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Sader v. Promedica Health Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 27, 2019

WAFA SADER, Plaintiff,


          Denise Page Hood United States District Court Judge.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 15, 2017, Plaintiff Wafa Sader (“Sader”) filed a Complaint against ProMedica Health Systems, Inc. (“ProMedica”) alleging national origin discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., (Count I) and national origin discrimination and religious discrimination under Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”) (Counts II-III). (Doc # 1) On November 2, 2018, Sader filed a Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint (Doc # 14) and asked the Court to add a claim of race discrimination under 42 U.S.C § 1981 to her Complaint. The Court denied Sader's Motion on August 21, 2019. (Doc # 29)

         On January 7, 2019, ProMedica filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc # 21) A Response and Reply have been filed. (Doc # 25; Doc # 27) A hearing on this Motion was held on May 29, 2019.

         The facts are as follows. Sader, who identifies as a Muslim of Palestinian and Arab descent, came to the United States in the 1970s to attend graduate school. (Doc # 25-2, Pg ID 668) She received her master's degree in work related to oncology and is currently a registered nurse (“RN”) who is licensed to practice in Michigan, Ohio, and Hawaii. (Id.) In or about May 1990, Sader began working as an RN for ProMedica[1] as a member of its Med-Surgical Unit. (Doc # 1, Pg ID 3) Sader transferred to ProMedica's oncology department two years later and would remain there until her termination in March 2016. (Doc # 25-2, Pg ID 681)

         RNs in ProMedica's oncology department are primarily responsible for providing education to their patients prior to the start of their radiation therapy and assessing patients' conditions and identifying any potential variations in their clinical conditions. (Doc # 25-3, Pg ID 917, 925) RNs in this department are also required to be available to triage patient concerns and relay communications and clinical issues to physicians for further direction and orders. (Id. at 917.) Additional job duties of an oncology RN at ProMedica include: assessing patients for toxicity, providing supportive care in connection with patient treatment during patients' follow-up periods, and participating in on-treatment visits (“OTV”), where RNs and physicians see patients to discuss side effects of their treatments on a weekly basis. (Id. at 917, 919, 921.)

         Sader alleges that she faced many incidents of discrimination on the basis of her national origin and religion, many of which were caused by her supervisor, Darcel Shankle (“Shankle”). (Doc # 25, Pg ID 629) Shankle would allegedly speak negatively about Sader's religion and national origin as well as constantly state that women were not treated fairly in Sader's culture. (Doc # 25-2, Pg ID 682, 697) Sader also alleges that Shankle asked her why she did not wear a hijab and inquired about her marriage. (Id. at 683.) Shankle allegedly told Sader that she did not believe in God, even though Sader explained to Shankle that “Allah” just means “God” in Arabic and told her that Allah and God are the same deity. (Id.)

         Sader additionally claims that there were other specific events that demonstrate that she was discriminated against by Shankle. First, Sader alleges that following September 11, 2001 (“9/11”), Shankle looked at Sader, pointed her finger in Sader's face and said, “This is your people celebrating what happened.” (Id.) At a later date, Shankle asked Sader if Palestinians were still celebrating 9/11. (Id.) Second, there was an incident in which Shankle questioned Sader's loyalty to America when she did not donate shoeboxes for the veterans who were overseas. (Id. at 695.) Sader told Shankle that she was offended by her comments, but Shankle allegedly shrugged her shoulders and walked away. (Id. at 696.) Third, Sader asserts that Shankle denied Sader's request for the day off to go to her mosque on Eid, but acknowledges that she did not ask for a religious accommodation. (Id. at 684.) Fourth, Sader alleges that she was not permitted to use “flex scheduling” although other employees were given the ability to take advantage of this type of scheduling. (Id. at 708.)

         According to Sader, she raised concerns about Shankle's conduct to many individuals. Sader claims that she complained to Carol Boyce (“Boyce”), Shankle's director, that Sader was being treated differently than her colleagues. (Id. at 682.) Boyce suggested that Sader should keep a record of her interactions with Shankle. (Id. at 681.) Sader additionally asserts that she complained about Shankle to Kathy Greenlee (Shankle's manager), Kim Langley (an employee in ProMedica's Human Resources Department), Cathy Davis (ProMedica's Director of Labor Relations), and Amy Wilson (another ProMedica employee). (Doc # 25, Pg ID 630-631) These workers similarly said that Sader should document all of the incidents that she faced. (Id. at 631.) Finally, on August 3, 2014, Sader sent Randy Oostra (“Oostra”), ProMedica's CEO, a letter complaining that Sader was discriminated against in the form of working overtime and missing lunches. (Doc # 25, Pg ID 633) While Sader, Davis, and her supervisor, Anita Stolaruk (“Stolaruk”) met to discuss the letter, Sader claims that nothing else came of the letter after their conversation. (Id. at 633-634.)

