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Patterson v. AJ Services Joint Venture I, LLP

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

March 2, 2017

TONYA K. PATTERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
AJ SERVICES JOINT VENTURE I, LLP Defendant,

          ORDER

          HON. J. RANDAL HALL, UNITES STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. (Doc. 31.) The Clerk of Court gave Plaintiff timely notice of the summary judgment motion and the summary judgment rules, of the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and the consequences of default. (Doc. 38.) Therefore, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam), have been satisfied. Plaintiff filed a response brief, and Defendant filed a reply brief.[1] (Docs. 52, 53.) The time for filing materials in opposition has expired, and the motion is ripe for consideration. Upon consideration of the record evidence, relevant law, and the briefs of counsel, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The present dispute arises out of Defendant's termination of Plaintiff's employment in April 2014. Plaintiff alleges that she was terminated on a pretextual basis approximately ten days after sustaining physical injuries at work (for which she filed a worker's compensation claim) and several days after requesting medical leave. Plaintiff maintains that Defendant's termination of her employment was an act of retaliation for taking medical leave as well as discrimination against her based upon her gender and her disabilities arising from these work-related injuries. Plaintiff instituted the instant suit on June 10, 2015, alleging violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. ("FMLA"), the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. ("ADA"), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"). Viewing the evidence and factual inferences in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the relevant facts of this dispute are as follows.

         Plaintiff was hired by Defendant as an administrative assistant pursuant to an offer letter dated December 4, 2011. (Pl's Resp. to Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts ("PSMF"), Doc. 42-1, ¶ 16.)[2] On January 1, 2012, Plaintiff began her employment with Defendant at the Moncrief Hospital located at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina.[3] (Id.) In March or April of 2012, Plaintiff was transferred to Defendant's worksite at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia ("Fort Gordon"), where she remained employed as an administrative assistant until her termination on April 24, 2014.[4] (Id. ¶ 18.) From August 6, 2012 through April 24, 2014, Plaintiff's direct supervisor was Defendant's Director of Environmental Services at Fort Gordon, Mr. Claude Edouard. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.)

         In April 2013, while reviewing Defendant's personnel files, Mr. Edouard noticed that several employee evaluations had not been placed into their respective personnel files. (Id. ¶ 29; see also Dep. of Claude Edouard, Doc. 34, at 174:21-175:4, 183:3-184:8, 185:4-22.) On April 11, 2013, Mr. Edouard advised his direct supervisor, Defendant's Director of Operations, Mr. Curry Newton, that Mr. Edouard would” be doing a written note to file and to review with [Plaintiff] in regards to documents not being filed in a timely manner to personnel files." (PSMF ¶ 30; Edouard Dep., Ex. P-ll.) On April 15, 2013, Mr. Edouard provided Plaintiff with a memorandum dated that same day in which he outlined Plaintiff's job duties and specifically noted that it was” imperative that employee records are kept up to date at all times . . . ." (PSMF ¶¶ 31-34; Dep. of Tonya K. Patterson, Doc. 33, Ex. D-7.) Plaintiff admits that she understood this memorandum to be a reprimand for her alleged failure to properly maintain employee files. (PSMF ¶ 36; Patterson Dep. at 67:10-69:23.)

         On August 13, 2013, Mr. Edouard emailed Mr. Newton regarding whether Plaintiff should receive a pay raise. (PSMF ¶ 38; Edouard Dep., Ex. P-13.) In response, Mr. Newton wrote, “I thought you were going to get rid of her, also she has had multiple increases this year. I would say no to the anniversary increase." (PSMF ¶ 39; Edouard Dep., Ex. P-13.) In response thereto, Mr. Edouard wrote, "Not going to get rid of her just yet. Trying to give her the opportunity to improve. Wouldn't be surprised if she looks into moving on once she realizes no raise." (PSMF ¶ 40; Edouard Dep., Ex. P-13.) On August 16, 2013, Mr. Edouard again emailed Mr. Newton regarding Plaintiff's alleged failure to satisfy her job duties. (PSMF ¶ 41; Edouard Dep., Ex. P-17.)

         On April 1, 2014, Mr. Edouard issued an employee reprimand to Plaintiff. (PSMF ¶ 45; Patterson Dep., Ex. D-8.) In the April 1, 2014 reprimand, Mr. Edouard stated that he had pulled two different employee files and found that "not all noted reprimands were in [these] employee [s'] file [s] " and that these files "were not up to date with documents that had been submitted over a month ago to be placed in employee's files." (PSMF ¶ 45, Patterson Dep., Ex. D-8.) Mr. Edouard further stated, inter alia, that Plaintiff was "expected and required to update employee records with all documents presented NLT [i.e., not later than] three (3) days from receipt of documents." (PSMF ¶ 45, Patterson Dep., Ex. D-8.) Plaintiff refused to sign the April 1, 2014 reprimand, stating that it was "bogus" as she had "file[d] all documents received immediately" or "had other obligations or responsibilities that prevent her from filing . . . documents in a timely manner." (PSMF ¶ 46; Patterson Dep., Ex. D-8; Decl. of Claude Edouard, Doc. 31-3, Ex. D.)

