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Mereigh v. The New York and Presbyterian Hospital

United States District Court, S.D. New York

November 9, 2017

FLORIANNE MEREIGH, Plaintiff,
v.
THE NEW YORK AND PRESBYTERIAN HOSPITAL, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          KATHERINE B. FORREST, DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On July 13, 2016, Florianne Mereigh (“plaintiff” or “Mereigh”) commenced this employment discrimination action against her former employer, The New York and Presbyterian Hospital (“defendant” or “NYPH”).[1] (See Compl., ECF No. 2.) Mereigh's operative complaint alleges, in sum, that NYPH discriminated against her by failing to accommodate her religious beliefs in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”), N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 et seq., and The New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq. (See generally Second Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 105-148.)

         Before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (“Rule 56”). (ECF No. 55.) Plaintiff opposed that motion on August 17, 2017 (ECF No. 72), and defendant replied on August 31, 2017 (ECF No. 75).[2]

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court hereby GRANTS defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from the parties' respective submissions under Local Civ. R. 56.1, and are undisputed unless otherwise noted.[3]

         A. The Parties

         The New York and Presbyterian Hospital (“defendant” or “NYPH”) is a not-for-profit corporation that maintains and operates, inter alia, a number of affordable health care centers across New York City. (Pl.'s Counter Statement of Undisputed and Material Facts of Def. (“Pl.'s 56.1 Resp.”) ¶¶ 6, 20, ECF No. 73-1.) The Vanderbilt Clinic, 10th Floor (“VC-10”), is one such facility. (Id. ¶ 21.) At all times relevant to this action, VC-10 was divided into four separate “areas”: Area A, Area B, Area C, and Area D. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         On July 10, 2000, NYPH hired Florianne Mereigh (“plaintiff” or “Mereigh”) as a Registered Nurse. (Id. ¶ 7.) Mereigh was promoted to Clinical Nurse III (“CN-III” or “Charge Nurse”) in 2006, and was assigned to VC-10 that same year. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) As the CN-III for VC-10, Mereigh was generally responsible for “providing clinical care to [VC-10] patients”, along with a various administrative tasks such as “making up daily assignments for the nurses, Nursing Attendants, and Medical Assistants.” (Id ¶¶ 29-30.) Mereigh worked at VC-10 from 2006 until she left NYPH on or around October 16, 2015. (Id ¶ 229.)

         B. Mereigh's Job Performance and Resignation

         In 2009, Naomi Ramdin (“Ramdin”) became the “Practice Administrator” for VC-10. (Id. ¶ 32.) In that role, Ramdin was responsible for supervising certain VC-10 clinical programs and staff, including Mereigh.[4] (Id.) From 2009-2013, Ramdin raised numerous concerns about Mereighs job performance, many of which were reflected in Mereighs annual performance reviews. Below is a brief summary of the major issues identified:

• In 2009, Ramdin observed that Mereigh was not completing the required number of “discharge calls”, and gave her a rating of “Needs Improvement” in the corresponding category of her yearly performance review. (Decl. of Naomi Ramdin in Support of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Ramdin Decl.”) Ex. C at 6, ECF No. 57-3.) Mereigh was also placed on a formal “work improvement plan”, which is a tool used by NPYH “to assist employees in specific areas where they are under performing.” (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 48-49.) Mereighs 2011, 2012, and 2013 performance reviews also noted a deficiency in this area. (See Ramdin Decl. Ex. J at 10, Ex. K at 5, Ex. L at 4.)
• Mereigh's 2009 performance review noted that she had “encountered difficulty in working with” various members of the VC-10 staff. (See Ramdin Decl. Ex. C at 3.) Additional, in 2010, Mereigh received a “Needs Improvement” rating in the categories of “empathy” and “respect”, and the review included numerous examples of her allegedly improper behavior.[5] (See Ramdin Decl. Ex. I at 4; Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 61.) Moreover, in 2013, Mereigh received a rating of “Needs Improvement” in the “teamwork” category, the review noting that Mereigh “does not respect the NYP procedures for improving upon deficiencies” and “does not fully support the hospital's Patient Satisfaction best practices.” (Ramdin Decl. Ex. L at 4.)
• In 2013, Mereigh received a rating of “Needs Improvement” in the “planning” category of her performance review. (See Ramdin Decl. Ex. L at 6.) The review stated that “[w]eakness in planning and organization leads to many weaknesses that appear in Florianne's work performance, ” such as “delays in preparing staff assignment” and “inexplicable patient flow problems.” (Id.)

