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Reynolds v. Extendicare Health Services

August 2, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: S. Arthur Spiegel United States Senior District Judge


This case is before the Court on two summary judgment motions, first: Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment With Regard to the Complaint Filed by Plaintiff Kelley Reynolds (doc. 17), Plaintiff Kelley Reynolds' Brief in Opposition (doc. 22), and Defendants' Reply (doc. 35). Second, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment With Regard to the Complaint Filed by Plaintiff Linda Heine (doc. 16), Plaintiff Linda Heine's Brief in Opposition (doc. 21), and Defendants' Reply (doc. 36). For the reasons stated herein, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (docs. 16, 17).

I. Background

Defendants Extendicare Health Services, Inc., and Milford Care LLC operate a healthcare facility in Milford, Ohio, called Arbors of Milford, that offers patients long-term care, assisted living, and rehabilitation services (doc. 17).

A. Plaintiff Kelley Reynolds

Plaintiff Kelley Reynolds ("Reynolds") began working for Defendants on June 12, 2003, as Assistant Director of Nursing (Id.). When she began working, Reynolds received a copy of the employee handbook, which stated that all employment was at-will, and nothing in the handbook was to be construed to be an employment contract or to create any contractual rights (Id.). Reynolds signed a document acknowledging that she had read the handbook (Id.). Plaintiff received additional documents in the course of her employment reiterating that neither the handbook nor any other materials constituted an employment contract (Id.).

Reynolds reported to the Director of Nursing and the facility's administrator, Jennifer Fehn*fn1 ("Fehn") (Id.). Reynolds received a written performance evaluation approximately three months after she began her employment with Defendants (Id.). According to Defendants, Reynolds was not happy with her evaluation and was aware that her supervisor, the Director of Nursing, who at such time was Norma Nagel, had a negative view of her performance (Id.). According to Reynolds, her first and only performance evaluation was positive and Fehn told Reynolds that she was performing fine (doc. 22). The performance evaluation included specific comments regarding areas in which Reynolds needed improvement, such as needing to think more as a manager, to accept direction, and to stop gossiping (doc. 17).

After the performance evaluation, Defendants state they provided Reynolds with a detailed job description in order to help her improve her performance (Id.). Additionally, Reynolds's supervisors state they attempted to assist her in improving her performance (Id.). In January 2004, Fehn states she asked Reynolds to write a list of goals as part of her ongoing effort to improve Reynolds's performance (Id.). In March 2004, Bonnie Jones ("Ms. Jones") replaced Norma Nagel as the Director of Nursing (Id.). According to Reynolds, Ms. Jones routinely praised Reynolds for her performance, and as of May 2004, her performance was acceptable (doc. 22). However, according to Defendants, Ms. Jones found many deficiencies in Reynolds's performance and discussed these problems with Fehn (doc. 17). Reynolds was never subjected to any disciplinary action due to her performance, but Fehn and Ms. Jones claimed that Reynolds consistently had problems with leadership and made inconsistent management decisions (Id.). As a result, Ms. Jones and Fehn decided to develop a thirty-day improvement plan and create list of areas of Reynolds's performance that needed improvement (Id.). Ms. Jones created this list on April 26, 2004 (Id.).

On May 5, 2004, a surveyor from the State of Ohio was at the facility conducting a survey (doc. 22). Reynolds engaged in a conversation with the surveyor and he gave her his business card (Id.). Carolyn Puckett ("Puckett"), an Extendicare employee, observed the conversation between the surveyor and Reynolds and asked another employee, Valorie Day ("Day"), why Reynolds needed the surveyor's business card (Id.). Puckett then proceeded to make a lewd gesture with her hand, simulating masturbation, in the direction of Reynolds (Id.). Day and Reynolds observed Puckett's gesture (Id.).

