COOPER v. THOMAS JEFFERSON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER THAT DEFENDANT THOMAS JEFFERSON UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS, INC. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT IS GRANTED; ETC.. SIGNED BY HONORABLE TIMOTHY J. SAVAGE ON 8/9/17. 8/9/17 ENTERED AND E-MAILED.(jl, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
MATTIE M. COOPER
THOMAS JEFFERSON UNIVERSITY
August 9, 2017
In this employment discrimination action, we see how the rigid application of a
workplace rule yields a harsh and insensitive result—the firing of an eight-year
employee who missed a deadline by one day. Yet, the law provides no relief.
Mattie Cooper, an African American, claims she was terminated from her job as a
registered nurse based on her race. Moving for summary judgment, Thomas Jefferson
University Hospital (Jefferson) argues that she was terminated not because of her race,
but because she failed to renew her mandatory nursing license. Viewing the allegations
in the light most favorable to Cooper and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor,
it is undisputed that Cooper’s license had not been renewed and she worked while
unlicensed. Her failure to timely renew her license rendered her unqualified for the
position of registered nurse.
Thus, because Jefferson is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law, we shall grant the motion.
Cooper, an African American female, has been a registered nurse since 1981.1
She worked at Jefferson as a staff nurse in the endoscopy unit from October 28, 2007,
until she was terminated on November 18, 2015.2
Like all registered nurses in Pennsylvania, Cooper was required to renew her
nursing license biannually. While at Jefferson, she successfully renewed her license in
October 2009, October 2011, and October 2013.3 On September 14, 2015, six weeks
before her license was due to expire, Cooper electronically submitted the $65.00 license
renewal fee to the Pennsylvania Department of State.4
On September 24, 2015, Cooper went out on short-term disability for foot and
ankle pain.5 She returned to work on October 26, 2015.6 Two days later, Barbara
Alpini, her immediate supervisor, reminded her of the need to renew her license.7 It
was set to expire on October 31, 2015. To successfully renew, all nurses were required
to complete an online course on child abuse awareness. Although Cooper agrees she
spoke with Alpini on that date, she denies discussing the online child abuse course
Def. Mot. for Summ. J. Statement of Undisputed Facts (SUF) (Doc. No. 21-2) ¶ 1.
Id. ¶¶ 3, 61.
Id. ¶¶ 15, 21; Id. Ex. 1, Dep. of Mattie M. Cooper (Cooper Dep.) (Doc. No. 21-4) at 35:4–24,
SUF ¶ 35; Pl. Counter-Statement of Undisputed Facts (CSUF) (Doc. No. 27) ¶ 35. The payment
receipt Cooper received stated that “the acceptance of the fee . . . does not indicate that your license
renewal/application has been issued successfully.” SUF ¶ 36.
Def. Mot. for Summ. J. (MSJ) Ex. 14, Short-Term Disability Leave Summary (Doc. No. 21-17).
SUF ¶¶ 22, 40; CSUF ¶¶ 22, 94, 95.
renewal prerequisite.8 Cooper admits she spoke with another fellow endoscopy nurse
about the course requirement when she returned to work from disability leave.9 She
attempted to access the online course webpage on October 28, but was unsuccessful.10
On October 31, 2015, Cooper’s license expired. Nevertheless, she continued
working through November 12, 2015.11
On November 13, 2015, upon discovering that Cooper’s license had expired,
Alpini advised her not to return to work.12 She completed the online child abuse course
on November 16, 2015.13 Her license was renewed the next day.14
On the same day that she completed the online course, Kathleen Shannon,
Business Partner in Human Resources, emailed Alpini, recommending Cooper’s
termination because she “knowingly worked for 2 weeks with an expired license” and
Jefferson was unable to verify that her license had been renewed.15 Alpini did not
respond to Shannon’s email because she was on sick leave from November 16, 2015
until around Christmas.16 On November 18, 2015, Shannon fired Cooper.17
CSUF ¶¶ 40, 94.
Cooper Dep. at 88:23–89:19, ECF 29–30.
Id. at 62:11–22, ECF 21.
SUF ¶ 45; CSUF ¶ 45.
SUF ¶¶ 49–51; CSUF ¶¶ 49–51.
MSJ Ex. 18, Certificate of Completion, Nov. 16, 2015 (Doc. No. 21-21).
SUF ¶ 60; CSUF ¶ 60.
SUF ¶ 56; CSUF ¶ 56; MSJ Ex. 19, Email from Kathleen Shannon to Barbara Alpini, Nov. 16,
2015 (Doc. No. 21-22).
SUF ¶ 57; CSUF ¶ 57.
