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Sullivan v. Catholic Health East

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

November 5, 2014

DANIELLE SULLIVAN, Plaintiff
v.
CATHOLIC HEALTH EAST, and ST. JOSEPH'S REHABILITATION AND RESIDENCE, Defendants

ORDER

Hon. Roland A. Cole Justice.

Before the court are Motions for Summary Judgment from both Defendant Catholic Health East ("CHE") and Defendant St. Joseph's Rehabilitation and Residence ("St. Joseph's"). Defendants are seeking summary judgment on Plaintiffs Maine Whistleblower Protection Act ("WPA") claims of retaliation and constructive discharge. See 26 M.R.S.A. § 831 et seq. CHE has joined St. Joseph's Motion as to the argument that Plaintiff Danielle Sullivan's case should be dismissed because Ms. Sullivan did not suffer an adverse employment action. CHE is also seeking summary judgment on separate grounds. The court held a hearing on both motions on September 29, 2014. The court is evaluating both motions concurrently.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND:

The following facts are gathered from St. Joseph's statement of material facts, Plaintiffs opposition and additional statement of material facts, St. Joseph's reply, CHE's statement of material facts, Plaintiffs opposition and additional statement of material facts, and CHE's reply.[1]

A. Ms. Sullivan's History with St. Joseph's

St. Joseph's Manor is a Maine non-profit corporation, and it is the third largest skilled nursing facility in the State. On December 7, 2009, Ms. Sullivan was hired as St. Joseph's Director of Nursing.

Ms. Sullivan reported to Administrator David Hamlin of Catholic Health East Senior Services Management ("CHESSM"), and subsequently, Roger Ledoux after he became the Administrator of St. Joseph's. Mr. Ledoux, also a CHESSM employee, reported to fellow CHESSM employees Renee Schofield and William Healy. At times, Ms. Sullivan also reported directly to Ms. Schofield.

In November of 2010, discussions of cost cutting with frontline staffing/care givers arose for the first time. Cuts for hours per patient day were mandated. Ms. Sullivan felt that cutting costs would impact residents' health and lead to either negative or potentially negative outcomes for residents. She complained regarding the cost cutting measures to Mr. Hamlin and Mr. Healy.

Ms. Sullivan also had concerns regarding not being able to express her concerns to the Board of Directors. Ms. Sullivan complained to human resources following an incident where she felt her job had been nearly threatened.

In or around September of 2011, problems with the admissions process arose. From September or October of 2011 until her resignation in May of 2012, Ms. Sullivan repeatedly raised concerns regarding admissions. She complained regarding: the admissions process generally, her belief that St. Joseph's was admitting patients without the necessary paper work or background information, and that St. Joseph's was admitting some patients whose needs she felt could not be met by St. Joseph's.

Karen Nickerson assumed the role of admissions director in March of 2012, and the admissions problems remained after her hiring. Ms. Sullivan repeatedly complained about Ms. Nickerson, as she thought Ms. Nickerson used improper billing procedures and participated in bullying along with Ms. Schofield.

Ms. Schofield was a clinical consultant from CHESSM who provided services to St. Joseph's in February of 2012, and then began to work on site on April 19, 2012. Pursuant to Mr. Healy's request, Ms. Schofield prepared an audit and marketing plan for St. Joseph's. Together, Mr. Ledoux and Ms. Schofield completed a master plan to increase revenue.

Ms. Schofield was rude, as she failed to listen to staff, would yell at staff and would refer to staff as stupid. She and Ms. Nickerson bullied the staff. Both Ms. Schofield and Ms. Nickerson were overly critical of Ms. Sullivan, and they would rudely and harshly express their criticism. Ms. Nickerson would send Ms. Sullivan emails advising her how to perform her job. Instead of consulting with Ms. Sullivan, Ms. Schofield met with Ms. Nickerson behind closed doors.

Ms. Sullivan also felt alienated as her concerns were unaddressed, and she complained to Mr. Ledoux regarding Ms. Schofield's behavior. Ms. Sullivan also told Mr. Ledoux that changes in nursing should come from Mr. Ledoux rather than Ms. Nickerson.

In early May 2012, Ms. Sullivan started to be excluded from decision-making processes and some meetings. She was excluded from a meeting between Ms. Schofield, Mr. Ledoux and a nurse manager, where the parties discussed the transfer of the nurse manager. Ms. Sullivan was also excluded from meetings regarding admissions. In total, she was excluded from two or three meetings. In May, Ms. Schofield shuffled Ms. Sullivan's admissions responsibilities to Mr. Ledoux. For Ms. Sullivan, in May of 2012, St. Joseph's was an uncomfortable place to work.

In a meeting between Mr. Ledoux, Ms. Sullivan, and Ms. Schofield, Ms. Sullivan was accused by Ms. Schofield of not being on board with changes. Ms. Sullivan cried and told Ms. Schofield that she felt Ms. Schofield did not like her, and Ms. Schofield responded by informing her that it was "ridiculous"; "this is a big girls' game, there's no crying." (SJ's S.M.F. 16.) Ms. Sullivan felt the situation was strange because she had recently been nominated for and received a National Leadership Award.

Because of the poor work environment, issues surrounding the admission's process, her exclusion from meetings, and unwarranted criticism from Ms. Nickerson and Ms. Schofield, Ms. Sullivan wanted to resign. On Friday May 18, Ms. Sullivan tendered her resignation to Mr. Ledoux, ...


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