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Godwin v. Memorial Hospital And Manor

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

March 28, 2018

JAN H. GODWIN, Plaintiff,
v.
MEMORIAL HOSPITAL AND MANOR, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LESLIE J. ABRAMS, JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (the Motion), (Doc. 20). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED and Plaintiff's claims against Defendant are DISMISSED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jan H. Godwin initiated this action against her employer Defendant Memorial Hospital and Manor on August 11, 2015, asserting four causes of action: (1) disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.; (2) age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq.; (3) retaliation in violation of the ADA; and (4) retaliation and interference in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. (Doc. 1.)

         On March 2, 2017, Defendant filed the Motion, moving for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. (Doc. 20.) Plaintiff filed her opposition to the Motion on April 6, 2017. (Doc. 25.) Defendant filed its Reply on May 1, 2017. (Doc. 28.) With leave, Plaintiff filed an amended Response on June 13, 2017. (Doc. 31.) Accordingly, the Motion is now ripe for review. See M.D. Ga. L.R. 7.3.1(A).

         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. 31-2 ¶¶ 6, 10-13). Accordingly, as to all statements asserted by Defendant in its Motion that are supported by specific record citation, the Court deems them to be admitted where the Plaintiff has failed to properly respond in accordance with the Local Rules.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Defendant Memorial Hospital and Manor is a non-profit hospital located in Bainbridge, Georgia, and is managed by Defendant Hospital Authority of the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County (the Authority). (Doc. 23 ¶¶ 1, 2.)[1] The Authority consists of seven members, five of whom are appointed from Decatur County, Georgia, and two of whom are appointed from the City of Bainbridge, Georgia. (Id. ¶ 3.) Authority members are appointed for five-year terms. (Id. ¶ 4.) The Authority generally meets on a monthly basis. (Id. ¶ 5.) The Authority only makes personnel decisions regarding Defendant's CEO. (Id. ¶ 6.) It has no authority over other staff. (Id.) The CEO has the sole and ultimate authority to hire or fire Defendant's employees. (Id. ¶ 13.)

         The Hospital is administered by an Executive Staff, which usually consists of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), a Chief Medical Officer, an Assistant Administrator of Support Services, a Quality Administrator, and an Assistant Administrator of Nursing Services. (Id. ¶ 8.) The Executive Staff sometimes includes employees in other roles, such as Chief Culture Officer or Assistant Administrator of Physician Relations/Risk Management. (Id. ¶ 9.) Members of the Executive Staff supervise the managers of their respective departments, who are referred to as Department Heads. (Doc. 23 ¶ 10.) Members of the Executive Staff participate in the Authority's monthly meetings and have the authority to make day-to-day decisions regarding the Department Heads who report to them. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12.) Plaintiff has never been a part of the Executive Staff. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         Defendant is self-insured, such that it pays for its employees' medical claims up to a certain aggregate amount, and, once the claims costs reach that amount, an insurance company covers the excess costs. (Id. ¶ 16.) All of Defendant's employees have the same insurance premiums, notwithstanding their age, medical condition, or disability status. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         Plaintiff began her employment with Defendant as Director of Public Relations and Patient Representative in August of 1996 and remained in that position until 2002. (Id. ¶¶ 18. 20.) Plaintiff reported to Defendant's former CEO, Jim Peak, until Peak's termination in November of 2010. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 22.) In 2002, Plaintiff's title became Director of Public Relations, Patient Relations, and Volunteer Services. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff worked for Defendant until her termination in 2014. (Id. ¶ 127.) From 2011 to 2014, Plaintiff took a total of four leaves of absence under the FMLA. (Id. ¶ 54.) Plaintiff received all of the time she requested for each of her four leaves. (Id. ¶ 55.)