SUF ¶¶ 61, 62; CSUF ¶¶ 61, 62.
According to Jefferson’s policy on employee license verification, registered
nurses must complete all necessary requirements for license renewal “no later than 5
business days before expiration.”18 The policy states that if Jefferson is unable to verify
a license renewal “within 10 business days after the expiration date of their credentials,
the employee will be terminated for failure to meet job requirements.”19
comply with the policy and to avoid termination, Cooper had to renew her license within
ten business days after it had expired so that Jefferson could verify its renewal.20
Cooper denies having known that the online child abuse course was required for
renewal. However, she concedes that renewing her license was her responsibility.21
Further, Jefferson and state agencies notified nurses of the online course requirements.
Alpini posted a bulletin in the endoscopy unit break room before April, 2015.22 Jefferson
also issued an online notice in the portal nurses use to schedule their working hours.23
The Pennsylvania Board of Nursing and the Bureau of Professional & Occupational
Affairs sent letters to registered nurses who had not completed renewal requirements.24
The Bureau of Professional & Occupational Affairs sent a discrepancy notice to nurses
who had paid the renewal fee but had not completed the online child abuse course.25
MSJ Ex. 3, Hospital Policies & Procedures, Dec. 29, 2015 (Doc. No. 21-27) at 2.
Cooper Dep. at 81:11–19.
SUF ¶ 30; CSUF ¶ 105.
SUF ¶ 29.
SUF ¶¶ 25–28.
MSJ Ex. 9, Discrepancy Notice, Aug. 9, 2016 (Doc. No. 21-27).
Cooper admitted receiving a “reminder” from the State in the mail prior to the October
31, 2015 renewal deadline.26
Cooper filed a grievance, complaining that she was never informed of the
required child abuse course and that she renewed her license as soon as she had
learned about it.27 She did not claim racial discrimination in her grievance or at her
grievance hearing.28 Jefferson sustained the termination action.29
Cooper then filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that the hospital discriminated against her
based on her race, sex, and age.30
In her EEOC charge, she conceded she was
discharged “because [she] worked without a license.”31
Cooper alleges only race
discrimination in this civil action.
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and [that] the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Judgment will be entered against a party who fails to
sufficiently establish any element essential to that party’s case and who bears the
ultimate burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
Cooper Dep. at 87–88, ECF 28–29.
SUF ¶¶ 67–69, 72, 73; CSUF ¶¶ 67–69, 72, 73.
SUF ¶ 72.
Id. ¶ 74.
Id. ¶¶ 75–78.
MSJ Ex. 24, EEOC Charge, Dec. 22, 2015 (Doc. No. 21-27).
In examining the motion, we must draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant’s
favor. Young v. Martin, 801 F.3d 172, 177 (3d Cir. 2015).
The initial burden of demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material
fact falls on the moving party. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Once the moving party has met its
burden, the nonmoving party must counter with “‘specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.’” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S.
574, 587 (1986) (citation omitted). The nonmovant must show more than the “mere
existence of a scintilla of evidence” for elements on which she bears the burden of
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).
assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions are not sufficient to defeat summary
judgment. Fireman’s Ins. Co. v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 969 (3d Cir. 1982). Thus,
“[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the
non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.’” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587
A claim of intentional employment discrimination based on disparate treatment
may be proven by either direct evidence of discriminatory intent or indirect evidence
from which one can infer an intent to discriminate. See Doe v. C.A.R.S. Prot. Plus, Inc.,
527 F.3d 358, 364 (3d Cir. 2008); Logue v. Int’l Rehab. Assocs., 837 F. 2d 150, 153 (3d
Cir. 1988) (citing Tex. Dep’t of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 257 (1981)).
Cooper has presented no direct evidence of discriminatory intent.
contends the evidence permits an inference of discrimination. Therefore, the familiar
three-step McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting standard applies. McDonnell Douglas
Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973); C.A.R.S., 527 F.3d at 364.
Under the McDonnell Douglas analysis, Cooper must first establish a prima facie
If she does, the burden shifts to Jefferson “to identify a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action.”
Smith v. City of
Allentown, 589 F.3d 684, 690 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). If Jefferson satisfies that
burden, Cooper must produce evidence from which a reasonable fact finder could
conclude that the proffered reason for taking the adverse action was merely a pretext
for intentional discrimination.
Id. (citation omitted).
The final burden of production
“merges with the ultimate burden of persuading [the jury] that she has been the victim of
intentional discrimination.” Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256.
