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Evert v. Wyoming County Community Health System

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 4, 2017

CHRISTIAN R. EVERT, Plaintiff,
v.
WYOMING COUNTY COMMUNITY HEALTH SYSTEM, et al., Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Christian R. Evert, brings this action against Defendants Wyoming County Community Health System and Wyoming County Community Hospital (together, “WCCH”), asserting claims for gender discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation, and constructive discharge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). WCCH has moved for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of Evert's claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons discussed below, WCCH's motion is granted.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         In April 2010, Evert was hired by WCCH as a Registered Professional Nurse and assigned to the Intensive Care Unit (“ICU”). At the time that Evert left WCCH, Denise Prusak, the ICU Nurse Manager, served as Evert's supervisor and Dawn James, the Director of Nursing, oversaw all nursing staff, including Prusak and Evert.[2] As part of her nursing duties, Evert also provided care for inmate-patients from Attica Correctional Facility (“Attica”) being treated at WCCH. The inmate-patients were held in a “lockup unit” located on the same floor as the ICU, which was separated by a steel door with restricted access. The lockup unit was operated by New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”), and corrections officers employed by DOCCS transported the inmate-patients from Attica to WCCH and guarded them during their hospital stay.

         The Inmate-Patient Incident

         The thrust of Evert's complaint relates to an incident involving an inmate-patient and the aftermath of that incident. On August 23, 2012, Evert provided care to an inmate in the lockup unit who was recovering from surgery and experiencing new bleeding at his incision site. Evert alleges that a corrections officer working in the lockup unit physically assaulted the inmate and caused the bleeding, although she did not personally witness the alleged assault. Evert notified Heather Green, WCCH's corrections liaison, that an inmate had complained of mistreatment. Green met with the inmate, who refused to discuss the incident.

         Several days later, the inmate sent Evert an eight-page, hand-written letter stating that he had been uncomfortable when Green asked him to report the incident because a corrections officer was in the room. He also thanked Evert for her care, referred to Evert's nursing work outside the ICU, and invited Evert to continue corresponding with him or to visit him in prison. Evert alleges that she immediately gave the letter to Susan Papke, whom Evert considered to be her direct supervisor on that shift. Evert further alleges that Papke read the letter aloud while making “specific sexual comments, ” though Evert gives no examples of what was said and the letter itself is not sexual in nature. Evert also alleges that Papke told other nurses at WCCH that Evert was receiving “love letters” and had a “boyfriend.”

         Nurses providing care to inmates inside the lockup unit are required to adhere to specific rules and practices for safety put into place by WCCH and DOCCS. The rules warn against developing a friendly relationship with inmate-patients, and specifically direct nurses not to discuss their personal business with or near inmates and to limit their dialogue to matters that are medically necessary. The rules also warn against receiving “love letters” and require that any correspondence from an inmate-patient be reported and the letter returned to the correctional facility.

         Evert alleges that the “love letters” language was added to WCCH's written guidelines after she received the inmate's letter and was a form of sexual harassment directed at her. Evert further alleges that she kept her communications with the inmate strictly professional, and that any personal details came from a conversation she had with corrections officers and that the inmate overheard.

         Harassment by Corrections Officers

         Evert alleges that the corrections officers began harassing her after she received the inmate letter. She refused to provide a copy of the letter when a corrections officer demanded it because, she alleges, she feared there was a conflict of interest as the letter discussed the alleged assault. The officer was ultimately given a copy over Evert's protests. Evert alleges that the corrections officers pressured her to report the letter and make a complaint regarding the inmate, but that she refused because she was waiting for guidance from Green as to the appropriate response.

         Evert further alleges that the corrections officers became hostile after this, calling her “bitch, ” “cunt, ” and “narc” on nearly a daily basis and refusing to allow her into the lockup unit. She attributes their hostility to her refusal to give them a copy of the inmate's letter, and to her questions as to how the inmate left Attica with the letter, since it would be considered contraband. She states that the officers “did everything in their control to hide their inconsistencies or mistakes. They feared me taking their lack of security of inmates to a higher discipline.” (Docket No. 23-1 ¶ 78.) Evert states that she believes the officers felt entitled to make such comments because she was a woman.

         WCCH contends that the corrections officers denied Evert access to the lockup unit because they believed she was not complying with the rules. It is undisputed that Evert was not disciplined in connection with the letter or her actions in the lockup unit. Evert alleges that she complained to Prusak and Green that the corrections officers were harassing her and refusing to give her access to the lockup unit.

         Despite her allegations that the officers called her names daily, Evert also alleges that things were “peaceful” with the corrections officers in the two months after she received the letter, but flared up when she entered the lockup unit on November 8, 2012 and an officer called her a “bitch.” Evert alleges that she felt unsafe working in the lockup after this.[3] Evert again complained to Green; Green advised Evert that she would be required to take a class regarding lockup unit rules before she was allowed to return. Evert also alleges that Green instructed her not to report her complaints to Attica.

         Harassment ...


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