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Chen v. State

April 18, 1997

HSI H. CHEN, M.D., APPELLANT,
v.
THE STATE OF WASHINGTON; THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES; AND WESTERN STATE HOSPITAL, AGENCIES OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from Superior Court of Pierce County. Docket No: 92-2-10962-5. Date filed: 10/21/94. Judge signing: Hon. Donald H. Thompson.

Released for Publication May 15, 1997.

Authored by David H. Armstrong. Concurring: J. Dean Morgan, J. Robin Hunt.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Armstrong

ARMSTRONG, J. -- Western State Hospital dismissed Dr. Hsi Chen after a six-month probationary period, citing poor performance. Chen sued, alleging (1) fraud based on his reliance on the State's representations about the probationary employment period, and (2) discrimination. The trial court granted summary judgment for the State, and Chen appeals. Because the State did not misrepresent the conditions of probation, and because Chen failed to produce evidence that the State's reason for dismissing him was false or a mere pretext, we affirm.

FACTS

Hsi Chen was born in Taiwan in 1925 and received his medical degree there in 1948. He became board certified in psychiatry in the United States in November 1989. The following spring, Chen applied for a psychiatrist position at Western State Hospital. Because he then lived in Florida, Chen was concerned about the six-month probationary period and asked how difficult the probationary period was and how many psychiatrists had failed. Dr. Hamilton, the Director of Professional Services, responded that the probationary period was not difficult and that only one psychiatrist in the past 10 years had failed the probationary period. Hamilton explained that the psychiatrist had committed gross misconduct.

Chen started at Western State in July 1990, serving as a team leader in a very difficult ward. The treatment team consisted of Chen, a psychologist, a social worker, and the nursing staff. Chen's duties included supervising treatment and directing the psychiatric program.

Dr. Dennis, Chen's supervisor, evaluated Chen's performance after four months and solicited comments from staff and team members. Dennis found that Chen had met the minimum requirements in three evaluation areas, and failed to meet minimum requirements in two areas. Among the various comments, Dennis noted, for example, that some staff had requested transfers.

Chen meanwhile evaluated his own performance, concluding that he had exceeded the normal requirements in four areas, and met the normal requirements in the fifth area. Chen also explained specific criticisms, for example, noting that one staff member who had requested a transfer "has a reputation of being very difficult to deal with."

Dr. Dennis evaluated Chen's performance again after six months, soliciting further comments from the team members. They expressed concerns that Chen was rigid and inflexible in his treatment style, disregarded their input, and had problems communicating in spoken English. Dennis found that Chen had met the normal requirements in three evaluation areas, met the minimum requirement in one area, and failed to meet minimum requirements in one area. Dennis did not recommend Chen for permanent employment. Western State then notified Chen that his probationary period would terminate the following day, after six months' service.

Chen sued the State, DSHS, and Western State, alleging discrimination based on age, race, and national origin under RCW 49.60 and 49.44.090. He also alleged fraud because of Hamilton's representations about the standard to be met during probation. Finding that Chen had not established that the State's reason for terminating him was a pretext or unworthy of belief, the trial court granted summary judgment to the State.

Chen then moved for reconsideration, submitting an affidavit and a declaration signed by several former colleagues at Western State. The trial court granted the State's motion to strike the affidavit and the declaration and denied Chen's motion for reconsideration. Chen appeals.

ANALYSIS

In reviewing a summary judgment, we engage in the same inquiry as the trial court. Wilson v. Steinbach, 98 Wash. 2d 434, 437, 656 P.2d 1030 (1982). Summary judgment may be granted if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Weyerhaeuser Co. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 123 Wash. 2d 891, 897, 874 P.2d 142 (1994). A "material fact" is one upon which the outcome of the litigation depends. Clements v. Travelers Indem. Co., 121 Wash. 2d 243, 249, 850 P.2d 1298 ...


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