         Ramdin has asserted that in 2014, the “complaints and issues with [Mereigh's] work performance . . . escalated.” (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts Pursuant to Local Civ. R. 56.1 (“Def.'s 56.1”) ¶ 70, ECF No. 60.) Mereigh does not specifically controvert that assertion, instead arguing that she “was never given the proper tools” to succeed and that “her performance began to suffer out of retaliatory motive [of] her managers.” (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 70.) In any event, it is undisputed that Mereigh received an overall rating of “Does Not Meet Expectations” in 2014 (the “2014 Performance Review”). (Id. ¶ 154; see generally Ramdin Decl. Ex. HH.) The 2014 Performance Review noted that Mereigh had “repeat issues from year to year in the areas of respect for and conformance with the system in place to ensure effective clinic operations”, and that “these performance issues have become recurring themes despite Florianne being given constructive feedback and recommendations to help her improve.” (Ramdin Decl. Ex. HH at 29.) As a result of the 2014 Performance Review, Mereigh was once again placed on a work improvement plan (the “2015 WIP”). (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 156.)

         Pursuant to the applicable Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”)[6], “[t]here are certain qualifications that the RN staff must meet in order to be a [CN-III].” (Id. ¶ 164.) One such requirement is that the employee's “current performance must meet or exceed standards.” (Id. ¶ 168.) The CBA further provides that “[e]mployees who do not meet the criteria” to remain a CN-III “will return to CN-I title and contractual compensation.” (Id. ¶ 163.) All CN-IIIs had to “reapply each year to maintain their status.” (Id. ¶ 166.)

         As a result of her “Does Not Meet Expectations” rating in 2014, Mereigh was reclassified from CN-III to CN-I in or around April 2015. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 170.) Mereigh does not dispute that she was reclassified, but alleges that “the reclassification was at least partially out of retaliatory motive.” (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 170.)

         In the summer of 2015, following completion of the 2015 WIP, Mereigh began searching for a new job. (Id ¶¶ 222-24, 228.) Mereigh received an offer of full-time employment from Monroe College on or around August 17, 2015, and accepted that same day. (Id ¶¶ 225, 227.) On September 14, 2015, Mereigh resigned from NYPH with an effective date of October 16, 2015. (Id. ¶ 229.) Mereigh stayed out of work on paid time off through October 16, 2015, and began working at Monroe College in the fall of 2015. (Id ¶¶ 230-31.)

         C. Special GYN and Mereigh's Religious Objections

         In the summer of 2011, NYPH opened a gynecological clinic known as “Special GYN” in Area D of VC-10. (Id. ¶ 175.) Special GYN provided a variety of services including, inter alia, “family planning services including contraception, care to patients before and after surgical abortions, and certain medication-induced early term abortions.” (Id. ¶ 176.) Special GYN had its own dedicated staff, and did not perform any surgical abortion procedures. (Id. ¶¶ 178, 184.)

         Mereigh is a self-professed Evangelical Christian. (Second Amend. Compl. ¶ 9.) Beginning in or around June 2011, Mereigh raised a series of religious objections to performing work related to the Special GYN clinic:

• When Special GYN first opened in 2011, Mereigh raised a general objection to performing work in the clinic (the “2011 Accommodation Request”).[7] It is undisputed that Mereigh was never required to, and never did provide any direct care to any Special GYN patients. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 182.)
• In or around spring 2013, NYPH considered requiring VC-10 nurses to administer and provide education regarding contraceptives in Special GYN. (Id. ¶¶ 185-86.) Mereigh objected to performing such duties on religious grounds (the “2013 Accommodation Request”). (Id. ¶ 187.) It is undisputed that Mereigh was never actually required to administer or provide education regarding contraceptives. (Id. ¶ 188.)
• On August 18, 2014, Mereigh informed Ramdin that Medical Assistants working in Special GYN periodically asked her to answer clinical questions. (Id. ¶ 189.) Mereigh requested an exemption from having to answer such questions (the “Question Accommodation Request”). Ramdin subsequently instructed the relevant Medical Assistants to direct all of their clinical questions to physicians, and the Medial Assistants complied. (Id. ¶¶ 190-91.)

         On at least two occasions, Mereigh also expressed concern about having to potentially count, order, and/or audit certain abortion-related medications used by the Special GYN clinic:

• During a meeting with Ramdin on August 18, 2014, Mereigh asserted that “a couple of the Special GYN medications related to abortions.”[8] (Id. ¶ 195.) Ramdin asserts-and Mereigh does not specifically controvert-that she told Mereigh “other nurses had authority to handle [those] aspects of medication management, ” and that Mereigh “could assign those responsibilities to others.” (Defs 56.1 ¶ 196.) Mereigh counters that “[s]he was never dismissed from ultimate accountability in her ...

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