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Aoyagi v. Straub Clinic & Hosp., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

October 26, 2015

JULIE AOYAGI, Plaintiff,

          For Julie Aoyagi, Plaintiff: Donald L. Wilkerson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Honolulu, HI; Te-Hina Te-Moana Ickes, LEAD ATTORNEY, Honolulu, HI.

         For Straub Clinic & Hospital, Inc., Defendant: Darin Robinson Leong, Eileen C. Zorc, Patrick H. Jones, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Marr Jones & Wang LLLP, Honolulu, HI.


         Alan C. Kay, Senior United States District Judge.

         For the following reasons, the Court hereby GRANTS Defendant Straub's Motion for Summary Judgment on all claims in the First Amended Complaint.


         This case arises from Plaintiff Julie Aoyagi's employment with Defendant Straub Clinic and Hospital (" Straub" ). Plaintiff is " of Hispanic (Costa Rican) ancestry and over the age of fifty." (FAC ¶ 6.) Plaintiff was born in Costa Rica, but moved to the United States in 1971. (Def.'s CSF, Zorc Decl., Ex. MM (" Pl. Depo." ) at 17.) She is currently 56 years old. (Pl. CSF ¶ 7.)

         I. Plaintiff's Work History at Straub

         Plaintiff began her employment at Straub in January 2009, when she was hired as an Administrative Secretary in Hospital Operations. (FAC ¶ 8.) In this position, Plaintiff was required to " provide[] overall administrative support for the department[, and w]ork[] with multiple priorities and projects in a fast-paced environment, with strong attention to detail and excellent customer service skills." (Id. at 27-28 & Ex. 5.)

         Plaintiff was supervised by Glenda Kaalakea, the Director of Hospital Operations, from 2009 to around April of 2012. (Pl. Depo. at 30.) Kaalakea is part Korean and part Caucasian and is currently 69. (Id. at 29; Def.'s CSF, Kaalakea Decl. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff initially did not sit on the same floor as Kaalakea, and was issued a pager with which Kaalakea got in touch with Plaintiff if she needed assistance. (Id. at 40-41.) Plaintiff states that she and Kaalakea had a mutual understanding that if Plaintiff worked late on a particular day, she would be allowed to come in later the following day. (Id. at 161-62.) In addition to providing support to Kaalakea, Plaintiff was also required to support other managers, including Kate Woodard, who became Manager, Hospital Operations in around May of 2010. (Pl. Depo. at 30-31, 39, 152-53.) Woodard is Caucasian but was raised in the Philippines; she is currently 48 years old. (Id. at 32; Woodard Decl. ¶ 3.)

         Starting in 2010, Plaintiff began applying for different jobs within Hawaii Pacific Health (" HPH" ) (the parent entity of Straub). (Pl. Depo. at 47, 288.) Kaalakea supported Plaintiff's efforts to transfer, and approved payments by Straub to Plaintiff to pay for courses to help her qualify for a position in coding. (Id. at 45-47, 52-53, 288.) While she was reporting to Kaalakea, Plaintiff applied for five positions; however, all of those applications were unsuccessful. (Id. at 287-90.)

         II. Plaintiff's Problems with Woodard and Negative Performance Evaluations

         Plaintiff apparently began having problems with Woodard in November of 2010, when Woodard moved into Plaintiff's office. (Pl. Depo. at 53.) Plaintiff states that Woodard spoke to her condescendingly about ordering supplies and coordinating Woodard's office move. (Id. at 53-57.) In January of 2011, Kaalakea informed Plaintiff that Woodard had given Kaalakea a document with notes of Plaintiff's phone conversations. (Id. at 57-60.) Woodard states that she had prepared the document summarizing some of Plaintiff's calls because she was distracted by Plaintiff's practice of having numerous personal phone conversations at her desk during work hours. (Def. CSF, Woodard Decl. ¶ 5.) Woodard prepared the notes to discuss the issue with Kaalakea. (Id.) Many of the conversations appeared to be with Plaintiff's co-workers, Koleman and Tiffany, with whom Plaintiff often socialized. (Id., Ex. GG.)

         At around the same time, Plaintiff was also apparently exchanging numerous personal e-mails with Koleman during the work day, including some in which Plaintiff used the term " WOP" to refer to Woodard. (Pl. Depo. at 232-42; 251-54 & Exs. 27-32.) Plaintiff states that she is aware that " WOP" is a derogatory slur; however, she stated during her deposition that she and Koleman used the term " WOP" as an acronym for " warden on patrol." (Id. at 234-35.)