According to the company handbook, a supervisor is required to report any instance of offensive behavior (Id.). The company handbook also stated that the company will not tolerate any retaliation against an employee who reports offensive behavior (Id.). Reynolds reported Puckett's conduct to Fehn the next day (Id.). According to Reynolds, Fehn reacted as if there was nothing wrong with Puckett's behavior and showed no intention of investigating the incident (Id.). It was not until Day also reported the incident that Fehn took it seriously (Id.). According to Defendants, Puckett did not work for Fehn, therefore Fehn could not handle the matter, but she did report it to Extendicare's regional management (doc. 17).

Approximately a week later, Reynolds, Day, and Fehn participated in a conference call with Jason Hohlfelder, the Regional Director of Operations (doc. 22). Hohlfelder apologized to Reynolds and Day for the incident and assured them that Puckett would be disciplined (docs. 17, 22). According to Defendants, Hohlfelder explained to Reynolds that he could not discuss Puckett's discipline with her (doc. 17). According to Plaintiff, Hohlfelder assured Reynolds that Puckett would be disciplined and would no longer return to Arbors (doc. 22). However, Puckett did return to Arbors and worked there until she left the company a month later (Id.). Hohlfelder also promised Reynolds that she would not be subject to any retaliation as a result of reporting this incident (Id.).

On May 12, 2004, Fehn and Ms. Jones met with Reynolds to present her with the thirty-day plan they had developed in order to improve Reynolds's insufficient performance (docs. 17, 22). The improvement plan included goals for Reynolds (Id.). It also cautioned that failure to meet the goals would result in disciplinary action, including termination (Id.).

Reynolds claims that the goals, such as defining her leadership role, following policies in a non-judgmental manner, and avoiding the appearance of negativity, were vague and subjective (doc. 22). She also felt as if the improvement plan was retaliation for reporting the incident with Puckett, as it was presented to her only two days after the conference call with Hohlfelder (Id.). According to Reynolds, she made every effort to comply with the plan (Id.). As directed, she developed a self-improvement plan, which presented her ideas on how to meet the goals set for her, yet this plan was twice rejected by Ms. Jones and Fehr as insufficient (Id.). On June 4, 2004, Plaintiff presented a third self-improvement plan and Ms. Jones and Fehr told her that she was improving (Id.). However, in the same meeting, Plaintiff states, Ms. Jones informed Reynolds that they could not work together and that Reynolds would be terminated (Id.). When Plaintiff asked if she could finish out the thirty-day plan, Fehn said that she could not (Id.).

Defendants tell a different version of the events following the implementation of the thirty-day plan (doc. 17). According to Defendants, Reynolds was not making any progress toward the goals Ms. Jones and Fehn set for her (Id.). As a result, Ms. Jones and Fehn had another meeting with Reynolds on May 28, 2004, and provided her with a detailed statement of the specific problems that she needed to address (Id.). At this meeting, they asked Reynolds to develop her own plan for meeting these goals, and they met again on June 1, 2004 to discuss the plan (Id.). They found the plan developed by Ms. Reynolds insufficient and Ms. Jones asked her to revise the plan (Id.). When the group met on June 4, 2004, Reynolds' self-improvement plan was still insufficient because it shifted too much responsibility away from Reynolds (Id.). During the meeting, Reynolds asked Fehn if she would be able to meet the goals of the thirty-day plan in the allotted time (Id.). Fehn responded by saying that because so much time had passed and Reynolds had made no improvement, she did not think Reynolds would be able to achieve the goals in the allotted time (Id.). At this point, Defendants claim that Reynolds said something to the effect of "well, why wait out the week then" (Id.). Fehn agreed to pay Plaintiff for her accrued vacation and personal time, and Reynolds gathered her things and left (Id.).

B. Plaintiff Linda Heine

Plaintiff Linda Heine ("Heine") began working for Defendants on February 6, 2003 (doc. 16). Like Reynolds, Heine received an employee handbook, as well as many other documents describing company policy (Id.). She also signed a document acknowledging that she had read the handbook (Id.). The handbook and other documents contained provisions indicating that she was an at-will employee and that nothing contained in the employee handbook or any other document was to be construed as an employment contract (Id.). Heine's job ...

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