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Arbas v. Phyamerica Government Services, Inc.

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

April 5, 2019



          Robert J. Krask United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff Catherine Arbas's ("Arbas") unopposed motion for summary judgment regarding her claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3, along with a supporting memorandum and a declaration signed by Arbas under penalty of perjury ("Dec"). ECF Nos. 25, 26, 26-1. Defendant PhyAmerica Government Services, Inc. ("PhyAmerica"), filed a response "confirm[ing] that it will not be filing any opposition to or otherwise opposing" Arbas's motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 27. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned. ECF No. 15. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the motion for summary judgment.


         Arbas was an art therapist employed by PhyAmerica and contracted to work at the Womak Army Medical Center for the United States Department of the Army ("Army"). ECF No. 26-1, Dec. ¶ 3. On October 30, 2016, Arbas reported to her direct superior, LCDR Joseph Newcomb ("Newcomb"), that she was sexually harassed the previous day by Dr. Zambrano, an Army doctor in a superior position relative to Arbas. Id. at ¶¶ 4-6. After that report, Arbas was subject to "constant hostility" from Army superiors and supervisors, including: reduced hours; interference with her art therapy services; ignoring her presence and attempts to converse with supervisors; condescending comments from supervisors; and unmanageable schedule demands. Id. at ¶ 7.

         In early August 2017, Arbas informed Newcomb, Commander Klimp, and another supervisor that she was working in a hostile work environment as a result of reporting Dr. Zambrano. Id. at ¶ 8. On August 9, 2017[1], PhyAmerica reduced Arbas's work from 40 to 25 hours per week. Id. at ¶ 9. On August 17 and 28, 2017, Newcomb refused to sign time sheets for Arbas; she could not be paid by Phy America unless her timesheets were signed by the Army. Id. at ¶¶ 10, 13. Commander Klimp also failed to respond to her requests for a copy of her "sexual harassment paperwork" and to move forward with any investigation of that matter. Id. at ¶ 11.

         On September 6, 2017, Arbas reported these issues with the Army to Valerie Pichardo and Brandon Ross, supervisors at Phy America. Id. at ¶ 14. She also contacted Tausha Carter, another Phy America supervisor, on September 8, 2017, regarding the sexual harassment report and Arbas's request for help with the investigation, but Carter "strongly recommended that [Arbas] not make any trouble for [the] Army if [she] wanted to keep [her] job." Id. at ¶ 15. Arbas responded that she would file an EEOC complaint as a result of the actions taken against her since her sexual harassment report. Id. Phy America terminated Arbas on September 29, 2017, claiming that she committed a HIPAA violation, which Arbas denies. Id. at ¶¶ 16-19.

         "After being subject to the hostile work environment," Arbas experienced a variety of physical and emotional changes, including almost daily nightmares, depression, paranoia, an "anxiety level. . . near panic most days," and a need to wear a jaw protector to prevent anxiety-related teeth-grinding. Id. at ¶ 28. She sees a doctor for her stress and emotional issues, and experienced a decreased appetite that led to a weight loss often pounds. Id.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." "The movant has the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of fact," and "a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). "[I]n ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the judge must view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden." Id. at 254.

         A. There is no genuine dispute of material fact regarding PhyAmerica's liability for violation of Title VII.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it
shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees . . . because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.

42 U.S.C. § 2OOOe-3(a).

         "In order to establish a prima facie case of retaliation [in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2OOOe-3(a)], a plaintiff must prove three elements: (1) that she engaged in a protected activity; (2) that her employer took an adverse employment action against her; and (3) that there was a causal link between the two events." E.E.O.C. v. Navy Fed. Credit Union,424 F.3d 397, 405-06 (4th Cir. 2005). Once the plaintiff carries her initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of retaliation, the burden shifts to the defendant, who is obliged to articulate a legitimate, non-retaliatory justification for the adverse employment action." Id. at 405. "If the ...

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