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Garthwaite v. Lynn Haven Health & Habilitation

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

April 24, 2015

EILEEN M. GARTHWAITE, Plaintiff,
v.
LYNN HAVEN HEALTH & HABILITATION and LYNN HAVEN NURSING HOME, LLC, Defendants.

ORDER

MARC T. TREADWELL, District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiff Eileen Garthwaite, a Caucasian female, contends she was subjected to a racially hostile work environment and constructively discharged in violation of Title VII. Before the Court is the Defendants' unopposed motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 13). For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

A. Garthwaite's Job and Complaints of Harassment

Eileen Garthwaite was hired in June 2011 as a cook at Lynn Haven Health & Rehabilitation ("Lynn Haven"). (Doc. 17 at 41:14-16, 51:13-14). Garthwaite worked as a prep cook and cook during the second of two shifts in Lynn Haven's kitchen with coworkers Teresa Ross and Apollonia McCrorey, both African-American. (Docs. 17 at 55:21-24, 84:20-23; 18, ¶ 3; 22, ¶ 2). The coworkers who worked during the first shift were also all African-American. (Docs. 17 at 55:19-20, 83:12-19; 20, ¶ 3; 23, ¶ 3). Barbara Jordan, an African-American, was Garthwaite's supervisor, and Joseph Nelson, a Caucasian male, was the administrator of Lynn Haven. (Docs. 19, ¶¶ 2-3; 24, ¶¶ 2, 4). According to Garthwaite, the discriminatory harassment by her coworkers and her supervisor began her first day of work and persisted until her resignation. (Doc. 17 at 58:11-19, 121:18-20).

Garthwaite testifies in her deposition that her coworkers discriminated against her by making comments about her cooking abilities and appearance.[2] (Docs. 17 at 59:1-7, 79:19-23; 21, ¶ 4; 22, ¶ 18). For example, Garthwaite testifies that a coworker said Garthwaite could not cook sweet potato pie, fried chicken, or collard greens because she was white. (Doc. 17 at 58:20-25, 79:4-12, 93:11-25). Garthwaite recalls being told by Teresa Ross that she could cook better than Garthwaite because Ross was black. (Doc. 17 at 151:5-18). Coworkers also criticized Garthwaite's appearance. For example, she was called "dirty"[3] and "nasty" because of the stains, food, and cat hair on her uniforms and because her coworkers thought she did not wash her hands, did not wear gloves, and left food out. (Docs. 17 at 61:23-62:1-4, 64:4-18, 69:2-3; 22, ¶ 20). According to Garthwaite, her coworker Apollonia McCrorey called her "dirty" at least three times a week but concedes that the comments referred to her uniform. (Docs. 17 at 60:6-61:25, 63:4-22, 64:11-18; 21, ¶ 3).

Garthwaite further testifies that her coworkers harassed her in ways beyond comments about her cooking and appearance. Most of these complaints centered around coworker Apollonia McCrorey. Specifically, Garthwaite testifies that in addition to calling her "dirty, " McCrorey slapped her on the back of the head once, called her "Leanerbelle, " told her to "watch her back, " told her she was "the talk of the town, " and admitted to her that "[a] lot of the aggravation [Garthwaite was] experiencing was because [she is] white."[4] (Doc. 17 at 64:19-65:10, 66:4-8, 73:12-17, 73:21-74:6, 75:6-13, 76:17-18). McCrorey did not recall slapping Garthwaite on the back of the head or telling her that she was being bothered because she is white. (Doc. 18, ¶¶ 9-10). McCrorey did remember there was a lot of laughing and joking but never about race. (Doc. 18, ¶ 11).

Incidents of alleged harassment by other coworkers include their scorching her cheese sauce, hitting her with a sugar canister, and teasing her about breaking a water line.[5] (Doc. 17 at 59:8-10, 93:17-94:3, 106:17-108:3). Garthwaite felt that she experienced these workplace problems because, as her coworker Tomas Marshall also purportedly stated, she is white. (Doc. 17 at 51:21-52:2).

Garthwaite further testifies that her supervisor Barbara Jordan discriminated against her through various comments and actions. For example, Jordan called Garthwaite "burr head rat" at least fifty times, which Garthwaite perceived as a racial slur but was not sure what it meant. (Doc. 17 at 92:6-8, 151:19-152:2). Jordan also called her "Mary" but stated that the nickname did not mean anything. (Doc. 19, ¶ 6). Jordan also admitted that she would frequently call the employees nicknames, such as "buck head rabbit." (Docs. 17 at 88:21-89:5; 19, ¶ 6). Other employees confirmed that Jordan would often call all of them by nicknames, and one stated that she did not perceive the nicknames as racial slurs. (Docs. 20, ¶ 10; 22, ¶ 21; 23, ¶ 17). Garthwaite also testifies that Jordan discriminated against her by calling her multiple times at home to discuss work-related issues, blaming her for a burn ring on a cart when another employee did it, and throwing paper towels at her to "play[] around." (Docs. 17 at 81:5-82:12, 88:15-20, 89:10-24, 90:13-16, 93:1-94:3). Further, Garthwaite testifies that Jordan discriminated against her by choosing Teresa Ross and Tomas Marshall to cook for special events. (Doc. 17 at 93:1-94:3). By virtue of failing to respond to the Defendants' statement of material facts, Garthwaite admits that Jordan chose Ross and Marshall because they were "the main cooks." (Doc. 18, ¶ 9). Finally, Garthwaite accuses Jordan of discrimination by making her wait to get her "Servsafe Certification" but permitting other employees, all African-Americans, to get it. (Doc. 17 at 92:16-24). However, while employed, Garthwaite was not the only one without this certification; Alice Greene, an African-American, also did not. (Doc. 24, ¶ 7).

