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Maner v. Dignity Health

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 10, 2018

William Maner, Plaintiff,
Dignity Health, f/k/a Catholic Healthcare West, Defendant.


          David G. Campbell, Judge

         Plaintiff William Maner filed a complaint against Defendant Dignity Health for discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. Docs. 1, 30. Dignity Health moves for summary judgment on all claims. Doc. 80. The parties also jointly move to file documents under seal. Doc. 84. The motions are fully briefed, and no party requests oral argument. Docs. 80-83, 86, 87. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant both motions.

         I. Background.

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.[1] From 1999 until 2008, Maner worked for Dr. Robert Garfield at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. Doc. 83-1 at 52-53. In 2008, Garfield moved his research to Dignity Health in Phoenix, Arizona, and invited Maner to join his team there. Doc. 83-1 at 53-54. Maner agreed, and Dignity Health hired Maner as a Bio Med Design Engineer in its Research Grants Department, where Garfield remained Maner's supervisor. Doc. 83-1 at 53; Doc. 81-1 at 52. Garfield also invited researchers Leili Shi and Dr. Yuan L. Dong to continue working with him in Phoenix. Doc. 83-1 at 54. Shi and Garfield had been in a romantic relationship for about 22 years (Doc. 81-2 at 4), and Maner was aware of their relationship (Doc. 83-1 at 55).

         Due to space constraints in Garfield's Phoenix lab, Maner worked at Dignity Health's facility several miles away with two other researchers. Doc. 83-1 at 59-60, 64. Maner's job duties included providing “technical biomedical engineering support . . . in the design and applications of” equipment, monitoring research subjects, working with Garfield on “design and experimental protocols, ” and “[i]nteract[ing] with clinical colleagues, postdoctoral fellows, students and other faculty.” Doc. 81-1 at 55. Maner agrees his job duties included interactions with others, but disputes he was required to be “at the hospital” for those interactions and states that he “regularly interacted with colleagues remotely.” Doc. 83 ¶ 4.

         Between July 2008 and July 2009, Garfield rated Maner's performance at Dignity Health as “outstanding” and gave him the highest rank in every category. Docs. 83-1 at 76-77, 79; 81-1 at 56-68. Garfield's comments included:

Overall an outstanding performance. It would be very difficult to function at our present level without Mr. Maner. He does an excellent job in assisting in all aspects of our work . . . . He gets along very well with everyone and strives to achieve the highest levels of accomplishments.

Doc. 81-1 at 68.

         Maner received a salary increase based on Garfield's July 2009 review (id. at 20, 71), and a further increase in September 2010 after another favorable review (id. at 73-78, 80). In August 2010, a Texas court put Maner on probation. Doc. 83-1 at 93-94. Maner learned he would need to serve his probation in Texas unless he received permission to work outside the state. Id. at 95-96. Maner asked Garfield if he could work remotely in Texas. Docs. 83-1 at 92; 81-1 at 82. Garfield agreed, saying: “I will help you any way I can. We will work this out even if you have to stay in Galveston for some time.” Docs. 83-1 at 96; 81-1 at 82.

         Maner admits he was an at-will employee at Dignity Health and that Garfield could have terminated him rather than permit remote work. Doc. 83-1 at 97. But Maner disputes that “working physically (as opposed to remotely) in Garfield's lab was a condition of his employment.” Docs. 83 ¶ 25; 83-1 at 96-97. Maner could have sought permission from the Texas probation department to work in Phoenix and commute to Texas to report to his probation officer (Doc. 83-1 at 93), but he did not make the request because it was “absolutely impractical” financially and temporally (id. at 92, 95).

         Maner began working in Texas in late 2010. Doc. 83-1 at 128-29. In August 2011, Garfield gave him an unfavorable review, stating that he “Needs Improvement” in almost every review category. Doc. 81-1 at 86-90. Garfield's comments included:

[Maner] has helped occasionally on analysis of data but it is essential that he be here to fulfill all our needs and it [is] obvious that this can not be done completely when he is in Texas. Doc. 81-1 at 86.
Little in the way of support. . . . Little to help our goals and studies. . . . Little help as interface. . . . Has not been here to help with staff members. He has on occasion communicated with others on the phone but he is required to be here to participate. Id. at 87.
Effectively has not [per]formed as expected because he is located in Texas and it is not always possible to contact him. Id. at 88.

         Garfield concluded: “[i]t is not possible [for Maner] to fulfill the needs of this position from Texas and under conditions which we have no control.” Id. at 90. Garfield recommended that Maner return to Phoenix immediately or be terminated. Id. at 90.

         Maner contested Garfield's review in a letter to Dignity Health which will be referred to in this order as the “Review Response.” Doc. 81-1 at 84. Maner listed several projects he worked on in Texas, asserted that he had frequent and documented contact with colleagues, and stated that he was informed on multiple occasions that his work was successful. Id. As evidence that Garfield was happy with his work, Maner pointed to an email shortly before the review in which Garfield wrote that the lab was running out of funds and needed to develop a strategy to pay Maner. Doc. 83-8 at 4; Doc. 83 ¶¶ 82-85. The Review Response asserted that limited funding, not Maner's performance, prompted the “inaccurate” review. Doc. 83-1 at 144.

         Maner also wrote a letter to a Dignity Health doctor (the “Lukas letter”), regarding his arrangement to work in Texas, his performance, and funding for his position. Doc. 81-1 at 93. In a letter to Dignity Health Senior Vice President on October 11, 2011 (“the Vallier letter”), Maner addressed his work performance and the availability of funds for his position. Id. at 96.

         Dignity Health claims to have terminated Maner on October 1, 2011. Doc. 81-3 at 5, 11. Maner disputes this date, arguing that he continued to work for Dignity Health through November 2011, expecting compensation. Docs. 83 ¶ 94-95; 83-1 at 178-79; 83-2 at 28-38. Garfield terminated another male in his lab - Dr. Dong - in 2010. Doc. 83-1 at 234-37.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard.

         A party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows “that 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). Summary judgment is also appropriate against a party who “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude summary judgment, and the disputed evidence must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         III. ...

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