Carroll v. Comprehensive Women’s Health Services
Date of Verdict: March 16.
Court and Case No.: U.S. District Court, M.D., Pa., No. 3:16-cv-01509-JMM
Judge: James M. Munley.
Type of Action: Civil Rights, ADA.
Injuries: Mental, psychological, depression.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Ralph E. Lamar IV, Ralph E. Lamar IV, Arvada, Colorado; Marc E. Weinstein, Weinstein Law Firm, Fort Washington.
Defense Counsel: Eric M. Prock, Fanelli, Evans & Patel, Pottsville.
On Feb. 6, 2013, plaintiff Kathryn Carroll, in her 50s, was terminated as a medical records clerk at a Pottsville health facility after a dispute with her office manager over missing patient charts.
Carroll had worked at Comprehensive Women’s Health Services since 2000. Her tasks included gathering patient charts for physicians and nurses.
On Feb. 4, Carroll had requested and was granted time off to treat breast cancer.
On Feb. 6, an issue arose concerning a missing chart. Carroll became involved in the issue when she received a call from the clinical staff advising her that a patient was at the facility to see a physician but the patient’s chart could not be located. In response, Carroll searched the computer and discovered that the patient last saw doctor Timothy Grube. She proceeded to search for the patient’s file in Grube’s office. The search had gone on for about 20 minutes when office manager Judy Nagle was notified about the missing chart. Nagle was able to locate it in Grube’s office rather quickly.
After locating the chart, Nagle asked Carroll to come up to Grube’s office so that she could see exactly where the chart was found. Carroll told Nagle that she had looked for the file in the place where it was found, but did not notice it. Nagle then questioned Carroll about why she had missed it. Carroll allegedly responded, “Sometimes you just need another pair of eyes.” According to Nagle, she told Carroll of her concern with the frequency with which she was having to become involved in searching for missing files. Carroll allegedly told Nagle to “find someone else to do the job” and then walked away. Nagle claimed that she called out Carroll’s name, but Carroll did not respond and continued to walk away. Carroll denied Nagle’s account of the incident. Later that day, Carroll was called into a meeting with Nagle and the principals of the practice, Robert Zimmerman and David Krewson. Carroll was terminated during the meeting for insubordination.
Carroll sued Comprehensive Women’s Health Services, Zimmerman and Krewson, alleging that she was fired for her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Zimmerman and Krewson were dismissed, prior to trial.
Carroll denied that she was insubordinate to Nagle and asserted that she was fired because she had requested time off to treat for cancer. She testified about her account of the events regarding the missing chart. She asserted that she had not been insubordinate during the incident.
Her counsel maintained that Carroll had not been afforded the progressive discipline provided for other employees and argued that others had not been terminated for first offenses that involved conduct that was more serious than her alleged conduct.
Zimmerman stated that Carroll was terminated because her conduct was “clear and blatant insubordination,” and that it was unacceptable for an employee to tell a supervisor to find someone else to do the job.
The defense counsel argued that at the termination meeting there was no mention of Carroll’s cancer, cancer treatment, genetic testing, workplace accommodations or discrimination. Carroll had never complained about being discriminated against because of her cancer at any point during her employment, counsel asserted.
The defense also noted that, within a nine-month span in 2011 and 2012, Carroll requested six weeks of leave on three separate occasions, and she was afforded that leave, although on each occasion she voluntarily elected to only use three weeks instead of six weeks. The defense presented evidence indicating that Carroll was provided with all the accommodations she requested relative to her cancer diagnosis.
Carroll sought to recover approximately $50,000 in back pay. She was able to find another job in October 2013.
Carroll testified that, following her termination, she had suffered depression and anxiety. She became withdrawn and was unable to leave her home for a number of months. When she started her new job, she second-guessed every decision, due to low self-esteem as a result of her termination. Her husband testified that Carroll’s emotional distress had temporarily strained their marriage and that she had improved since the termination but was still not back to being herself. Carroll sought damages for past and future pain and suffering. She also sought punitive damages, which were dismissed after the close of her case, on a motion for judgment as a matter of law made by the defense.
The jury found that Comprehensive Women’s Health Services did not discriminate against Carroll in violation of the ADA.
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs and defense counsel.
—This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication.