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On April 23, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment to Mercy Catholic Medical Center and Mercy Health System of Southeastern Pennsylvania in a lawsuit that alleged disability and age discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) as well as common law wrongful termination. The judgment was not appealed.  

In Arlene Davis Roberts v. Mercy Catholic Medical Center et al., Plaintiff, a former hospital employee, alleged that Mercy’s decision not to re-hire her constituted disability and age discrimination. Plaintiff, whose previous employment at Mercy ended after she could not return to work following an extended leave of absence, alleged that she was improperly treated as an external candidate and given lower priority despite her 21 years of past employment. Plaintiff also alleged that Mercy violated its own hiring policy “to hire an internal candidate over an external candidate only when those candidates’ qualifications are equal.”

In his Memorandum Opinion, U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg held that Mercy demonstrated that its policy “is to hire/promote from within whenever possible or practical.” He also noted that “the language of the policy that [the] Plaintiff emphasizes does not provide that preference would be given to internal candidates only when all criteria were equal, but, rather, provides that such preference be given whenever ‘possible or practical.’”

Judge Goldberg went on to explain that, reading the record evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, “at best,” Mercy may have hired a “somewhat less-qualified candidate for the job,” Mercy made a “business decision” and “any disparity in the qualifications” between the Plaintiff and the successful candidate “is not enough to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists for whether Defendants’ proffered legitimate, non-discriminatory reason is ‘unworthy of credence.’” Of note, the internal candidate who was hired by Mercy had many years of recent relevant experience while Plaintiff had not worked in that area for more than fifteen years.

Plaintiff also alleged wrongful termination based on Mercy’s alleged violation of the employee handbook provided to Plaintiff in 1992. Given the disclaimer contained in the handbook that it did not create a binding contract and could be modified by Mercy, the Court held that Plaintiff could not overcome the presumption of “at-will” employment.

Plaintiff previously had asserted several other claims, including claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which were dismissed by Judge Goldberg at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage.

Mercy Catholic Medical Center and Mercy Health System of Southeastern Pennsylvania were defended by Andrea M. Kirshenbaum and Jennifer Nix Capozzola.

Click here for related coverage in Law360.

 

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