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Fleming v. IASIS Healthcare Corp.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 22, 2015

John F. Fleming, Plaintiff,
v.
IASIS Healthcare Corporation; St. Luke's Behavioral Hospital, LP; and IASIS Healthcare, LLC, Defendants

         Decided: December 21, 2015

Page 1044

          For John F Fleming, an individual, Plaintiff: Kevin R Harper, LEAD ATTORNEY, Harper Law PLC, Gilbert, AZ.

         For IASIS Healthcare Corporation, a foreign corporation, St. Luke's Behavioral Hospital LP, a foreign limited partnership, doing business as St. Luke's Behavioral Health Center, IASIS Healthcare LLC, a foreign limited liability company, Defendants: Matthew Trainor Gomes, Stephen W Mooney, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial LLC - Atlanta, GA, Atlanta, GA.

Page 1045

         ORDER

         Neil V. Wake, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 56) and the parties' accompanying statements of facts and briefs. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         St. Luke's Behavioral Hospital, LP (" St. Luke's" ) is a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. It is owned and operated by IASIS Healthcare Corporation, the sole member of IASIS Healthcare, LLC (collectively " IASIS" ).

Page 1046

          St. Luke's hired John Fleming in 2000 and fired him in 2012. Fleming claims his termination was illegally motivated by one or more of the following considerations: his sex, religion, age, disability, and statutorily protected activity. He also claims that, even if his termination was lawful, his employment contract entitles him to compensation for unused " paid time off" hours.

         St. Luke's and IASIS (collectively " Defendants" ) move for summary judgment on all these claims. They contend Fleming was fired due to his poor performance and that he is not contractually entitled to any additional compensation.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion for summary judgment tests whether the opposing party has sufficient evidence to merit a trial. Summary judgment should be granted if the evidence reveals no genuine dispute about any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and a factual dispute is genuine " if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

         The movant has the burden of showing the absence of genuine disputes of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). However, once the movant shows an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the party resisting the motion. The party opposing summary judgment must then " set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial" and may not rest upon the pleadings. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. To carry this burden, the nonmoving party must do more than simply show there is " some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, must not weigh the evidence or assess its credibility, and must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Where the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         III. MATERIAL FACTS

         The following facts are drawn from the undisputed portions of Defendants' statement of facts (Doc. 57), Fleming's statement of facts (Doc. 61), and parts of the record identified in the parties' briefs. All evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to Fleming.

         A. Evidence Relating to Whether Fleming was Illegally Terminated

         Fleming claims he was fired because of his sex, religion, age, and disability, and in retaliation for engaging in statutorily protected activity.[1] Defendants contend Fleming

Page 1047

was fired due to poor performance. Evidence relating to these claims is described below.

         1. Performance History

         In 2000, St. Luke's hired Fleming as a Therapist. (Doc. 57 at ¶17.) In 2005, Fleming began working in St. Luke's Intake and Assessment Department. ( Id. at ¶18.) He received annual performance-based raises. (Doc. 61 at ¶153.) He was good with patients and good at responding to crises, and patients liked him. ( Id. at ¶200.) But there were problems.

         In 2005, a supervisor reprimanded Fleming for (1) failing to follow proper procedures for contacting physicians on call, (2) improperly filling out a doctor rotation sheet, (3) improperly assigning patients to beds, and (4) admitting a patient under the wrong insurance. (Doc. 57 at ¶¶21, 24, 26.) According to the annual Performance Evaluation, Fleming was " struggling" with some of the patient intake processes and was " struggling" to complete patient assessments in a timely manner. ( Id. at ¶29.) However, the Evaluation also included positive comments and concluded that Fleming " meets standards" overall. (Doc. 61 at ¶28.)

         In 2006, a supervisor reprimanded Fleming for improper and untimely submissions of work hours. (Doc. 57 at ¶33.) The supervisor also instructed him to expedite the patient admissions process and to learn more about the " pre-certification" process of obtaining an insurance company's approval for treatment. ( Id. at ¶¶35, 37.) According to the annual Performance Evaluation, Fleming needed to " expedite" the patient admissions process, be " more thorough," and show " more consistency." ( Id. at ¶39.) However, the Evaluation also included positive comments and concluded that Fleming " meets standards" overall. (Doc. 61 at ¶39.)

         In 2007, supervisors reprimanded Fleming for (1) failing to complete patient evaluations, (2) failing to follow the behavioral health certification process, (3) failing to document a call from a patient in crisis, (4) excessive unplanned absences, (5) inappropriate use of evaluation and treatment waivers, and (6) poor clinical judgment. (Doc. 57 at ¶¶42, 45, 47, 51, 54.) Fleming did not deny that his actions put a patient at risk. ( Id. at ¶52.) A supervisor warned him that he should consider other employment options if he continues to make poor patient evaluations. ( Id. at ¶56.) According to the annual Performance Evaluation, Fleming needed improvement in " organization," " time," " documentation," and number of " errors." ( Id. at ¶59.) However, the Evaluation also included positive comments and concluded that Fleming " Meets the Standard" in most areas. (Doc. 61 at ¶58.)

