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Sadeghi v. Inova Health System

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

April 5, 2017

SAM SADEGHI, Plaintiff,
v.
INOVA HEALTH SYSTEM, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T.S. Ellis, III United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Sam Sadeghi, an Iranian-born naturalized American citizen who is Muslim, filed this Title VII action against defendant Inova Health System, alleging that defendant unlawfully discharged him because of his race, religion, and national origin, and also unlawfully retaliated against him for filing discrimination complaints with defendant's Human Resources department. Following full discovery, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. As this motion has been fully briefed and argued orally, it is now ripe for disposition.

         I.

         Central to the summary judgment analysis is whether the record reflects that the material facts are undisputed or genuinely disputed. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Thus, the first step in a summary judgment analysis is to ascertain whether the asserted material facts are undisputed. As such, Local Rule 56(B) and the Rule 16(B) Scheduling Order provide a framework to assist in this analysis.

         Pursuant to Local Rule 56(B), the movant's brief must "include a specifically captioned section listing all material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue and citing the parts of the record relied on to support the listed facts as alleged to be undisputed, " and the non-movant's response brief must "include a specifically captioned section listing all material facts as to which it is contended that there exists a genuine issue necessary to be litigated and citing the parts of the record relied on to support the facts alleged to be in dispute." E.D. Va. Local Civil Rule 56(B). The Scheduling Order provides that a motion for summary judgment must contain a separately captioned section listing in numbered-paragraph form all material facts as to which the movant contends no genuine dispute exists, and that the non-movant's opposition brief must include "a separately captioned section within the brief addressing, in numbered-paragraph form corresponding to the movant's section, each of the movant's enumerated facts and indicating whether the non-movant admits or disputes the fact with appropriate citations to the record." Sadeghi v. Inova Health Sys., No. 1-16-cv-219 (E.D. Va. Aug. 2, 2016). The Scheduling Order further states that the "Court may assume that any fact identified by the movant as undisputed in the movant's brief that is not specifically controverted in the non-movant's brief in the manner set forth above is admitted for the purpose of deciding the motion for summary judgment." Id.

         Defendant complied with Local Rule 56(B) and the Scheduling Order; plaintiff did not. Plaintiff instead provided his own alternative statement of undisputed material facts that does not correspond to the numbered paragraphs in defendant's statement of undisputed material facts. Plaintiff also provided a short statement of disputed material facts which also does not correspond to defendant's numbered paragraphs. Plaintiffs alternative statement "of [plaintiffs] own interpretation of the facts" does not comply with either Local Rule 56(B) or the Scheduling Order, thereby making "it difficult to determine exactly which material facts are disputed." Integrated Direct Marketing, LLC v. May, 129 F.Supp.3d 336, 345 (E.D. Va. 2015).

         As a result, the statement of undisputed material facts listed here is derived from defendant's statement of undisputed material facts, many of which plaintiff does not specifically dispute. As for plaintiffs alternative statement of facts, that statement has been scoured for facts that might reasonably be viewed as in conflict with the facts stated here. Where such disputes appear, plaintiffs facts are either immaterial or not supported by admissible record evidence, as required by Rule 56(c)(2), Fed.R.Civ.P. For example, plaintiff supports multiple factual assertions with citations only to his unverified complaint, which is insufficient at the summary judgment stage to create a genuine dispute of material fact. See Higgins v. Scherr, 837 F.2d 155, 156-57 (4th Cir. 1988) ("[T]he opponent of a summary judgment motion has a burden of showing, by proper affidavits or other evidence, the existence of a genuine dispute of material [fact] and cannot simply rest upon his unverified complaint.").

         II.

         • Plaintiff is an Iranian-born, naturalized American citizen and a Muslim.

         • Defendant Inova Health System is a nonprofit healthcare system based in Northern Virginia. Defendant employs over 16, 000 people.

         • In April 2001, Houshang Falahatpour, who, like plaintiff, is an Iranian-born American citizen and a Muslim, was the Laboratory Manager for defendant's emergency rooms in Springfield, Reston, and Fairfax, Virginia.

         • Falahatpour hired plaintiff Sam Sadeghi, also an Iranian-American Muslim, in 2001 as a part-time Medical Technologist at defendant's Reston Emergency Care Center. In 2003, Falahatpour moved plaintiff to a full-time Medical Technologist position, a position for which he was qualified.[1]

         • From 2002 to 2006, Falahatpour was plaintiffs direct supervisor and conducted plaintiffs annual performance evaluations.

