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Jean-Pierre v. Naples Community Hospital, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

September 27, 2019


          OPINION AND ORDER [1]


         Before the Court is Defendant Naples Community Hospital, Inc.’s (“NCH”) Dispositive Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 42) and Plaintiff Wilner Jean-Pierre’s response in opposition (Doc. 52). For the reasons below, the Court grants the motion.


         This is a religious discrimination suit. NCH hired Jean-Pierre to be a clinician technician (“CT”) in its 4-South Oncology Department and then in its Outpatient Infusion Services Department (“OPIS”). As a CT, Jean-Pierre provided direct patient care under a nurse. His job duties included taking vital signs, administering EKGs, and running samples to laboratories. Both jobs required weekend shifts, and Jean-Pierre acknowledged so. (Doc. 48-4 at 3; Doc. 48-5; Doc. 48-8). Jean-Pierre worked at NCH for about five years until he was fired on November 7, 2012.[2] (Doc. 48-15).

         From the start of his employment, Jean-Pierre told NCH he was a Seven-Day Adventist who could not work sundown Friday to sundown Saturday-his Sabbath. And NCH accommodated his religious beliefs for almost all his tenure with creative scheduling and allowing him to work only Sundays. (Doc. 42 ¶¶ 2, 4, 7; Doc. 52 ¶¶ 2, 4, 7; Pl. Dep. 118:13-15). That scheduling accommodation changed in October 2012.

         At that time, Jean-Pierre had been working in the OPIS unit for about two years. OPIS provides antibiotic and chemotherapy infusions to patients. Because OPIS treats outpatients only, it sees about seventy-five patients per day. This patient flow is higher than other NCH departments. (Doc. 42 ¶ 5; Doc. 52 ¶ 5). OPIS is open seven days per week. The CTs typically work eight-hour shifts, Monday through Friday and every other weekend. For Saturday shifts, OPIS preferred to schedule two CTs because it was the busiest day. But, based on anticipated patient needs and to accommodate Jean-Pierre, it sometimes scheduled only one CT.

         OPIS started 2012 with four CTs. It lost one in April and another in October. The latter resignation, given on October 5 and effective one week later, left OPIS with only two CTs to cover the weekend shifts: Jean-Pierre and Vanie Cineus. NCH advertised for the open CT position within a few weeks and filled it in early November. (Doc. 43-20).

         On October 8, supervisors met with Jean-Pierre to discuss him having to work Saturdays because of the staffing shortage. The supervisors were Dora Krauss, Director of Education and then-Interim Director of OPIS, and Sheryl Voivedich, Nurse Manager for OPIS. (Doc. 48-29 at 1; Doc. 49-1 at 1). They told Jean-Pierre he would be scheduled to work every other Saturday beginning October 20 as a matter of patient safety. (Pl. Dep. 106:25-107:7). Up to the recent resignation, Krauss explained that OPIS could work around Jean-Pierre’s request but could no longer do so with only one other CT and the busy season approaching. (Doc. 42 ¶ 13; Doc. 52 ¶ 13). This proposed schedule, however, was not set in stone. Krauss told Jean-Pierre he could switch shifts with another CT to avoid working on Saturdays and referred him to NCH’s Staffing Office to see if they could assist in any way. (Doc. 42 ¶ 14; Doc. 52 ¶ 14; Pl. Dep. 108:18-21).

         Jean-Pierre responded that he would not work Saturdays because of his religion. (Pl. Dep. 107:5-7). He also reminded his supervisors about his longstanding agreement with NCH never to work on the Sabbath. Jean-Pierre was then warned that, absent alternative arrangements, he would be disciplined if he did not show up for his scheduled Saturday shift. Jean-Pierre responded he would accept any reprimand as he was not working. (Pl. Dep. at 107:16-19). The meeting ended with the supervisors telling Jean-Pierre that he need not decide at that moment if he would work the scheduled Saturday. They suggested he talk to someone at home or church before making a final decision. A few days later, Jean-Pierre gave Krauss a letter from his pastor that outlined his religious convictions.

