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Grant v. Hospital Authority of Miller County

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

August 16, 2017

CIERRA N GRANT, Plaintiff,
v.
HOSPITAL AUTHORITY OF MILLER COUNTY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LESLIE J. ABRAMS, JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (the “Motion”), Doc. 11. Defendant also moved for a hearing on its Motion. Doc. 18. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Defendant's motion for a hearing is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Cierra N. Grant, initiated this action against her employer, Defendant Hospital Authority of Miller County, on December 28, 2015, asserting five causes of action: (1) disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.; (2) race discrimination in violation of 28 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.; (3) sex[1] discrimination in violation of Title VII; (4) pregnancy discrimination in violation of Title VII as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k); and (5) retaliation and interference in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. Doc. 1. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against Plaintiff by terminating her employment after she was unable to return to work due to complications from a pregnancy and failed to accommodate Plaintiff with unpaid leave. Id. at 2.

         On January 16, 2017, Defendant filed the Motion, moving for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. Doc. 11. Plaintiff filed her opposition to the Motion on February 6, 2017. Doc. 20. Defendant filed its reply on February 16, 2017. Doc. 21.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 allows a party to move for summary judgment when the party contends that no genuine issue of material fact remains and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. “Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Maddox v. Stephens, 727 F.3d 1109, 1118 (11th Cir. 2013). “A genuine issue of material fact does not exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.” Grimes v. Miami Dade Cty., 552 F. App'x 902, 904 (11th Cir. 2014).

         “An issue of fact is ‘material' if it is a legal element of the claim under the applicable substantive law which might affect the outcome of the case.” Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997). “It is ‘genuine' if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.” Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH-Siegen, 965 F.2d 994, 998 (11th Cir. 1992). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view all evidence and factual inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and determine whether that evidence could reasonably sustain a jury verdict in its favor. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Allen, 121 F.3d at 646.

         The movant bears the initial burden of showing, by reference to the record, that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Barreto v. Davie Marketplace, LLC, 331 F. App'x 672, 673 (11th Cir. 2009). The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact or by demonstrating that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24; Barreto, 331 F. App'x at 673. Local Rule 56 further requires that “documents and other record materials relied upon by [the moving party] be clearly identified for the court.” M.D. Ga. L.R. 56. “Material facts not supported by specific citation to particular parts of materials in the record and statements in the form of issues or legal conclusions (rather than material facts) will not be considered by the court.” Id.

         “When that burden has been met, the burden shifts to the nonmovant . . . to go beyond the pleadings and to present competent evidence in the form of affidavits, answers to interrogatories, depositions, admissions and the like, designating specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Lamar v. Wells Fargo Bank, 597 F. App'x 555, 556-57 (11th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). “All material facts contained in the movant's statement which are not specifically controverted by specific citation to particular parts of materials in the record shall be deemed to have been admitted, unless otherwise inappropriate.” M.D. Ga. L.R. 56; see also Mason v. George, 24 F.Supp.3d 1254, 1260 (M.D. Ga. 2014).

         As the nonmovant facing a motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff was required to identify those material facts as to which she “contends there exists a genuine dispute to be tried.” The Local Rules require those responses to controvert statements of material facts in motions for summary judgment with “specific citation to particular parts of materials in the record.” See M.D. Ga. L.R. 56. Here, Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Statement of Material Facts fails to comply with the Local Rules. Plaintiff repeatedly responds to Defendant's statements with: “Without knowledge, and therefore, denied.” E.g., Doc. 20-1 ¶¶ 7, 8, 51. Defendant also fails to deny allegations by Plaintiff or cites to parts of the record that do not support a denial. E.g., Doc. 22 ¶¶ 61, 63. Accordingly, as to all statements asserted by Defendant in its Motion or Plaintiff in its opposition that are supported by specific record citation, the Court deems them to be admitted where the responding party has failed to properly respond in accordance with the Local Rules.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND[2]

         Defendant operates a critical access, not-for-profit medical facility located in Colquitt, Georgia with approximately four hundred and sixty employees. Doc. 11-3 ¶ 1. Plaintiff, a black female, was hired by Defendant as a Ward Clerk on December 7, 2011. Doc. 22 ¶ 52. On April 1, 2013, Plaintiff was promoted to the position of Pharmacy Technician. Doc. 22 ¶ 53. During her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff received no negative performance reviews and no disciplinary actions against her. Doc. 22 ¶ 54. As a Pharmacy Technician, Plaintiff's primary duties were to “fill prescriptions, employee prescriptions, the nursing home prescriptions, IV's, antibiotics, fill the Pyxis, and fill insurance.” Doc. 11-3 ¶ 11.