         • Defendant's employee performance evaluations have two components. First, the supervisor rates the employee's job performance based on the requirements in each employee's job profile. Plaintiff received scores in seven different categories, such as reporting accurate data and providing quality specimens for lab testing. Second, the supervisor rates the employee with respect to defendant's Standards of Behavior, which are part of every employee's job description. The Standards of Behavior include traits such as professionalism, positive attitude, ethics, and courteousness. Supervisors rank employees on a 1 through 5 scale in each category.[2] A score of 1-1.99 is "unsatisfactory, " a score of 2-2.99 is "provisional" or "new employee, " a score of 3-3.99 is "competent, " a score of 4-4.49 is "commendable, " and a score of 4.5-5 is "distinguished." Def. Ex. E. The job performance scores are then weighted as 60% of the total score, and the behavioral score is weighted as 40% of the total score. Id.

         • Defendant uses the evaluations to assess strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement; the evaluations are not used to determine salaries or raises.

         • Defendant received a total score of 3.5 on his first performance evaluation in August 2002. PL Ex. F. The record does not disclose his behavioral score on this evaluation.

         • Plaintiff received a total score of 4.219 on his April 2003 performance evaluation. Def. Ex. E. Plaintiffs scores on his job performance categories ranged from 3.5 to 4.7, and his behavioral score was a 4.5. Id.

         • Plaintiff received a total score of 3.514 on his April 2004 performance evaluation. Def. Ex. F. Plaintiffs scores on his job performance categories ranged from 3.0 to 4.2, while his behavioral score decreased to 3.2. Id.

         • In January 2005, Falahatpour issued plaintiff a written warning regarding plaintiffs behavior. Falahatpour's warning informed plaintiff that the "primary concerns have been the poor working relationship you have exhibited with clients and the improper response to performance issue notices from the staff and myself." Def. Ex. G. Falahatpour's warning to plaintiff included six examples of plaintiff s inappropriate behavior: (i) sending a client an inappropriate note, (ii) an unacceptable response to an inquiry from a hospital regarding the labeling of stool specimens, (iii) failing to respond to criticism, or responding in an unacceptable fashion, (iv) complaining about a heavy work load, even though plaintiff spent a lot of time on the phone for personal phone calls, (v) taking discussions too personally, being argumentative and disrespectful, and having a negative attitude, and (vi) becoming angry, argumentative, and disrespectful in a counseling session. Id.[3]

         • Plaintiff received a total score of 3.08 on his May 2005 evaluation. Def. Ex. H. Plaintiffs scores on his job performance categories ranged from 3.0 to 3.8, while his behavioral score again decreased, this time to 2.7. Id. The evaluation cited several examples of plaintiff s poor behavior, including being disrespectful, argumentative, and sending an inappropriate note to a client. Id. The evaluation stated that plaintiff needed to improve his professional conduct by (i) exhibiting greater courtesy and respect, (ii) exercising "emotional control and communicating in a calm manner, " (iii) having a "positive and constructive relationship with the management team, " and (iv) engaging in "[e]ffective conflict resolution." Id.

         • Plaintiff received a total score of 3.389 on his May 2006 evaluation. Def. Ex. I. His scores on his job performance categories ranged from 3.4 to 4.2, and his behavioral score increased slightly to 3.0. Id. The evaluation noted that Falahatpour had seen "significant improvement" in plaintiffs behavior. Id.

         • Falahatpour testified that, overall, plaintiffs job performance through 2006 was acceptable, but his behavior was not. Def. Ex. C at 30-31. Falahatpour had to speak with plaintiff many times about plaintiffs behavior with coworkers. Id.

         • In 2006, defendant promoted Falahatpour to Administrative Director for Emergency Rooms. In turn, Falahatpour promoted his laboratory coordinator, Ann Osborn, to Laboratory Supervisor. Falahatpour retained the authority to discharge employees; Osborn did not have that authority.

         • Because Osborn was promoted to Laboratory Supervisor, she was now responsible for supervising plaintiff.[4] Osborn had never managed employees before her promotion to Laboratory Supervisor. Plaintiff testified that Osborn was direct and had a loud voice.

