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Robertson v. Riverstone Communities, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

July 22, 2019

ROSE ROBERTSON, Plaintiff,
v.
RIVERSTONE COMMUNITIES, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER

          CHARLES A. PANNELL, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action is before the court on the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of the magistrate judge [Doc. No. 61], which recommends granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff brings claims for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, alleging that she was terminated due to her race and subjected to a hostile work environment. She also brings claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., alleging that the defendant interfered with her rights under the FMLA and retaliated against her for exercising them.

         Generally, the plaintiff's race discrimination allegations are based on racist comments allegedly made no later than March 2014 by an employee who would later become the plaintiff's supervisor in May 2015-nearly three months before her termination in late July 2015. Her FMLA claims are based on the 10-day leave she took and returned from three days before her termination. The R&R recommends granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment as to all claims. The plaintiff has filed objections to the R&R [Doc. No. 63], to which the defendant has responded [Doc. No. 64], and the plaintiff has further replied [Doc. No. 65]. The court must now determine whether to accept, reject, or modify the R&R. Having reviewed the record and the parties' submissions, the court enters the following order.

         I. Background

         The defendant is a mobile home property firm. In October 2012, the plaintiff was hired as the property manager for one of the defendant's properties at Deer Creek. In January 2014, the plaintiff received the Property Manager of the Year Award for 2013. At the ceremony, another property manager, René Scott, told the plaintiff that she won the award because she is black.[1] As noted further below, Scott allegedly made numerous other racist remarks, each of them occurring no later than March 2014.

         In March 2014, the plaintiff became the property manager for the Clayton Village property (in addition to Deer Creek), and in April 2014, she was promoted to area manager for five additional properties in Georgia. The plaintiff reported to senior regional manager Melissa Loeffelbein throughout this time period.

         On May 4, 2015, the plaintiff was demoted to property manager, meaning she lost her area manager role but continued to manage the Clayton Village and Deer Creek properties. Within a week, she began reporting to Scott as her new supervisor. On May 10, 2015, the plaintiff received an email from Scott explaining that the Deer Creek property's occupancy levels and accounts receivables (“AR”) needed to be improved in the next three months or disciplinary action could occur. One month later, the occupancy and AR numbers at Deer Creek failed to improve, and the plaintiff failed to open two of the property's pools by Memorial Day.

         On June 3, 2015, the plaintiff was reprimanded for these failures. The plaintiff received a summary of her performance deficiencies which she reviewed in a meeting with Scott and Loeffelbein. The written warning summary noted decreasing occupancy at the Deer Creek and Clayton Village properties, increasing AR numbers at Clayton Village, and her failure to open two of the pools as of June 3, 2015. The warning also noted that the plaintiff failed to properly connect housing units at Clayton Village to sewer, electrical, and water connections. And, despite prior requests to do so, she also failed to fix certain signage at that property and to address items identified at a fire inspection. The plaintiff was advised that (1) the pools were to be opened immediately and remain open; (2) the AR needed to be lowered to under 3% by July 31, 2015, with improvement in June; (3) occupancy needed to grow immediately; (4) three units needed to be ready for lease by June 12, 2015; (5) the signage and fire inspection items needed to be fixed by June 12, 2015; and (6) the units lacking utilities connections needed to be readied immediately. The next day, June 4, 2015, the plaintiff sent an email to Scott, Loeffelbein, and human resources director Hilary Snyder explaining that she disagreed with the concerns in the warning but would work to fix the issues immediately.

         On June 29, 2015, the plaintiff received a performance evaluation for the first half of 2015. The evaluation was completed by Loeffelbein, who indicated that occupancy levels declined at Deer Creek from February to March 2015, and also fell from January to May 2015 at Clayton Village, where occupancy was below the budgeted level from February to May 2015. She also noted that the AR numbers for those properties needed to be decreased immediately.

         On July 14, 2015, Scott issued the plaintiff a second written warning for poor performance. The warning was approved by Loeffelbein before it was sent by Scott. The warning stated that one of the Deer Creek pools remained closed and failed a July 1, 2015 inspection due to issues that could have been avoided by the plaintiff.

         On July 16, 2015, the plaintiff left work due to a migraine and did not return to work until July 27, 2015, as recommended by her doctor. The plaintiff was told to fill out a request-for-leave form and to submit a certification form completed by her doctor by July 31, 2015. On July 27, 2015, the plaintiff returned to work.

         On July 28, 2015, Scott, Snyder, and Loeffelbein conducted a site visit at Deer Creek. The next day, they met together with the director of property management Sarah Ruitta-who had hired the plaintiff-to discuss the plaintiff's performance. That night, Snyder circulated a draft termination form to Scott, Ruitta, and Loeffelbein. The draft form contained some blanks for additional details, such as occupancy numbers for the properties, which Scott took part in completing.

         On July 30, 2015, the plaintiff met with Scott, Snyder, and Loeffelbein. Scott attended in-person while the Snyder and Loeffelbein attended via video conference. Loeffelbein told the plaintiff that she was being terminated for performance reasons, and the plaintiff was given a written termination notice. The plaintiff's position was immediately filled by her assistant manager, Keisha Smith, and on August 3, 2015, Kenya Smoot was hired to replace the plaintiff. Both Smith and Smoot are black.

         After being terminated, the plaintiff was told by her former supervisor, Shannon Smith-who left the company in March 2014-that she had previously heard Scott say racist comments, including, “There's too many f****ing n*****s in Atlanta, I'm not going there.” Shannon Smith Dep. at 20 [Doc. No. 60].[2] Smith had also heard Scott say that she “hated n*****s” on multiple occasions, and otherwise used the word “n*****s” at least twenty times. Id. at 20-21, 47. Each of the racist comments Smith allegedly heard Scott say occurred no later than March 2014.

         The plaintiff later filed this action, alleging that the defendant violated Title VII and Section 1981 by reprimanding and terminating her based on her race and subjecting her to a hostile work environment. She also alleges that the defendant unlawfully interfered with her rights under the FMLA and unlawfully retaliated against the plaintiff's exercise of her FMLA rights by taking leave due to migraines. The defendant has moved for summary judgment [Doc. No. 42], which the magistrate judge recommends be granted [Doc. No. 61]. The plaintiff has filed objections [Doc. No. 63], to which the defendant has responded [Doc. No. 64] and the plaintiff has further replied [Doc. No. 65]. The court now determines whether to accept, reject, or modify the R&R.

         II. ...


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