         In 2010, Defendant was experiencing significant financial difficulties. (Id. ¶ 23.) Billy Walker and Cynthia Vickers were appointed as Defendant's co-interim administrators. (Doc. 31-2 ¶ 24.) From 2004 to 2010, prior to his promotion to interim administrator, Walker served as Defendant's Chief Financial Officer. (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff began reporting to Walker after he was appointed as interim administrator. (Id. ¶ 26.) In November of 2010, Walker told Plaintiff that he expected her to work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Plaintiff agreed to this schedule. (Id. ¶ 28.) Around the same time, Plaintiff was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. (Id. ¶ 159.) Plaintiff underwent a lumpectomy of the tumor and began undergoing radiation therapy. (Id.) Plaintiff took intermittent FLMA leave for her radiation treatments in February and March of 2011. (Id. ¶ 163.) Plaintiff continued to work during her radiation treatments, taking leave only to travel to Thomasville, Georgia, for her treatments. (Id.) During this time, Plaintiff told Walker when she needed to adjust her schedule due to her health issues. (Doc. 23 ¶ 29; Doc. 23-2 at 66:2-5.) Upon completion of her radiation treatments, Plaintiff was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which has related symptoms including fatigue, widespread pain, and irritable bowel syndrome. (Doc. 31-2 ¶ 160.)

         In March of 2011, Walker became Defendant's permanent CEO, and Karen Faircloth was promoted to CFO. (Id. ¶¶ 30, 31.) During this time, Defendant was losing millions of dollars per year as a result of overstaffing and salary-related expenses, increased employee-benefit costs, limitations on health insurance reimbursements, expenses associated with required upgrades to capital equipment, and the overall changes to the economic environment as a result of the recession. (Doc. 23 ¶ 33.) Upon becoming CEO, Walker reviewed Defendant's staff organizational chart and decided to move the position of Director of Public Relations and Volunteer Coordinator, held by Plaintiff, under the supervision of the CFO, Faircloth. (Id. ¶ 34.) Faircloth communicated to all employees reporting to her that she expected them to work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff told Faircloth that, due to medical issues, she needed to come in later than 8:00 a.m. (Doc. 31-2 ¶ 39.) Faircloth approved Plaintiff's request for a modified schedule. (Id. ¶ 40.) Based on Faircloth's approval, Plaintiff usually arrived to work at 9:00 a.m. or later. (Id. ¶ 41.) During 2011, Plaintiff was never disciplined for arriving later than 8:00 a.m. (Id. ¶ 42.)

         One of Plaintiff's responsibilities in her position was to ensure that Defendant's Gift Shop was adequately staffed during operating hours. (Id. ¶ 36.) Plaintiff was advised that she was responsible for opening the Gift Shop if a volunteer did not show up. Plaintiff failed to do so and, when admonished, refused to correct the behavior. (Id. ¶ 43.) Thus, on October 21, 2011, Faircloth issued a disciplinary action to Plaintiff, charging her with insubordination. (Doc. 22-6.) The action note regarding this incident states:

Jan has been instructed previously that when the volunteers do not show up to open the Hospital gift shop that she is to open it and run it until a volunteer arrives. On October 21, 2011 . . . I saw that the gift shop had not been opened and it was after 9:30 a.m. I asked Jan why the gift shop was not open and she said that Mr. Smallwood did not show up. I asked her why she did not open it, and she said she was working on the TV ad for next week. I told her she needed (as previously instructed) to open the gift shop. She said, “I'm not.” I said to her, “Jan, you are telling me you are not going to do something I am instructing you to do, ” and she said, “I'm not opening the gift shop.” I told her this would be reflected in her personnel file and she said, “fine.”

(Doc. 31-3.) Faircloth went on to advise Plaintiff of the hours the gift shop should be open and that she would be terminated if the insubordination continued. (Id.) Faircloth further advised Plaintiff that she should resume a regular schedule of 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Id.)

