A federal jury ruled in favor of a nursing home in a lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment Monday, declining to find liability for discrimination based on race or national origin.
Plaintiff Perpetua Ezeh brought suit against her employer, the Patapsco Valley Center, in 2014 and alleged the director of nursing singled her out for discipline because she is African. Ezeh claimed the director, Denise Zimmermann, made statements about wanting to get rid of African employees and believed they were going to make her sick using voodoo.
Zimmermann and the nursing home denied these statements were ever made, according to attorney Darryl G. McCallum.
“Our defense was that none of these comments were made and our evidence showed that Ms. Ezeh had performance problems that started well before Ms. Zimmermann ever got there,” said McCallum, of Shawe Rosenthal LLP in Baltimore.
After a five-day trial, the jury deliberated for approximately three hours before returning a verdict for the defense.
The original lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, had three plaintiffs and multiple defendants. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants in January 2017 and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded only Ezeh’s discrimination claim against 9109 Liberty Road Operations LLC, which owns the facility.
McCallum, who represented the defendant with Courtney B. Amelung, said his client is pleased with the verdict in their favor.
They feel vindicated in that the client was dedicated to making sure all of its employees met patient care standards and they certainly felt that all of the decision that were made were based on what was best for patient care and the employee here simply didn’t meet performance expectations that were legitimate,” McCallum said.
The facility had been cited by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and brought in new staff, including Zimmermann, in late 2010 to take corrective actions and prevent the loss of the center’s operational license, according to the 4th Circuit opinion.
Management had complained about Ezeh’s lack of preparedness prior to the leadership transition and placed her on a performance improvement plan in September 2010, according to the opinion. Ezeh complained to human resources about the alleged treatment from Zimmermann in June 2011 and filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February 2012.
At trial Ezeh testified about Zimmermann’s alleged comments and one other employee testified that Zimmermann had made similar remarks to her, according to McCallum. Defense witnesses testified that they never heard these remarks and Zimmermann was intent on holding people accountable for doing their jobs correctly.
“It was a credibility issue between Ms. Zimmermann and Ms. Ezeh,” McCallum said.
Ezeh was represented by Bruce A. Fredrickson of Webster and Fredrickson in Washingon and Leizer Zalman Goldsmith and Sandra Diaz of the Goldsmith Law Firm in Washington. Fredrickson did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
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Perpetua Ezeh v. 9109 Liberty Road Operations LLC
Court: U.S. District Court in Baltimore
Case No.: 1:14-cv-02694
Judge: Richard D. Bennett
Proceeding: Jury trial
Outcome: Verdict for defense
Incident: November 2010 to November 2011
Suit filed: Aug. 20, 2014
Verdict: Oct. 1, 2018
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Bruce A. Fredrickson of Webster and Fredrickson in Washingon and Leizer Zalman Goldsmith and Sandra Diaz of the Goldsmith Law Firm in Washington.
Defendant’s Attorneys: Darryl G. McCallum and Courtney B. Amelung of Shawe Rosenthal LLP in Baltimore.