The opinion of the court was delivered by: COHEN
Plaintiff, Joanne Bimbo, a registered nurse, instituted this civil rights action pursuant to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq, alleging retaliatory treatment by her former employer, Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital, Cape May Court House, New Jersey, ("BTMH" or "the Hospital") for her opposition to practices she perceived to be unlawful discrimination. In addition, plaintiff asserts pendant state law claims, alleging breach of contract and wrongful discharge.
She seeks compensatory damages, back pay, and reinstatement.
Plaintiff was employed by BTMH in its nursing department from July, 1972 until March 18, 1982. She served as Head Nurse of the hospital's intensive care unit ("ICU") for five years, from February 1, 1977 until February 18, 1982, at which time she was demoted from ICU Head Nurse to staff nurse. Plaintiff was informed, at the time of her demotion, that she could not serve as a staff nurse in the ICU but that she could do so in any other department in the Hospital. Immediately thereafter, plaintiff left BTMH on a previously-planned vacation. While on vacation, she tendered her resignation, informing Ms. Teresa Karter, BTMH's Directress of Nursing at that time, that she would not be returning to BTMH because her demotion made such a return untenable. Exhibit 5014.
On June 8, 1982, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that she had been demoted in retaliation for her support of a minority physician, Dr. Suketu H. Nanavati. See plaintiff's Exhibit 6016. Dr. Nanavati, a board-certified cardiologist and a native of Ahmedabad, India, became a member of the BTMH Medical Staff in March, 1979. Shortly thereafter, a personal and professional feud erupted -- a feud ignited by Dr. Nanavati's reference to Dr. Sorenson, in the presence of the entire BTMH Medical Staff, as "inferiorly qualified" -- between Dr. Nanavati and Dr. Robert J. Sorenson, the Chief of Cardiology at BTMH.
At a fairly early stage in this feud, see transcript of Nanavati trial, May 22, 1986 at pp. 49-50, Dr. Sorenson orally accused plaintiff and other nurses present in the ICU of being "Indian lovers," an outburst for which he subsequently apologized to only one of the nurses, which apology, it may be assumed, was related to the other nurses. At some point thereafter, plaintiff, having received, apparently by virtue of her position as Head Nurse of the ICU, as did other Head Nurses and Departmental heads, copies of correspondence from various persons, including Dr. Sorenson, complaining about Dr. Nanavati, wrote a letter to Dr. Marvin Podolnick, the Chief of the hospital's Medical Staff. That letter, dated January 9, 1982 but which was apparently not actually mailed until approximately the third week of January, see transcript of Nanavati trial, May 22, 1982 at p. 56, reads as follows:
This letter is written in response to several letters I have received copies of over the past months. They concern an incident involving Dr. Suketu H. Nanavati and a Monitor Bed Unit staff member.
First, let me say that in 9 years of employment at Burdette Tomlin Hospital I've never found myself involved in something so unprofessional. Secondly, I don't feel I should have received copies of these letters - frankly, it was none of my business. However, an issue does concern me very much it seems to me that emotions are taking precedent over our actual purpose, that is to provide the highest quality of patient care possible to the people of Cape May County.
In my opinion, his patients get the most optimum medical care. I have gone on ambulance runs with his critical patients to other institutions where his diagnosis and care of the patient while at Burdette was met with the highest regard by the physicians there. I nor any of my staff members in ICU have ever been chastised nor ridiculed by Dr. Nanavati. I feel this is important to write since there seems to be so much negativism about Dr. Nanavati lately.
I sincerely hope my feelings will be respected. May I add that the rest of my staff feels this way also.
Lastly, I sincerely hope a professional and healthy solution comes of all this for everyone's well-being.
Within a month of sending this letter, plaintiff was informed, at her annual performance evaluation, that she was being removed from her position as Head Nurse of ICU. See transcript of Nanavati trial, May 22, 1986 at pp. 59-67.
The reasons given to plaintiff for her demotion included: excessive lateness, failure to attend Head Nurse Workshops or tardiness in attendance, failure to expedite transfers of patients to and from the ICU, failure to attend staff scheduling workshops, and failure to timely submit nursing staff schedules. Plaintiff asserts, in her present action, that these reasons were merely a pretext for demoting her. She maintains that the true reason for the Hospital's decision to demote her was her support of Dr. Nanavati, as evidenced by her January 9, 1982 letter and her sustained cooperative working relationship with him. See plaintiff's reply summation at p. 4. She further contends that the decision to demote her, and the repercussions of that decision, amounted to a constructive discharge because such decision rendered working conditions at BTMH so intolerable that a reasonable employee would have been forced to resign. Such a discharge, plaintiff argues, was either in retaliation for her support of Dr. Nanavati, as a minority, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or for her support of Dr. Nanavati as a person against whom the Hospital was committing allegedly illegal or ...