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Donaldson v. Georgia Power Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division

December 16, 2014



HUGH LAWSON, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 14) by Defendant Georgia Power Company ("Georgia Power"). For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and...the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact arises only when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must evaluate all of the evidence, together with any logical inferences, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 254-55. The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Id. at 255; see also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).

The party seeking summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of a material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (internal quotation omitted). If the movant meets this burden, the burden shifts to the party opposing summary judgment to go beyond the pleadings and present specific evidence showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact, or that the movant is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 324-26. This evidence must consist of more than conclusory allegations. See Avirgan v. Hull, 932 F.2d 1572, 1577 (11th Cir. 1991). In sum, summary judgment must be entered "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

II. Factual Summary

This case arises from the termination of Plaintiff Tarsha Donaldson ("Plaintiff") as a Georgia Power employee in late June 2012. On June 23, 2008, Richard McDonell ("McDonell") hired Plaintiff to work for Georgia Power as a building and ground attendant in Valdosta, Georgia. An African-American female, Plaintiff was Georgia Power's only building and ground attendant in Valdosta. Among other things, her job duties included delivering mail to all of Georgia Power's buildings in Valdosta, inspecting the first aid kits and fire extinguishers for all of the buildings on a monthly basis, cleaning the Georgia Power facility located at 200 Miller Street, and performing other tasks specially set by management. McDonell was Plaintiff's supervisor during the entire time she worked at Georgia Power. (Georgia Power's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("Georgia Power's SMF"), Doc. 14-2, ¶¶1-3; Plaintiff's Statement of Disputed Material Facts ("Plaintiff's SMF), Doc. 21, ¶44).

During the first two years Plaintiff worked at Georgia Power, she largely met performance expectations, although she became increasingly frustrated with the demands placed on her. (Deposition of Terri Lupo, Doc. 17, pp. 53-54). Georgia Power has a Workplace Ethics Department ("WPE") to which employees may submit complaints if they believe they are being treated unfairly, including experiencing discrimination or retaliation. On November 23, 2010, Plaintiff complained to WPE that McDonell was requiring her to perform unreasonable tasks that were beyond her job description and that he told her to get on her hands and knees to use brake cleaner to remove scuff marks on the floor. After this complaint, Plaintiff and McDonell agreed to lessen some of the demands on Plaintiff and to apply a wax covering to the floor to make it easier to clean. (Georgia Power's SMF, ¶¶4-6). At some point in time, McDonell told Plaintiff that a woman was possibly not well-suited to being a building and ground attendant. (Deposition of Plaintiff, Doc. 18-3, pp. 382-83).

On May 20, 2011, in preparation for an audit, McDonell told Plaintiff to clean the 200 Miller Street building and complete work tasks on a checklist. Plaintiff left work that day before she had completed all of the tasks. McDonell tried contacting Plaintiff on her company-issued, two-way radio, but she did not respond. Plaintiff later told McDonell that she realized her radio was being alerted but that she "wasn't sure" it was McDonell who was trying to contact her. The supervisor did not believe this explanation.[1] (Georgia Power's SMF, ¶¶7-8).

On May 25, 2011, Plaintiff related new concerns to WPE concerning McDonell. She claimed that he had unfairly denied her application for short-term disability benefits and that he had unreasonable expectations for her work. McDonell wanted her to focus on the upcoming audit of the 200 Miller Street facility and clean it five days a week instead of three days per week, including emptying all of the trashcans each day. Following an investigation into Plaintiff's complaints, WPE decided that McDonell had not been the person responsible for denying short-term disability benefits to Plaintiff and that he had not been unfair in his management of her work. (Id. at ¶¶9-11).

At some point during 2011, McDonell instructed Plaintiff to begin cleaning the bottom sections of doors by getting on her hands and knees. Plaintiff replied that this instruction was offensive and was treating her like a slave. Moreover, she insisted that she could adequately clean the doors by bending down. Nevertheless, McDonell persisted in requiring Plaintiff to clean the doors by getting on her hands and knees. (Id. at ¶12; Plaintiff Depo., pp. 67-68).

In September 2011, McDonell became concerned by Plaintiff's performance in cleaning the 200 Miller Street building. On September 2, he visited the building and saw trash on the floor. When asked about the dirty floor, Plaintiff said she could not remember the last time she had vacuumed it, and she agreed that the carpet looked poor. McDonell reminded Plaintiff that when the carpet was first installed he had told her to keep it clean so that it would last longer. The kitchen was also dirty, and McDonell discussed with Plaintiff the need to thoroughly clean it. Among other things, he told Plaintiff that the microwave, refrigerator, cabinet doors, coffee accessory holders, and utensils needed to be properly cleaned. When inspecting the kitchen on September 12, McDonell noticed that several things he had told Plaintiff to clean were dirty, including the cabinet doors, microwave, and coffee accessory holder. He also had a coaching session with Plaintiff because she had gone home for a short time during the workday without letting him know. (Georgia Power's SMF, ¶¶15-21).

On February 21, 2012, McDonell met with Plaintiff to discuss his annual evaluation of her work for 2011. He rated her as "does not meet expectations" and identified several areas in which her work performance had been deficient, including failing to thoroughly clean the kitchen at the 200 Miller Street facility, not answering his call to her radio, and going home during the workday without telling him what she was doing. After Plaintiff left the meeting, she was taken in an ambulance to the hospital where she was treated for anxiety. She also filed a WPE complaint against McDonell relating to the annual evaluation, additionally alleging that he was treating her unfairly and micromanaging her work. Georgia Power approved Plaintiff to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") from February 21 to March 22, 2012, when her doctor released her to return to work. (Id. at ¶¶22-27).

On April 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination against Georgia Power with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). She alleged that her employer had discriminated against her on the basis of her race and sex by subjecting her to a hostile work environment and giving her a negative performance evaluation on February 21, 2012. Plaintiff signed the charge under penalty of perjury, and in her charge she identified February 21 as both the earliest and latest date of discrimination. (Id. at ¶¶30-31). Sometime in June 2012, the Georgia Power employee who had been investigating Plaintiff's ...

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