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Peterson v. UH Regional Hospitals

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

March 7, 2017

UH REGIONAL HOSPITALS, et al., Defendants.


          DONALD C. NUGENT United States District Judge.

         This 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.

         For the reasons more fully set forth herein, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background[1]

         Ms. 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).

         In May 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).[2] (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).

         On May 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, [3] Ms. Peterson filed a workers' compensation claim and UHRH placed her on medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").[4] (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).

         During 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 #290).

         Once 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).

         Ms. 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.[5] (Plaintiff Dep. at PagelD #230 and 242).

         Ms. Peterson filed a nine-count Complaint against Defendants on November 20, 2015.[6]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.

         II. Standard of Review

         The 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).

         The 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).

         The 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).

         III. Analysis

         A. Statute of Limitations Issue

         On 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.

         UHRH 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 #318).[7]

         It is 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).

         However, 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.

         B. Workers' Compensation Retaliation - Ohio Rev. Code § 4123.90

         Ms. 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.

         1. ...

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