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Lockwood v. Coastal Health District 9-1

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia

March 27, 2019

BELETA LOCKWOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
COASTAL HEALTH DISTRICT 9-1, Defendant.

          ORDER

          HON. LISA GODBEY-WOOD, JUDGE

         This case arose following the August 11, 2015 termination of Ms. Beleta Lockwood ("Plaintiff"), an African-American female, from her job as Early Intervention Coordinator for the Babies Can't Wait program at the Coastal Health District 9-1 ("Coastal Health District" or "Defendant"). She sued Defendant for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seg. ("Title VII").[1]

         Pursuant to an agreement by both parties, a bench trial was held on August 21 and 22, 2018. Dtk. Nos. 63, 64. After hearing the testimony of eleven witnesses and considering all of the evidence tendered, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         I. Findings of Fact

         The Court makes the following findings of fact:

         (1) Plaintiff 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 from 2010 until 2015. Dkt. No. 86 at 66.

         (2) She was terminated on August 11, 2015 by Dr. Diane Weems, the Director of the Coastal Health District. Id. at 139. Weems told Plaintiff that she was no longer a good fit. Id. at 117.

         (3) Plaintiff was supervised first by Matthew Walker, then by Dr. Saroyi Morris, an African-American woman, and, finally, by Elizabeth Dixon, a Caucasian woman. Id. at 74.

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony[2]

         (4) Plaintiff believes she had no problems or issues working with Morris and admired Morris. Id. at 82-83, 95. Plaintiff's complaints are reserved for Dixon, whom she describes as treating her in an overbearing manner. Id. at 84-120.

         (5) Plaintiff describes multiple incidents she characterizes as poor treatment by Dixon including Dixon placing a box of red dishes on Plaintiff's desk, Dixon making a statement at the office retreat that someone was watching their building, Dixon asking Plaintiff to move boxes from a closet, Dixon asking Plaintiff to remove window blinds, Dixon telling Plaintiff to stop a presentation Plaintiff was giving, Dixon not asking Plaintiff to be in charge while Dixon was out of town, Plaintiff's request for additional staff being denied, and a reimbursement for the taxes on a rental car being reduced. Plaintiff generally took issue with Dixon's demeanor. Additionally, Plaintiff believes Dixon did not value or understand the Babies Can't Wait program adequately. Id. at 85-122.

         (6) Although Plaintiff cannot recall any other African Americans being treated in such a manner, id. at 93, Plaintiff testified that on one occasion Dixon remarked that African Americans do not age as quickly as other races, id. at 93-94. Additionally, Plaintiff testified that on another occasion, Dixon asked about Plaintiff's sorority and whether Dixon could be a member. Id. at 94. The sorority is an African-American sorority. Id. at 131. Other than those two statements, no one associated with Defendant made any race-oriented statements. Id. at 131.

         (7) Plaintiff testified that she received raises and bonuses and that she had never been formally or informally reprimanded or had attendance issues. Id. at 74-78.

         (8) When asked what she believes the reason for her termination was, Plaintiff explained:

I really believe that Betty Dixon did not like me, and I say that due to the fact that I really believe she was very jealous of me, my intellect, my skills, my talents, how I dressed, how I spoke, how I communicated, and I think as a black person, I'm not supposed to be like that from her eyes, I'm assuming. So I think those are the reasons.

Id. at 121-22.

         (9) When asked "[d]o you believe that you were terminated ■essentially because of your race?" Plaintiff responded, "I can believe that, yes." Id. at 122.

         (10) Plaintiff believes Dixon had a role in her termination. Id.

         (11) Upon termination, Plaintiff was replaced by Kimberly McAliley, who is Caucasian. Id. at 118.

         (12) To bolster her claims about mistreatment by Dixon, Plaintiff brought witnesses who testified that they, too, felt mistreated by Dixon. Janis Barrett was an Education Specialist and Service Coordinator with Defendant. Id. at 34. Barrett was complimentary of Plaintiff and critical of Dixon. Barrett felt that Dixon was harsh to her and the other Babies Can't Wait employees and "talked down" to them. Id. at 37-38. She also perceived Dixon as undervaluing the program. Id. at 42. Barrett is Caucasian. Id. at 47.

         (13) Likewise, Ms. Rosemary Hicks, [3] was an office manager who supported the Babies Can't ...


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