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SANDERS v. WOMEN'S TREATMENT CENTER

June 30, 1998

DORIS SANDERS, Plaintiff, THE WOMEN'S TREATMENT CENTER, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CASTILLO

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 Plaintiff Doris Sanders filed suit in this Court alleging that her former employer, The Women's Treatment Center (the "Center"), discriminated against her on the basis of religion. Sanders claims that once she revealed her status as a Seventh-Day Adventist, the Center began to barrage her with baseless criticism and disciplinary actions, ultimately discharging her. Her allegations comprise two discrete causes of action (although Sanders does not use separate counts to delineate them). First, Sanders claims that she was terminated because she is a Seventh-Day Adventist in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ┬ž 2000e et seq. Second, Sanders claims that the Center subjected her to a hostile environment on the basis of her religion in violation of Title VII. The Center has moved for summary judgment on both causes of action. For the reasons that follow, we grant the Center's motion.

 RELEVANT FACTS *fn1"

 A. Sanders Begins Working at the Center As a Probationary Employee

 The Center provides substance abuse counseling to adult women through various programs, including the Pregnant Postpartum Women and Infants Unit ("PPWI Unit"). The PPWI Unit is a 24-hour inpatient treatment facility for women who are at least seven months pregnant or within sixty days postpartum. Def.'s Facts PP 4-5, 8. Sanders began working at the Center on May 9, 1994 as a Counselor I (Substance Abuse Counselor) for the PPWI Unit and held that position until her termination on September 13, 1995. Id. at P 25. Sanders, like all new employees, was on probation for the first six months of her employment. Id. at P 100. During the probationary period, new employees must prove to their supervisors that they can perform their jobs with some proficiency. Id. at P 101.

 When Sanders interviewed at the Center, she neither was asked nor volunteered any information about her religion. Id. at P 27. Sanders is a Seventh-Day Adventist, and has been since 1991. Id. at P 23. Seventh-Day Adventists worship from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and are prohibited from working during that period. See Moore Dep. Ex. No. D000080. Nevertheless, while she was a probationary employee, Sanders occasionally worked on Fridays and Saturdays during her religion's time of worship. Def.'s Facts P 30; Sanders Dep. Ex. No. 6. She also signed a Shift Change form that states, "I understand that after I accept this position from time to time my hours may change to meet the needs of the unit." Def.'s Facts P 28.

 Sanders' immediate supervisor for the first several months was Michelle Luckey. Id. at P 32. On August 23, 1994, Luckey gave Sanders her First Quarter Performance Evaluation. Id. at P 75; Sanders Dep. Ex. No. 9. Although Luckey noted that Sanders was precise about "time line, clinical documentation, and mechanics," she thought that Sanders' skills overall were "raw" and that she needed more experience and training in drafting client charts, interacting with clients, and conducting group therapy sessions. Pl.'s Add'l Facts P 1; Def.'s Facts P 78. Luckey's evaluation also addressed (for the second time that month) Sanders' failure to use clinically appropriate language in charting -- an important skill because accurate documentation is both a condition of public funding and necessary for quality client care. Def.'s Facts PP 18, 73-74, 77. Finally, Luckey addressed Sanders' inability to maintain boundaries with clients. Sanders was "counter transferring," meaning that she initiated client interaction as if she were the client's mother. Id. at P 79. Because the Center's clients usually have not experienced effective boundaries, a Counselor I must work hard to maintain them. Id. at PP 80-81.

 In October 1994, Gwendolyn Moore, the PPWI's program director, met with Sanders to discuss two instances of Sanders' inappropriate behavior: giving a client her home telephone number and falsely representing herself as a Certified Alcohol or Drug Abuse Counselor by signing the initials "C.A.D.C." along with her name. Id. at PP 84-85. Around the same time, Moore began to notice that Sanders' charting was deficient in several respects. Id. at P 87.

 The problems Luckey and Moore addressed resurfaced on Sanders' six-month evaluation dated December 28, 1994. *fn2" See Sanders Dep. Ex. No. 10. The Center's employees are evaluated on a scale from "0" to "4," using "0" as the lowest rating and "4" as the highest. Def.'s Facts P 89. A "1" rating indicates that an employee has occasionally, but not consistently, demonstrated skill and proficiency in a particular area. Id. at P 90. In the Clinical Documentation and Writing Skills category, Luckey gave Sanders a "1" for her ability to use clinically appropriate terminology, and, under Individual Counseling, gave Sanders two "1"s for her abilities to maintain appropriate boundaries and to integrate all aspects of treatment into individual counseling sessions. Id. at PP 91-93. Sanders also received mostly "1" ratings in the Ethics and Boundaries and Group Counseling categories. Id. at PP 94-95. However, Sanders did receive "3" ratings (which indicate that an employee has demonstrated skill and proficiency) in a number of areas under the Client Intake and Assessment, Treatment Planning, Milieu Management, and Time Management Skills categories. Pl.'s Add'l Facts PP 6-8, 10; Sanders Dep. Ex. No. 10.

 Sanders' ratings, while low in some areas, were apparently sufficient for an upgrade to permanent status. Luckey had voluntarily left the Center in February 1995 without telling Moore or Human Resources that Sanders had passed the probationary requirements. Id. at PP 104-105. Moore later found Sanders' six-month evaluation in Luckey's desk, and contacted Human Resources on March 13, 1995 with the recommendation that Sanders be promoted to permanent status Id. at PP 106-107.

 B. Sanders Tells the Center About her Religion and Its Work Restrictions

 During a PPWI Unit staff meeting in early March 1995, Moore announced that she might change work schedules for some employees, including Sanders, to accommodate the unit's needs. Id. at P 35. Soon after the meeting, Sanders told Moore that she could not work on Fridays and Saturdays. Id. at P 37. Moore subsequently decided not to change the staff schedules, and Sanders continued to work her regular shift, Sunday through Thursday. Id. at P 38.

