TIMOTHY J. SAVAGE, District Judge.
In this employment discrimination action, we see how the rigid application of a workplace rule yields a harsh and insensitive result—the firing of an eight-year employee who missed a deadline by one day. Yet, the law provides no relief.
Mattie Cooper, an African American, claims she was terminated from her job as a registered nurse based on her race. Moving for summary judgment, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (Jefferson) argues that she was terminated not because of her race, but because she failed to renew her mandatory nursing license. Viewing the allegations in the light most favorable to Cooper and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor, it is undisputed that Cooper's license had not been renewed and she worked while unlicensed. Her failure to timely renew her license rendered her unqualified for the position of registered nurse. Thus, because Jefferson is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we shall grant the motion.
Cooper, an African American female, has been a registered nurse since 1981.
Like all registered nurses in Pennsylvania, Cooper was required to renew her nursing license biannually. While at Jefferson, she successfully renewed her license in October 2009, October 2011, and October 2013.
On September 24, 2015, Cooper went out on short-term disability for foot and ankle pain.
On October 31, 2015, Cooper's license expired. Nevertheless, she continued working through November 12, 2015.
On November 13, 2015, upon discovering that Cooper's license had expired, Alpini advised her not to return to work.
On the same day that she completed the online course, Kathleen Shannon, Business Partner in Human Resources, emailed Alpini, recommending Cooper's termination because she "knowingly worked for 2 weeks with an expired license" and Jefferson was unable to verify that her license had been renewed.
According to Jefferson's policy on employee license verification, registered nurses must complete all necessary requirements for license renewal "no later than 5 business days before expiration."
Cooper denies having known that the online child abuse course was required for renewal. However, she concedes that renewing her license was her responsibility.
Cooper filed a grievance, complaining that she was never informed of the required child abuse course and that she renewed her license as soon as she had learned about it.
Cooper then filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that the hospital discriminated against her based on her race, sex, and age.
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [that] the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Judgment will be entered against a party who fails to sufficiently establish any element essential to that party's case and who bears the ultimate burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In examining the motion, we must draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's favor. Young v. Martin, 801 F.3d 172, 177 (3d Cir. 2015).
The initial burden of demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material fact falls on the moving party. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must counter with "`specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation omitted). The nonmovant must show more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" for elements on which she bears the burden of production. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions are not sufficient to defeat summary judgment. Fireman's Ins. Co. v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 969 (3d Cir. 1982). Thus, "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no `genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted).
A claim of intentional employment discrimination based on disparate treatment may be proven by either direct evidence of discriminatory intent or indirect evidence from which one can infer an intent to discriminate. See Doe v. C.A.R.S. Prot. Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 358, 364 (3d Cir. 2008); Logue v. Int'l Rehab. Assocs., 837 F.2d 150, 153 (3d Cir. 1988) (citing Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 257 (1981)). Cooper has presented no direct evidence of discriminatory intent. Instead, she contends the evidence permits an inference of discrimination. Therefore, the familiar three-step McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting standard applies. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973); C.A.R.S., 527 F.3d at 364.
Under the McDonnell Douglas analysis, Cooper must first establish a prima facie case. If she does, the burden shifts to Jefferson "to identify a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action." Smith v. City of Allentown, 589 F.3d 684, 690 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). If Jefferson satisfies that burden, Cooper must produce evidence from which a reasonable fact finder could conclude that the proffered reason for taking the adverse action was merely a pretext for intentional discrimination. Id. (citation omitted). The final burden of production "merges with the ultimate burden of persuading [the jury] that she has been the victim of intentional discrimination." Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256.
To make out a prima facie case of discrimination, Cooper must show that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) nonmembers of the protected class were treated more favorably under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. Mandel v. M & Q Packaging Corp., 706 F.3d 157, 169 (3d Cir. 2013); Sarullo v. U.S. Postal Serv., 352 F.3d 789, 797 (3d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). Establishing a prima facie case of discrimination "is not onerous and poses a burden easily met." C.A.R.S., 527 F.3d at 365 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253). In addition, the nature of the required showing to establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment by indirect evidence varies with the circumstances of the particular case. C.A.R.S., 527 F.3d at 365 (citing Jones v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 411 (3d Cir. 1999)); Torre v. Casio, Inc., 42 F.3d 825, 830 (3d Cir. 1994) (citation omitted).
Cooper, an African American, is a member of a protected class. She suffered an adverse employment action when she was terminated. She has not shown that she was qualified for the nurse's position at the time she was fired. Nor has she offered evidence that non-members of the protected class were treated any differently.
Cooper's nursing license expired on October 31, 2015. Pursuant to the hospital's policy, if Jefferson was unable to verify that her license had been renewed within ten business days from October 31, she would be terminated.
Had she demonstrated that she was qualified for her job, she still did not show that non-African American nurses were treated more favorably under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.
Cooper alleges that in 2009, Jefferson "allowed a White nurse, Colleen Long, to work with an expired license, and did not discipline her."
Cooper has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. She was not a qualified registered nurse at the time she was terminated because her license had expired and she failed to verify it was timely renewed. Nor has she shown that the non-African American nurses were treated any differently. Thus, we shall grant the motion for summary judgment.