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Mascarella v. Cplace University Snf, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

May 20, 2015

KRISTIE A. MASCARELLA
v.
CPLACE UNIVERSITY SNF, LLC d/b/a AFFINITY NURSING & REHAB CENTER; CPLACE COLONIAL RC, LLC d/b/a COLONIAL CARE RETIREMENT CENTER; and TRADITIONS SENIOR MANAGEMENT, INC

RULING

SHELLY D. DICK, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motions for Summary Judgment [1] by Defendants, CPlace University SNF, LLC, d/b/a Affinity Nursing & Rehab Center ("Affinity"), CPlace Colonial RC, LLC, d/b/a Colonial Care Retirement Center ("Colonial Care"), and Traditions Senior Management, Inc. ("Traditions"), collectively the "Defendants". Plaintiff Kristie A. Mascarella ("Plaintiff") has filed Oppositions [2] to which Defendants filed Reply briefs.[3] For the following reasons, the Court finds that the motion by Traditions should be denied, and the motion by all Defendants should be granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff in this case suffers from spina bifida and is confined to a wheelchair. It is undisputed that Plaintiff has a "disability" as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act[4] ("ADA") and the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law[5] ("LEDL"). Plaintiff began working at Colonial Care in Baton Rouge in August of 2008. On October 31, 2011, CPlace Colonial RC, LLC acquired Colonial Care and became Plaintiff's employer, and Plaintiff contends Traditions Senior Management, Inc. ("Traditions") was hired to manage the operations.[6] During this time, Plaintiff was the Executive Director of Assisted Living and the head manager of the Assisted Living Facility at Colo9nial Care.[7] Plaintiff's duties consisted of supervising several employees, making personnel decisions, interacting with residents, hiring and training PCAs, handling admissions, maintaining charts for State surveys, handling disciplinary issues with PCAs, and managing issues with residents and their families.[8]

Plaintiff boasts an extensive background in healthcare administration. Plaintiff received her Bachelor's Degree in healthcare administration in 2006 and completed an internship at St. Clare Manor nursing home that same year which required the completion of 170 hours of work.[9] Between 2006 and 2008, Plaintiff volunteered at St. Joseph Hospice for experience.[10] In 2012, Plaintiff completed her Administrator in Training (AIT) study and became a licensed Nursing Home Administrator. She also obtained her Master's degree in healthcare administration.[11]

Plaintiff contends that, without warning, she was demoted to Admissions Coordinator and transferred to Affinity in March of 2012. At the time of this transfer, Plaintiff contends Affinity was being managed by Traditions.[12] Plaintiff contends that Affinity was a much less desirable facility, that as Admissions Coordinator at Affinity, her job duties drastically changed in that she no longer had any management or supervisory responsibility, had little interaction with residents, and had duties limited to administrative paperwork.[13] Plaintiff claims that she was told the company was "restructuring" and that she was being replaced by a nurse.[14] However, Plaintiff contends that she was not replaced by a nurse; rather, she contends she was replaced by Kim Vicknair, an employee who lacked any experience managing an assisted living facility and who was an Admissions employee, not a nurse.[15] Vicknair was allegedly later replaced by Andrea Ford who is also not a nurse.[16]

Plaintiff maintains that her performance as the Executive Director at Colonial Care was excellent and that she never received complaints from residents or her superiors. Plaintiff claims that, as Colonial Care's Director of Assisted Living, she significantly reduced the facility's number of deficiencies; however, following her transfer/demotion, she claims that she received numerous complaints from Colonial Care residents and their families that the facility was being poorly managed since her departure.[17]

When Plaintiff began working at Affinity in March 2012, she contends there was no handicap accessible parking. Although there was a handicap parking space in the back of the lot painted blue, Plaintiff claims it was not truly handicap accessible because it was not wide enough to get her wheelchair out of her car.[18] Plaintiff contends that she made repeated requests to her supervisors and managers to provide a handicap accessible parking space.[19] Plaintiff further claims that, eventually, the maintenance director painted a traditional parking space located in front of the parking lot with blue lines; however, this did not solve Plaintiff's problem as the space remained too narrow to remove her wheelchair from her vehicle and allow her room to maneuver.[20] Plaintiff claims that, on June 1, 2012, several months after her transfer to Affinity and after several requests for a handicap accessible parking space, there was still no proper handicap accessible space provided to her. On that date, Plaintiff again requested a space wide enough to remove her wheelchair from her vehicle. Plaintiff does not know the exact date but claims that sometime after this June 1, 2012 request, she was finally accommodated with a handicap accessible parking space.[21]