         On October 27, 2011, Plaintiff filed a grievance with HR Manager Angel Sykes after receiving the disciplinary action from Faircloth. (Doc. 31-2 ¶ 51.) Therein, Plaintiff indicated she felt that Faircloth was creating a hostile work environment and described the gift shop incident from October 21, 2011. (Doc. 23-7 at 1). Plaintiff stated that Faircloth instructed her to open the gift shop, and Plaintiff replied that she “had more pressing responsibilities at that time and that [she] wasn't going to open the gift shop.” (Id.) A few days after Plaintiff submitted her grievance, she met with Walker and Faircloth. (Doc. 31-2 ¶ 175.) In that meeting, Walker told Plaintiff that she could continue working her modified schedule. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that after she filed her grievance, Faircloth's “harassment and hostility to Plaintiff escalated.” (Id. ¶ 176.) The only specific example of this alleged harassment is that (despite the fact that Plaintiff was no longer a Patient Representative) Faircloth instructed Plaintiff to visit all in-patients daily and complete daily reports detailing the visits. (Id. ¶ 177.)

         In December of 2011, Plaintiff took FMLA leave while she underwent gallbladder surgery. (Id. ¶ 178.) In or around early 2012, Plaintiff was instructed to start keeping track of her work time by using a time clock. (Doc. 23 ¶ 56.) According to Defendant, the HR Department decided to have Plaintiff clock-in and out to “reduce the administrative burden on HR and Payroll associated with keeping track of Plaintiff's hours and the paperwork she was submitting for various types of leave.” (Id. ¶ 57.) Plaintiff maintains that she received no training on using the time-clock and had a defective time badge. (Doc. 31-2 ¶ 180.) This, combined with Plaintiff's inability to clock-in while attending numerous off-site events, resulted in frequent emails to other employees, including Faircloth, to correct Plaintiff's time entries. (Id.) Plaintiff contends that “Faircloth used Plaintiff's errors in recording time entries to continue and to escalate her harassment and hostility toward Plaintiff.” (Id. ¶ 181.) Plaintiff gives no specifics regarding how this allegedly escalated harassment manifested. Plaintiff also states that “Faircloth forced Plaintiff to take paid annual leave (PAL) any time that Plaintiff came in later due to illness or doctor's appointments, even during weeks that Plaintiff had over forty hours or over eighty hours for the pay period as a salaried employee and during times that Plaintiff was not on FMLA leave.” (Id. ¶ 186.)

         In May 2012, Plaintiff met with Faircloth and Sykes to confirm her need to clock-in and out and to discuss Plaintiff's modified schedule.[2] (Id. ¶ 182.) During the meeting, Faircloth requested documentation supporting Plaintiff's request for a modified schedule, and Plaintiff provided a letter from her physician. (Id. ¶ 184.) Plaintiff further requested that she be able to work as late as necessary to complete her tasks. (Id. ¶ 185.) Faircloth instructed that Plaintiff should stick to her schedule when possible and advise Faircloth of any instances that would necessitate staying late. (Id.) Plaintiff contends that, although Plaintiff was not allowed to work more than forty hours according to Faircloth's directive, Faircloth continued to add to Plaintiff's workload, making it impossible for Plaintiff to complete all tasks within the timeframe allotted by Faircloth. (Id. ¶ 187.) According to Plaintiff, “Faircloth only interacted with Plaintiff to reprimand Plaintiff for a perceived fault or error; unless harassing Plaintiff, Faircloth regularly ignored Plaintiff, Plaintiff's emails, and Plaintiff's telephone calls.” (Id. ¶ 188.)

         In August 2012, Plaintiff took a third period of FMLA leave while she underwent surgery on a hernia, which was caused by her previous gallbladder surgery. (Id. ¶ 189.) In December 2012, Faircloth re-located Plaintiff's work station from a private office behind the reception desk to “a corner of a filed room in the insurance department.” (Id. ¶ 190.) Plaintiff asserts that this move negatively impacted her ability to carry out her duties since her position was responsible for both internal and external communication for the hospital and its facilities. (Id. ¶ 190.) After her relocation, Plaintiff “reported the harassment and hostility to which she was subjected by Faircloth” to Sykes, and requested counseling through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for the “depression and stress that Plaintiff was experiencing because of Faircloth's treatment of her.” (Id. ¶ 191.) Sykes informed Plaintiff that no EAP counseling was available for her conditions. (Id.)

