents of unsatisfactory patient care would result in disciplinary action. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 38, P12-P13, P16; Williams Dep. at 25-27 & Dep. Ex. 8: 5/13/10 Doc. Counseling; Jaromahum Dep. at 104-10.) Jaromahum maintains that Williams denied any wrongdoing. (Mt. Sinai Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 38; Jaromahum Dep. at 108-09.) Williams asserts that she explained to Jaromahum that the patient was about to vomit in a basin containing the patient's urine; thus, she instructed the patient to "'hold it'" while she got a clean basin. (Williams Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 37-38, P14; Williams Dep. at 25-27.) August 14, 2010 Patient Complaint

On August 14, 2010, a Chinese patient's son complained to nurse Dominique Monsegur that his father had been transported roughly and a female African-American staff member lifted his father's hospital gown, laughed while pointing to his father's genitals and said "'Chinese people has small penis.'" (Dkt. Nos. 35 & 43: Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 39, P19; Dkt. No. 23: McEvoy Aff. Ex. 2: Jaromahum Dep. at 111-13; Dkt. No. 38: Steiner Aff. Ex. 9: Johnson Dep. at 37-38, 53-55; Dkt. No. 25: Richards Aff. ¶ 5 & Ex. 1: 8/14/10 Coronel-Richards Email.) The complaint was brought to the attention of Clinical Nurse Manager Lorisa Richards, who was covering for the vacationing Jaromahum. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 41, P22.) On August 16, Richards met with the patient using a Mandarin interpreter; the "patient said that he did not want to make a big deal, but that he wanted the Hospital to know that he understood the comment that was made about his private part." (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 42-43; Richards Aff. ¶¶ 2, 6.) The parties dispute whether Williams was identified as making the comment. (See Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 39, 43.)

In addition, Surgical Care Associate Kialani Chambers stated that Williams said the patient was "eating too much fried rice." (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 44, 48, P24; Johnson Dep. at 55-56; Richards Aff. ¶ 7 & Ex. 3: 8/20/10 Chambers Stmt.)

Upon returning from vacation, Richards updated Jaromahum, and Jaromahum emailed Karen Johnson, a black Labor Relations Specialist, to see how she should proceed. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 54-56, P22-P23; Jaromahum Dep. at 124-27; Dkt. No. 23: Johnson Aff. ¶ 2.) An investigation confirmed that Chambers transported the patient to his room and that Williams was one of the PCAs assigned to the patient. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 46-47, P22.) Williams provided the following statement:

I greeted the patient by saying "Welcome to 8 East", like I usually do, Kareen informed me that the patient didn't speak any English. I said "O.K." We all assisted the patient to the bed. The transporter and Margaret left the room first, Kareen and I got the patient settled in bed and then left. I had another admission waiting to attend in room 310B. (Richards Aff. ¶ 9 & Ex. 7: 8/20/10 Williams Stmt.) Williams' statement, as well as statements from other staff, were sent to Johnson. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 48, 54, P22;*fn3 Richards Aff. ¶¶ 8, 10 & Exs. 2-7: Stmts.) None of the statements corroborated the complaint that a comment was made concerning the patient's private parts or identified Williams as making such a comment. (Williams Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ P22; Jaromahum Dep. at 118-26; see Richards Aff. Exs. 2-7.)

After reviewing Williams' prior documented counseling, Johnson wrote Jaromahum to "recommend issuing Ms. Williams a First Level Warning as a result of the recent incident" and to request a draft warning notice. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 58-59; Johnson Dep. at 39-41, 60-61 & Dep. Ex. 5: 9/2/10 Jaromahum-Johnson Emails.) Jaromahum sent Johnson a draft warning, and Johnson returned the revised warning to Jaromahum changing the level of discipline from a first to a final warning "because of the severity of the conduct." (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 60-63, P31, P34.) On September 2, 2010, Williams was given that final warning. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 64.)

January 27, 2011 Patient Complaint

On January 27, 2011, Jaromahum received an email complaint from a patient's daughter stating that her mother "was treated very badly by one of your PCA. I think her name is Pam . . . . She was very rude to my mom almost yelling at her to keep her table clean." (Dkt. Nos. 35 & 43: Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 65, P35; Dkt. No. 23: McEvoy Aff. Ex. 2: Jaromahum Dep. at 76-82 & Dep. Ex. 4: 1/27/11 Patient-Jaromahum Email.) Jaromahum discussed the incident with Williams and encouraged her to be more sensitive, and when Jaromahum visited the patient later that evening, she reported that "Pam was 'good' now." (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 66-67, P35.)

On January 28, however, the same patient complained to physical therapist Stephanie Suarez saying that Williams would not help her wash herself, was nasty and made her feel "'depressed,'" and requested that Williams no longer work with her. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 68-70, P35.) Suarez emailed Jaromahum regarding the patient complaint, and Jaromahum forwarded the email to Johnson. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 71-72.) In response to Johnson's request for Williams' performance history, Jaromahum responded, "She received a Final Warning for making a statement in front of patient, 'chinese people eats fried rice', this is after an allegation of 'laughing and pointing at a patient's private part' was made against her." (Jaromahum Dep. Ex. 4: 1/28/11 Johnson-Jaromahum Emails.)

Jaromahum asked Williams to provide a statement regarding the incident. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 73.) While Jaromahum maintains that Williams refused but later complied with the order to provide a statement (Mt. Sinai Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 73-74, 76), Williams asserts that she provided a statement the same day after sharing it with her union representative (Williams Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 73, 76, P37; Williams Dep. Ex. 13: 1/31/11 Williams Stmt.). Jaromahum discussed the matter with Williams and concluded that Williams did not refuse to wash the patient but that the patient misunderstood. (Williams Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ P36; Jaromahum Dep. at 95-100.) Jaromahum's conclusion, however, was not conveyed to Johnson or reflected in the draft warning notice. (Williams Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 36; Jaromahum Dep. Ex. 4: 2/3/11 Warning Notice; Dkt. No. 38: Steiner Aff. Ex. 9: Johnson Dep. at 68-69.) Johnson decided to suspend Williams, and on February 3, 2011, Jaromahum suspended Williams for five days. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 77, P39.)

March 17, 2011 Patient Complaint

On March 17, 2011, a patient complained to Patient Representative Nina Kuscsik that she was concerned for her safety because when she asked Williams for help turning over, Williams replied, "'[d]o it yourself!'" (Dkt. Nos. 35 & 43: Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 78, P40.) The patient also complained that Williams said that she was "'throwing away food that could be given to African babies'" and "'I saw you showing off yesterday,'" which the patient perceived as a negative comment. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 79, P40.) The patient's roommate complained to Kuscsik that when she asked Williams, "'[d]o you know when my catheter will be removed?'" Williams responded, "'[y]ou can ask.'" (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 80; Jaromahum Dep. Ex. 2: 3/17/11 Kuscsik-Jaromahum Email.)

Kuscsik summarized the complaints in an email to Jaromahum. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 81; Jaromahum Dep. Ex. 2: 3/17/11 Kuscsik-Jaromahum Email.) Jaromahum asked Williams to write a statement, and Jaromahum forwarded both Williams' and Kuscsik's statements to Johnson. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 83-84.)

On March 22, 2011, Johnson emailed Jaromahum stating that "'[t]he determination has been made to terminate Ms. Williams.'" (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 85.) Jaromahum drafted a termination notice at Johnson's request, and Johnson revised it. (Mt. Sinai & Williams Rule 56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 86-87.) On March 23, 2011, ...


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