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Pace v. Mississippi Baptist Health Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

March 7, 2018

PATRICIA PACE PLAINTIFF
v.
MISSISSIPPI BAPTIST HEALTH SYSTEMS, INC. DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          CARLTON W. REEVES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Patricia Pace has filed an employment discrimination case against Defendant Mississippi Baptist Health Systems (“Baptist”). For the reasons below, Baptist is entitled to summary judgment.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Pace has a longstanding history of major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. In January 2013, Baptist hired Pace, a registered nurse, to work as a case manager in the emergency department of Baptist Medical Health Center. Pace was responsible for facilitating the admission and discharge of emergency room patients. Her duties included assisting patients with transportation needs; communicating regularly with physicians, nurses, and other staff concerning patient needs; completing admission and discharge assessments for each patient; and filling in patients' medical records.

         In September 2014, Kelly Johnston, the director of case management and Pace's supervisor, began to receive complaints about Pace's deficient job performance. For example, William Solzfus, another emergency department nurse, observed Pace decline or fail to perform her case management duties on multiple occasions. He often found Pace sitting at her desk, looking at her computer, and ignoring calls for her assistance. Robert Coleman, the director of emergency services, received complaints from physicians who reported that Pace failed to assist them in discharging patients out of the emergency department and instead sat by her computer.

         Based on these complaints, Johnston required Pace to attend additional training in October 2014. Even with this training, Johnston continued to receive complaints about Pace's performance. In her end-of- year evaluation, Pace received a score of 60%, classifying her as a “Solid Performer.”[1] Docket No. 21-1, Ex. 6.

         Pace does not address the specifics of the complaints, but sees the complaints as a continuing pattern of Johnston's harassment. In Pace's view, Johnston selectively subjected her to increasingly intense criticism and scrutiny.

         In February 2015, Pace experienced an acute major depressive episode with suicidal ideation and took approved leave. When Pace returned to work the next month, Johnston continued to receive complaints about Pace's deficient performance.[2] Johnston consequently decided to place Pace on a written Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”), which she reviewed with Pace in May 2015.[3]

         Following the implementation of the PIP, Johnston and Pace met weekly to discuss Pace's progress. Johnston observed that Pace was still failing to fill in electronic medical records and to interact proactively with patients and other staff.

         On June 18, 2015, Johnston discussed with Pace the possibility of moving from case management in the emergency department to a utilization review position, which would involve communicating with insurance companies and require less in-person interaction. After mentioning this to Pace, Johnston checked in with Bobby Ware, the Chief Nursing Officer, about the utilization review position. Ware said that Pace was unqualified for the position because Baptist allowed only licensed practical nurses to solely perform utilization review duties. Johnston relayed this requirement to Pace and apologized for the misunderstanding. Johnston explained that the only other transfer alternative was a case management position on a main hospital floor.

         Pace accepted the transfer and, after orientation, began work on the floor on July 6, 2015. Pace's floor duties were largely the same as in the emergency department, except that floor case managers facilitated the discharge process from the main hospital. But Pace's new placement required her to manage a heavier caseload and to interact even more with patients and other personnel. It did not go well. Gloria Thompson, another case manager that worked with Pace on the floor, observed that Pace struggled to keep up with the caseload and, as a result, needed significant oversight and assistance.

         After Thompson reported these challenges to Johnston, Johnston decided to place Pace on another PIP. On July 21, 2015, Johnston and Denice Hux, a human resources supervisor, met with Pace to go over the PIP. Hux asked Pace multiple times whether she needed any reasonable accommodations, and each time Pace responded no.

         Following the meeting, Thompson continued to monitor Pace and found that Pace still struggled to complete her duties. On July 31, 2015, Johnston met with Pace and Thompson to discuss Pace's progress. Pace agreed that she was unable to meet the requirements of a case manager on the floor. Johnston decided to discharge Pace, and Baptist's human resources department approved the decision.

         Following her discharge, Pace filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging that Baptist violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). After the EEOC issued a Right to Sue letter, Pace filed this action in Hinds County Circuit Court on August 29, 2016. The action was properly ...


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