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Story v. Our Lady of Lake Physician Group

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

February 12, 2019

GAY M. STORY
v.
OUR LADY OF THE LAKE PHYSICIAN GROUP

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. DEGRAVELLES JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 44) filed by defendant Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group. Plaintiff Gay M. Story opposes the motion. (Doc. 47). The defendant has filed a reply brief in support of its motion. (Doc. 50). Oral argument is not necessary. After careful consideration of the parties' arguments, the facts in the record, and the applicable law, and for the following reasons, the defendant's motion (Doc. 44) is granted.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Gay Story (“Dr. Story”), who is an African-American female, filed suit on September 18, 2017, alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of her race, sex, and age when Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group (“OLOL”) fired her. On November 15, 2017, she filed an amended complaint. (Doc. 19). OLOL moved for dismissal of Dr. Story's retaliation claim and state-law claim under La. Civil Code Article 2315. (Doc. 24). On April 20, 2018, the Court granted the motion for partial dismissal. (Doc. 29). OLOL answered the remaining claims. (Doc. 30). On August 30, OLOL moved for summary judgment on all remaining claims. (Doc. 44).

         A. Relevant Facts

         On February 22, 2015, OLOL hired Dr. Story to work in its new Endocrinology Clinic. Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Doc. 44-35 at 2). In accordance with its standard procedure, OLOL offered Dr. Story a two-year employment agreement based on a fixed annual salary of $275, 000. (Docs 44-4 at 7-8; Doc. 44-5 at 1; Doc. 44-6). At the conclusion of the fixed-compensation period, Dr. Story's salary would shift to a production-based model of compensation--which is the norm for all full-time physicians at OLOL. (Doc. 44-4 at 7-8; Doc. 44-5 at 1).

         In October 2016, four months before the scheduled expiration of the contract and the term of fixed compensation, Dr. Story requested that the fixed-compensation term be extended for two additional years. (Doc. 44-4 at 14-17; Doc. 44-17 at 1). Jamy Richard, VP of Finance, performed an analysis of Dr. Story's compensation in relation to her level of production over a 12-month period. (Doc. 44-5 at 1-2). Richard concluded that OLOL was overpaying Dr. Story by $125, 000 per year based on her production and that Dr. Story's Endocrinology Clinic coworkers were exceeding her level of production. (Id.). Accordingly, OLOL's Senior Leadership Group voted unanimously not to extend the two-year term of fixed compensation, thus guaranteeing that Dr. Story's compensation would soon be based on her productivity. (Doc. 44-4 at 13). At Dr. Chastain's request, Dr. Story sent an email in October 2016 with a list of concerns she felt “hindered [her] ability to get [her] production numbers up.” (Doc. 47-5 at 1; see also Doc. 44-4 at 8-9 & Doc. 44-17 at 1).

         On November 11, 2016, Richard, Dr. Curtis Chastain (President and Medical Director), and LaDonna Green (VP of Operations) met with Dr. Story to inform her of the leadership group's decision and to give Dr. Story “an understanding of what needed to be done . . . to help her get to where she needed to be from a productivity standpoint, so she wouldn't take a cut in salary.” (Doc. 44-4 at 22). This was the sole purpose of the meeting. (Id. at 22-23; Doc. 44-17 at 1).

         At the meeting, Dr. Chastain first informed Dr. Story that her salary request was denied. (Doc. 44-17 at 1). He then told her that her performance was below expectations, but that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss opportunities for improvement to avoid a production-related decrease in salary beginning in February 2017. (Doc. 44-4 at 22 & 24). Dr. Story responded by pointing to a number of barriers she believed prevented her from seeing more patients, many of which--according to OLOL--were covered in her prior email and had already been resolved by that point. (Doc. 44-4 at 25; Doc. 47-11 at 8-9; Doc. 44-20 at 1). At this point, the accounts of the meeting diverge.

         According to OLOL, Dr. Chastain committed to removing any barriers to Dr. Story's ability to see patients and sought to discuss several specific ways in which Dr. Story could increase her production. (Doc. 44-4 at 14-17). The three action items included Dr. Story: (1) billing 32 hours of patient visits per week; (2) no longer screening referrals from other doctors; and (3) conducting inpatient consultations of endocrinology patients in the hospital (which were being provided by a third-party organization). (Id. at 15; Doc. 44-18 at 17-18).

         According to those present at the meeting, Dr. Story opposed the idea of inpatient consultations at the hospital, and immediately became angry and aggressive. (Doc. 44-5 at 2; Doc. 44-17 at 2; Doc. 44-18 at 18-19; Doc. 44-19 at 4-6). Dr. Story began behaving “irrationally” and stating that this would be unacceptable. (Doc. 44-4 at 26-27; Doc. 44-17 at 2; Doc. 44-18 at 18). She stated that she did not know who Richard was and did not “like the smirk on [her] face.” (Doc. 44-17 at 2).

