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Taghavidinani v. Riverview Psychiatric Center

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 5, 2018




         Jennifer Taghavidinani, an employee of Riverview Psychiatric Center (“Riverview”), brings this action against Riverview and its former superintendent, Jay Harper, asserting that Riverview and Harper committed retaliation in violation of the Whistleblowers' Protection Act (the “WPA”), 26 M.R.S.A. § 833(3) (2018) (Count I); retaliation in violation of the Maine Human Rights Act (the “MHRA”), 5 M.R.S.A. § 4633 (2018) (Count II); discrimination in violation of the MHRA, 5 M.R.S.A. §§ 4551, et seq. (2018) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”); 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 12101, et seq. (2018) (Count III); discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 701, et seq. (2018) (Count IV); and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Count V).

         In an order dated July 29, 2016, I granted, in part, the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13), resulting in the dismissal of Taghavidinani's claims against Harper with respect to Counts I-IV, and the dismissal of Taghavidinani's claims against Riverview with respect to the ADA. Additionally, I construed Count V as stating a claim only against Harper, individually, and not against Riverview. Riverview and Harper have now moved for summary judgment (ECF No. 53) with respect to all remaining claims.


         Riverview Psychiatric Center is a state mental health institute operated by the State of Maine's Department of Health and Human Services. Riverview operates four inpatient hospital units-Upper Kennebec, Lower Kennebec, Upper Saco, and Lower Saco-and an outpatient treatment program. Jay Harper, who is sued in his former capacity as the Superintendent of Riverview, was hired in early 2014.

         Taghavidinani is a licensed social worker whom Riverview hired in 2010 as an Intensive Case Manager in Riverview's outpatient treatment program. Taghavidinani was diagnosed with leukemia in late 2010 and was out on medical leave for several months in 2011. When she returned to work, she was assigned to Riverview's Lower Kennebec unit.

         In 2013 and 2014, Taghavidinani, along with a colleague who was also employed as a social worker, made various complaints against other Riverview employees employed as mental health workers in the Lower Kennebec unit. Taghavidinani claims that the conflicts arose from acts of bullying and harassment by several mental health workers. Taghavidinani filed a grievance, through her union in 2013 which claimed that there was a hostile work environment at Riverview. ECF No. 46-35, ECF No. 46-36.

         Taghavidinani alleges that in April 2014 she also lodged complaints-both verbally and in writing-with her supervisors, in which she reported an unsafe work environment, bullying, and harassment. Among these reports was an e-mail that she allegedly co-wrote with a colleague concerning the care of a patient, “CM.” The email, which was sent to two members of Riverview's management from the colleague's email account, questioned the propriety of a relationship between a Riverview staff member and CM. ECF No. 59-2. Additionally, Taghavidinani alleges that she submitted a formal complaint to the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (“OPEGA”), [1] reporting what she believed to be a hostile work environment for staff members and an abusive environment for patients at Riverview. She also met with OPEGA representatives in person to provide more details about her report. Taghavidinani contends that Harper knew about her report to OPEGA, and that he complained to another Riverview staff member about her “out of control” reports. ECF No. 60 at 15, ¶ 30.

         The simmering tension in the Lower Kennebec unit reached a boiling point in May 2014. Early that month, a mental health worker found a sex toy in a candy drawer. The toy was inscribed with an antagonistic note directed at another Riverview mental health worker. Soon thereafter, Harper sent an e-mail to the Human Resources Manager, stating-presumably in reference to the discovery of the sex toy-that there was a “serious allegation of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.” ECF No. 46-16. During the ensuing internal investigation, Riverview's management sought to understand and resolve the ongoing conflicts among the staff of the Lower Kennebec unit. As part of the investigation, Harper hand-delivered a letter to Taghavidinani informing her that (1) the Department of Health and Human Services had “probable cause to conduct an investigation into allegations of a hostile work environment;” (2) “[e]ffective immediately, ” she would be transferred off of the Lower Kennebec unit, not as a “disciplinary action, ” but instead to “allow for the completion of the investigation;” (3) while transferred, she was “not authorized to work on [the] Lower Kennebec Unit, nor enter the unit for any reason;” and (4) if she needed to speak to anyone, she could contact the Director of Social Work, the Human Resource Manager, or Harper, but otherwise she was “to refrain from contacting any potential witnesses.” ECF No. 46-39 (emphasis in original).