 On March 21, 1995, Sanders gave Moore a note from Sanders' pastor. Id. at P 39. The pastor explained that Sanders could not work from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset because the tenets of her religion, Seventh-Day Adventism, prohibited it. Id. It is undisputed that Moore was unaware of Sanders' religious affiliation before she received the pastor's note. Id. at PP 40-41. Moore took the note to Florence Wright, Clinical Director of the Center. Id. at P 42. After talking to Wright, Moore was under the impression that she was to honor Sanders' days of worship, but that Sanders could still work on Fridays or Saturdays on an emergency basis -- as she had done during her probationary period. Id. at P 43.

 A few months later, Moore assigned Sanders to work the evening shifts on Friday, May 26, and Saturday, May 27. Id. P 46. Sanders gave Moore a note requesting removal from the Friday and Saturday evening shifts because of her religious beliefs. Id. at P 47. After receiving Sanders' note, Moore changed the May schedule to accommodate Sanders' religious beliefs. Id. at P 50. After that time, the Center never scheduled, requested, or required Sanders to work at any time between Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset. Id. at P 51.

 C. The Center Puts Sanders on a 90-Day Disciplinary Probation

 After Luckey's departure in February 1995, Linda Cole became Sanders' immediate supervisor. Id. at PP 114-115. She too observed problems with Sanders' work. See Def.'s Facts PP 114-117. For example, Cole documented that when she talked to Sanders about a client's deviation from a medical pass, Sanders responded that she was interested only in the clients assigned to her. Def.'s Facts P 114; Cole Dep. Ex. No. D000113. Cole considered this response inappropriate because PPWI counselors are responsible for every client in the unit. Id. Sanders, however, denies that she said this to Cole. Pl.'s Facts P 114; Sanders Aff. P 10. In addition, after sitting in on one of Sanders' individual counseling sessions, Cole recorded that Sanders failed either to review the patient's treatment plan or to set goals for the patient to achieve. Def.'s Facts P 115; Cole Dep. Ex. No. D000660-61. Sanders denies that Cole observed any of her individual sessions. Pl.'s Facts P 115; Sanders Aff. P 18. Finally, Cole admonished Sanders at one point for being less than honest in her dealings with clients. Def.'s Facts P 117.

 Moore says that she met with Sanders twice in February 1995 because the problems noted on her December 1994 evaluation persisted. Def.'s Facts PP 98-99. She testified that Sanders continued to violate boundaries -- in particular, by selling popcorn to clients -- and to display poor patient charting skills. Id. Moore documented these two meetings on clinical supervision forms, stating that she discussed these problems with Sanders and advised her about ways to improve. Moore Dep. Ex. No. D000459, D000461. Sanders, however, denies having any problems with boundaries or charting, and denies ever having met with Moore to address these issues. Pl.'s Facts PP 98-99; Sanders Aff. PP 8-9. She also points out that Moore was the one who initiated staff popcorn sales to clients, but later decided this conduct was inappropriate. Pl.'s Add'l Facts P 12; Def.'s Resp. Add'l Facts P 13.

 Moore met separately with Wright and Cole in March 1995 to discuss Sanders' continued unprofessional conduct and inability to maintain boundaries with clients. Id. at PP 110-111. Cole and Moore agreed that Sanders needed to be put on disciplinary probation. Id. at P 111. Wright, who had the final decision-making authority on all personnel matters, discussed Sanders' performance problems with the Human Resources Director. Id. at PP 13, 112. These conversations culminated in a decision to put Sanders on a 90-day disciplinary probation at the end of March 1995. Id. at P 112. Sanders denies that Moore and Wright ever met with her to discuss the conduct that led to her probation. Pl.'s Facts P 113; Sanders Aff. P 11.

 Indeed, Sanders claims that this probation was only the beginning of a course of unnecessary discipline, unwarranted criticism, and forced reorientation. As an example, Sanders offers a meeting that Moore arranged among Sanders, Cole, and Bridget Lee, another Counselor I on the PPWI Unit, after Lee complained that Sanders had revealed Lee's personal information to clients. Def.'s Facts P 66. At the meeting, Lee and Sanders exchanged heated remarks: Lee criticized Sanders for having old shoes, an old style of dress, and an old-fashioned hairdo, while Sanders criticized Lee for wearing short skirts. Id. at P 67. Moore says that she intervened when the argument escalated and told the counselors to sit down or she would call security. Id. However, Sanders claims that Moore neither interrupted nor told Lee and Sanders to sit down; instead, she says Moore let Lee speak her mind and told Sanders to "shut up." Pl.'s Facts P 67.

 Although Lee never mentioned Sanders' religion, Sanders points out that the Seventh-Day Adventist faith teaches simplicity is preferable when it comes to dress and appearance. Pl.'s Add'l Facts P 17. But Sanders does not claim that Lee knew about her religion or its teachings. Sanders admits that nobody besides Lee commented on Sanders' appearance, and does not claim that anyone at the Center commented on her religious beliefs. Def.'s Facts P 68.

 Sanders also testified that she was forced to attend an orientation session with new employees, a humiliating experience, she says, because she had to reintroduce herself to staff and act like a new employee. Pl.'s Facts P 188; Sanders Dep. 76. But Moore claims that Sanders told her that she wanted the new employee training, which the Center had instituted after Sanders' starting date. Def.'s Facts P 118.

 Sanders next points to an April 1995 meeting in which she was criticized for violating boundaries by telling a client that another staff member, Michael Byrd, was married to a white woman. Def.'s Facts P 120; Cole Dep., Ex. No. D000464. Sanders did not see this behavior ...


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