B. Garthwaite's Altercation with a Coworker and Subsequent Resignation

On November 11, 2012, Garthwaite and Apollonia McCrorey were involved in an altercation over another coworker, Lottie Johnson, who did not come into work that day. (Doc. 17 at 98:22-103:18). Garthwaite complained that Johnson had left roasts out from the night before. (Doc. 17 at 101:6-13). According to Garthwaite, McCrorey said that Garthwaite could not perform two jobs, that she was going to get Johnson fired if she complained about the roasts, that Johnson would shoot her, and that Garthwaite's car would get keyed. (Doc. 17 at 100:20-102:24, 103:2-10). Garthwaite also states that other employees joined in McCrorey's "antagonizing" but admits that she cannot recall anything that any other employee said during this incident. (Doc. 17 at 103:19-106:9). By failing to respond to the statement of material facts, Garthwaite admits that she yelled "screw y'all, " or something similar, and left. (Docs. 15, ¶ 147; 23, ¶ 8). With Jordan present, Joseph Nelson, the administrator of Lynn Haven, fired McCrorey as a result of this altercation. (Docs. 19, ¶ 15; 24, ¶ 11). Garthwaite submitted her resignation the day after the altercation and without prior notice because she "couldn't take it anymore." (Doc. 17 at 99:1-6, 103:1-2, 165).

C. Lynn Haven's Equal Employment Opportunity Policy and "Zero-Tolerance" Policies Against Workplace Harassment and Violence

To address complaints of harassment like Garthwaite's, Lynn Haven set forth in its Associate Guidelines its equal employment opportunity policy, zero-tolerance policies against harassment and violence, and a "Problem-Solving Procedure" should a workplace issue arise. (Doc. 17 at 187-94). Upon being hired, Garthwaite went through a new employee orientation and received a copy of the Associate Guidelines which contained all of these polices, and she received training specifically regarding the no-harassment policy. (Doc. 17 at 56:15-23, 110:10-111:19). The no-harassment policy instructed Garthwaite, as well as all employees, to notify her supervisor immediately should she feel harassed. (Doc. 17 at 191-92). But if she felt uncomfortable to speak with the supervisor or if the supervisor is part of the problem, she was instructed to "report the incident or misconduct to the next level of management or the President." (Doc. 17 at 191-92). In addition to these polices, Lynn Haven adopted a "Problem-Solving Procedure" which informed employees of the steps to take to address workplace issues. (Doc. 17 at 191). Like the harassment policy, the "Problem-Solving Procedure" instructs an employee to go to her supervisor should she have a complaint, but if the supervisor cannot help or is part of the problem, to go to the administrator. (Doc. 17 at 191). If the employee is unsatisfied with the administrator's assistance, she may take the complaint to the administrator's supervisor, and if the employee is still unsatisfied, she may speak with human resources. (Doc. 17 at 191). In her deposition, Garthwaite acknowledges she signed a statement that she understood and agreed to the contents of the Associate Guidelines handbook and kept a copy of this handbook. (Doc. 17 at 57:2-25, 58:1-3).

Garthwaite testifies that she spoke with Jordan, her supervisor, at least ten times about her workplace issues. (Doc. 17 at 95:2-17). However, she only asked Jordan why her coworkers treated her "this way, " why they could not get along, and why her coworkers did not like her. (Doc. 17 at 94:10-15). She admits she does not know if Jordan ever spoke to any other employee about Garthwaite's workplace concerns. (Doc. 17 at 94:16-18). Garthwaite does testify that she reported the sugar canister incident to Jordan but concedes that Jordan spoke with the employee involved. (Doc. 17 at 94:19-22). However, Garthwaite did not utilize Lynn Haven's complaint-reporting procedures after her altercation with McCrorey on November 11, 2012. Rather, she decided to resign and refused to speak with Joseph Nelson, the Administrator, about the altercation or any other workplace issue. (Docs. 17 at 122:5-13; 24, ¶ 13). She also refused to speak with any other Lynn Haven personnel about the incident with McCrorey. (Doc. 17 at 118:12-119:8). Instead, Garthwaite filed an EEOC charge three days after delivering her resignation ...


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