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Theriault v. Genesis Healthcare LLC

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 19, 2017



          George Z. Singal United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 31). After considering the Motion and related filings, the Court GRANTS the Motion, for the reasons explained below.


         Generally, a party is entitled to summary judgment if, on the record before the Court, it appears “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). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). An issue is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248. A “material fact” is one that has “the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law.” Nereida-Gonzalez v. Tirado-Delgado, 990 F.2d 701, 703 (1st Cir. 1993).

         The party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In determining whether this burden is met, the Court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences in its favor. Santoni v. Potter, 369 F.3d 594, 598 (1st Cir. 2004).

         Once the moving party has made this preliminary showing, the nonmoving party must “produce specific facts, in suitable evidentiary form, to establish the presence of a trialworthy issue.” Triangle Trading Co., Inc. v. Robroy Indus., Inc., 200 F.3d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1999) (quotation marks and punctuation omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). “Mere allegations, or conjecture unsupported in the record, are insufficient.” Barros-Villahermosa v. United States, 642 F.3d 56, 58 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Rivera-Marcano v. Normeat Royal Dane Quality A/S, 998 F.2d 34, 37 (1st Cir. 1993)); see also Wilson v. Moulison N. Corp., 639 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2011) (“A properly supported summary judgment motion cannot be defeated by conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, periphrastic circumlocutions, or rank speculation.”). “As to any essential factual element of its claim on which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof at trial, its failure to come forward with sufficient evidence to generate a trialworthy issue warrants summary judgment for the moving party.” In re Ralar Distribs., Inc., 4 F.3d 62, 67 (1st Cir. 1993).


         Plaintiff Patricia Theriault (also known as “Patty” or “Pat”) is a Certified Nursing Assistant (“CNA”) who began working at Defendant's nursing facility, RiverRidge Center (“River Ridge”), in 1997.[1] River Ridge, located in Kennebunk, Maine, is licensed by the State Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) to provide skilled nursing and rehabilitation services and assisted living to its residents. As a licensed nursing facility, River Ridge is required by state law to report any reports or allegations of suspected abuse immediately, without waiting until it has conducted an investigation into the reports or allegations. Cheyenne Wagner was a CNA and also a Certified Residential Medication Assistant (“CRMA”) who worked at River Ridge from early 2014 to early 2015. Theriault and Wagner worked the same shift on the Saco River unit at River Ridge, with Theriault providing personal care for the residents while Wagner would dispense medications. Until the events triggering this suit, Theriault never had serious issues with her job performance.[2]

         On November 11, 2014, Wagner complained to River Ridge Human Resource Manager Elizabeth Moore about Theriault. After meeting with Wagner, Moore prepared a memorandum summarizing their meeting. According to the memo, Wagner complained to Moore that Theriault, among other issues, was “prying into [Wagner's] personal life by looking at medications in [her] open handbag” and asking her why she was on medication.[3] (Joint Stipulated Record (“JSR”) (ECF No. 30), Page ID # 208.) Wagner was in fact taking medications during this period and had been placed on light duty due to an injury, but River Ridge knew about her medications and had approved her taking them. As a result of Wagner's complaint to Moore, management assigned Theriault to a different unit so that she and Wagner would not have to work together.

         On November 17, Theriault met with Moore to raise several issues. Moore again prepared a memo summarizing the meeting. According to Moore's memo, Theriault first asked why she had been re-assigned to a different unit and then began to complain about Wagner. The relevant section of the memo reads in its entirety as follows:

Patty then stated that she had been having trouble with Cheyenne Wagner; that she felt Cheyenne didn't like her and that she wanted to help her. I asked her what she meant by that and Patty stated that she is “kind of like the fixer for the girls on the unit[.”] When they have problems, she listens and tries to help them out. Patty said that she asked Cheyenne if there was a problem between the two of them that she would like to work it out and Patty said Cheyenne told her “there was no problem” and that she just wanted to do her job. Patty said she doesn't like to leave things unresolved and told her that if she needed to talk to her she could. Patty then stated that Cheyenne got a little miffed and said that she “just wanted to complete her med pass[.”] Patty stated that she felt like Cheyenne was rude to her.
I asked Patty if she spoke with her unit manager about it and she said she didn't. I explained to Patty that the most important job here is resident care [and] that sometimes people don't really want to have social conversations. I explained that perhaps private and personal matters are not something that everyone wants to discuss.
Patty then stated again that, “well, I like to help people if something is wrong.” I acknowledged her care and concern but again reminded Patty that if co-workers do not want to discuss personal matters, that it's their choice to make and that we should all respect that.

