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Brown v. Magnolia Manor, Inc.

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

December 17, 2014

SANDRA BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
MAGNOLIA MANOR, INC., and MAGNOLIA MANOR OF COLUMBUS, INC., Defendants.

ORDER

JAMES I. COHN, District Judge.

Plaintiff believed that her employer discriminated against her fellow black employees, and she complained about it. Defendants allegedly retaliated against Plaintiff after her numerous complaints of discrimination, eventually terminating her employment. She brings this action against her alleged joint employers Magnolia Manor, Inc. and Magnolia Manor of Columbus, Inc. ("Magnolia Columbus") for race-based retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"). She also claims that Defendants unlawfully interfered with her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2615, and that they slandered her under state law.[1]

Defendants moved for summary judgment as to each of these claims (ECF No. 30). As explained below, the Court denies Defendants' motion as to Plaintiff's Title VII and § 1981 retaliation claims. The Court grants summary judgment as to Plaintiff's FMLA interference claim and state law slander claim. The Court also grants Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Third Amended Complaint (ECF No. 71).

STANDARD

Summary judgment may be granted only "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, drawing all justifiable inferences in the opposing party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A fact is material if it is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248. A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

When viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the facts are as follows. Plaintiff, who is black, worked for Defendants as a Human Resources Specialist.[2] Brown Dep. Ex. 1, Competitive Promotion/Salary Adjustment Request Form, ECF No. 36 at 115. She reported directly to Angela Rose, the Campus Administrator for Magnolia Columbus. Plaintiff also interacted with Cathy Tully, the Associate Vice President for Human Resources for Magnolia Manor. Tully worked at Magnolia Manor's corporate headquarters in Americus, but regularly traveled to Magnolia Columbus to conduct training. Rose and Tully are white. Serrita Chaney, who is black, was the Human Resources Assistant for Magnolia Columbus and reported to Plaintiff.

I. Plaintiff's Complaints to Defendants of Race Discrimination

During her employment, Plaintiff complained numerous times to Rose and Tully about Defendants' alleged race discrimination and retaliation directed toward Plaintiff's fellow employees. Brown Aff. ¶¶ 14-18, ECF No. 47. In opposition to Defendants' summary judgment motion, Plaintiff recounted the following incidents. In July 2011, Plaintiff complained to Rose that it was discriminatory to pay the newly hired black Central Supply Supervisor only $10 per hour when Rose paid the former white Central Supply Supervisor $11 per hour. Id. ¶ 15. In late November/early December 2011, Plaintiff told Rose that it appeared that Defendants were retaliating against a fellow black employee, Anna Bankston, because she complained about the discriminatory treatment of black kitchen employees. Id. ¶ 17. In February 2011, Plaintiff informed Rose that allowing a white job applicant to retake a failed pre-employment drug screen when black applicants were not allowed to retake them appeared racially discriminatory. Id. ¶ 21. In early 2012, Plaintiff spoke several times to Rose about complaints from black employees that "two white superiors would speak to only white employees but would ignore and not speak to black employees." Id. ¶ 22. In April 2012, Plaintiff complained to Rose about allowing a white employee to return to work after a failed drug test, despite "never allow[ing] any black employee to return to work after a failed drug test." Id. ¶ 25. In late April 2012, Defendants fired several black employees for using a cell phone to record a resident, and Plaintiff complained to Rose that it was "unfair and discriminatory" to "fire the black employees without an adequate, fair, or reasonable investigation." Id. ¶ 27. In May 2012, Plaintiff complained to Rose that it was racially discriminatory for Rose to refuse to grant a black employee the same accommodation she had given to a white employee. Id. ¶ 26.

Plaintiff's complaints were not shared exclusively with Rose. On May 8th or 9th, 2012, Plaintiff complained to Tully about being excluded from participating in a discipline decision for a black employee, although such participation fell within her job duties. Tully Dep. 256:22-257:4, ECF No. 38. She also complained to Tully that Defendants generally discriminated against black employees. Brown Aff. ¶ 35. Plaintiff filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") intake questionnaire on May 11, 2012 in which she alleged that Defendants discriminated against her because of her race by excluding her from decision-making processes involving black employees, and that Defendants discriminated against black employees by treating them less favorably than white employees in a number of ways. Brown Dep. Ex. 10, EEOC Intake Questionnaire, ECF No. 36 at 187-95.

II. Defendants' Alleged Retaliatory Actions

Plaintiff claims that after she complained about race discrimination, Defendants changed her job responsibilities, attempted to ostracize her from fellow employees, scrutinized her activities more closely, and made it more difficult for her to perform her job. Specifically, Defendants excluded her from discipline decisions involving black employees but allowed her to remain involved in such decisions involving white employees. Brown Aff. ¶ 32. Defendants also disabled Plaintiff's computer logon, forwarded her emails to Rose, instructed other employees not to speak to her, and closely monitored surveillance footage of Defendants' facility to catch Plaintiff entering after hours while she was on sick leave. Within a couple of days of learning that Plaintiff had begun the process of filing an EEOC charge, Defendants terminated her employment.

III. Alleged Interference with Plaintiff's FMLA Rights

In addition to her race-based retaliation claim, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants unlawfully interfered with her FMLA rights. In support of this claim, Plaintiff points to the following evidence. Plaintiff requested, and Defendants approved, FMLA leave beginning May 9, 2012. On May 24th, Plaintiff sent Defendants a physician's note releasing her to return to work on Monday, May 28th. Brown Aff. ¶ 60. Sara Massey, Defendants' Benefits Coordinator, told Plaintiff not to report on Monday because it was a holiday. Tully then emailed Plaintiff to request a May 29th meeting with her and Rose. Rose and Tully, however, did not show up for the meeting. Instead of reinstating Plaintiff to her previous position, Defendants terminated her effective May 31st. Plaintiff claims ...


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