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Eleventh Circuit Affirms Jury Verdict in Favor of Hospital in Employment Discrimination Suit

On June 8, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a decision holding that a Florida hospital did not jointly employ a physician who was placed at the hospital by a medical staffing company. Dr. Michelle Scott was employed by EmCare, Inc. (“EmCare”), a medical staffing corporation that employs physicians to provide staffing to hospitals. EmCare placed Dr. Scott at Sarasota Doctors Hospital, Inc. (“SDH”) from November 2011 until October 2013. While working at SDH, Dr. Scott filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). After the Charge of Discrimination was filed, Dr. Scott had an encounter with a staffer in SDH’s human resources department and, upon learning of that encounter, the hospital’s CEO requested that EmCare remove Dr. Scott from SDH. As a result, Dr. Scott was removed from SDH and EmCare terminated her employment.

In July 2014, Dr. Scott filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleging that EmCare and SDH were her joint employers, and that they fired her in retaliation for her filing a complaint with the EEOC. She also alleged that SDH discriminated against her based on her sex by treating her poorly and by attempting to replace her with a male physician. In November 2015, District Judge James S. Moody, Jr. granted summary judgment as to EmCare, finding that EmCare had a non-discriminatory reason to remove Dr. Scott from SDH because its contract with SDH required such removal at SDH’s request. Judge Moody also found that once EmCare legitimately removed Dr. Scott from SDH, it was permitted to terminate her employment pursuant to the employment contract between the parties.

Although EmCare was dismissed from the suit in November 2015, Judge Moody’s order found that there were issues of fact regarding Dr. Scott’s suit against SDH that could not be resolved on summary judgment. The case then went to trial, and a jury found that SDH was not Dr. Scott’s employer. Because only an employer can retaliate against an employee, the trial ended without examining whether SDH had retaliated or discriminated against Dr. Scott. Following the trial, Judge Moody denied Dr. Scott’s motion for a new trial, and Dr. Scott appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

On appeal, Dr. Scott argued that summary judgment in favor of EmCare was improper because it had an obligation not to go along with SDH’s allegedly discriminatory request. Dr. Scott also argued that EmCare’s stated reason for firing her was a pretext and that SDH influenced EmCare to fire her. The Eleventh Circuit found this argument “intriguing,” but held that Dr. Scott waived the argument by not raising it at the trial court level. The court explained that although Dr. Scott articulated the basics of a discrimination case against EmCare, she failed to “adequately rebut EmCare’s nondiscriminatory reason for firing her,” and so affirmed the District Court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of EmCare.

The Eleventh Circuit also declined to overturn the jury’s finding that SDH was not Dr. Scott’s joint employer. The court explained that “[t]he relationship between Scott and the hospital was complex and difficult to classify,” and, based on the evidence presented by both sides, “the jury could have come to the opposite conclusion. But deciding these hard questions ‘is precisely what juries are for.’”

The attorneys at CCLB represent clients of all types and sizes in employment-related matters, including suits alleging employment discrimination. For any questions, or if we can be of any assistance with such a matter, please contact us at (404) 262-6505 or sgrubman@cclblaw.com.