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Smith v. Hendersonville Hospital Corp.

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

January 20, 2017




         Pending before the Court is the fully-briefed Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 20) filed by Defendant Hendersonville Hospital Corporation (“the Hospital”) on Plaintiff Reba H. Smith's age discrimination claim. For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED, and this action is DISMISSED. Prior to reaching that Motion, however, the Court addresses Plaintiff's Motion to Hold Case in Abeyance.


         At first blush, this Motion appears to request that this case be stayed. The basis for such a request stems from the fact that Plaintiff's counsel, Andy Allman, has been suspended from the practice of law, and, in her Motion, Plaintiff seeks “additional time to seek new counsel and time to meet with the appointed receiver attorney.” (Docket No. 44 at 1).[1] However, in an accompanying letter that was also filed with the Court, Plaintiff wrote:

Since Andy Allman is not longer representing me and we are now awaiting summary judgment, I want to let you know that I have contacted almost every attorney listed on the Tennela website and am continuing to seek new counsel.
Two of those attorneys have agreed to represent me but only after summary judgment has been decided.
This letter is requesting for an opportunity for my case to be represented, therefore I am asking for favor as you make a summary judgment.

(Docket No. 45 at 1). This seems to suggest that while Plaintiff wants to retain new counsel, she anticipates that the Motion for Summary Judgment will be ruled upon in the interim.

         Regardless, a response to the Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 27) was filed by Mr. Allman prior to his suspension and Defendant has filed a reply (Docket No. 41), making the motion ripe for ruling. In fact, the trial date of January 31, 2017, was cancelled in order to afford the Court the opportunity to rule on the pending Motion for Summary Judgment. Even were new counsel to appear on Plaintiff's behalf today, this would not change the fact that the summary judgment record is complete. Thus, to the extent Plaintiff may be requesting a stay of the case, her Motion to Hold Case in Abeyance will be denied.


         Plaintiff Smith is a former employee of Defendant Hendersonville Hospital, where she worked as a registered nurse, as a case manager, and as a Utilization Review Coordinator. In all those positions, Plaintiff received good performance evaluations and reviews. In early 2014, Plaintiff applied to transfer to a part-time position as a Clinical Documentation Specialist (“CDS”) and was awarded that position on April 21, 2014.

         The parties dispute the extent to which Plaintiff was trained for the CDS position and whether such training was adequate. In any event, Plaintiff did not meet the performance or productivity requirements of the CDS position, and Defendant placed her on a written Performance Improvement Plan. Plaintiff was given thirty days in which to improve her performance and productivity to acceptable levels. Because her performance did not improve, Defendant removed her from the CDS position.

         At the same time, Defendant offered Plaintiff the chance to apply internally for alternative positions. Plaintiff contends that she was not qualified for any of the alternative positions. Defendant gave Plaintiff until October 8, 2014, to apply internally for another position, but she never did. When Defendant terminated her employment, Plaintiff was classified in Defendant's records as “eligible for rehire.” Plaintiff alleges that she was terminated because of her age. In her charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), Plaintiff stated that the alleged discriminatory treatment covered a five-month time period from April 20, 2014, until September 15, 2014. She contended that she did not receive proper training or equipment to perform her job as a CDS; that she complained about the lack of training to no avail; and that Defendant discharged her because she failed to meet the performance standards of the CDS position. Based on these three allegations, Plaintiff contended that Defendant discriminated against her because of her age (71).

         On June 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed this action, alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”). Defendant has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that Plaintiff cannot show that its legitimate, ...

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