Submitted: April 16, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri - St. Louis
COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
ERICKSON, Circuit Judge.
Beckley sued her former employer, St. Luke's
Episcopal-Presbyterian Hospitals ("St.
Luke's"), for allegedly interfering with her rights
under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29
U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. The district courtgranted summary
judgment in favor of St. Luke's, and we affirm.
reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment,
we recite the facts in the light most favorable to Beckley.
St. Luke's hired Beckley in 1995 to work as a surgical
technician. A surgical technician's principal duty is to
pass instruments in the operating room. Beckley began working
in the Labor & Delivery Department. In October 2012, St.
Luke's promoted Beckley to a full-time position in the
Operating Room Department ("ORD"). The job
description summarized that the surgical technician was
expected to "[p]erform in the scrub role during
surgical procedures, following all established Nursing
Standards and Hospital Policies." When Beckley was
promoted, she was already on intermittent FMLA leave, and St.
Luke's understood that Beckley would need to take
additional FMLA leave. St. Luke's approved Beckley's
requests for intermittent FMLA leave while in the ORD during
the following time periods: from August 2012 through February
2013; from February 2013 through August 2013; and from April
2014, through April 20, 2015. St. Luke's terminated
Beckley's employment on March 20, 2015.
departmental change to the ORD included a change in some of
her job responsibilities, including "on-call"
shifts. An on-call shift required the employee to be
accessible while off-duty during the shift. During an on-call
shift, an employee was to report to work within approximately
30 minutes of receiving an emergency call-in.
Luke's reprimanded Beckley on multiple occasions for
failing to respond appropriately to emergency call-in
requests. On March 10, 2014, Beckley received a Level 1
warning for failing to respond to messages left on her cell
phone and pager. Because of Beckley's failure to respond,
St. Luke's was forced to contact the second on-call
employee for the emergency. Beckley admitted that this
reprimand was unrelated to her taking FMLA leave. On August
12, 2014, Beckley received a Level 2 warning for not
responding appropriately to a call-in request. Beckley did
not respond to the initial call-in message, but responded to
the second contact approximately 35 minutes later. On August
25, 2014, Beckley received a Final Warning for failing to
respond to an emergency call-in request. St. Luke's
contacted another surgical technician for the emergency. As a
consequence, St. Luke's prohibited Beckley from signing
up for additional on-call shifts because of her repeated
failures to respond appropriately when contacted. Each time
Beckley was reprimanded, St. Luke's counseled her on
appropriate on-call procedures and the ORD's
expectations. St. Luke's informed Beckley each time that
any additional occurrences may result in further disciplinary
action, including discharge. Each disciplinary action
involved a different charge nurse, none of whom played any
role in Beckley's termination.
addition to the formal disciplinary actions, Beckley was
counseled about other issues related to her work. On March
13, 2014, St. Luke's talked to Beckley about being
inattentive to details. Beckley was reminded that she needed
to focus more and talk less during surgical procedures.
Beckley admitted this criticism of her work performance was
unrelated to her FMLA leave. During her annual job evaluation
on March 30, 2014, St. Luke's suggested Beckley keep a
notebook and preference cards for the doctors so that she
could focus on her role as technician and decrease the amount
of talking and repetitive questioning during the procedure.
According to Beckley's personnel file, on April 7, 2014,
St. Luke's again discussed with Beckley the need to focus
on the task at hand. She was also coached about having
accurate surgical counts.
although not formally disciplined for improperly labeling a
syringe, acknowledged that it was her responsibility and
"a big deal." On July 25, 2014, while precepting a
student, Beckley mislabeled a syringe, which was handed to
the surgeon during the procedure. The syringe contained a
medication rather than the saline solution the surgeon needed
for a flush. Beckley admitted the mistake was serious and
described the event as one where "the whole [operating]
room was involved" and aware of her error.
than seven months after being given a final warning, on March
9, 2015, during a complicated surgical procedure,
Beckley became contaminated while in the operating room when
she touched a non-sterile object. Beckley recognized
immediately that she broke sterility, but did not immediately
change her gown or gloves. During the procedure, Beckley left
the operating room to use the bathroom without letting the
surgeon know. During the restroom break, Beckley had a
conversation with a co-worker about the co-worker's
upcoming facelift surgery. Beckley denied that this
conversation delayed her return to the operating room. Before
re-entering the operating room, Beckley had the option of
sterilizing with a gel or re-scrubbing. Beckley chose to
re-scrub, a ten-minute process, rather than use the gel, a
two-or three-second process. By the time Beckley returned to
the operating room, an estimated 10 to 15 minutes had
elapsed. There was an additional employee who entered the
operating room during Beckley's absence to assist with
the procedure. After the surgery, the Director of Surgical
Services received reports from both nurses who were in the
operating room indicating Beckley broke sterility by walking
to the sterile field twice while contaminated, she failed to
break scrub according to Association of Perioperative
Registered Nurse guidelines, she exercised poor judgment in
conducting a surgical count during the procedure, and she
left the operating room while the procedure was ongoing for
an extended amount of time without letting anyone know of her
need to leave. Beckley denied that she entered the sterile
field while contaminated. She admitted that she was gone from
the operating room for at least 15 minutes, but denied that
another person entered the room to assume her role.
attributed the complaints about her work performance from
co-workers and her supervisor to be because of her increased
FMLA leave. She asserted that one of her co-workers told her
that she "needed to watch herself" with regard to
her FMLA usage. Beckley viewed a supervisor's inquiry
about whether she could schedule doctor's appointments
during off-duty hours as a complaint or concern about her
FMLA leave usage. Beckley believed it was because of her FMLA
leave that she was being treated differently than other
employees for what she viewed as minor infractions. Beckley
brought this FMLA retaliation claim against St. Luke's,
asserting she routinely suffered adverse employment actions
following the exercise of FMLA leave.
direct evidence of retaliation, the district court analyzed
Beckley's claim under the burden-shifting framework of
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792
(1973). The court decided that Beckley's temporal
proximity claim was insufficient to establish a causal
connection to the disciplinary actions or termination and,
therefore, she could not establish a prima facie
case of retaliation. The court went on to find that St.