United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. NUGENT United States District Judge.
matter comes before the Court upon Motion for Summary
Judgment filed by Defendants, UH Regional Hospitals,
("UHRH"), University Hospitals Bedford Medical
Center, James Johnson ("Mr. Johnson") and Maria
Kamenos ("Ms. Kamenos")(hereafter referred to
collectively as "Defendants"). (ECF #31).
Plaintiff, Tia Lynn Peterson, ("Ms. Peterson"),
filed a Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF #32), and Defendants filed a Reply
Memorandum in Support (ECF #37). The issues are fully briefed
and ripe for review.
reasons more fully set forth herein, Defendants' Motion
for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
Factual and Procedural Background
Peterson began her employment with UHRH in January 2008 as a
Patient Accounting Specialist II in Cleveland, Ohio. (ECF
#31-1, deposition of Plaintiff, PagelD #216 and 287
(hereafter, "Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD # ___."). In
2012, Ms. Peterson voluntarily transferred to the Bedford
Medical Center, where she worked as a Scheduling Coordinator.
(Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #219 and 233).
2013, Ms. Peterson called UHRH's compliance hotline and
reported that a coworker, Raylena Schaefer, had accessed Ms.
Peterson's medical records in violation of the Health
Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
(HIPAA). (Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #274-75).
Following an investigation, UHRH found that Ms. Schaefer had
accessed Ms. Peterson's records, and subsequently
disciplined Ms. Schaefer, but did not terminate her.
(Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #275-76).
28, 2014, Ms. Peterson tripped and fell while at work,
causing injury to her right shoulder, lower back, and left
knee. (Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #227-29). Shortly thereafter,
Peterson filed a workers' compensation claim and UHRH
placed her on medical leave under the Family and Medical
Leave Act ("FMLA"). (Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD
#228-30). After Ms. Peterson's twelve weeks of FMLA
leave, Ms. Peterson remained on leave for another seven
months. (Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #230, 244, and 248). Ms.
Peterson was not released to return to work until March 10,
2015. (ECF #31-1, p. 289).
Ms. Peterson's leave of absence, UHRH eliminated the
three Scheduling Coordinator positions at the Bedford Medical
Center, which included Ms. Peterson's position.
(Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #219-20 and 235). Ms. Peterson
testified that in September of 2014, UHRH employee Ms.
Kamenos offered her an alternative scheduling position, but
she declined because she was not yet released back to work
and was searching for another position within the UHRH
system. (Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #235-38; ECF #31-1, PagelD
Ms. Peterson was cleared to return to work in March 2015,
UHRH provided her with an additional three months to secure
an alternative position at UHRH, which is a standard policy
for employees whose positions have been eliminated.
(Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #225-26; ECF #31-1, PagelD #289,
Plaintiff Affidavit at Paragraph 26, PagelD #322). UHRH sent
Ms. Peterson a letter at this time notifying her that if she
"did not secure a position during the 3-month period
from March 10, 2015 to June 10, 2015, [she would] be taken
off roll effective date as of June 10, 2015." (ECF
#31-1, PagelD #289). During those three months, Ms. Peterson
had access to UHRH's online job board and UHRH provided a
recruiter to assist Ms. Peterson through the process.
(Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #226-27). Ms. Peterson testified
that she applied and interviewed for numerous positions at
UHRH during this time, but ultimately did not locate another
position. (Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #226 and 242-43).
Accordingly, UHRH effectively terminated Ms. Peterson and
placed her off roll on June 10, 2015. (Plaintiff Dep. at
PagelD #217 and 225-26). UHRH told Ms. Peterson that despite
being terminated, she remained eligible for rehire and could
still apply for open positions within the UHRH system.
(Plaintiff Dep. at PageDD #217).
Peterson admits that she does not "know who had anything
to do with the June decision" to take her off roll.
(Plaintiff Dep. at PageDD #239). Ms. Peterson also admits
that she is unaware of any other UHRH employee who was
similarly situated, but treated differently than she.
(Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #244-45 and 255-56). Additionally,
Ms. Peterson testified that she was paid throughout her leave
and her only issue during this time was not being able to
locate a new position. (Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #230 and 242).
