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Gowski v. Peake

United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

June 4, 2012, Decided; June 4, 2012, Filed

No. 09-16371


 [*1303]  PER CURIAM:

This appeal and cross-appeal arise from a jury verdict and award of damages and injunctive relief in favor of Doctors Diane Gowski and Sally Zachariah in their discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment suit against the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).2 We must decide whether this circuit recognizes a retaliatory hostile work environment claim and, if so, whether the evidence in this case was sufficient to support the jury's verdict  [**2] and damages award. We conclude that a retaliatory hostile work environment is a viable claim and, after a thorough review of the record and with the  [*1304]  benefit of oral argument, we affirm in part and vacate and remand in part.

I. Background

This case involved a two-week jury trial, four plaintiffs, four hospital administrators and department heads, numerous witnesses, and extensive documentary evidence. We begin by identifying the plaintiffs, their claims, and the relevant members of the VA's administration. Doctors Gowski and Zachariah were employed at the Bay Pines VA hospital and medical center in Florida. Gowski was a hospitalist who began working for the VA in 1997. In 2005, she was assigned to the medical intensive care unit (MICU). Zachariah began working for Bay Pines in 1989 as a neurologist and researcher and is an associate professor of neurology at the University of South Florida.

At the relevant times, Dr. Sharachandra Patel was the chief hospitalist and Gowski's immediate supervisor. Dr. Lithium Lin  [**3] was the chief of medicine services. Dr. George Van Buskirk was Bay Pines's chief of staff. Wallace Hopkins was Bay Pines's director. Bay Pines's medical departments were divided into services, such as medicine, surgery, geriatrics, and mental health. Services were comprised of sections of specific fields, such as pulmonology, cardiology, and hospitalists. At Bay Pines, neurology became its own service in 2002, but was realigned as a section in medicine services in 2006. While neurology was a section in medicine services, Lin was Zachariah's supervisor.

In August 2007, Gowski and Zachariah, along with Dr. Claudia Cote and administrative assistant Roxanne Lainhart Bronner, who are not parties to this appeal, filed a complaint in district court against the Secretary, alleging retaliation and a retaliatory hostile work environment.3 Gowski alleged that the hospital administration retaliated against her after she filed an EEO complaint in October 2005 by changing her duty assignments, removing her from committee chair positions and taking her off committees altogether, denying her privileges, reprimanding her, counseling her and suspending her, refusing to investigate her allegations against  [**4] another doctor, soliciting complaints about her, lowering her proficiency reports, accusing her of an altercation with another doctor, and charging her $18,000 for an alleged debt incurred eight years earlier.

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682 F.3d 1299 *; 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 11245 **; 115 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 163; 95 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P44,525; 23 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 1100; 2012 WL 1986446

DIANE T. GOWSKI, M.D., SALLY B. ZACHARIAH, M.D., Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants, versus JAMES PEAKE, M.D., Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, et al., Defendants, ERIC K. SHINSEKI, Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

Prior History:  [**1] Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. D. C. Docket No. 07-01524-CV-T-30TBM.

Fielder v. Shinseki, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50053 (M.D. Fla., Apr. 26, 2010)Cote v. Shinseki, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97597 (M.D. Fla., Oct. 6, 2009)Cote v. Shinseki, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117842 (M.D. Fla., Nov. 23, 2009)

Disposition: AFFIRMED in part, VACATED and REMANDED in part.


retaliation, retaliatory, hostile work environment claim, damages, privileges, hostile work environment, district court, staff, matter of law, complaints, removing, discrete act, medicine, injunctive relief, lost wages, same-decision, neurology, rotation, jury instructions, ordering, patient, severe, files, new trial, hospitalist, suspension, appointed, quotation, hostile, marks

Labor & Employment Law, Title VII Discrimination, Remedies, Costs & Attorney Fees, Damages, Backpay, Racial Harassment, General Overview, Civil Procedure, Appeals, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, Relief From Judgments, Additur & Remittitur, Remittiturs, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Trials, Judgment as Matter of Law, Abuse of Discretion, Injunctions, Clearly Erroneous Review, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, Judicial Officers, Judges, Discretionary Powers, Judgments, Motions for New Trials, Province of Court & Jury, Retaliation, Elements, Statutory Application, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sexual Harassment, Burdens of Proof, Employee Burdens of Proof, Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, Adverse Employment Actions, Injunctions