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Lockwood v. Coastal Health District 9-1

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia

February 5, 2018

BELETA LOCKWOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
COASTAL HEALTH DISTRICT 9-1, GLYNN COUNTY BOARD OF HEALTH, and BETTY T. DIXON, Defendants.

          ORDER

          HON. LISA GODBEY WOOD JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motions for Summary Judgment of Defendant Glynn County Board of Health (the "Board of Health") and Defendants Coastal Health District 9-1 ("Coastal Health") and Betty T. Dixon. Dkt. Nos. 23, 25. These Motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for review. For the following reasons, Dixon and the Board of Health's Motions are GRANTED, and Coastal Health's Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Beleta Lockwood brought claims for age and race discrimination against Defendants, complaining of termination, unequal terms and conditions in her employment, and retaliation. Dkt. No. 1. She alleged that her harassment included "criticism and excessive scrutiny of [her] job performance, false accusations about [her] demeanor, inquiries about work related decisions and expenses, time and attendance related matters." Id. p. 5.

         Lockwood is an African American woman who was employed as an early intervention coordinator for the Babies Can't Wait Program at the Coastal Health District. Dkt. No. 23-4 pp. 15-16, 21, 64. As part of Lockwood's job duties, she was required to hire independent contractors to serve children in the Babies Can't Wait program. Dkt. No. 23-4 pp. 22-23. She was terminated on August 11, 2015. Id. Defendant Betty Dixon is a 59-year-old Caucasian female who served as the director of clinical services for Coastal Health. Dixon supervised Lockwood from October 1, 2013 until her termination. Dkt. No. 23-4 p. 20. Dr. Diane Weems is a 61-year-old Caucasian female who served as the district health director for Coastal Health from February 1, 2013 until September 1, 2016. Dkt. No. 23-11 ¶ 2. Dr. Weems stated in her affidavit that she was the final decision maker regarding Coastal Health's budget allocations as well as hiring and firing. Id.

         Nicole Smith is a 45-year-old Caucasian woman who has served as the human resources manager for Coastal Health since August 2014. Dkt. No. 23-13 ¶ 2. Saroyi Morris is the District Program Manager at Coastal Health and is an African American woman. Dkt. No. 23-12 ¶ 2. Her position reports directly to Weems. Id. She directly supervised Plaintiff from September 2010 until October 2013. Id. ¶ 3. She testified that she found supervising Lockwood to be a challenge, explaining that she perceived Lockwood to have problems with attendance, with following policies, with being hands on with her budget, and with regularly reporting developments. Id. ¶ 3. In 2013, Weems and Morris decided Lockwood needed more direct oversight and moved her under the supervision of Defendant Dixon. Id.

         Dixon testified that she found supervising Lockwood to be difficult, explaining that she felt Lockwood bristled at being held accountable for her time out of the office, that she was argumentative, and that she blamed Dixon for excessively monitoring her when asked about her schedule. Dkt. No. 23-10 ¶ 5. Dixon also testified regarding gaps in Lockwood's job knowledge including the process for encrypting emails and understanding the "deliverables of the BCW program."[1] Id. ¶¶ 6-7.

         Dr. Weems hand-delivered a termination letter to Lockwood on August 11, 2015. Dkt. No. 23-4 p. 64. The parties give conflicting accounts of the events leading up to the termination. Weems told Lockwood she was being terminated because she was not a good fit. Id. Weems testified that she decided to terminate Lockwood after conferring with Morris, the district program manager, because they spent too much time managing her, she was unwilling to digest anything she did not want to hear, and her disruptive nature detracted from her progress in the program deliverables. Dkt. No. 23-11 ¶ 6. Expounding on the time spent managing Lockwood, Morris testified that "the cumulative amount of time and redundancy of effort required to support Beleta was beginning to impact my ability to be an effective leader to my direct report staff and programs." Dkt. No. 23-12 ¶ 7.

         As an example of Lockwood's unwillingness to digest anything she did not want to hear, Weems cited an episode relating to a staffing shortage. Lockwood requested that Coastal Health hire a full-time clerk. Dkt. No. 23-4 p. 48, 51. Lockwood met with Weems, Morris, and Dixon to discuss this request in June 2015. Dkt. No. 23-12 ¶ 6; Dkt. No. 23-11 ¶ 5; Dkt. No. 23-10 ¶ 8. The group decided that hiring a service coordinator was a higher priority. Id. When Dixon reiterated to Lockwood on August 7, 2015, that they could not post a full-time clerk position, Lockwood replied, "[I]t leaves me no other options other than to speak with the state office." Dkt. No. 23-10 Ex. D. Feeling that Lockwood's tone was insubordinate, Dixon forwarded the email to her supervisors, Morris and Weems. Dkt. No. 23-10 ¶ 8. Weems and Morris then decided to terminate Lockwood. Dkt. No. 23-11 ¶ 6.

         Coastal Health hired Kimberly McAliley to replace Lockwood. Dkt. No. 23-4 p. 67. McAliley is a Caucasian in her 40s. Id.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is required where "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). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." FindWhat Inv'r Grp. v. FindWhat. com, 658 F.3d 1282, 1307 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A dispute is "genuine" if the "evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In making this determination, the court is to view all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Johnson v. Booker T. Washington Broad. Serv., Inc., 234 F.3d 501, 507 (11th Cir. 2000).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant must show the court that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Id. at 325. If the moving party discharges this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to go beyond the pleadings and present affirmative evidence to show that a genuine issue of fact does exist. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257.

         The nonmovant may satisfy this burden in one of two ways. First, the nonmovant "may show that the record in fact contains supporting evidence, sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion, which was 'overlooked or ignored' by the moving party, who has thus failed to meet the initial burden of showing an absence of evidence." Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993) (quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 332 (Brennan, J., dissenting)). Second, the nonmovant "may come forward with additional evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency." Id. at 1117. Where the nonmovant attempts to carry this burden instead with nothing more "than a repetition of his conclusional allegations, summary judgment for the defendants [is] not only proper but required." Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032, 1033-34 (11th Cir. 1981) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Board of Health's Motion for Summary Judgment

         The undisputed evidence shows that the Board of Health is neither Lockwood's employer nor an employer subject to Title VII or the ADEA.

         Lockwood admitted in her deposition that the Board of Health was not her employer and should not be a party to this litigation. Dkt. No. 23-4 108:16-24; 109:1-12; 113:10-15; 133:2-9. She has introduced no evidence that the Board of Health employed her. In fact, the Board of Health has introduced evidence that it did not employ her. Dkt. No. 25-4.

         Moreover, the undisputed evidence shows that the Board of Health is not subject to Title VII or the ADEA. An employer subject to Title VII is "a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding year." 42 U.S.C. § 2OOOe(b). Similarly, an employer subject to the ADEA is "a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding year." 29 U.S.C. § 630(b). Lockwood has introduced no evidence that the Board of Health has the requisite number of employees. And once again, the Board of Health has introduced evidence to the contrary. Dkt. No. 25-4.

         Therefore, the Board of Health is neither an employer under the relevant statutes nor Lockwood's employer, and its Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         II. Dixon's Motion for Summary Judgment

         The same goes for Dixon. Neither Title VII nor the ADEA provide a cause of action against individuals employed by the plaintiff's actual employer. Lockwood's claim for employment discrimination cannot be stated against an individual supervisor who is merely acting on behalf of the corporate employer. Dixon herself has not employed Lockwood, nor does the evidence show that she has employed anyone. Thus, she cannot be an employer who has employed at least 15 (for Title VII) or 20 (for the ADEA) employees.

         III. Coastal Health's Motion for ...


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