         On April 3, 2014, Mr. Edouard drafted a memorandum regarding Plaintiff in which he stated that, inter alia, he had discovered deficiencies in Plaintiff's filings subsequent to issuing the April 1, 2014 employee reprimand to Plaintiff. (PSMF ¶ 47; Edouard Decl. ¶ 12 & Ex. D.) On April 8, 2014, Mr. Edouard prepared another memorandum regarding Plaintiff, in which he stated that he had discovered that she had "not followed through on a consistent basis with the background verifications" for new hires by Defendant in alleged dereliction of her assigned duties. (PSMF ¶ 51;[5] Edouard Decl. ¶ 13 & Ex. E.) On April 11, 2014, Mr. Edouard prepared yet another memorandum regarding Plaintiff, in which he stated that Plaintiff had inquired of him as to whether she should be concerned for her job and whether she should be looking for other employment opportunities - both of which Mr. Edouard allegedly replied to in the affirmative. (PSMF ¶ 52; Edouard Decl. ¶ 14 & Ex. F.) Mr. Edouard further stated in this April 11, 2014 memorandum that he had informed Plaintiff that she would be replaced as administrative assistant at some point in the future due to her allegedly inconsistent performance. (Edouard Decl., Ex. F.) Plaintiff denies that the conversation referenced in this memorandum ever occurred. (Patterson Dep. At 105:6-21.)

         On April 14, 2014, Plaintiff suffered work-related injuries to her knee, wrist, and shoulder after tripping over a telephone cord while at work. (PSMF ¶ 53.) After being notified of Plaintiff's accident, Mr. Edouard instructed Plaintiff to seek medical attention (which she did) and created a memorandum memorializing the event. (PSMF ¶ 54; Edouard Decl., Ex. G.) Later that day, Mr. Edouard sent an email to Defendant's Human Resources Director, Ms. Denise Garza, stating:

Good afternoon. We are in the process of actively bringing on board a new Administrative Assistant for various reasons. The attached files and memorandums ["Administrative Assistant Issues. pdf"] will give you a clearer picture as to why. Please provide any input and/or feedback that you have so that we can take all appropriate actions/steps on our part, especially taking into consideration the "accident" that took place earlier today with [Plaintiff] .

(Doc. 42-9.) Plaintiff did not return to work - either that day or at any other time - after her injury. Approximately three days after her injury, Plaintiff called Defendant to inquire about receiving leave under the FMLA.[6] (PSMF ¶ 55; Patterson Dep. at 109:7-9, 110:4-25.) Plaintiff admits that she was "unable to perform her job, with or without restrictions, until October 2014." (PSMF ¶ 84; Patterson Dep. at 24:18-25:22, 112:24-113:25.)

         On April 23, 2014, Mr. Edouard prepared another memorandum regarding Plaintiff. (PSMF ¶ 62; Edouard Decl., Ex. I.) In this memorandum, Mr. Edouard stated that he had discovered another alleged failure by Plaintiff to properly file written reprimands in an employee's personnel file. (PSMF ¶¶ 61-62; Edouard Decl., Ex. I.) He also stated that it was brought to his attention on April 22, 2014 that Plaintiff had allegedly failed to properly verify payroll entries and pay rates, which had led to over payments to two employees for approximately nine months. (PSMF ¶¶ 58, 60, 62; Edouard Decl., Ex. I.)

         On or about April 24, 2014, Mr. Edouard decided to terminate Plaintiff's employment. (PSMF ¶ 63.) That same day, Mr. Edouard prepared a written employee reprimand in which he restated his aforementioned allegations of Plaintiff's poor work performance set forth in those memorandum/reprimands dated April 15, 2013, April 1, 2014, and April 23, 2014, and announced his decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment effective that day. (PSMF ¶ 64; Edouard Decl., Ex. J.) Mr. Edouard then called Plaintiff and advised her of her termination (but did not give any reason for her termination) . (PSMF ¶ 66; Patterson Dep. at 114:3-116:3, 119:1-16; Dep. of Curry Newton, Doc. 37, Exs. P-30 6 P-32.) On April 28, 2014, Mr. Edouard prepared a termination/transfer form memorializing Plaintiff's termination, wherein he repeated the content of the April 24, 2014 reprimand and checked the box thereon entitled *Fired - Unable to Perform Job Satisfactorily" as the reason for Plaintiff's termination. (PSMF ¶ 67; Patterson Dep., Ex. D-12.)

         On June 30, 2014, Plaintiff submitted an intake questionnaire to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC"). (PSMF ¶ 95; Decl. of Patrick Lail, Ex. A.) On August 19, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination ("Charge") with the EEOC.[7] (PSMF ¶¶ 92-94; Doc. 1-2.) On or about March 30, 2015, Plaintiff received a "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" from the EEOC in response to Plaintiff's Charge, which noted that the EEOC was "closing its file, " and that” [b] ased upon its investigation, the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes.'7 (Doc. 1-1.)

         On June 10, 2016, Plaintiff instituted the present action by filing her complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Civil Action No. 1:15-CV-02072-WSD-JSA. (Doc. 1.) On July 27, 2015, Defendant filed a motion to transfer this action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 14 04, which the United States Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of Georgia granted on August 31, 2015. (Doc. 8.)

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if "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). The Court shall grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1259, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The "purpose of summary judgment is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal citation omitted).

         “ [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 [record before the court] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If - and only if - the movant carries its initial burden, the non-movant may avoid summary judgment by demonstrating that there is indeed a genuine issue as to the material facts of its case. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Facts are "material" if they could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of those material facts "is 'genuine' . . . [only] if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id.

         When ruling on the motion, the Court must view all the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all factual disputes in the non-moving party's favor. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. The Court must also avoid weighing conflicting evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; McKenzie v. Davenport-Harris Funeral Home, 834 F.2d 930, 934 (11th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, the non-moving party's response to the motion for summary judgment must consist of more than conclusory allegations, and a mere "scintilla" of evidence will not suffice. Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990); Pepper v. Coates, 887 F.2d 1493, 1498 (11th Cir. 1989). "The non-moving party cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through speculation, conjecture, or evidence that is "merely colorable' or 'not significantly probative.'" Bryant v. Dougherty Cty. Sch. Sys., 382 F.App'x 914, 917 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Shiver v. Chertoff, 549 F.3d 1342, 1343 (11th Cir. 2008; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986))).

         Ill. ...


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