When reviewing the district court's ruling on a summary judgment motion, we review the motion de novo. Applied Genetics Int'l, Inc. v. First Affiliated Sec., Inc., 912 F.2d 1238, 1241 (10th Cir.1990). We must decide whether any genuine issues of material fact are in dispute and, if not, whether the law was correctly applied. We must look at the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, in this case Ms. Cone. Boren v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co., 933 F.2d 891, 892 (10th Cir.1991). Summary judgment is only appropriate if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-53, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).
We review a summary judgment fully and may affirm on grounds other than those relied on by the district court when the record contains an adequate and independent basis for that result. Swoboda v. Dubach, 992 F.2d 286, 291 (10th Cir.1993). We are not limited to the district court's reasoning in affirming a grant of summary judgment.
The ultimate question is whether Ms. Cone's evidence established an inference the hospital discriminated on the basis of age. If she failed to make out a prima facie case, she cannot avoid summary judgment. In addition, because the hospital's evidence asserted a nondiscriminatory basis for the termination, she must present evidence to create controversy on whether that reason is pretextual.
Ms. Cone has failed to meet this burden. The basic flaw of Ms. Cone's case is she never showed the availability of a suitable job with the hospital. She also failed to show that age was a factor in Longmont United Hospital's decision to apply its leave of absence policy. Since she did not produce specific evidence to create an issue of material fact, there is no reason for the case to go on to trial. Accordingly, Longmont United Hospital is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.
Sharon Cone had been an employee of Longmont United Hospital for twenty-two years. Although hired in an entry-level position, she worked her way up to her final position of Director of Customer Services. In the fall of 1988, she was forty-six years old.
On September 19, 1988, Ms. Cone requested a leave of absence until February 6, 1989. She made this request by slipping a note under the door of the personnel director, Harry Nevling, after business hours. Attached to her request was a short note from a doctor saying she needed a medical leave of absence. Despite failing to make this request in person, the hospital granted her request for a leave of absence under hospital policy.
Hospital policy allows employees up to one year away from work as a leave of absence. According to the policy, the hospital will try to reinstate the employee if the employee requests a return to work before the year ends. Employees who fail to return to work before a year has expired will be terminated automatically.
When Ms. Cone requested a leave of absence, her supervisor told her the hospital could not hold her position open for her and that they would seek an immediate replacement. Ms. Cone acknowledges the hospital could not leave her position as Director of Customer Services vacant during her absence and that she understood that they would be hiring a replacement. Within two months of her initial request, the hospital hired a new director to replace her.
On February 6, 1989, Ms. Cone requested an extension of her leave of absence until June 6, 1989.
Jurisdiction: U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit
Related Categories: Civil Rights , Expert Witness , Health Care , Securities