PHILADELPHIA – A former doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital who alleged she was dismissed due to her race and that her contract was breached in the process, had that breach of contract claim denied in federal court on Tuesday.
Dr. Jacqueline M. Junkins-Hopkins, of Bryn Mawr, filed suit in December against Johns Hopkins Hospital, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University, all of Baltimore, alleging she was subjected to a hostile work environment and fired because she is an African-American.
According to her complaint, Junkins-Hopkins began her tenure with Johns Hopkins in October 2007, serving as both an Associate Professor in the Dermatology Department at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Director of Dermapathology at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Though claiming her contract would provide for the opportunity to “build your division with faculty and staff members to support the operational and financial growth of the division” and “support activities necessary to grow or regain the dermapathology business,” Junkins-Hopkins claimed this was not the case.
In fact, Junkins-Hopkins alleges she did not receive any of the support mentioned in the language of her contract, but was instead subject to an environment of both “overt and covert hostility.”
In December 2010, Johns Hopkins Hospital allegedly advised Junkins-Hopkins the terms of her contract “were to be altered in a negative fashion that would cause harm to her professional standing, reputation, earnings, etc.”
In response, Junkins-Hopkins resigned at that time – an outcome she feels was desired by the hospital.
Subsequent to her resignation, Junkins-Hopkins supposedly learned of racial comments made against her by colleagues at the hospital.
Junkins-Hopkins felt one colleague tried to prevent her hiring in 2007 and when that proved unsuccessful, encouraged other doctors to protest her employment and promoted gossip that the only reason she was hired was because she was African-American.
Johns Hopkins Hospital motioned to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim, alleging there was no hostile work environment and Maryland’s three-year statute of limitations would bar the breach of contract claim.
As a result, Junkins-Hopkins filed a proposed amended complaint explaining she “was in Pennsylvania when she received, negotiated, and accepted the employment offer,” and “resided in Pennsylvania during her employment with Johns Hopkins Hospital” and alleged “she performed approximately 25 percent of her duties from her home in Pennsylvania” during her tenure of employment with Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Through this rationale, Junkins-Hopkins sought to cite Pennsylvania’s breach of contract law, which has a four-year statute of limitations compared to the three in Maryland’s law. Johns Hopkins Hospital also opposed Junkins-Hopkins’ filing of an amended complaint.
U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Gerald J. Pappert ruled on the matter, granting in part and denying in part both motions from the plaintiff and defendant.
“Here, Junkins-Hopkins alleges facts to show that she was subjectively aware that she was treated differently from her colleagues. She presents the racial comments of her supervisors and coworkers only to show a causal connection between this disparate treatment and her race,” Pappert wrote.
“Junkins-Hopkins is not precluded from maintaining her hostile work environment claim simply because her supervisors and co-workers were adept at hiding their alleged racial animosity from her.”
Pappert went on to say that Junkins-Hopkins’ claims were sufficient to allege racial discrimination and a hostile work environment under federal law, and threw out that part of the motion to dismiss from Johns Hopkins Hospital.
However, Pappert disagreed with the plaintiff that her breach of contract claim should fall under Pennsylvania law and jurisdiction.
“Here, under the facts alleged in the complaint and the proposed amended complaint, Junkins-Hopkins’ breach of contract claim accrued in Maryland. All of the defendant institutions are located in Maryland. Junkins-Hopkins fulfilled the vast majority of her duties under the contract in Maryland,” Pappert explained.
“The conditions of Junkins-Hopkins’ employment that she alleges constituted a breach of her employment contract occurred in Maryland.
“Junkins-Hopkins cannot fairly say that her cause of action for breach of contract accrued in Pennsylvania simply because she resided in Pennsylvania during her time with Johns Hopkins Hospital and performed ‘some’ of her duties under the contract from her home in Pennsylvania.”
Therefore, Pappert ruled Maryland’s three-year statute of limitations would apply in this case, which expired in December 2013, one year before Junkins-Hopkins filed her complaint. Subsequent to that decision, Pappert dismissed the breach of contract claim, but the racial discrimination claim stands.
The plaintiff is seeking “an amount sufficient to fully compensate her for her losses,” plus attorney fees, court costs and other relief the court deems appropriate in this case.
The plaintiff is represented by John A. Gallagher of Gallagher Law Group, in Berwyn.
The defendants are represented by Darrell R. Vandeusen of Kollman & Saucler in Timonium, Md. and Sean T. O’Neill of Saul Ewing in Philadelphia.
U.S. Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania case 2:14-cv-07080
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org