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Johnson v. York Hospital

Supreme Court of Maine

December 30, 2019

DARREN JOHNSON
v.
YORK HOSPITAL

          Argued: October 8, 2019

          Sarah A. Churchill, Esq. (orally), Nichols & Churchill, PA, Portland, for appellant Darren Johnson

          Mark V. Franco, Esq., and Jeana M. McCormick, Esq. (orally), Drummond Woodsum, Portland, for appellee York Hospital

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          HJELM, J.

         [¶1] Darren Johnson, a former employee of York Hospital, appeals from a summary judgment entered in favor of the hospital by the Superior Court (York County, O'Neil, J.) on Johnson's claims of a hostile work environment and gender discrimination prohibited by the Maine Human Rights Act and unlawful retaliation in violation of the Maine Whistleblower's Protection Act. Johnson contends that the court erred when it concluded that he failed to present evidence that (1) he had been subjected to a hostile work environment arising from sexual harassment; (2) he was terminated from the hospital in retaliation for complaints he had made about hospital employees; and (3) he was the victim of gender-based discrimination. We find no error and affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] We draw the following account of this case from both the procedural record and the record on summary judgment, which we view in the light most favorable to Johnson as the nonmoving party. See Grant v. Foster Wheeler, LLC, 2016 ME 85, ¶ 12, 140 A.3d 1242.

         [¶3] In August of 2011, the hospital hired Johnson as a part-time MRI technician. When he was hired, Johnson was not promised full-time employment but believed that he would be able to work more hours or be placed in a full-time position if the opportunity arose. In 2013, a CAT scan technician position became available at the hospital. The position was not advertised, and Johnson did not apply for it, but he found out later that the position was filled by someone with less experience than he had. The record does not indicate the gender or any other characteristics of the person who was hired for the position.

         [¶4] In June of 2013, Johnson learned that a complaint had been made against him by a co-worker arising from an interaction between them while the co-worker was a patient at the hospital. Johnson denied any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, because of the incident, a representative of the hospital's human resources office requested that the co-worker be assigned a parking space close to the hospital building because of "the unpredictability of Johnson's actions."

         [¶5] In February of 2014, Johnson met with his supervisor for an annual performance evaluation. At the meeting, the supervisor told Johnson that he needed "to work on" his communication style, act less defensively, and improve his relationships with other staff members. Johnson did not agree with that assessment. According to Johnson, during the meeting the supervisor told him, "I can't stand talking to you anymore. You remind me of my ex-husband." The supervisor later explained to Johnson that he reminded her of her ex-husband because Johnson had been yelling at her.[1] After the meeting, Johnson and his supervisor had very limited contact with each other, and Johnson does not contend that the supervisor engaged in any other inappropriate conduct.

         [¶6] Three months after the performance evaluation, Johnson became involved in a disagreement with a nurse about a patient's care. Following the incident, Johnson overheard the nurse tell a third person that she would like to "smack" Johnson.

         [¶7] On May 30, 2014, Johnson met with a human resources officer and complained about the statements made by the supervisor and the nurse. Approximately ten days later, Johnson clarified to the human resources department that he felt he was the victim of retaliation and had been sexually harassed by his supervisor because of her "ex-husband" comment. Given his allegations, Johnson was advised several times to submit his complaint to the hospital president through a formal grievance process, but he never did so.

         [¶8] A member of the human resources staff thoroughly investigated Johnson's complaint and interviewed several people about Johnson's interactions with staff and patients. Among other things, the investigator interviewed a physician who described an incident in which Johnson had acted "inappropriately] and aggressive[ly]" toward the nurse who he claimed wanted to "smack" him, to the point where the physician intervened by escorting Johnson from the scene. The report concluded that Johnson had engaged in an "ongoing pattern of inappropriate behavior," although Johnson denied having acted improperly.

         [¶9] On June 19, Johnson met with his supervisor and the hospital's "Leader of Staff Experiences," which is a position within the human resources office. Based on this meeting and the investigation that had been conducted into Johnson's complaints, the Leader concluded that "Johnson was creating a hostile work environment" at the hospital. As a result, the Leader recommended to the hospital's president "that Johnson's employment with York [Hospital] be terminated based upon safety concerns relating to patients and staff."[2] Johnson was terminated on July 5, 2014.

         [¶10] During the time he was employed at the hospital, Johnson did not consider quitting his job because of any conduct by co-workers; he did not refrain from going to work because of any concern for harassment or hostility by others; and he ...


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