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Park v. Shinseki

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 16, 2013

SOON PARK, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC K. SHINSEKI, Defendant.

THE BELL LAW GROUP, P.C. Joseph J. Bell, Esq., Rockaway, New Jersey, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

PAUL J. FISHMAN UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Peter G. O'Malley, Esq. Newark, New Jersey, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION

DICKINSON R. DEBEVOISE, District Judge.

This matter arises out of the involuntary commitment of Plaintiff Soon Park. On December 23, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, asserting a cause of action for discrimination based on national origin, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq.

Defendant now moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim.[1] For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Since 1992, Plaintiff has been employed as a medical technologist at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in New York (the "VA"). Plaintiff is originally from South Korea, where she attended university, and has somewhat limited fluency in English.

Plaintiff generally received positive reviews at work. However, she was suspended on two occasions. In addition, when she made mistakes, she would say that it was someone else's fault and people were out to make her look bad. (Shahidi Dep., 14-15.) Indeed, she often harbored paranoid beliefs that many of her co-workers, particularly her supervisor, Darryl Williams, were "against her" and trying to "sabotage" her. (Id. at 9); (Park Dep., 20.)

Plaintiff was also convinced that she, at times, "saw [Darryl] Williams standing in her bedroom in the doorway of the bathroom and the bedroom[.]" (Shahidi Dep., 9.) She said that although the bedroom door was locked from the inside, she could still see him. (Id.) Plaintiff further believed that, at times, she was being followed home from work and refused to enter her apartment. On one occasion, Plaintiff called Dr. Shahidi late at night to say that she had been followed home, and that, "if I don't show up tomorrow, something happened to me." (Shahidi Dep., 10.) Dr. Shahidi ultimately encouraged Plaintiff to see a therapist, but Plaintiff refused, stating that it would harm her image in the Korean community.[2]

Plaintiff also believes that she has been subject to harassment in the workplace, largely at the hands of Mr. Williams. Plaintiff recalls two specific incidents of harassment in 2003. The first incident took place when Plaintiff was asked by a cleaning person at work whether his cleaning team had done a good job cleaning a room that she has been working in. She told them that it was "beautiful; I like it." (Park Dep., 22.) The cleaning person left, but later came down with Mr. Williams and said that Plaintiff had told the cleaning person that his teams had done a poor job.

The second incident occurred when Plaintiff had received an incorrect lab sample from the VA's psychiatric ward. She placed a call to the psychiatric ward and, after beginning to explain the situation over the telephone, was told that her English was not understandable. Plaintiff believes that this was intentional. She further believes that Mr. Williams, along with three or four individuals in the psychiatric ward, would at times pretend not to understand her English.

Plaintiff recalls other incidents. At one point, when she had some sort of fungal infection, Mr. Williams asked her if all Koreans were infected by "that special fungus." (Id. at 82.) Plaintiff also recounts a time when she asked Mr. Williams for cleaning supplies, and Mr. Williams intentionally placed them on the floor so that she would have to bend over and pick them up. (Id. at 87-88.) Finally, she recalls an instance when Mr. Williams scolded her English based on her failure to distinguish between the words "order" and "odor." (Id. at 96.)

According to Plaintiff, this sabotage and harassment culminated in her involuntary commitment, on October 6, 2008. That morning, Plaintiff and a colleague, Luis Benabe, were engaged in conversation. Plaintiff recalls that, during their conversation, Mr. Benabe told her that the VA knew a lot of personal things about her and that there were cameras installed in her home. See (id. at 54-55). Plaintiff responded that such activity would last until she died and asked why she had to kill herself. (Id. at 55, 56). According to Plaintiff, Mr. Benabe told her that if she wanted to die, she should starve herself to death, to which she responded that she could not kill herself because it would, as a matter of Korean culture, bring great shame to her family. (Id. at 56.)

Plaintiff believed that Mr. Benabe was joking with her. (Id. at 57.) Therefore, she told him that, in order to die, she would have to be killed by an act of god and asked if he knew if anyone was planning on blowing up an airplane. (Id.) ...


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