Plaintiff further claims that, while at Affinity, she did not have access to a handicap accessible restroom. Plaintiff acknowledges that the facility did have a handicap accessible restroom, but she contends this restroom was for residents rather than employees, and Plaintiff was not able to use it.[22] Plaintiff also contends that, on her tour of Affinity on her first day at the facility, Vermonica, the Director of Nursing, advised Plaintiff against using that restroom because of concerns regarding the resident's hygiene.[23] Some witnesses testified that the resident's handicap restroom was not always clean and was used by residents with communicable diseases.[24] Because of the limitations due to her disability, Plaintiff contends she could not stand and hover over the toilet and would, therefore, have to touch several unclean surfaces in the residents' restroom.[25] Plaintiff also notes that Directors, nurses, and PCAs had access to two employee bathrooms not used by residents; however, it is Plaintiff's belief that neither of these restrooms were handicap accessible.[26]

Plaintiff claims that she made requests for a handicap accessible restroom for her use to several supervisors and managers at Affinity, including RB Bridges, Sheryl Albin, Wade Canty, and Donna Duplantis.[27] With respect to this request, Wade Canty, one of Plaintiff's superiors, testified that they "looked into what could be done, but I don't recall what other steps were taken."[28] Canty testified that he did not recall if the situation was ever resolved, and he could not recall ever doing anything in response to this request.[29] Thus, Plaintiff contends that her only real restroom option was to use the bathroom in her office. Counsel for Plaintiff vividly describes the hardship this placed on her:

Her wheelchair did not fit through the doorway. [Mascarella declaration]. So every time Mascarella used the bathroom, she had to close her office door, get undressed in her office, park her wheelchair as close to the toilet in the doorway as she could, and try to slide down to the toilet from her wheelchair. [Mascarella declaration]. The toilet was much lower than her wheelchair, which made it extremely difficult for Mascarella to get back up to the seat of her wheelchair. [Mascarella declaration]. Mascarella cannot stand at all, so she had to try and pull herself up with her arms to get back to the wheelchair. [Mascarella declaration].[30]

Plaintiff contends that, when nothing was done to accommodate her restroom request for a handicap bathroom, she suggested to Canty that she could manage better with a handicapped toilet, available at Home Depot, which would be taller than a regular toilet and closer to the level of her wheelchair.[31] Plaintiff claims she was told that the toilet was ordered, but when she asked about it, she was always told "I don't know" or "I have to get back with you."[32] Plaintiff contends her restroom accommodation requests remained unresolved at the time of her termination.

Without warning, Plaintiff was "laid off" on August 8, 2012.[33] Plaintiff claims she was told that the facility was not getting enough admissions to justify a full-time admissions person.[34] Plaintiff further claims that she was never warned that she was not admitting enough residents, never reprimanded or disciplined for same, and never warned that her job was in jeopardy for this reason. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims arguing that: (1) Plaintiff's Louisiana claim regarding her transfer is untimely; (2) Plaintiff cannot show that her transfer to Affinity was an adverse employment action because she did not suffer any loss in pay, benefits, or hours, and because her duties were "roughly" the same;[35] (3) Plaintiff cannot establish the prima facie element that she was replaced; (4) Plaintiff has offered no evidence of pretext for the legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for her transfer and layoff; (5) Plaintiff's accommodation claims are moot because she was provided a handicap parking space and she had access to a readily accessible handicap restroom which she chose not to use; (6) Plaintiff fails to show that she was retaliated against because of her accommodations requests; and (7) Plaintiff fails to present evidence to support her claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Traditions joined in this motion but also filed a separate motion for summary judgment arguing that it was never Plaintiff's employer during the relevant time period involved in this lawsuit. The Court will address Traditions' motion first.

II. LAW AND ANLYSIS

A. Summary Judgment Standard

"The 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."[36] In assessing whether a dispute to any material fact exists, the Court considers all of the evidence in the record but must refrain from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.[37] A party moving for summary judgment "must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ' but need not negate the elements of the nonmovant's case."[38] If the moving party satisfies its burden, "the non-moving party must show that summary judgment is inappropriate by setting forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue concerning every essential component of its case.'"[39] However, the non-moving party's burden "is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence."[40]

Notably, "[a] genuine issue of material fact exists, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'"[41] All reasonable factual inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party.[42] However, "[t]he Court has no duty to search the record for material fact issues. Rather, the party opposing the summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate precisely how this evidence supports his claim."[43] "Conclusory allegations unsupported by specific facts... will not prevent the award of summary judgment; the plaintiff [can]not rest on his allegations... to get to a jury without any "significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint."'"[44]

B. Traditions' Motion for Summary Judgment

Traditions contends that it was not Plaintiff's "employer" for purposes of the ADA during any of the relevant time period in this case. Traditions claims that Louisiana Management Holdings was the management company engaged by CPlace Colonial RC, LLC and CPlace University SNF, LLC, not Traditions.[45] Traditions further claims that supervisors and managers RB Bridges, Wade Canty, and Sheryl Albin all worked for Louisiana Management Holdings during the relevant time frame.[46] Traditions acknowledges that RB Bridges is now the Chief Operating Officer of Traditions but, prior to this position, Bridges was the regional director of operations and the regional vice president of Louisiana Management Holdings.[47] Traditions contends ...


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