         On December 6, 2011, Plaintiff received a copy of Defendant's employee handbook which includes a statement regarding the leave available to Plaintiff under FMLA, noting that FMLA leave will be exhausted concurrent with paid leave.[3] Docs. 11-3 ¶¶ 6, 7; 20-1 ¶ 7. The handbook also requires employees to submit a “work/fitness for duty certificate” when returning from FMLA leave. Doc. 11-2 at 53. Further, Defendant prominently posts posters in common areas in each of Defendant's facilities regarding its employee's entitlement to take FMLA leave. Docs. 11-3 ¶ 8; 20-1 ¶ 8.

         On September 15, 2014, Plaintiff experienced pregnancy complications in that her blood pressure was high and her doctor could not control it. Doc. 22 ¶ 55. Plaintiff's doctor ordered her on bedrest for one week. Doc. 22 ¶ 55. On September 16, 2014, Plaintiff hand-delivered the doctor's written order to Defendant's Human Resources Director Karie Spence. Doc. 22 ¶ 55. During the meeting with Spence, Plaintiff inquired about her leave options and sought information about FMLA leave. Docs. 20-1 ¶¶ 12, 56. The same day, Plaintiff filed and was approved for FMLA leave due to complications with her pregnancy. Doc. 11-3 ¶ 12.

         On December 5, 2014, Plaintiff gave birth, via emergency caesarean section, to her daughter who was only at 28 weeks gestation. Doc. 22 ¶ 60. Plaintiff and Spence spoke via telephone on December 8, 2014. Docs. 11-3 ¶ 15; 22 ¶ 61. Plaintiff told Spence of her baby's premature birth. Docs. 11-3 ¶ 15; 22 ¶ 61; 22 ¶¶ 60, 61, 62. Plaintiff was informed by Spence that her FMLA leave was set to expire on December 9, 2014, and that she was expected to return to work on that date. Docs. 11-3 ¶ 15; 22 ¶ 61. During this conversation, however, Spence told Plaintiff she understood that Plaintiff would need time to recover from her caesarean section.[4] Doc. 20-1 ¶¶ 14, 61. Plaintiff attempted to call Spence several times prior to the termination of Plaintiff's employment, but Spence, despite telling Plaintiff that she would call her back, never did.[5] Doc. 20-1 ¶¶ 14, 61, 63. Plaintiff admits she was told by her supervisory, Becky Jones, that she would need a release from her doctor before returning for work. See Docs. 20-1 ¶ 17; 11-3 ¶¶ 16, 17, 18; 17 at 57-58.

         Plaintiff did not return to work on December 9, 2014, the day her leave expired. Docs. 20-1 ¶ 17; 11-3 ¶¶ 16, 17, 18; 17 at 57-58. Nor did she ever explicitly request that she be granted additional leave. Doc. 17 at 83-84. Defendant did not offer Plaintiff an extension of unpaid leave prior to terminating her employment. Doc. 20-1 ¶ 66. On December 12, 2014, Plaintiff followed up with her doctor and was released to return to work. Doc. 20-1 ¶ 62. However, Plaintiff did not inform Defendant that she was released to return to work or provide the required work/fitness for duty certificate. Docs. 20-1 ¶ 17; 11-3 ¶¶ 16, 17, 18; 17 at 57-58.

         Effective December 18, 2014, Plaintiff's employment was terminated for failure to report to work following the expiration of Plaintiff's FMLA leave, Doc. 11-3 ¶¶ 19, 36, and for failure to obtain a release from her doctor. Doc. 11-2 ¶ 30. Plaintiff asserts that she was informed on December 17, 2014, that her notice of termination was in the mail. Doc. 20-1 ¶¶ 14, 19. Plaintiff was told by Spence that she was welcome to apply to positions with Defendant once she was released to return to work. Docs. 17 at 74; 15 at 16; 11-3 ¶ 20. Defendant admits that this conversation took place but asserts that it took place during the December 8, 2014 conversation and that the December 8, 2014 conversation was the last conversation between Spence and Plaintiff prior to the termination of Plaintiff's employment. Doc. 2 ¶ 64. ...


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