         Taghavidinani contends that the timing of Harper's letter was suspicious because although the letter was dated Monday, May 12, 2014, Harper allegedly handed her the letter on Friday, May 16, 2014. ECF No. 60 at 13, ¶ 17, ECF No. 46-7 at 38. Taghavidinani further asserts that during the intervening period, Riverview officials learned that the hostile work environment complaint filed on her behalf by her union had been denied, and that she was planning to go to the press and Maine's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services with reports of what she perceived to be deficiencies and substandard care and administration at Riverview. ECF No. 46-36, 47-9. Ultimately, Riverview's investigation confirmed that Taghavidinani was not in the building on the day the sex toy was discovered and she bore no responsibility for the incident.

         Taghavidinani alleges that she was locked-out of her unit and required to turn in her access keys, computers and phones on Monday, May 19. ECF No. 8 at ¶ 52. The next day Taghavidinani was assigned to work at a different building, on Chestnut Street. The building was under renovation at the time, and Taghavidinani soon reported having a negative physical reaction to it. Following a medical evaluation and recommendation, Taghavidinani was reassigned to another building on Anthony Avenue on about June 19. She alleges that once she was placed at Riverview's Anthony Avenue office in June, she was denied a computer and cell phone for nearly two months. See ECF No. 60 at 17, ¶ 52. It is undisputed that during the time Taghavidinani worked at Anthony Avenue, she did not have any job responsibilities related to social work, and the record indicates that she may not have been assigned any work whatsoever.[2] ECF No. 60 at 17, ¶ 52, ECF No. 63 at 16, ¶ 52.

         Around this period, Taghavidinani alleges that she spoke with members of the press about her perception of what she believed to be problems at Riverview, and that Harper was aware that she had spoken with reporters. She further alleges that in July, articles appeared in “several newspapers and stories broadcast on many media outlets about Riverview.” ECF No. 59 at 3.

         In the midst of these events, Taghavidinani's annual performance evaluation was prepared in July. Taghavidinani objected to parts of the completed evaluation, she refused to sign it, and she filed a grievance through her union regarding the evaluation. Riverview does not dispute that, while the grievance was pending, Taghavidinani's merit pay increase was denied in error, even though she was entitled to the increase based on the disputed performance evaluation. Taghavidinani did not receive her pay increase until May 2015, which was made retroactive to July 1, 2014.

         Also in July 2014, while Taghavidinani was working at Anthony Avenue, she requested a transfer to another building, and eventually submitted a request for a reasonable accommodation (ECF No. 46-26) to that effect. Included in the request was her doctor's recommendation that she “cannot be exposed to stressors that exacerbate anxiety. Disallow disparate treatment by coworkers. Provide disability training to coworkers and supervisors. To be treated with dignity and respect. Relocate/transfer.” ECF No. 46-26 at 2. In response, two Department of Health and Human Services employees met with Taghavidinani and two of her union representatives on August 1. They discussed the requested accommodation and asked Taghavidinani to supply more information from her healthcare providers. On August 7, Taghavidinani met with Riverview personnel and learned that her accommodation request would be granted on August 11. A Department of Health and Human Services employee sent questionnaires to Taghavidinani's medical providers to gather more information shortly thereafter. Within a few days, the request was granted and Taghavidinani was relocated to Riverview's Lower Saco unit.

         On August 14, Taghavidinani left work on medical leave and did not return for two months. When Taghavidinani returned to work on October 27, 2014, she was assigned to the Lower Saco unit, where she was employed and working as of the filing of the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.


         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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); see also Ahmed v. Johnson, 752 F.3d 490, 495 (1st Cir. 2014). “A genuine issue is one that can be resolved in favor of either party and a material fact is one which has the potential of affecting the outcome of the case.” Gerald v. Univ. of P.R., 707 F.3d 7, 16 (1st Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Johnson v. Univ. of P.R., 714 F.3d 48, 52 (1st Cir. 2013). The court, in determining whether the movant has met its burden, views the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, giving that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Brooks v. AIG SunAmerica Life Assurance Co., 480 F.3d 579, 586 (1st Cir. 2007). If a party fails to address another party's assertion of fact, the court may “grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials - including the facts considered undisputed - show that the movant is entitled to it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3); see also Jaroma v. Massey, 873 F.2d 17, 19-20 (1st Cir. 1989).

         III. ...

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