Submitted: April 16, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri - St. Louis
SMITH, Chief Judge, ARNOLD and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
Lovelace sued her employers, Washington University School of
Medicine (WUSM) and Barnes Jewish Hospital (BJH), claiming
they unlawfully terminated her in retaliation for exercising
her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and
the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). Lovelace's husband,
Stephen, also sued for loss of consortium. The district
court granted summary judgment in favor of WUSM
and BJH. We affirm.
employed Lovelace as a Medical Assistant (MA) from November
2003 to August 5, 2015. MAs assist doctors' clinical
teams by performing non-medical tasks such as scheduling,
answering phones, and placing orders. Lovelace worked for one
doctor's team from November 2003 to 2007 and for a
different doctor's team from 2007 to December 2014.
Clinical Nurse Manager Paula Goldberg, a BJH employee, began
supervising Lovelace in 2007, and MA Supervisor Dee Brinkley,
a WUSM employee, also began supervising her in September
2014. In 2009, Lovelace applied for and received FMLA leave
without incident. Both Goldberg and Brinkley supervised
Lovelace when the instant dispute arose.
in December 2014, Lovelace stopped working for a single
doctor's team and started "floating" among
different teams. Lovelace began to experience problems at
work shortly after the switch from a single, permanent team
placement to several, temporary placements. On December 10,
Lovelace was assigned to work with Dr. Douglas Adkins's
team. That same day, Lovelace left early due to back pain. A
few days later, after Lovelace had not returned to work,
Goldberg e-mailed Lovelace advising her of the potential need
to complete FMLA paperwork. Lovelace subsequently applied for
and was granted FMLA leave.
Lovelace planned to return from leave on February 9, 2015.
That very morning, however, Lovelace e-mailed Goldberg that
she would not be returning that day. Goldberg forwarded
Lovelace's e-mail to Brinkley. The two supervisors
expressed frustration at the timing of Lovelace's notice.
In one e-mail, Goldberg suggested to Brinkley that she could
hire someone else if Lovelace did not return in a month.
had back surgery on February 20. Though the surgery was
successful, Lovelace required certain minor work
accommodations, such as taking breaks to stand, stretch, or
walk. Lovelace returned to work on March 4, and Brinkley
assigned her back to Dr. Adkins's team. However, Dr.
Adkins's team had recently hired an MA named Angela
Butcher, and once Butcher was trained, Lovelace began
"floating" among teams again.
April to July, Lovelace worked with Dr. Manik Amin and nurse
Deb Orf. Lovelace apparently worked well with Dr. Amin's
team initially, but Orf soon began reporting issues with
Lovelace. Orf stated that Lovelace "would refuse to do
tasks, sometimes stating that she did not know how to do
them." Statement of Material Facts, Decl. of Debbie Orf
at 2, Lovelace v. Washington Univ. Sch. of Med., No.
4:15-cv-01694-RWS (E.D. Mo. Apr. 14, 2017), ECF No. 38-10.
Orf reported her concerns to Brinkley, explaining "that
it was more challenging to get the work done with Ms.
Lovelace than without an MA at all," and in July, she
also reported her concerns to Goldberg. Id. at 3.
Lovelace's annual performance review in April 2015,
Goldberg discussed Lovelace's performance following her
return from FMLA leave. Goldberg mentioned Lovelace's
frequent absences from her work station, but Lovelace
reminded Goldberg about her need to stand, stretch, and walk
post-surgery. After their meeting, Goldberg invited Lovelace
to revise her evaluation to reflect more positively on her
performance, and Lovelace did so. Shortly thereafter,
Lovelace met with Bob Barczewski, WUSM Director of Business
Operations, to complain about Goldberg's treatment of her
since her return. She also met with Human Resources
Consultant Sandra Sledge.
2015, Goldberg and Brinkley discussed Lovelace's
performance with several of the hospital's doctors and
nurses. During one of these discussions, Dr. Brian Van Tine
reported that Lovelace, who is white, allegedly commented
that a black coworker, Angela Butcher, did not like working
with white people ("the Butcher comment"). On July
10, Goldberg e-mailed Sledge summarizing her concerns about
Lovelace. Goldberg expressed her opinion that Lovelace was
"not prepared for the demands of the [MA]
position," as the position's requirements had
"evolved" over time. Resp. to Statement of Material
Facts, Ex. 7 at 1, Lovelace v. Washington Univ. Sch. of
Med., No. 4:15-cv-01694-RWS (E.D. Mo. June 9, 2017), ECF
No. 51-8. She explained that Lovelace's lack of readiness
"cause[d] her to avoid work, push work off and have
others do the work" and suggested that Lovelace would be
more effective in "a less stressful, demanding position
in another department." Id. Finally, Goldberg
noted that she had "enough to fire [Lovelace]," and
while she believed she could issue a written warning, she
planned on issuing a verbal warning instead. Id.
Sledge advised "pointing out to [Lovelace] the needs of
the position and where she is and is not meeting"
expectations instead of suggesting a different position, and
she encouraged Goldberg to continue accommodating
Lovelace's "need for rest times (within
13, Goldberg, Brinkley, and Lovelace met to discuss
Lovelace's performance and conduct, and Goldberg
specifically inquired about the Butcher comment. Lovelace
denied making the comment and claimed her supervisors were
accusing her of racism. At her deposition, Lovelace admitted
that no one had called her a racist and that no
"negative comments [were] ever made about [her] race or
ethnicity in the workplace." Statement of Material
Facts, Dep. of Sandra Lovelace at 20, Lovelace v.
Washington Univ. Sch. of Med., No. 4:15-cv-01694-RWS
(E.D. Mo. Apr. 14, 2017), ECF No. 38-1. When asked how she
had been a victim of racial discrimination, she explained
that she "was labeled a racist." Id. at
the July 13 meeting, Lovelace met with Sledge to complain
about her supervisors allegedly labeling her a racist. She
also claimed her supervisors were retaliating against her for
taking FMLA leave. Sledge began investigating Lovelace's
claims, but Lovelace, dissatisfied with Sledge's review
process, presented her complaints directly to Human Resources
Manager Leanne Stewart on July 21 and 24. Stewart ultimately
concluded there had been no retaliation.
and Sledge scheduled a follow-up meeting with Lovelace for
July 31 to again discuss her performance. Goldberg was not
present. Brinkley presented Lovelace with a checklist of her
duties to guide the discussion and reiterated the complaints
they had received from different teams. The criticism upset
Lovelace, and she was unable to discuss the matters with
Brinkley or Sledge. She was particularly upset by
Brinkley's attempt to discuss ...