         Dr. Chastain testified that if Dr. Story simply disagreed with the ways in which to improve her performance, “she'd probably still be employed today.” (Doc. 44-4 at 29). Instead, “she became very aggressive, very angry, [had] very pressured speech, taunting, questioning my integrity, questioning my colleagues' integrity, . . . and saying she'd been singled out.” (Id. at 29- 30). Dr. Chastain said that it became “terribly frightening” and the room was “not a safe environment any longer, ” and that Dr. Story refused to stop yelling. (Id. at 30). “I finally had to stand up and open the door and ask her to leave.” (Id.). According to Dr. Chastain, the three were “afraid to leave the room” after Dr. Story walked out for fear they would “bump into her again.” (Id. at 33). Dr. Chastain considered calling security. (Doc. 44-17 at 2).

         LaDonna Green testified that she had never seen anyone in a professional setting behave the way Dr. Story did at the meeting, that she “raised her voice, ” became “really angry[, ] and would not let anyone else around the room say anything.” (Doc. 44-19 at 4). Green had “never seen anything like that in [her] life.” (Id.). Green stated that Dr. Story continually yelled at Dr. Chastain about hospital consultations and that she was “stunned” because she had “never seen [Dr. Story] come at anyone in this manner.” (Id. at 6). The meeting left Green “shaken” and “upset, ” believing that “[w]e would never be able to talk with Dr. Story about anything if she's going to behave like this.” (Id. at 8-9). Green physically moved her chair away from Dr. Story during the meeting. (Doc. 44-20 at 1-2).

         Richard testified that Dr. Story “did not like [the] idea” of seeing hospital patients and became “completely irate, very insubordinate, very unprofessional, was screaming and got very aggressive, at which point Dr. Chastain said ‘we need to end this meeting.'” (Doc. 44-18 at 18). Richard was confused by Dr. Story's anger because the purpose of the meeting was “how can we help you get your numbers up? What can we do to help you?” (Id. at 19). She testified that after stating three times that the meeting was over, Dr. Chastain finally stood up and opened the door. (Id. at 20).

         Additionally, two administrative assistants sitting at a desk outside the conference room told National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) investigators that they heard a woman yelling “loudly” and in an “angry” manner, such that the two felt they might need to call security because the situation seemed “tense, uncomfortable, and a bit frightening.” (Doc. 44-26 at 2).

         Dr. Story states that she agreed during the meeting to conduct hospital consultations and did not express any opposition to doing so. (Doc. 47-9 at 8). She denies that she “became loud or aggressive or threatening or inappropriate in that meeting in any way.” (Id. at 9). She stated that that she became “animated” and “raised my voice” while Dr. Chastain “raised his voice.” (Id. at 10). She could not think of any reason why any person outside the room would have heard her. (Id. at 11). She agreed that Dr. Chastain asked her several times to leave the meeting, but that she refused to do so at first because she “couldn't believe what was going on with the attacks.” (Id. at 12).

         In the affidavit supporting her complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (see infra Section I.B.), Dr. Story corroborated that Dr. Chastain and Green discussed with her at the meeting her practice of reviewing and denying patient referrals from other physicians. (Doc. 47-11 at 8-9). She testified that Richard informed her that her productivity was lower than her coworkers', despite the fact that they worked less frequently. (Id. at 9). Richard's analysis accounted for the discrepancy by extrapolation, finding that if the coworkers worked the same amount of hours as Dr. Story, their production would be higher. (Id.). When Dr. Story responded to this with an explanation for the disparity, Richard “rolled her eyes.” (Id.). When she rolled her eyes a second time, Dr. Story asked “why are you being so disrespectful?” (Id.). Richard did not respond. (Id.). Then Dr. Chastain began discussing hospital consultations. (Id. at 9-10).

         When Dr. Story suggested that a group of doctors could establish a rotation for hospital calls, Dr. Chastain replied that it would “be up to them if they choose to be on hospital [consultations].” (Doc. 47-11 at 10). Dr. Story asked, “can you just meet with us and talk about our concerns?” to which Dr. Chastain replied, “we are not here to discuss that” and “okay, this meeting is over.” (Id.). Dr. Chastain “got up, walked to the door and opened it, and stated ‘you can leave now.'” (Id.). He was “visibly angry” and Dr. Story was “stunned, ” such that she did not “get up right away.” (Id.). She then stated “I cannot believe this” and stood up, saying “sir, sir, what are you doing?” (Id.). While Dr. Chastain stood with the door ...


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