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Laporte v. Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 20, 2014



F. DENNIS SAYLOR, IV, District Judge.

This is an action for sex discrimination arising out of the termination of an employee. Plaintiff Misty Laporte was employed by defendant Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings as its director of strategic alliances in the New England area. Defendant Marie Daniel was Laporte's direct supervisor. Laporte's employment was terminated less than three months after she told defendants she was pregnant. She has brought suit against defendants for violations of state and federal anti-discrimination laws, alleging that her termination was motivated by unlawful discriminatory animus.

Defendant has moved for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

1. LabCorp Hires LaPorte

Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings ("LabCorp") is a corporation organized under the laws of Delaware with its principal place of business in Burlington, North Carolina. (Def. SMF ¶ 2). The company sells, among other things, medical laboratory tests and services to health-care providers through a national network of clinical laboratories. ( Id. ).

In March 2012, LabCorp developed a plan to develop so-called "strategic alliances" with hospitals in the New England area. ( Id. ¶ 14). A "strategic alliance" is a contractual business relationship where LabCorp partners with a hospital to provide laboratory services and, in some cases, takes over the operation of the hospital's laboratory. ( Id. ).

As part of its strategic plan, LabCorp created a new position called director of strategic alliances for the New England area. ( Id. ¶ 15). The director's job was to create strategicalliance partnerships with hospitals and healthcare systems in the New England area. ( Id. at 16). The director had sales quota of $6 million per year. (Daniel Dep. at 89).

On June 18, 2012, Misty Laporte was hired by LabCorp to fill the new position. (Def. SMF ¶ 18).

In her new position, LaPorte was primarily tasked with entering into three types of strategic-alliance models, called the technical support, cooperative, and owned and operated models. ( Id. ¶ 23). She was not hired to enter into joint-equity ventures with hospitals, or situations where the hospital and LabCorp would co-own the organization operating the laboratory. ( Id. ¶ 24). Her duties included researching hospitals and healthcare systems to determine what alliance model was the most appropriate for the target; formulating a strategic plan as how to best approach the target; contacting high-level executives of the target; and developing presentations to deliver to the target's executives. ( Id. ¶ 27).

LaPorte was hired as an at-will employee and understood that her position could be eliminated at any time. ( Id. ¶ 21). Marie Daniel, LabCorp's vice-president of alliances, mergers, and acquisitions, was LaPorte's supervisor. ( Id. ¶ 3). At LaPorte's interview, Daniel told her that the sales cycle of a strategic alliance could last two or three years. (Pl. SMF ¶ 110).

When she started working at LabCorp, LaPorte learned that not every hospital in the New England area was a viable target for a strategic alliance. ( Id. ¶ 25). In particular, hospitals and health systems that already used LabCorp as their primary reference laboratory were not viable alliance targets. ( Id. ). Hospitals and healthcare systems that had already entered into an alliance relationship with one of LabCorp's competitors were also not viable targets until those relationships were up for renewal. (LaPorte Dep. at 93).

LaPorte was instructed not to target certain hospitals and healthcare systems in the New England area for various reasons. Those included Partners Health System, Steward Health Care System, and the hospitals in Rhode Island. (Def. SMF ¶ 26). LaPorte was also told that another LabCorp employee, Kevin O'Connell, would be taking the lead on entering a strategic alliance with the MetroWest Medical Center. ( Id.; LaPorte Dep. at 90-91).

During LaPorte's six-month employment with LabCorp, she contacted high-level executives from more than 20 hospitals and health systems. (Def. SMF ¶ 28). The majority of those targets declined a meeting, indicated they were not interested in pursuing a relationship with LabCorp, or did not respond. ( Id. ). LaPorte secured meetings with four prospective partners: Berkshire Medical Center, New England Baptist, Bristol Hospital, and Lahey Health System. ( Id. ¶ 29).

Ultimately, none of those prospects entered into a strategic alliance with LabCorp. (Def. SMF ¶¶ 30-32). Berkshire and New England Baptist both declined to enter a strategic alliance relationship with LabCorp. ( Id. ¶ 31). Bristol was acquired by Vanguard Health Systems, which eliminated any opportunity of a strategic alliance with LabCorp. ( Id. ). The parties dispute whether Lahey was still considering a strategic alliance with LabCorp when LaPorte was terminated. LaPorte contends that she was still in discussions with Lahey when she was terminated; Daniel contends that Lahey told her it was not interested in pursuing a strategic alliance. (LaPorte Dep. at 107, 225, Ex. 22; Daniel Dep. at 127-28). Lahey never entered into a strategic alliance with LabCorp. (Daniel Dep. at 127-28).

2. Character of the New England Hospital Market

Between June and December 2012, several changes occurred in the New England hospital market. (Daniel Dep. at 64-65). According to Daniel, the market "dramatically changed" because more large hospitals bought smaller hospitals, and more healthcare systems bought smaller hospitals. ( Id. ). These changes affected the potential for future strategic alliances with LabCorp.

For example, in September or October of 2012, Vanguard Health Systems and Tufts Medical Center announced a proposed joint venture to pursue the purchase of independent hospitals throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. ( Id. at 77-78). If the venture went forward as proposed, Tufts would no longer be a target for a strategic alliance with LabCorp. ( Id. at 61, 78). Instead, LabCorp entered into discussions with Vanguard to enter the joint venture. ( Id. at 78).[1] Tufts and Vanguard never entered into their proposed joint venture. (Pl. SMF ¶ 147).

In addition, between June and December 2012, Steward Health Care System continued to acquire smaller hospitals across New England. (Def. SMF ¶ 38). Because Steward had an established relationship with one of LabCorp's competitors, LabCorp could no longer target the acquired hospitals for strategic partnerships. ( Id. ).[2] In October 2012, UMass Memorial Medical Center announced it was entering into a joint venture with a LabCorp competitor, Quest Diagnostics. ( Id. ¶ 39). LabCorp could no longer target UMass for a strategic alliance after that deal. ( Id. ).[3] In November 2012, LabCorp learned that Partners, the largest hospital system in Massachusetts, declined a proposal of LabCorp for a strategic alliance and renewed its business agreement with one of LabCorp's competitors. ( Id. ¶ 42; Daniel Dep. 161-62).[4]

The parties characterize these events differently. LabCorp contends that these events were "rapid changes in the New England hospital market" that constituted "a trend of consolidation in [New England] as large hospitals an health systems continued to purchase smaller hospitals." (Def. SMF ¶¶ 34-35). LaPorte contends that "the alleged consolidation had been ongoing for a number of years and was depicted as the very reason for need to create [her] position in the first place." (Pl. Resp. to Def. SMF ¶ 35).

According to Daniel, the New England area was the only area that did not meet its sales quota of $6 million in 2013. (Daniel Dep. at 52). However, LabCorp did finalize a strategicalliance opportunity with MetroWest Medical Center in July 2013, which would be credited toward the New England sales quota in 2013. ( Id. at 63-64).

3. Problems with LaPorte's Performance

LaPorte contacted executives of potential strategic-alliance partners by letter, telephone, and e-mail. (Def. SMF ¶ 59). She knew it was important to have proper grammar, spelling, and formatting in her letters and e-mails. ( Id. ¶ 60). However, LaPorte's draft letters and e-mails contained multiple errors. ( Id. ¶ 61). On July 23, 2012, Daniel asked LaPorte to provide her with copies of all of LaPorte's previously written correspondence so she could review them. ( Id. ¶ 63). Daniel also asked LaPorte to send her drafts of all her letters before they were sent to hospital executives. ( Id. ¶ 64). It was "standard ...

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