         • In December 2006, Osborn and another employee, Karen Hara, had a conversation in which Hara told Osborn that Hara had concerns with the violence and unrest in Iran. In this conversation, Hara did not make any comments about Muslims or plaintiff. Osborn nevertheless advised Hara to refrain from commenting on Iran because Osborn did not feel such comments were appropriate. Osborn ended the conversation with Hara and did not hear Hara make any similar comments in the future. As a result, Osborn felt that she had adequately addressed the problem and did not discipline Hara.

         • On December 11, 2006, Osborn met with plaintiff to counsel him verbally in relation to his violations of defendant's Standards of Behavior.

         • Osborn prepared an agenda for this meeting that included several examples of plaintiff s unprofessional behavior in late 2006, such as raising his voice to colleagues, being rude and argumentative, and making a "sexist" comment about a "girls club" in an argument with a supervisor. Def. Ex. K.[5]

         • The meeting lasted about two-and-a-half hours. Plaintiff was not receptive to the issues listed in the agenda, and Osborn described his attitude as "defensive." Def. Ex. J. at 85.[6]

         • Falahatpour testified that plaintiff "had a problem with authority, " was not "coachable, " and that these problems continued after Osborn became plaintiffs supervisor. Def. Ex. Cat 45.

         • On January 17, 2007, plaintiff filed a complaint with defendant's Human Resources department, alleging discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and national origin. Plaintiff alleged that Osborn had made "serious accusations" against him, referring to the December 2006 meeting. Def. Ex. L. Plaintiff further alleged that another employee had made "outrageous assertions" against plaintiff by telling Falahatpour that patients were not being taken care of during plaintiffs shift. Id.

         • In his January 2007 complaint, plaintiff listed two instances in which employees had made allegedly racist remarks: (i) the December 2006 conversation between Hara and Osborn, [7] and (ii) another conversation in December 2006 between Hara and an employee named Robert Benedotto in which Hara made "some unflattering racist remarks" about plaintiff, which Benedotto reported to plaintiff.[8] Def. Ex. L. Plaintiff did not make any accusations of discrimination against Falahatpour, who was copied on the complaint.

         • Plaintiff concluded his January 2007 complaint by stating that "[i]t seems to be very popular these days for other employees to jump to conclusions. They see all the negative news about the Middle East and want to make us responsible." Id.

         • Human Resources Director Katy Reeves met with plaintiff about his complaint and told him that she would personally investigate it. Human Resources contacted Osborn about her conversation with Hara. Human Resources ultimately determined that plaintiffs complaint did not have any validity.

         • On March 2, 2007, plaintiff filed another complaint with Human Resources, alleging that Osborn was retaliating against him for reporting discrimination in his January complaint.[9]

         • Plaintiff stated in his March 2007 complaint that he had "been getting a large number of unnecessary write-ups from Ms. Osborn, " which began at the time he submitted his January complaint. Def. Ex. N. As an example of a write-up, plaintiff referenced a letter he received from Osborn on February 9, 2007 instructing plaintiff to enter his extra time into defendant's time system.

         • Although plaintiff characterized Osborn's letter as a "write-up, " Osborn was acknowledging that plaintiff had worked overtime and asked him to fill out the appropriate documentation in accordance with company policy. Def. Ex. O. Osborn did not object to plaintiffs overtime work, telling him that "[t]he extra time you worked is legitimate since you needed to stay because your replacement was late." Id. Plaintiff nevertheless believed that Osborn sent him the letter in order to document his behavior.

         • On March 5, 2007, Falahatpour and Osborn met with plaintiff and issued plaintiff a performance improvement plan ("PIP"), dated February 27, 2007, which detailed plaintiffs behavioral deficiencies and set forth steps for improvement.

         • Osborn prepared the PIP before plaintiff filed his March 2007 complaint, and she was unaware that he had filed his March 2007 complaint with Human Resources when Osborn and Falahatpour met with plaintiff on March 5, 2007 to discuss the PIP. Falahatpour also reviewed the PIP and removed some of the documentation Osborn attached.

         • Plaintiff received the PIP because he violated defendant's Standards of Behavior. Def. Ex. Q at 1. In particular, plaintiff violated the following Standards of Behavior: (i) "Commitment to Colleagues, " which plaintiff violated by being rude and disrespectful toward co-workers, making sexist comments, and becoming angry and losing his temper; (ii) "Professionalism, " which plaintiff violated by writing unprofessional letters to supervisors when requesting vacation time; and (iii) "Accountability/Personal ...


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