         Defendant asserts that in 2012, its financial condition was not improving at the rate it needed to in order to remain sustainable going forward. (Doc. 23 ¶ 68.) Thus, Walker and the Executive Staff began reviewing the hourly/salaried status of Defendant's staff to determine whether there were ways to trim costs without compromising patient care or terminating employees. (Id. ¶ 68.) Walker and the Executive Staff determined that there were a few employees who were performing job duties that were more closely aligned with those of hourly, overtime-eligible positions. (Id. ¶ 69.) In early 2013, Walker and other members of the Executive Staff made the decision to reclassify Plaintiff's position from Director of Public Relations and Volunteer Coordinator-which was a salaried position-to Marketing and Volunteer Coordinator-an hourly position. (Id. ¶ 70.) Walker and the Executive Staff stated that Plaintiff's position was reclassified from “Director” because she did not manage any paid employees. (Doc. 31-2 ¶ 71.) Plaintiff did not, in fact, manage any paid employee; but she did supervise and manage over sixty volunteers for the hospital and hospital Gift Shop. (Id. ¶ 194.) Plaintiff's pay did not decrease after she was re-classified, and she retained her employer-paid life insurance and disability insurance. She, however, was no longer eligible to receive the disability and life insurance packages that were available to managers and directors. (Id. ¶¶ 73, 75.) Further, according to Plaintiff, as a result of her title change, Plaintiff was removed from the Bridge to Excellence Senior Leadership Team, removed as sponsor of the Communication/Employee Engagement Leadership Team, restricted from attending Administrative Council meetings, and was left out of the communication loop. (Id. ¶ 195.)

         In or around early 2013, Walker engaged an outside consultant, who recommended that Defendant create an executive position that would be tasked with supervising Defendant's efforts to improve its overall patient experience. (Doc. 23 ¶ 77.) According to Walker, the patient experience is a high priority for Defendant for several reasons, including that patient satisfaction scores impact the amount of insurance reimbursement Defendant receives-directly affecting Defendant's financial condition. (Id. ¶ 78.) Thus, Walker created a new executive position entitled “Chief Culture Officer, ” to manage Defendant's marketing, patient relations, and culture-related responsibilities, and promoted HR Manager Angel Sykes to the position. (Id. ¶¶ 79, 80.) As Chief Culture Officer, Sykes was responsible for improving patient satisfaction and improving the overall patient experience with Defendant. (Doc. 31-2 ¶ 81.) To do this, Sykes took data from patient surveys, compiled the data, and developed recommendations to improve patient satisfaction scores. (Id.) Walker hired Ginger Jones to replace Sykes as the HR Manager. (Id. ¶ 83.)

         Plaintiff was placed under the supervision of Sykes as the Chief Culture Officer. (Id. ¶ 84.) Plaintiff's work hours continued to be flexible under Sykes, who allowed Plaintiff to adjust her schedule to attend non-work-related meetings and events. (Id. ¶¶ 87, 88.) According to Plaintiff, Sykes began “micromanaging Plaintiff despite Plaintiff's long career in completing her assigned job duties as a public relations professional [and] degree in Public Relations and Communications, and despite Sykes own lack of education or experience in Plaintiff's job duties.” (Id. ¶ 197.) Sykes “demanded ‘new and fresh' ideas, including a new logo, and made references to communications being ‘youthful.'” (Id. ¶ 198.) In addition, according to Plaintiff, Sykes began assuming duties previously completed by Plaintiff, “despite [Sykes'] lack of education or experience.” (Id. ¶ 199.)

         In December 2013, Plaintiff used a fourth period of FMLA leave for knee surgery. (Id. ¶ 202.) Prior to that, in November of 2013, Tammy Hogan, a co-worker, “told Plaintiff that Faircloth was overheard talking about Plaintiff in the hospital's main hallway and said she was going to check to make sure what time Plaintiff clocked in the next day for the health fair, and she was going to get Plaintiff if Plaintiff did not clock in by 6:30 a.m.” (Id.) Plaintiff wrote an email to Sykes, her supervisor at the time, about ...


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