         Saturday, October 20 came and went. Jean-Pierre never reported to work. Nor did he call NCH’s staffing center before his shift to report his soon-to-be absence. Jean-Pierre’s no-show left OPIS with no CT. But, according to Jean-Pierre, “the RNs performed their own tech work, which did not pose a problem.” (Doc. 52 ¶ 13). Jean-Pierre received a three-point “reminder” under NCH’s point-based progressive discipline policy for skipping the scheduled shift. (Doc. 48-45 at 4-5).

         At this point, background on NCH’s point-based progressive discipline policy provides context. (Doc. 43-15). Violating an NCH policy is a one-point reminder. A repeat infraction or serious first-time infraction is three points, and a final reminder for a repeat violation is five points. The policy also gives examples of unsatisfactory behavior like “[f]ailure to report to work as scheduled following denial of request for time off” is a five-point reminder. (Doc. 43-15 at 14). Twelve points in a rolling twelve-month period makes an employee eligible for firing. (Doc. 43-15 at 9). As of October 8, when his scheduled changed, Jean-Pierre had four points. (Doc. 48-45 at 1-3).

         On October 22, Jean-Pierre received a memorandum outlining the three-point reminder. It said

Wilner, while I understand that each absence may be legitimate, a no call no show is a serious infraction. We need to be able to count on you to come to work on a regular basis. This 3-point corrective action prevents you from applying for a transfer to six months. The next level of corrective action for a second no-call no-show within the next twelve month period is a 5-point reminder, which also prevents you from eligibility for the next full pay increase and/or bonus. Including this 3-point corrective action points are 7. An accumulation of twelve or more points may result in the termination of your employment.

(Doc. 48-45 at 4-5; Pl. Dep. 113:4-114:2). Jean-Pierre did not sign the memorandum, and the employee comment section said, “Employee stated he absolutely will not work on Saturdays due to his religious beliefs. He will not change that.” (Doc. 48-45 at 4-5). Jean-Pierre was also reminded that, although NCH respected his religious beliefs, OPIS counted on him to work his scheduled shifts. (Pl. Dep. 114:3-7, 115:23-116:2).

         That same day, Jean-Pierre learned he was scheduled to work Saturday, November 3. He was reminded that not working the shift would lead to a five-point reminder and make him eligible for termination of employment. Jean-Pierre said he understood the ramifications but still would not work the weekend shift. (Pl. Dep. 13:21).

         One day before Jean-Pierre’s November 3 shift, he met with Michelle Zech, a manager in NCH’s Human Resources Department. (Doc. 48-41). Knowing Jean-Pierre’s religious observance, Zech discussed Jean-Pierre applying to transfer to a per diem position or different full-time position with hours that could better accommodate him. (Doc. 48-41; Pl. Dep. 117:15-23, 120:15-19). Zech suggested a per diem position because those employees set the days they can work, meaning Jean-Pierre could control not working on Saturdays. Zech also showed Jean-Pierre how to find open positions on NCH’s intranet. Jean-Pierre, however, was not interested in any available job. (Doc. 42 ¶ 17; Doc. 52 ¶ 17).

         Saturday, November 3 came, and Jean-Pierre did not show for work. As warned, his absence led to the following five-point reminder:

As of Saturday, November 3, 2012, your attendance record is unacceptable. My previous meetings with you to resolve the situation have not been successful. . . This 5-point reminder prevents you from applying for a transfer outside of your department for six months, and makes you ineligible for the next full pay increase and/or bonus. Including this 5-point reminder, your accumulated points are 12. An accumulation of twelve or more points during the past twelve months may result in termination of your employment.

(Doc. 48-45 at 6-7; Doc. 42 ¶ 20; Doc. 52 ¶ 20). Having accumulated twelve points, NCH decided to fire ...

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