         Plaintiff states that, in March of 2011, when Plaintiff " had to set up a meeting and there was some issues with it," Woodard told her that the younger administrative secretaries were more tech savvy and more aware of new trends than Plaintiff. (Id. at 136-37.) Plaintiff believed that Woodard was referring to her younger co-workers, Ermenia Aflague and Stefany Tengan. (Id.) Plaintiff also states that, in June of 2011, Woodard told her that Plaintiff didn't understand instructions because English was her second language, and that she spoke to Plaintiff condescendingly and told Plaintiff that she was not professional enough, and did not have the critical skills necessary, to be working in that environment. (Id. at 72, 135, 140.)

         On September 16, 2011, Kaalakea issued Plaintiff a Documented Oral Warning for tardiness, attendance, and inadequate work performance. (Pl. Depo. at 151-52 & Ex. 14.) Kaalakea states that two managers (one of whom was Woodard) had complained to her about Plaintiff's resistence to doing work for them. (Def. CSF, Kaalakea Decl. ¶ 5.) In addition, Plaintiff had been late for work numerous times in August. (Id.) Plaintiff acknowledged that Kaalakea had noted Plaintiff's misspellings and failure to proofread her work several times, and was becoming frustrated with Plaintiff's proofreading errors. (Pl. Depo. at 158.)

         A few days later, on September 23, 2011, Woodard confronted Plaintiff in front of Keith McCloskey, an outside vendor, about double-booking Kaalakea when Woodard was supposed to meet with her. (Id. at 141-46.) Plaintiff states that Woodard was " very, very mean" and told Plaintiff that she did not have the critical thinking skills to do her job. (Id. at 145.) After this confrontation, on the same day, Plaintiff called the hotline for the Compliance Department and made a verbal complaint about Woodard. (Id. at 184-85, 63.) Plaintiff stated in the complaint that Woodard was being condescending, harassing, and belittling Plaintiff, and " being very hostile." (Id. at 185; Pl. Depo., Ex. 9 at 3.) In her September 2011 complaint through the hotline, Plaintiff did not mention any discrimination or harassment on the basis of race or age. (Pl. Depo. at 79-80, 184-87 & Ex. 9 at 3, 9.) Kaalakea states that she investigated Plaintiff's complaint and concluded that Woodard had simply been very stern with Plaintiff. (Def. CSF, Kaalakea Decl. ¶ 12.)

         On March 30, 2012, Plaintiff received a Written Warning for inadequate work performance issued by Kaalakea. (Pl. Depo. at 175-177 & Ex. 17; Def. CSF, Kaalakea Decl. ¶ ¶ 7-9.) Among other issues, the Written Warning addressed a complaint by Art Gladstone, Chief Operating Officer, about Plaintiff's repeated failure to set up the New Employee Facility Orientation correctly. (Kaalakea Decl. ¶ 8; Pl. Depo. Ex. 17.) The Written Warning also again addressed Plaintiff's repeated failure to proofread documents, and reluctance to provide support for other managers, notwithstanding the fact that it was her job to do so. (Kaalakea Decl. ¶ 9; Pl. Depo. Ex. 17.)

         In April of 2012, Plaintiff was reassigned to report to Woodard, due to Woodard's " expanding scope of responsibility as a Manager, Hospital Operations, and the resulting need for additional administrative support." (Def. CSF, Kaalakea Decl. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff states that, sometime in early 2012, Kaalakea told her that Woodard wished to replace Plaintiff with " someone like Jonica" Caldwell. (Pl. Depo. 92-93, 149-50, 265-69.) Caldwell is Caucasian. (Id.) Plaintiff states that, in June of 2012, Woodard called her " incompetent" for failing to order food for a meeting. (Id. at 111-15.)