(JSR, Page ID # 148.) Theriault alleges that Moore's memo is incomplete and that she also told Moore that Wagner had been acting nervous, standoffish, and rude; that Wagner had expressed discontent with her job; that she used the facility phone to make personal calls and the facility computer to look for jobs; and that she had texted while doing her med pass, that is, while dispensing medications.[4]

         Theriault subsequently asked Acting Director of Nursing Sarah-Louise Corson if she could speak with her, but Corson said that she was very busy and asked Theriault to write her concerns down. (JSR, Page ID # 118.) During this one to two minute interaction, Theriault mentioned the “Cheyenne situation” but did not discuss the substance of her concerns with Corson.[5] (JSR, Page ID # 118.) Theriault began working on a write-up of her concerns, based on notes she had been taking, that she would eventually present to River Ridge management on November 21, as described below.

         On November 20, Wagner met with Moore, Corson, and River Ridge Administrator Robert Straznitskas and made several allegations against Theriault, including that she had improperly put her hands on a resident (sometimes hereinafter referred to as “Resident #1”). After this meeting, Straznitskas sent an email to Moore and Valerie Coleman, Regional Vice President of Operations for Genesis, stating, in relevant part, the following:

Upon receiving information that c.n.a. Cheyenne Wagner was experiencing stressful relations with a coworker, [Moore, Corson, and Straznitskas] met with Cheyenne . . . .
Cheyenne gave feedback regarding coworker Patty Theriault regarding these experiences:
- Patty had “shaken” [Resident #1] from Saco unit when she was upset at him for being difficult. When asked if any other employee had witnessed this behavior Cheyenne claimed that some others might have (Megan), but for sure Rosa Vazquez had witnessed this . . . .
- One time Patty had asked another co-worker if she “had a gun” when feeling irritated at another resident.
- When resident [redacted] was overwhelming her, she had asked the family i[f] they had a “noose and bucket” ready for him. Family left upset.
- Patty once asked the medicine delivery guy from the pharmacy for a baseball bat.

(JSR, Page ID # 209.) Wagner had also repeated her previous allegations that Theriault had looked inside her purse and was bothering her on Facebook.

         Following the November 20 meeting between Wagner, Moore, Straznitskas, and Corson, Moore and Corson called Theriault immediately and told her that she was suspended pending investigation, as required by Genesis policy.[6] Wagner's allegation regarding Theriault's physical interaction with a resident was reported to DHHS, as required by Genesis policy and state law. The report submitted to DHHS by Corson on November 20 stated, under “Description of Incident, ” “CRMA reports seeing a CNA physically shake and yell at a resident after getting frustrated with said resident.” (JSR, Page ID # 218.)

         The next morning, on November 21, Corson called Theriault and told her to come in to work that day to meet with administrators.[7] Corson, Straznitskas, and Donna Trundy, a regional Genesis employee, met with Theriault. Theriault gave the administrators the document she had prepared describing her allegations against Wagner and they all read it. At the time she had written the statement, Theriault did not have any knowledge of Wagner making allegations against her. Theriault's document reads in its entirety as follows:

About 2 weeks ago, [another River Ridge employee] was going to work until 7pm on Saco and did 7 to 3 on Mousam then 3 to 7pm on Saco . . . I worked 3 to 7 on Kennebunk and to go to Saco at 7 to 11 pm . . . When I went to Saco at 7pm Cheyenne Wagner was doing her med pass I asked how the men [were] and if anything was going on that I should know about she said no not really that all the work was done [except] for meds . . . she said this very rudely and as time passed she was really acting nervously and at one point while she walked by me she turned away and stuck her nose up in the air . . . Once her med pass was done, she was in the little med room office banging around, nervously and So I went in and asked her if she needed any help or what could I do to help . . . response was I am just doing my job I am too busy . . . during the med pass there was at least one or two of the guys that came to her for one thing or another and [she] was quite rude to them Around 9:45 pm Cheyenne was putting on her coat I said to her oh you [are] going on a break . . . NO she said I just want to go outside . . . and stormed off the unit . . . when she returned 20 minutes later, her mood had changed dramatically and was talking to me normally . . . for the rest of the shift . . . I also asked Cheyenne if there was a problem between us let me know and we could discuss it and perhaps work it out but she said there wasn't . . .
Cheyenne also told me that while [a River Ridge employee] was out on [maternity] leave that she was the second shift supervisor ([another River Ridge employee] filled [the River Ridge employee]'s hours with Cheyenne on a temp basis) and she was suppose[d] to supervise anyone who worked there and tell them what to do . . . boss them around to the point of when to take the laundry/trash out . . .
There [are] many times that Cheyenne has been texting on her cell phone during her med pass . . . and there [were] times she made a personal phone call from the facility phone . . . for personal reasons not cause she was working extra to let family know.
She has also told me in a conversation we had one night the conversation was what unit we liked the best she said Saco doing meds . . . What about the other units she said she hated Kennebunk and Mousam I asked what staff or patients she said both . . . and just wanted to stay on Saco to do meds. I reminded her that we work for the whole building and not just one unit . . .
Cheyenne has also made it know[n] that she doesn't want to be at River Ridge and that she was openly looking for another job I have seen her use the facility computer to look for a job opening[] ...

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