Peterson filed a nine-count Complaint against Defendants on
November 20, 2015.This Court dismissed four counts on a
Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), leaving the
following claims at issue herein: workers' compensation
retaliation; disability discrimination under Ohio Revised
Code § 4112.01 et seq.; FMLA retaliation;
violation of the Ohio Whistleblower Statute, Ohio Rev. Code
§ 4113.52; and, race discrimination under Ohio Rev. Code
§ 4112.02. (See ECF #1-1). Defendants have moved for
Summary Judgment, asserting there are no genuine issues of
material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a
matter of law under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56. Ms. Peterson has
opposed the motion and this matter is now fully briefed and
ready for decision.
Standard of Review
summary judgment standard is well-settled. Summary judgment
is proper where4tthe pleadings, the discovery and
disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that
there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In ruling on a motion for summary
judgment, the Court must view the facts contained in the
record and all inferences that can be drawn from those facts
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986);
National Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis, Inc.,
253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001). The Court cannot weigh the
evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine
the truth of any matter in dispute. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91
L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that
no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91
L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). To refute such a showing, the non-moving
party must present some significant, probative evidence
indicating the necessity of a trial for resolving a material
factual dispute. (Id. at 322). A mere scintilla of
evidence is not enough. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252;
McClain v. Ontario, Ltd., 244 F.3d 797, 800 (6th
Cir. 2000). This Court's role is limited to determining
whether the case contains sufficient evidence from which a
jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party.
Id. at 248-49; National Satellite Sports,
253 F.3d at 907. If the non-moving party fails to make a
sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with
respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party
is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S.
at 323. If this Court concludes that a fair-minded jury could
not return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party based
on the evidence presented, it may enter a summary judgment.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52; Lansing Dairy,
Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994).
party opposing a Rule 56 motion may not simply rest on the
mere allegations or denials contained in the party's
pleadings. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Instead, an
opposing party must affirmatively present competent evidence
sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact
necessitating the trial of that issue. (Id.). Merely
alleging that a factual dispute exists cannot defeat a
properly supported motion for summary judgment.
(Id.). A genuine issue for trial is not established
by evidence that is "merely colorable, " or by
factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary.
(Id. at 248-52).
Statute of Limitations Issue
November 22, 2007, Ms. Peterson reviewed and signed a
four-page employment application (hereafter
"Application") with UHRH. (Plaintiff Dep. at PageED
#221-22; 282-86). The Application stated:
I agree that any claim or lawsuits relating to my service
with University Hospitals Health Systems or any of its
subsidiaries or affiliates must be filed no more than six (6)
months after the date of the employment action that is the
subject of the claim or lawsuit. I waive any statute or
limitations to the contrary.
argues that all of the events giving rise to Plaintiffs
claims "occurred prior to Plaintiffs leave in May of
2014, " and that her claims are time-barred because this
lawsuit was not filed within six-months as stated in the
Application. (ECF #31, PageED #211). Ms. Peterson argues that
the six-month time limitation may not be enforceable, but
assuming the provision is valid, Ms. Peterson filed her
lawsuit within six-months of the employment action at issue
herein - her termination on June 10, 2015. (ECF #32, PagelD
well-established that in the absence of a controlling statute
to the contrary, a provision within a contract may validly
limit the time for bringing an action on such a contract to a
period less than that which is set forth in the applicable
statute of limitations, as long as the agreed-upon time
period is reasonable. See, e.g., Order of United
Commercial Travelers of America v. Wolfe, 331 U.S. 586,
608, 67 S.Ct. 1355, 91 L.Ed. 1687 (1947); Terry v.
Central Transport, Inc., 2011 WL 3296852 (N.D. Ohio,
July 29, 201 l)(citation omitted). More specifically, the
Sixth Circuit has found "nothing inherently unreasonable
about a six-month limitations period." Myers
v.W.&S. Life Ins. Co., 849 F.2d 259, 262
(6th Cir. 1988).
it is unnecessary to conduct an analysis of whether the
six-month limitation within the Agreement was valid herein.
Ms. Peterson specifically stated in her Memorandum in
Opposition that "the employment action that is [the]
subject of [her] claims is her being placed off-roll on June
10, 2015." (ECF #32, PagelD #318). That being the case,
Ms. Peterson's claims are not time-barred, as she adhered
to the Agreement when she filed this lawsuit within
six-months of being terminated.
Workers' Compensation Retaliation - Ohio Rev. Code §
Peterson filed a workers' compensation claim shortly
after she fell at work on May 28, 2014. It has already been
established that Ms. Peterson did not return to work at any
time before her position was eliminated by UHRH and she was
taken off roll on June 10, 2015.