         On September 14, 2012, Woodard and Kaalakea met with Plaintiff regarding her continued unsatisfactory performance. (Pl. Depo. at 187-92 & Ex. 18.) During the meeting, Woodard told Plaintiff that her performance was unsatisfactory and that she did not have the critical thinking skills to do her job well. (Pl. Depo. at 190.) Woodard and Kaalakea offered Plaintiff two choices: (1) to continue in her current position but receive an annual performance appraisal stating that the essential job functions were not met and disciplinary action would be taken; or (2) to resign from her position by submitting a letter of resignation, after which Plaintiff would be given until December 31, 2012 to look for other work either internally or externally. (Id. at 187-90 & Ex. 17.) At Plaintiff's request, a summary of the meeting was made in writing in an email from Woodard to Plaintiff on September 18, 2012. (Pl. Depo., Ex. 17.)

         Plaintiff agreed to resign and provided a letter of resignation on September 18, 2012; however, she rescinded her resignation the next day. (Pl. Depo. at 192-200 & Exs. 19 & 20.) Plaintiff was therefore provided her written performance evaluation on September 18, 2012, indicating that she had an overall rating of " unsatisfactory." (Pl. Depo. Ex. 21.) Plaintiff subsequently provided a written rebuttal to the performance evaluation, stating, among other things, that the poor performance evaluation was written by Woodard in retaliation for Plaintiff's complaint about Woodard in September of 2011. (Id. Ex. 21.) Plaintiff did not assert that Woodard had discriminated against her on the basis of her race or age in the rebuttal. (Id.)

         III. Plaintiff's Leave of Absence

         On September 25, 2012, Plaintiff took a medical leave of absence, which was extended several times. (Pl. Depo. at 205-07.) Plaintiff states that she was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Id. at 204.) Plaintiff emailed Woodard and Kaalakea on Friday, January 11, 2013, informing them that she would be returning to work the following Monday. (Pl. Depo., Ex. 23.) During Plaintiff's leave of absence, unsure as to whether Plaintiff would return to work, Woodard and Kaalakea had arranged for a temporary employee, Jennifer Patenia, to step in and assist in Plaintiff's role. (Pl. Depo. at 207; Def. CSF, Woodard Decl. ¶ 8.) Patenia continued to work as a temporary employee after Plaintiff's return to assist with Kaalakea's need for secretarial support. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         IV. Plaintiff's Return to Work in 2013

         Upon Plaintiff's return to work on January 14, 2013, Woodard provided her with a written outline of expectations regarding Plaintiff's performance in her position. (Pl. Depo., Ex. 24.) Plaintiff states that she did not disagree with any of the outlined expectations. (Pl. Depo. at 208.) Plaintiff was also suspended for one day without pay on January 15, 2013 as a disciplinary measure for her inadequate performance before her leave of absence. (Id. at 208-09 & Ex. 25.)

         Plaintiff states that, upon her return to work, she no longer had a desk, computer, or phone, and was therefore unable to do her job. (Id. at 321-22.) Plaintiff also states that Woodard told her that she had been replaced by Patenia. (Id. At 323-24.)

         On March 23, 2013, Plaintiff was issued a Written Warning by Woodard, again regarding her excessive tardiness. (Id. at 211-218 & Ex. 34.)

         In July of 2013, Plaintiff voluntarily transferred to an Administrative Secretary position in the Imaging Department.[1] (Id. at 34, 276.)

         V. Plaintiff's Internal Job Applications

         During the course of her employment as an Administrative Secretary in Hospital Operations, Plaintiff continued to apply for other positions within HPH. Plaintiff states that she was rejected from fifteen positions,[2] and contends that these rejections were in retaliation for making her September 2011 complaint about Woodard. (Pl. Depo. at 289.) Plaintiff believes that she was " black-listed" as a result of her complaint about Woodard. (Id. at 291-95.)

         Of all of Plaintiff's applications, only two were forwarded to Hiring Managers; Woodard states that she did not speak with either of those Hiring Managers about Plaintiff's applications or qualifications for those positions, or with any other people involved in reviewing applications for the positions for which Plaintiff applied. (Def. CSF, Woodard Decl. 12.) Additionally, none of the Hiring Managers involved in the decisions for any of the fifteen positions was aware of Plaintiff's 2011 complaint about Woodard. (Def. CSF, Brooks Decl. 2; Kim Decl. 2; Hinson Decl. 7; Pennaz Decl. 2; Matsuyama Decl. 2; Keliipio Decl. 2; Turalva Decl. 2; Meredith Decl. 2; Bergen Decl. 2; Williams Decl. 2; Tubbs Decl. 2; Nolan Decl. 2.)

         VI. Plaintiff's ...

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