United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 30), to which Plaintiff has responded. For the
following reasons, Defendant's motion is
GRANTED. Accordingly, Plaintiff's
complaint is DISMISSED. The Clerk is
DIRECTED to close this case.
August 2013 to October 2014, Plaintiff Naomi Ellison was a
Patient Care Technician ("PCT") employed by
Defendant St. Joseph's/Candler Health System, Inc.
("St. Joseph's"). (Doc. 32, Attach. 3 at 48.) As a
PCT, Plaintiff worked as a non-licensed member of a nursing
team and provided patients with routine bedside care.
(Id. at 107-08.) Her tasks included bathing,
feeding, changing, and shaving patients. (Id. at
107-09.) In total, Plaintiff had nearly thirty years of
experience as a PCT. (Id. at 105-06.)
member of a nursing team, Plaintiff was supervised by the
Clinical Nurse Manager, Heather Heldreth, and Heldreth's
direct supervisor, the Director of Clinical Care, D.A. Dewey
Winkler. (Id. at 105; Doc. 32, Attach. 6 at 8.) In
addition, Plaintiff was supervised each shift by the
designated charge nurse on duty. (Doc. 32, Attach. 3 at 125.)
Rebecca Floyd was the charge nurse supervising Plaintiff at
the time most relevant to this case. (Id. at 105.)
October 11, 2014, Plaintiff was working a night shift at
Defendant St. Joseph's when she was involved in an
altercation with Mary Gillingham, a nurse also working on
Plaintiff's nursing team. (Id. at 133.)
Plaintiff contends that Ms. Gillingham requested
Plaintiff's help with a patient, but when Plaintiff
arrived to help, Ms. Gillingham informed Plaintiff that her
help was no longer necessary. (Id. at 133-34.)
Plaintiff reports that as she was leaving the room, Ms.
Gillingham said "I don't like working with
n[******]." (Id. at 134.) According
to Plaintiff, Ms. Gillingham made the statement twice.
(Id. at 145.) Ms. Gillingham, however, denies ever
making the statement. (Doc. 32, Attach. 8 at 78.)
alleges that she immediately reported the statement to Ms.
Floyd and requested to leave for the rest of the shift. (Doc.
32, Attach. 3 at 134.) Ms. Floyd granted Plaintiff permission
to leave. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that shortly after
she left the hospital she spoke with the House Supervisor
Leslie Jones-Bennett and reported Ms. Gillingham's use of
a racial slur. (Id. at 152.) At some point during
the conversation, Ms. Jones-Bennett informed Plaintiff not to
return to work until further instructed. (Doc. 32, Attach. 5
at 59.) Plaintiff contends that she specifically reported Ms.
Gillingham's use of a racial slur to both Ms. Floyd and
Ms. Jones-Bennett. (Doc. 32, Attach. 3 at 134, 152.) However,
both Ms. Floyd and Ms. Jones-Bennett deny that Plaintiff
reported the racial slur when complaining to them about the
altercation. (Doc. 32, Attach. 4 at 100; Doc. 32, Attach. 5
October 13, 2014, Plaintiff returned to work and met with Mr.
Winkler to discuss the altercation with Ms. Gillingham. (Doc
32, Attach. 3 at 161-62.) Plaintiff contends that she
immediately reported Ms. Gillingham's statement to Mr.
Winkler. (Id. at 162.) Mr. Winkler, however, denies
that Plaintiff made a specific report that Ms. Gillingham
used a racial slur. (Doc. 32, Attach. 9 at 42.)
meeting with Plaintiff, Mr. Winkler directed Ms. Heldreth to
conduct an investigation into what happened between Plaintiff
and Ms. Gillingham. (Doc. 32, Attach. 6 at 46.) Per Mr.
Winkler's instruction, Ms. Heldreth requested and
received an account of the altercation from Ms. Gillingham.
(Id. at 50.) Ms. Heldreth did not speak with
Plaintiff about what occurred. (Id. at 77.) Ms.
Heldreth also spoke with a number of employees that worked
the evening of the altercation. (Id. at 52.) While
many of the employees did not provide written statements, Ms.
