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Furlonge v. Boston Medical Center

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 6, 2016

JENNIFER FURLONGE, Plaintiff,
v.
BOSTON MEDICAL CENTER, ALISTAIR BELL, and WALTER DABEK, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

F. Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge

This is an action alleging unlawful employment discrimination on the basis of race. Plaintiff Jennifer Furlonge worked in the call center of defendant Boston Medical Center. Furlonge alleges that she was unlawfully terminated because of her race, and that BMC breached its contractual obligations to her after it eliminated her position. Furlonge also alleges that defendant Walter Dabek intentionally interfered with her relationship with BMC.

BMC and Dabek have jointly moved for summary judgment as to all of Furlonge’s claims. Furlonge has filed a motion for partial summary judgment on her claim for breach of implied contract (Count Two). For the reasons described below, defendants’ motion will be granted in part and denied in part, and plaintiff’s motion will be denied.

I. Factual Background

The following facts are presented in the light most favorable to plaintiff except as otherwise noted.

Boston Medical Center is a large non-profit hospital in the city of Boston that provides a wide variety of medical services. (Pl.’s Statement of Material Fact ¶ 1).[1]

Jennifer Furlonge is an African-American woman who began working at BMC in 2004. (Furlonge Dep. at 20, 25). She did not sign a contract with BMC or otherwise negotiate the terms of her employment. (Pl.’s SMF ¶ 2). BMC did inform her, however, that it had a “Policy and Procedure Manual” that was available on-line for her review. (Furlonge Aff. ¶ 2).[2]

In 2009, Furlonge was promoted to administrative director and given responsibility for administrative issues concerning BMC’s primary-care practices. (Pl.’s SMF ¶ 3). As part of her duties, Furlonge was responsible for creating and supervising a call center for the primary-care practice that would handle the intake for patients seeking medical appointments over the phone. (Furlonge Dep. at 41). As the call center’s workload expanded, BMC contracted with Rise Health to operate a second, larger call center in Jacksonville, Florida. (Pl.’s SMF ¶ 4).

In November 2011, BMC administrative director Maureen Hilcheymasters asked Furlonge to work on a project relocating the call center operated by Rise Health from Florida to Boston. The project called for the Florida center to be combined with BMC’s in-house call center that Furlonge had continued to supervise. (Hilcheymasters Dep. at 7-8). Hilcheymasters described the project as being temporary in nature, with a target completion date of March 1, 2012. (Furlonge Dep. at 92-93, 112-14). According to Furlonge, she was promised that she would be returned to her position in the adult primary-care practice once the relocation project was complete. (Id. at 106-08).[3]

The relocation was completed in May 2012. Furlonge, however, continued to manage the combined center on a daily basis and to perform various other duties in the center. (Id. at 103- 11). Soon after the relocation, BMC decided to expand the call center, which was now completely located in Boston, to include practice areas beyond primary care. (Bell Dep. at 17- 18). BMC further decided that it needed an expert to manage what would be an even larger center. (Id. at 19-20).

On October 12, 2012, BMC hired defendant Walter Dabek as “Administrative Director of the Ambulatory Call Center.” (Dabek Dep. at 5). Furlonge was not considered for this position, nor was she interested in being considered for it. (Furlonge Dep. at 115-16; Bell Dep. at 19-20).

After Dabek was hired, Furlonge was not returned to her former duties in the adult primary-care practice. Instead, she continued to work alongside Dabek in the call center. Generally, Furlonge had responsibility for the portion of the call center servicing primary-care patients, while Dabek was responsible for the portion servicing specialty-care patients. (Furlonge Dep. at 114-15, 205-06).

According to Furlonge, her former position as administrative director in the adult primary-care practice remained unfilled during the time she was working in the call center. (Pl.’s SMF ¶ 14).[4] In the summer of 2013, however, BMC Vice-President of Operations Alastair Bell hired Ellen Ginman as Administrative Director for Primary Care Operations, effectively filling the spot previously held by Furlonge. (Bell Dep. at 74-77).[5]

In the summer of 2013, Dabek was given responsibility for the integrated call center’s budget. (Furlonge Dep. at 134). As part of his duties, Dabek prepared two fiscal-year 2014 budget “scenarios” that he presented to Bell in a July 2013 budget meeting. (Bell Dep. 30-31). One scenario contemplated an expanded call center with additional space and staffing, and the other scenario called for no new space and leaner staffing.

Neither scenario included the possibility that Furlonge would retain her position as an administrative director. (Dabek Dep. at 84-86). Under Scenario 1, the call center would not receive additional space and would employ only six patient-service representatives; the call center would employ only Dabek as an administrative director and Furlonge’s position as an administrative director would be eliminated. (Merrill Decl. Ex. 11, at 2-3). However, Scenario 1 did include the possibility that Furlonge could accept a position downgrade to “Manager, ” although she would keep her administrative director’s salary. (Dabek Dep. at 90).[6] Scenario 2 called for increased space and staffing for the center and also would have eliminated Furlonge’s administrative-director position, although she again would have been able to remain employed in a lesser position. (Dabek Dep. at 84).

Bell chose Scenario 1. (Bell Dep. at 30). Dabek learned of Bell’s decision in the late summer of 2013. (Dabek Dep. at 86-87).

On October 22, 2013, Furlonge, Dabek, and call-center supervisors Amber Connolly, Chenier Adolphe, and Alexia Rojas met to discuss an e-mail from Connolly that had caused some unhappiness among the call-center staff. (Furlonge Dep. at 158-59). During the meeting, which became contentious, Dabek allegedly went into a monologue mocking the staff using a Caribbean accent, and then stated that “[t]hey’re all malcontents.” (Furlonge Dep. at 158-60; Adolphe Dep. at 12-15, 19).

Three days later, on October 25, Dabek informed Furlonge that her position was being eliminated effective as of November 8, 2013. (Furlonge Dep. at 175-77). Throughout her employment at BMC, Furlonge remained an at-will employee.

The parties dispute, among other things, (1) whether Furlong was offered another position running special projects for a BMC vice president; (2) what steps BMC took to try to find Furlonge another job; (3) whether Furlonge technically quit before she was actually terminated; and (4) whether the department manager undertook to consult with the Human Resources Department to determine who to lay off.

II. Procedural History

Furlonge filed the present action on January 22, 2014. Her amended complaint alleges claims for (1) detrimental reliance (against BMC only); (2) breach of an implied contract (against BMC only); (3) discrimination on the basis of race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (4) intentional interference with advantageous relationship (against Dabek only); (5) age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623; (6) age discrimination in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B; (7) discrimination on the basis of race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (against BMC only); and (8) discrimination on the basis of race in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B. Furlonge has voluntarily dismissed her age-discrimination claims. BMC and Dabek have moved for summary judgment on all remaining counts. Furlonge has filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on her breach of implied contract claim as to the issue of liability only.

III. Legal Standard

The role of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Mesnick v. General Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party shows that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Essentially, Rule 56[] mandates the entry of summary judgment ‘against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.’” Coll v. PB Diagnostic Sys., 50 F.3d 1115, 1121 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). In making that determination, the court must view “the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing reasonable inferences in his favor.” Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009). When “a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party ‘must set forth specific facts showing that ...


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