         Sader alleges that she was also subjected to discrimination by Stolaruk. Stolaruk allegedly did not allow Sader to attend computer training, even after multiple requests to take advantage of the computer trainings that were being offered. (Doc # 25-2, Pg ID 724.) Sader contends she was the only person in her department not permitted to receive computer training. (Id.) There were also numerous disciplinary actions that Sader faced because of Stolaruk, and Sader argues that these actions were due to discrimination. The disciplinary actions were mainly based on Sader being disciplined for working unapproved overtime and skipping lunch breaks. (Doc # 25, Pg ID 635) Sader claims th at t here is no evidence that similarly-situated employees were disciplined for working unapproved overtime. (Id. at 636.) Sader alleges that these disciplines were a part of Stolaruk's attempt to ensure that Sader was terminated. (Id.)

         Sader also claims other employees discriminated against her. In one incident, Sara Fruth (“Fruth”), a co-worker, left documents by a printer that stated that Islam is a religion of terrorists, bloodshed, war, and of intimidating women. (Id. at 697.) ProMedica disciplined Fruth for her actions, but Sader contends that it was for the inappropriate use of ProMedica's electronic equipment, not due to the documents' offensive content. (Doc # 25, Pg ID 632) Another incident transpired in 2010, in which two FBI agents came to ProMedica to interrogate Sader. (Doc # 25-2, Pg ID 701) The FBI Agents took Sader to the cafeteria for an hour and asked her about her heritage, being a Palestinian sympathizer, and her willingness to be a suicide bomber. (Id.) Sader was informed that a co-worker called the FBI Agents to complain that Sader might cause harm to her department. (Id.) Lastly, Sader alleges that Kellie Chapman (“Chapman”), the lead radiation therapist, would ask questions and comment about her religion and national origin one to two times a week. (Id. at 720-721.) Sader claims that she would ask Chapman for her assistance with obtaining a flex schedule, but not only was Chapman unwilling to help her, she would schedule Sader's appointments with patients five minutes before Sader's lunch break, which led to her being written-up. (Id. at 308-309, 412.)

         At ProMedica, employees, including RNs, are subjected to a progressive discipline policy (“Policy”). (Doc # 21-4, Pg ID 377) The Policy consists of four levels of discipline: (1) verbal reminder; (2) written reminder; (3) decision-making leave (“DML”); and (4) termination. (Id.) Once an employee reaches the DML level, he or she must adhere to a “total performance commitment.” (Id.) The Policy dictates that an employee will be terminated if he or she is formally disciplined during the DML stage. (Id.) Under the Policy, management may skip levels of discipline as “the use of formal levels of discipline is not mandatory and is within the sole discretion of the organization.” (Id. at 377-378.) Employees may be “skipped forward” directly to the termination stage for various offenses that include: insubordination, falsifying records, and inability to perform their job functions. (Id. at 378.) Sader acknowledged that she was aware of the Policy. (Doc # 25-2, Pg ID 740)

         Throughout the course of Sader's employment, she was disciplined on several occasions due to her workplace conduct. On October 20, 2014, Sader received a first level verbal reminder due to the lack of cooperation and teamwork that she exhibited. (Doc # 21-3, Pg ID 355; Doc # 25-2, Pg ID 739) The report regarding the verbal reminder indicates that Sader “displayed negativity toward other team members, behaved unprofessionally, failed to support job expectations, which all contributed to a breakdown in communications within the department.” (Doc # 21-3, Pg ID 355) Another oncology RN, Christina Bartlett (“Bartlett”), whose ethnicity is “white” was issued a verbal reminder for the same behaviors in October 2014. (Id. at 356.)

         On May 19, 2015, Sader received a second level written reminder. (Id.) The written reminder was issued because she “stayed past her budgeted hours without approval on 15 separate occasions.” (Id.) The written reminder also identified one incident where Sader disregarded ProMedica policy by pulling a patient out of a vehicle for an unscheduled OTV that a physician told her was unnecessary. (Id.) It was highlighted in the written reminder that Sader disregarded a direction to have the lab perform a blood draw on a patient. (Id.) ...

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