         In 2008, a supervisor reprimanded Fleming for failing to pursue an appropriate treatment plan, thereby putting a potentially suicidal patient at risk. (Doc. 57 at ¶61.) The supervisor warned him that if he puts one more patient at risk, " the possibility of termination will be pursued." ( Id. ) Weeks later, the supervisor also reprimanded Fleming for (1) failing to complete a mandatory patient evaluation and (2) failing to contact a physician before transferring a patient. ( Id. at ¶¶64, 67.) The supervisor warned him that any further disciplinary actions " could result in termination." ( Id. at ¶67.) Later that year, supervisors reprimanded Fleming for (1) disregarding

Page 1048

instructions about admitting a patient, (2) excessive non-business Internet use, and (3) reeking of alcohol while at work. ( Id. at ¶¶71, 75, 82.) According to the annual Performance Evaluation, Fleming needed to " follow the designated process" and " expedite" patient admissions. ( Id. at ¶73.) However, the Evaluation also included positive comments and concluded that Fleming " meets standards" overall. (Doc. 61 at ¶73.)

         In 2009, supervisors reprimanded Fleming for (1) failing to complete a patient evaluation, (2) taking a smoke break during a patient's disposition, (3) excessive tardiness, (4) failing to complete the required number of patient assessments per shift, and (5) incorrectly filling out a " duty to warn" form. (Doc. 57 at ¶¶83, 86, 89.) According to the annual Performance Evaluation, Fleming needed improvement in " expediting" the patient assessment process. ( Id. at ¶91.) However, the Evaluation also included positive comments and concluded that Fleming " Meets the Standard" or " Exceeds the Standard" overall. (Doc. 61 at ¶91.)

         In 2010, a supervisor reprimanded Fleming for his poor judgment and incomplete work with respect to patient care. (Doc. 57 at ¶95.) The supervisor warned him: " This is the final conference. Any further disciplinary action will result in termination." ( Id. ) Weeks later, the supervisor reprimanded Fleming for excessive unapproved absences. ( Id. at ¶98.) The supervisor warned him that another unexcused absence " will set in motion the final steps in the disciplinary process leading to termination." ( Id. ) Later that year, the same supervisor reprimanded Fleming for (1) failing to follow up with discharged patients and (2) writing the wrong doctor's name on an admission document. ( Id. at ¶¶100, 102, 103.) Then a new supervisor, Julie Miller, filled out Fleming's annual Performance Evaluation. ( See id. at ¶105.) Miller noted that Fleming needed to do " more" patient admissions and needed to do patient pre-certifications " quickly." ( Id. ) However, she also included positive comments and concluded that Fleming " Meets the Standard" or " Exceeds the Standard" overall. (Doc. 61 at ¶105.)

         In 2011, Miller reprimanded Fleming for (1) telling a patient no hospital beds were available instead of offering an assessment, (2) failing to perform pre-certifications and instead leaving them for the next shift, (3) tardiness, (4) failing to follow up with discharged patients, (5) saying that he called Miller for a consultation when in fact he did not, (6) saying that he checked his email for an important message when in fact he did not, and (7) failing to write down information given to a patient. (Doc. 57 at ¶¶107, 109, 111.) In the annual Performance Evaluation, Miller noted that Fleming needed to " maintain productivity" and " improve consistency." ( Id. at ¶112.) However, she also included positive comments and concluded that Fleming " meets standards" overall. (Doc. 61 at ¶112.)

         The month leading up to Fleming's termination was eventful. In a Performance Evaluation dated September 4, 2012, Miller noted that Fleming's " documentation has been lacking information and he has had many incomplete forms" and that " he could work on doing a faster assessment/admit process and be more consistent with his work." (Doc. 57 at ¶116.) She also included positive comments and concluded that Fleming " meets standards" overall. ( See Doc. 61 at ¶153.) On September 10, Miller gave Fleming a final written warning for (1) sending improper documentation to family members of two different patients, (2) seeing a patient for whom he failed to complete an authorization form, and (3) failing to complete a patient assessment. (Doc. 57 at ¶121.) On September

Page 1049

13, Miller reprimanded Fleming for failing to use a cover sheet when faxing a patient's protected health information, in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (" HIPAA" ). ( Id. at ¶118.)

         The incident immediately preceding Fleming's termination occurred on September 25, 2012. Fleming assigned a 12-year-old patient to an overcapacity bed without completing the necessary procedures. ( Id. at ¶¶130-40.) Fleming left the task of completing the overcapacity procedures for the next shift, telling his co-worker Alisa Furch: " I'm not going to stay a moment longer, you can do it." ( Id. at ¶141.) Fleming could not stay longer because he was experiencing tremendous back pain and had lost feeling in his writing hand. (Doc. 61 at ¶138.) Fleming had already stayed at work longer than scheduled, and he thought completing the overcapacity procedures would be complicated and time consuming and would preclude the patient from receiving treatment. ( Id. ) He had the authority to delegate the task to Furch. ( Id. at ...


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