To make out a prima facie case of discrimination, Cooper must show that: (1) she
is a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position; (3) she suffered
an adverse employment action; and (4) nonmembers of the protected class were
treated more favorably under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful
discrimination. Mandel v. M & Q Packaging Corp., 706 F.3d 157, 169 (3d Cir. 2013);
Sarullo v. U.S. Postal Serv., 352 F.3d 789, 797 (3d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).
Establishing a prima facie case of discrimination “is not onerous and poses a burden
C.A.R.S., 527 F.3d at 365 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting
Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253). In addition, the nature of the required showing to establish a
prima facie case of disparate treatment by indirect evidence varies with the
circumstances of the particular case. C.A.R.S., 527 F.3d at 365 (citing Jones v. Sch.
Dist. of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 411 (3d Cir. 1999)); Torre v. Casio, Inc., 42 F.3d 825, 830
(3d Cir. 1994) (citation omitted).
Cooper, an African American, is a member of a protected class. She suffered an
adverse employment action when she was terminated. She has not shown that she
was qualified for the nurse’s position at the time she was fired. Nor has she offered
evidence that non-members of the protected class were treated any differently.
Cooper’s nursing license expired on October 31, 2015. Pursuant to the hospital’s
policy, if Jefferson was unable to verify that her license had been renewed within ten
business days from October 31, she would be terminated.32 Because she did not renew
her license by November 16, Jefferson terminated her for failure to meet job
requirements, as required by the policy. Indeed, in her EEOC complaint, she conceded
that she had been terminated because her license had expired.33 Thus, she was not
qualified to be a nurse at Jefferson when she was terminated.34 See Iyer v. Everson,
382 F. Supp. 2d 749 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (employee failed to show he was qualified for
position that required an LLM in taxation, where he had neither completed nor was
enrolled in LLM program in taxation); cf. Fiorentini v. William Penn Sch. Dist., 150 F.
Supp. 3d 559, 567–68 (E.D. Pa.) (furloughed employee failed to make out prima facie
case of age discrimination where those hired back had elementary teaching
The record does not reflect how Jefferson defines a business day. If the calculation excludes
Saturdays, Sundays, and the federal holiday celebrating Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2015, ten
business days following October 31 is November 16, 2015.
MSJ Ex. 24, EEOC Charge of Discrimination, Dec. 22, 2015. (Doc. No. 21-27).
While employed at Jefferson, Cooper also worked at the Pennsylvania Hospital on a per diem
basis. SUF ¶¶ 52–54; CSUF ¶¶ 52–54. When Pennsylvania Hospital learned her license lapsed, her
supervisor notified her in a text message that he “could not allow [Cooper] to work if [her] license was not
renewal (sic).” SUF ¶ 54. Cooper was also informed that Pennsylvania Hospital would require proof of her
renewal for her to return to work. Id.
certifications, required for the positions, that employee lacked), aff’d, 665 F. App’x 229
(3d Cir. 2016).
Had she demonstrated that she was qualified for her job, she still did not show
that non-African American nurses were treated more favorably under circumstances
giving rise to an inference of discrimination.
Cooper alleges that in 2009, Jefferson “allowed a White nurse, Colleen Long, to
work with an expired license, and did not discipline her.”35
Nothing in the record
supports this bald allegation. To the contrary, Alpini testified that she never allowed
Long to work without a renewed license.36 Cooper, as the nonmovant, must come
forward with evidence to support the essential elements of her claim on which she bears
the burden of proof at trial. In re TMI, 89 F.3d 1106, 1116 (3d Cir. 1996). Meeting this
burden requires more than pointing to the pleadings. Id. At the summary judgment
stage, allegations based solely on conclusory statements that are not substantiated by
specific allegations of fact or evidence in the record do not create a dispute of material
fact. Wiest v. Tyco Elecs. Corp., 812 F.3d 319, 322 (3d Cir.) (citing Williams v. Borough
of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989)), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 82 (2016);
see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). Because Cooper has not proffered any facts to
support her claim that a White nurse was permitted to work after her license expired,
she cannot show circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.
Resp. in Opp’n to Mot. for Summ. J. (Doc. No. 26-2) at 6–7, n.1.
Id. Ex. D, Dep. of Barbara Alpini (Doc. No. 28-6) at 51:21–52:8, 55:17–19, ECF 16–17.
Jefferson produced Long’s nursing license which was not set to expire until April 30, 2010. Reply in
Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 1, Registered Nurse License for Colleen Long (Doc. No. 30-2).
Cooper has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. She was not
a qualified registered nurse at the time she was terminated because her license had
expired and she failed to verify it was timely renewed. Nor has she shown that the nonAfrican American nurses were treated any differently. Thus, we shall grant the motion
for summary judgment.
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