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Vaughan v. Anderson Regional Medical Center

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

October 4, 2018




         Susan Vaughan has filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against Anderson Regional Medical Center (“ARMC”). Before the Court is ARMC's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons below, the motion is denied.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         On February 3, 2014, Matt Edwards, Vice President of Nursing at ARMC, hired Vaughan, a 54-year-old nurse, as a supervisor. She began a 90-day introductory period.

         That day, Vaughan signed and completed the “Human Resources Policy Test.” The test reviewed the hospital's non-discrimination policy, which provides that “harassment of any kind will not be tolerated in the workplace” and that employees should report any incidents to Human Resources.

         During the course of her employment, Vaughan was one of 10 supervisors, all of whom were over the age of 40. Four supervisors were older than Vaughan, and of the five who were younger than her, three were within five years of her age.

         Vicki Smith, the head nursing supervisor, oversaw Vaughan's progress. During their first shift together, Vaughan says that Smith made the following age-related comments:

1. Just how old are you?
2. We need someone who isn't as old as you are, you weren't interviewed by us and they couldn't ask you during the interview.
3. Just because you have experience doesn't mean you can do this job. It is pretty physical. Hope you can keep up.
4. I don't know why Matt hired you. You're pretty old to be a part of this team, and we needed someone younger.

         Over the next month, Vaughan says, Smith consistently made similar, age-related comments. For example, on her March 19, 2014 shift, Smith and another nurse berated Vaughan for being “kinda old and gray headed.”

         The next day, Vaughan met with Ryan McMillan, a clinical director who supervised Smith. Vaughan complained to McMillan about Smith's comments. McMillan responded, “You just have to get to know Vicki, but I will talk to her. She probably doesn't mean anything by it.”

         Vaughan did not work with Smith again. When she was scheduled to work with Smith, Vaughan would swap shifts with another supervisor or call in absent.

         On April 9, 2014, Vaughan met with Edwards and Smith for a 60-day evaluation. Edwards gave Vaughan positive feedback on her job performance and reviewed general expectations of nursing supervisors. The parties disagree about what was discussed at this meeting. ARMC alleges that Edwards explained to Vaughan that she should not “stir the pot” or “degrade or bad mouth Administration” because supervisors are an extension of Nursing Administration and they need to set the example for the staff as leaders. ARMC also states that Edwards encouraged Vaughan to be open to guidance from other supervisors and that Vaughan verbalized understanding. At the conclusion of the meeting, ARMC alleges that Vaughan shared a form, a Supervisor's report sheet, used by her previous employer that she thought was beneficial. Edwards said it was duplicative of a form already used at ARMC, but thanked Vaughan for the suggestion and told her it looked like a very good tracking tool.

         At the end of Vaughan's introductory period, on April 30, 2014, Edwards terminated her. Sharon Futch, the Director of Human Resources, says that Vaughan was fired because of her “continued refusal to work with other nursing supervisors in a cooperative manner, her persistent attempts to impose her former employer's nursing practices . . . and her inability to accept constructive criticism and suggestions from other nursing supervisors during the training process.”

         Following her termination, Vaughan filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that ARMC violated her rights under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). See 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. After the EEOC issued a Right to Sue Letter, Vaughan filed this action on December 19, 2014, and asserted two claims under the ADEA: age discrimination and retaliation. She asked for compensatory damages, punitive damages, liquidated damages, back pay (including interest), reinstatement or front pay in lieu of reinstatement, attorney's fees, and costs.

         On ARMC's motion, the Court dismissed Vaughan's claims for compensatory and punitive damages on December 7, 2015. 2015 WL 10663140 (S.D.Miss. Dec. 7, 2015). The Court certified its ruling for interlocutory review and stayed these proceedings. A year later, the Fifth Circuit affirmed this Court's ...

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