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Aluru v. Anesthesia Consultants, Professional Corporation

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 31, 2016

DEEPIKA ALURU, M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
ANESTHESIA CONSULTANTS, PROFESSIONAL CORPORATION; and PAUL A. GUTOWSKI, D.O., Defendants.

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Marcia S. Krieger Chief Judge

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (#66), Plaintiff’s Response (#70), and the Defendants’ Reply (#76).

I. JURISDICTION

Plaintiff, Deepika Aluru, (Dr. Aluru), asserts claims under federal law, thus, the Court has jurisdiction over her federal claims and exercises supplemental jurisdiction over her related state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(a). Because Dr. Aluru’s claims involve employment discrimination, she was required to, and did, file a charge with the Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which issued her a Right to Sue Letter.

II. BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed, or, if disputed, set forth in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff.

Dr. Aluru is, among other things, a female, 47 years old (as of the time of the pertinent events), of East Indian descent, a practicing Hindu, and a licensed anesthesiologist. She brings this suit against her former employer and a supervisor, Defendants Anesthesia Consultants, Professional Corporation (Consultants) and Paul Gutowski (Dr. Gutowski), alleging claims for employment discrimination based on religion, race, gender, and age, as well as various other claims related to conditions of her employment and ultimate termination from Consultants. Consultants is a practice group consisting of several anesthesiologists and nurses that contracts with local hospitals and surgery centers to provide anesthesia services.

A. Dr. Aluru’s Employment With Consultants

Dr. Aluru began working for Consultants in 2001. From 2001 through 2005 she received good reviews, raises, and benefits.

Sometime in late 2005 or 2006, Dr. Paul Gutowski unofficially became Consultants’ Clinical Director. As Clinical Director, Dr. Gutowski prepared schedules for Consultants’ anesthesiologists, and approved or denied vacation requests. Dr. Gutowski acted as Dr. Aluru’s supervisor, but she ultimately reported to Dr. Elliott Wohlner, Consultants’ President.

Dr. Wohlner and Dr. Gutowski testified that around 2006, they began receiving complaints from surgeons (and one hospital administrator) regarding Dr. Aluru’s abilities and timeliness. They could recall at least six surgeons who complained, Dr. Wohlner believed there could have been even more, and the Defendants produced affidavits prepared by three of them. Dr. Wohlner believed that, in some cases, Dr. Aluru was failing to demonstrate adequate clinical skills which caused problems operations.[1] Dr. Gutowski’s concern was, among other things, Dr. Aluru’s ability to simultaneously handle and manage several cases.

There is a dispute, albeit a somewhat vague one, as to whether and to what extent Dr. Wohlner and Dr. Gutowski conveyed to Dr. Aluru their dissatisfaction with her performance. Dr. Aluru insists that “to the extent that any surgeons or other employees had concerns about [her] or her work, those concerns were never at any time communicated to [her].” Dr. Wohlner does not expressly state whether he directly confronted Dr. Aluru about her performance problems; he testified that “I discussed it with her, ” although it is not entirely clear as to what the “it” in that sentence refers. (From the context of the questioning, Dr. Wohlner may be referring to discussing “performance deficiencies” or his encouragement to Dr. Aluru that she “improve her skills.”) It appears that Dr. Wohlner primarily addressed his concerns with Dr. Aluru more passively and indirectly, by intervening to ensure that she was assigned to less-complex cases, and by encouraging her to speak with other experienced anesthesiologists and to seek out additional training. (Dr. Gutowski admittedly did not discuss his concerns about Dr. Aluru’s performance with her.) Notwithstanding Dr. Wohlner’s efforts, from 2008 to 2012, Dr. Wohlner believed that Dr. Aluru’s proficiency continued to deteriorate, although it is undisputed that Consultants gave her a raise Dr. Aluru in 2008.

B. Dr. Aluru’s Termination

At some point in 2012, Consultants lost a major hospital contract, resulting in lost revenues and a need to reduce the number of its physicians. Dr. Wohlner considered Consultants’ staffing needs, employees’ job performance (including surgeon complaints), among other factors, and decided to terminate Dr. Aluru and two male anesthesiologists. Dr. Wohlner selected Dr. Aluru for termination based, in part, on an assessment that Consultants’ practice had become more complex, with more difficult procedures being performed, resulting in less cases he believed Dr. Aluru was capable of handing. Dr. Wohlner notified Dr. Aluru of her termination on or about July 9, 2012, and her last day of work was August 8, 2012.

Dr. Aluru points out that Consultants had only recently[2] hired two new anesthesiologists, both white males under age 40, suggesting either that the new employees rebut Consultants’ claim of financial difficulties or that these newest employees were the most logical candidates for economically-motivated layoffs. The Defendants explain that the new anesthesiologists’ skills and training were superior to those of Dr. Aluru, in at least one important respect: the performance of nerve blocks using ultrasound. (Dr. Aluru responds that she had “substantial experience performing . . . nerve blocks, ” and that she did so “repeatedly and frequently” during her employment at Consultants. In reply, the Defendants try to make clear that they are not suggesting that Dr. Aluru was “terminated for lacking skills in ultrasound nerve blocks, ”[3] but merely explaining that she “lacked the extensive residency training that [the new anesthesiologists] underwent” in that procedure.)

C. Allegations of Discrimination

Dr. Aluru filed a charge of discrimination with the Colorado Civil Rights Division in November 2012. She subsequently received a right-to-sue letter and filed suit against Consultants in October of 2013. She asserts nineteen claims for relief [4] Consultants moves for summary judgment on each of her claims.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure facilitates the entry of a judgment only if no trial is necessary. See White v. York Intern. Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 360 (10th Cir. 1995). Thus, the primary question presented to the Court in considering a Motion for Summary Judgment or a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is whether a trial is required.

A trial is required if there are material factual disputes to resolve. As a result, entry of summary judgment is authorized only “when 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); Savant Homes, Inc. v. Collins, 809 F.3d 1133, 1137 (10th Cir. 2016). A fact is material if, under the substantive law, it relates to an essential element of the claim. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if the conflicting ...


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