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Williams v. Ashland Hospital Corporation

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland

July 13, 2015



DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

Plaintiff Joyce Williams alleges that her former employer, Defendant Ashland Hospital Corporation, doing business as King's Daughters Medical Center (KDMC), terminated her because of her age in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (KCRA), Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 344.040(1). KDMC moves for summary judgment, arguing that it eliminated Williams' position as part of a reduction in force. (Doc. 39). KDMC's motion is now fully briefed and ripe for review. (Docs. 39, 42, 43). Because Williams has presented no evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that KDMC singled her out for discharge because of her age, the Court will grant KDMC's motion.


Williams began working at KDMC as a registered nurse in 1976 and spent her entire career in the Behavioral Medicine Unit (BMU). (Doc. 39-2 at 22). KDMC promoted her to nurse manager in 1992, and in 1998 she became clinical supervisor. ( Id. at 23, 25). In 2000, KDMC granted Williams' request to be moved to the case manager position. ( Id. at 29). As case manager, Williams' primary responsibility was to contact the payor source for each patient to determine that patient's coverage. ( Id. at 30; Ex. 3 at 32; Ex. 6 at 12-13). However, she continued to provide some nursing care and had significant patient contact. (Doc. 39-2 at 29-36). Williams was the only case manager in the BMU. ( Id. at 59; Ex. 3 at 22).

The BMU went through a decline in patient census in 2012. (Doc. 39-3 at 14-15; Ex. 6 at 10). As a result, KDMC reduced the BMU from a twenty-seven (27) bed unit to a twelve (12) bed unit. (Doc. 39-3 at 15; Ex. 6 at 11). A few weeks later KDMC restored six beds, which brought the BMU to its current eighteen (18) bed occupancy. (Doc. 39-3 at 15). Because of the census decline, KDMC decided to reduce the number of BMU staff. ( Id. ). Mona Thompson, Vice President of Quality, was given sole authority over whom to terminate. ( Id.; Ex. 6 at 10). In deciding whom to terminate, she evaluated their discipline history, performance record, and seniority in job class. (Doc.39-3 at 16).

Thompson did not apply the above-mentioned criteria to Williams because she was the only employee in the case manager class. ( Id. at 22, 40, 59-60). Instead, Thompson decided to eliminate the case manager position, and consequently KDMC terminated Williams' employment. ( Id. at 23). Thompson explained that she made this decision because a majority of BMU patients had become self-pay Medicare and Medicaid, which did not require a phone call to a payor source. ( Id. at 24). Williams was sixty-six (66) years old when KDMC terminated her employment on May 31, 2012. (Doc. 42 at 2; Doc. 39-2 at 73).

The responsibility to call payor sources was ultimately absorbed by two clinical social workers, Jeff Fleming and Debbie Hoy. (Doc. 39-3 at 24; Ex. 7 at 10-11; Ex. 8 at 7-10; Ex. 6 at 15-16). Despite taking on this additional task, Fleming and Hoy continued to perform all of their previous duties. (Doc. 39-7 at 10-11; Ex. 8 at 7-10). KDMC has never replaced or reinstituted the case manager position. (Doc. 39-3 at 24, 35).

In response to KDMC's summary judgment motion, Williams has attached an affidavit from a former nurse in the BMU, Roberta Farris. (Doc. 42-4). Williams was on vacation when KDMC fired her, and during that time Farris was filling in as case manager. ( Id. at ¶ 6). Farris states that Miranda Tussey, a KDMC employee charged with overseeing the case manager position and the BMU, asked her if she wanted to take over for Williams. ( Id. ). Farris believed that the job was hers if she wanted it, but shortly thereafter, Tussey told her that the social workers would take over the case manager duties. ( Id. at ¶¶ 9, 12). Based on business records KDMC has submitted, there is no more than a four year age difference between Williams and Farris. (Doc. 43-1). Williams confirmed in her deposition that Farris is "four or five years younger than me." (Doc. 39-2 at 61).

Williams testified that on at least two occasions Tussey asked her if she was going to retire, including the week she was terminated. (Doc. 39-2 at 80). Farris states that she "heard Miranda Tussey on multiple occasions say or insinuate to Ms. Williams whether she is considering retiring soon." (Doc. 42-4 at ¶ 5). Tussey contends that although she spoke with Williams about her retirement plans, Williams was always the one who broached the subject. (Doc. 39-6 at 20).

Williams does not contest that KDMC reduced its workforce in response to the decline in patients it served. What she does "dispute is the fact that they brought back nurses who had been there many, many years less than I had been... and did not have the qualifications that I had." (Doc. 39-2 at 55). KDMC recalled some of the nursing positions that it had previously terminated when it increased the BMU from a twelve (12) bed unit to an eighteen (18) bed unit. (Doc. 39-6 at 24). These positions were posted both internally and on KDMC's public website. (Doc. 39-3 at 40-41). The first few months after KDMC terminated Williams she would search KDMC's website to see if there were any job postings in the BMU, but eventually she quit looking. (Doc. 39-2 at 73-74). Williams never asked to be reassigned to another position within the hospital, nor did she apply for any of the nursing positions that KDMC refilled. ( Id. ). The BMU has never returned to its original staffing numbers. (Doc. 39-6 at 18).


A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must cite to evidence in the record upon which "a reasonable jury could return a verdict" in its favor; a mere "scintilla of evidence" will not do. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248-52 (1986). At summary judgment, a court "views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Slusher v. Carson, 540 F.3d 449, 453 (6th Cir. 2008).

B. Disability Discrimination and FMLA retaliation

In addition to age discrimination, Williams also brings disability discrimination and FMLA retaliation claims. (Doc. 1-2 at Counts I and II). KDMC has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Williams cannot make out a prima facie case for either. (Doc. 39). In her Response, Williams concedes that "[a]fter reviewing witness testimony as well as all the documents and company records, Plaintiff avers that in good faith she cannot establish a prima facie case for FMLA retaliation or for disability discrimination." (Doc. 42 at 9). Williams having conceded that she cannot meet her burden under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(1) and Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248-52, these claims are dismissed.

C. The Court Will Exercise its Discretion to Retain Supplemental Jurisdiction Over Williams' ...

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