Heldreth did receive emails from Ms. Floyd and another nurse,
Jada McNeely. (Id.) Ms. McNeely did not work the
evening of the altercation, but provided an email that
contained a list of various complaints about Plaintiff's
work performance and attitude. (Doc. 32, Attach. 16.)
Similarly, Ms. Floyd's email also included complaints
about Plaintiff's work performance from patients and
co-workers. (Doc. 32, Attach. 17.) At no point in the
investigation was the Human Resources Department contacted
and the use of the racial slur reported. (Doc. 32, Attach. 6
October 29, 2014, Mr. Winkler and Ms. Heldreth met with
Plaintiff. (Doc. 32, Attach. 6 at 77.) While the parties
disagree as to the initial purpose behind the meeting,
Plaintiff's employment was terminated at the meeting.
(Doc. 32, Attach. 9 at 40.) At the conclusion of the meeting,
Mr. Winkler provided Plaintiff with contact information for a
position with an in-home care agency. (Id. at 77.)
contends that Plaintiff's termination was ultimately
based on the patient and co-worker complaints that were
detailed in the emails received by Ms. Heldreth during her
investigation. (Doc. 32 Attach. 6 at 56.) According to Ms.
Heldreth, the co-worker complaints made against Plaintiff
detailed violations of Defendant's employee Co-worker
Compact, an agreement signed by Defendant's employees
that detailed appropriate workplace behavior. (Id.
at 59.) Ms. Heldreth cited that Plaintiff violated numerous
provisions of the Co-worker Compact including "look
beyond your assigned task, " "stay focused, "
and "conduct yourself as a professional."
(Id. at 60.)
Defendant contends that the decision to terminate
Plaintiff's employment was based on the patient and
co-worker complaints made during its investigation of the
altercation between Plaintiff and Ms. Gillingham, it is
undisputed that Plaintiff had never previously received any
complaints or written disciplinary actions. (Doc. 32, Attach.
11 at 4.) In fact, in her most recent employment evaluation,
Plaintiff was given a "satisfactory" rating for her
customer service. (Doc. 32, Attach. 9 at 87.) Ms. Heldreth
contends that the complaints only came to light after she
began asking the staff about the altercation. (Doc. 32,
Attach. 5 at 63.)
contends that prior to the altercation she had previously
reported that Ms. Gillingham was prejudiced against
African-American employees. (Doc. 32, Attach. 1 at 6-7.) Ms.
Floyd recalled Plaintiff making vague reports that Ms.
Gillingham was prejudiced, but never reported the complaints
to any higher supervisor. (Doc. 32, Attach. 4 at 77.)
Additionally, Plaintiff contends that Ms. Gillingham was
previously involved in a similar altercation with another
employee, Jeanette McKinnon. (Doc. 32, Attach. 10 at 2-5.)
Ms. McKinnon was a PCT working at Defendant St. Joseph's
when she was also fired after an altercation with Ms.
Gillingham. (Id. at 4.) Ms. McKinnon alleges that
Ms. Gillingham called her a "n[*****]" after she
became frustrated with Ms. McKinnon. (Id. at 2.) Ms.
McKinnon also claims that she immediately reported the racial
slur to her supervisors. (Id. at 3.) Although Ms.
McKinnon had different supervisors than Plaintiff, Mr.
Winkler ultimately signed off on Ms. McKinnon's
termination papers a few days after the incident. (Doc. 32,
Attach. 30.) Defendant's proffered reason for Ms.
McKinnon's termination was "violent behavior toward
a coworker." (Doc. 32, Attach. 10.)
December 14, 2016, Plaintiff brought suit in the Superior
Court of Chatham County and alleged that she was fired in
retaliation for reporting racial discrimination. (Doc. 1, Ex.
A.) On January 17, 2017, Defendant properly removed this case
to this Court (Doc. 1) and is now seeking summary judgment
(Doc. 30) . Defendant contends that summary judgment is
appropriate because Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima
facie case of retaliation or, alternatively, Plaintiff has
failed to rebut Defendant's proffered reasons for her
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), "[a]
party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim
or defense-or the part of each claim of defense-on which
summary judgment is sought." Such a motion must be
granted “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." Id. 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 ...