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Morton v. Vanderbilt University

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

September 17, 2014

TRACY MORTON, on behalf of Herself and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff,
v.
THE VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

KEVIN H. SHARP, District Judge.

In this action under the Worker Adjustment and Restraining Notification Act ("WARN Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 2101 et seq., Magistrate Judge Griffin has entered a Report and Recommendation in which she recommends that: (1) Defendant Vanderbilt University's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint be denied and (2) Plaintiff Tracy Morton's Motion for Class Certification be granted. Defendant has filed Objections to the R & R (Docket No. 52), to which Plaintiff responded (Docket No. 53), and Defendant has replied (Docket No. 56). For the reason that follow, Magistrate Judge Griffin's recommended disposition will be accepted and approved.

I. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

The relevant factual allegations in the operative First Amended Complaint are as follows:

On July 1, 2013, Plaintiff and some 300 to 500 other employees of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center ("VUMC") were informed that their employment was terminated immediately. Managers tasked with informing the employees were told that, due to the Affordable Care Act, declining reimbursements, and other economic factors, it was necessary for VUMC to terminate numerous employees.

When she was told of her termination, Plaintiff was provided a letter that, among other things, stated:

As the Medical Center's operations continue to evolve to meet significant challenges facing the health care industry, our workforce must be fully engaged to meet all performance expectations. This need, in combination with financial challenges we face, has resulted in a review of individual employee performance. This letter is documentation of our conversation today, during which I notified you that your employment with Vanderbilt University and Medical Center is ending, effective immediately.

(Docket No. 12, First Amended Complaint 10). The other terminated employees received substantially the same letter.

On September 17, 2013, Defendant wrote to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development's Dislocated Worker Unit about its plans to permanently lay off more than 1, 000 VUMC workers:

Vanderbilt University is facing many challenges related to changes in the health care industry. Due to reductions in health care and research funding by the government and other payors, Vanderbilt has reviewed its structures and business needs and has determined that positions will be eliminated. In compliance with the requirements of the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification ("WARN") Act, Vanderbilt University is providing you with the following notification.
Approximately 1, 033 Vanderbilt employees at its locations in Davidson County (primarily at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center main campus and One Hundred Oaks) and Williamson County (such as, the Williamson County Multispeciality Clinics located on Edwards Curd Lane in Franklin) will be permanently laid off starting on November 16, 2013 (60 days following the receipt of this letter) and continuing until December 31, 2013. All employees affected by these layoffs will be provided 60-days written notice prior to the effective date of their expected layoff.

(Id. ¶ 12).

At the same time as the letter to the Department of Labor, VUMC started informing the additional employees of their termination, and approximately 275 employees were informed of their termination during the week of September 17, 2013. However, and unlike with the July 2013 employees, Defendant acknowledged it obligations under the WARN Act.

The employees in the September 2013 group were informed that their services were no longer required and that they were no longer required to return to work. In fact, once notified, the employees were escorted to their work areas to remove personal belongings and then either escorted off the premises or placed in prepaid taxicabs for the ride home. The employees were encouraged to actively seek other employment.

Plaintiff specifically alleges that "Vanderbilt terminated these individuals on September 17, 2013, effective immediately, while paying them 60 days front pay to avoid WARN Act liability." (Id. ¶ 19). In contrast, the initial 300 to 500 employees who were terminated beginning on July 1, 2013 did not receive 60 days notice or front pay. Further, even though the termination letters given the July 2013 group of terminated employees referenced "performance" as part of the basis for the ...


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