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Mukherjee v. The Children's Mercy Hospital

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

March 6, 2018

BAIDEHI L. MUKHERJEE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CHILDREN'S MERCY HOSPITAL, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION (1) GRANTING IN PART, DENYING IN PART, AND DEFERRING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND (2) DIRECTING PARTIES TO FILE SUPPLEMENTAL BRIEFING

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Pending is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. #70. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part, and the Court defers ruling in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Baidehi L. Mukherjee is a woman of Indian national origin and Asian descent. Plaintiff began working for Defendant The Children's Mercy Hospital on July 9, 2012, as Director of Technology Development. Her starting biweekly pay rate was $6, 154.40. Defendant also paid Plaintiff $16, 000 in relocation assistance, and paid more than $14, 000 to transfer Plaintiff's work authorization to Defendant. In her position, Plaintiff was responsible for activities that promoted and facilitated the commercialization of inventions arising out of professional activities by Defendant's personnel. She communicated with inventors and intellectual property law attorneys regarding inventions, and facilitated communications between them. Plaintiff also negotiated license agreements and other related agreements to promote commercialization of newly discovered technologies.

         In August 2013, Plaintiff received her first performance evaluation from her supervisor, Warren Dudley, then-Vice President of Market Development and Outreach. Dudley wrote, among other things, for the Technology Development Office “to grow and add the most value to CMH, it will be very important for Luna to develop positive relationships both within CMH and with the supporting external groups.” Doc. #71-16, at 5. He further stated, “[t]here are indications that Luna and her communications are not being perceived by others in the way that Luna intends. It will be important for Luna to work with our H[uman] R[esources] team to identify courses offered internally or possibly externally that can support the development of communication skills.” Id.

         On January 24, 2014, Plaintiff received a written warning. Therein, Dudley indicated, among other things, Plaintiff, contrary to his instructions, was not copying him on communications to potential licensing partners or on monthly updates with a researcher. Doc. #71-18. He stated Plaintiff refused to follow directions and work on certain projects. Plaintiff was advised that failure to show “immediate, significant, and sustained improvement” could result in further counseling up to and including termination.

         On February 3, 2014, Plaintiff submitted an Employee Complaint Report to Defendant's Human Resources Department. Plaintiff stated, among other things, her supervisor lodged false allegations against her, he “target[ed]” her because she is a “highly talented minority of a different national origin, ” he was “verbally abusive, ” and “created a hostile work environment.” Doc. #71-20, at 3-3. She stated her supervisor “wrongly [sic] set idea as to the role of women, and foreign born persons. There has always been an underlying current of bigotry but I had hoped that over time…he would learn to appreciate talented individuals like me.” Id. at 7. Plaintiff asked for a change of manager, or that she be allowed to work on her own. According to Defendant, Plaintiff's complaint was investigated, and the investigation uncovered insufficient evidence to suggest unfair or inequitable treatment of Plaintiff. Plaintiff appealed the investigatory findings. She was informed by the Executive Vice President and the Vice President of Human Resources that the written warning was an appropriate measure, and Plaintiff was treated fairly and in a manner consistent with Defendant's policy.

         On April 4, 2014, Dudley gave Plaintiff a final written warning. According to Dudley, Plaintiff continued to refuse to do things, she did not provide monthly updates to him, did not complete development courses, did not provide the required amount of education and sharing necessary for her position, and her communication skills had not improved. Dudley directed Plaintiff to provide a written development plan of how she planned to achieve progress related to her communication skills and repairing relationships. Dudley also required Plaintiff to provide certain lists, reports, and summaries to him. Plaintiff was instructed to organize an educational seminar for Defendant's employees to increase understanding and knowledge of intellectual property and technology transfer. She was informed that failure to follow the plan for improvement would result in further counseling up to and including termination.

         On April 14, 2014, Plaintiff submitted another Employee Complaint Report. Her complaint was for “discrimination, harassment, retaliation, hostile work environment, tarnishing my reputation, making false allegations, causing professional and personal harm.” Doc. #71-28, at 2. Plaintiff averred she was working “in a hostile work environment and I am being attacked wrongfully [for] being a female minority foreign born professional.” Id. She claimed Dudley had become “extremely aggressive and vindictive towards” her in that he banged on her door, towered over her, refused to make eye contact, and was verbally abusive. According to Defendant, Plaintiff's complaint was investigated, and the investigation uncovered no evidence to support her claim of unfair or unequitable treatment. According to Defendant, Plaintiff failed to meet performance expectations, and the final written warning would remain in her file. Plaintiff appealed the investigatory findings. She was informed by the Executive Vice President and the Vice President of Human Resources that the final written warning was an appropriate measure, and Plaintiff was treated fairly and in a manner consistent with Defendant's policy.

         According to Defendant, it chose to discharge Plaintiff because she failed to develop collaborative relationships with researchers, failed to comply with multiple directives from Dudley over the course of several months, and failed to make immediate, significant, and sustained improvement in the areas identified in the written warnings. Plaintiff's employment with Defendant concluded on May 7, 2014.

         On May 17, 2014, Plaintiff submitted another Employee Complaint Report. Plaintiff's complaint was for “discrimination, wrongful termination of employment, harassment, retaliation, hostile work environment, making false allegations, professional and personal harm.” Doc. #71-30, at 1. According to Defendant, Plaintiff's complaint was investigated. At the conclusion of the investigation, Plaintiff was informed her “refusal to meet the expectations set by your manager ultimately led to your termination. As such, your termination will stand.” Doc. #71-32. Plaintiff appealed the investigatory findings. She was informed by the Executive Vice President and the Vice President of Human Resources that her discharge was an appropriate measure, and she was treated fairly and in a manner consistent with Defendant's policy.

         In December 2016, Plaintiff initiated this matter. In her First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges Defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her race, color, sex, religion, national origin, and ancestry under the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”). Doc. #4. Plaintiff also maintains Defendant created a hostile work environment on the basis of her race, color, sex, religion, national origin, and ancestry under the MHRA, Title VII, and Section 1981. She contends Defendant retaliated against her, in violation of the MHRA, Title VII, and Section 1981, for exercising her rights under state and federal discrimination laws. Plaintiff alleges Defendant willfully violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). Finally, Plaintiff maintains Defendant defamed her and appropriated her privacy and publicity. On February 13, 2018, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of Plaintiff's defamation and religious discrimination claims with prejudice. Doc. #84. Defendant now seeks summary judgment on all remaining claims.

         II. STANDARD

         A moving party is entitled to summary judgment on a claim only if there is a showing that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Williams v. City of St. Louis, 783 F.2d 114, 115 (8th Cir. 1986). “[W]hile the materiality determination rests on the substantive law, it is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Wierman v. Casey's Gen. Stores, 638 F.3d 984, 993 (8th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U.S. 574, 588-89 (1986); Tyler v. Harper, 744 F.2d 653, 655 ...


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