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Luke v. University Health Services, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

September 24, 2019

RAMONICA M. LUKE, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY HEALTH SERVICES, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          J. Randal Hall. Judge

         Before the Court are Plaintiff and Defendant's cross motions for summary judgment.[1] (Docs. 54, 64.) The Clerk of Court gave Plaintiff and Defendant notice of the respective motions for summary judgment and informed the Parties of the summary judgment rules, the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and the consequences of default. (Docs. 55, 65.) Thus, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam), are satisfied. The time for filing materials in opposition has expired, and the motions are ripe for consideration.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Ramonica Luke, African American, began working for University Hospital in May of 2006 as a Patient Care Assistant. (Pl.'s Dep., Doc. 39, at 28:9-10, 34:15-22.) After six months, Plaintiff was moved to the laboratory where she worked as a Phlebotomist Processor until her termination in January of 2017. (Id. at 28:7-10; 34:15-25.) As a Phlebotomist, Plaintiff's responsibilities included drawing blood, processing in the lab, inputting patient demographics, answering phone calls, and filing paperwork. (Id. at 37:5-14.) Plaintiff worked the night shift from 6:00 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. (Id. at 37:16-38:13.)

         A. Work History

         Plaintiff s EEOC case and current case state she was discriminated against when terminated. (EEOC Charge of Discrimination, Doc. 39, Ex. 13, [3] at 203.) Plaintiff was recommended for termination for her alleged attendance issues and falsifying records. (Recommendation for Termination for PI., Doc. 56-6.) The ultimate termination was approved for attendance issues alone. (Jan. 25, 2017 Letter from Ms. Mason, Doc. 59-3.) The Court focuses on facts relating to the recommendation and ultimate termination.

         On May 23, 2008, Vicki Forde, a Laboratory Manager who is Caucasian, verbally counseled Plaintiff concerning her tardiness and absences. (See Aug. 26, 2008 Written Warning, Doc. 39, Ex. 7, at 185; Def.'s St. of Mat. Facts., Doc. 64-2, ¶ 11.) Having "clocked in late sixteen times and . . . called in once since [May 23, 2008], " Ms. Forde issued Plaintiff a written warning for violation of the attendance policy on August 26, 2008. (Aug. 26, 2008 Written Warning, at 185-86.)

         On June 29, 2011, Ms. Forde issued Plaintiff another written warning for violating the attendance policy, which stated, "The next occurrence of any violation of policy . . . will result in a final written warning up to termination if deemed necessary." (June 29, 2011 Written Warning, Doc. 39, Ex. 1, at 161-62.) Ms. Forde documented six call-ins from Plaintiff within the twelvemonth period preceding the June 29, 2011 warning: "7/3/10 -Saturday, 9/24/11 - Friday, 10/23/11 - Saturday, 1/30/11 - Sunday, 3/26/11 - Saturday, 5/20/11 - Friday (scheduled to be here at 9am and did not call until 9am)." (Id. at 161.) On the warning, Plaintiff rebutted that the reason for her May 20, 2011 violation was a child care issue that she "didn't have any control over." (Id. at 162.) Regardless, Plaintiff does not dispute that she called into work that day. At the time, Plaintiff made no challenge to the correctness of any other listed day. In this case, however, Plaintiff states that Ms. Forde incorrectly noted that she called in on September 24, 2011, and October 23, 2011. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Doc. 68, at 8.) Plaintiff states that these dates are months after the written warning and she worked both days. (Id.) Ms. Forde responds that writing 2011 instead of 2010 may have been a typographical error. (See Forde's Dep., Doc. 56, at 23:18-20.) Furthermore, the day of the week listed after each date aligns with that day in 2010, not 2011.

         On January 8, 2014, Ms. Forde issued Plaintiff another written warning for "repeated incidents of not clocking in or out when arriving or leaving work . . . [and] repeated problems with tardies and arriving to work in a timely manner." (Jan. 8, 2014 Written Warning, Doc. 39, Ex. 8, at 187.) The January 8, 2014 warning stated, "If two additional tardies occur, you will receive a final written warning. Failure to clock in or out again will incur a final written warning." (Id.)

         From January 8, 2014, to August 28, 2014, Plaintiff incurred at least forty tardies. (See Pl.'s Time Detail from 2008 to 2017, Doc. 39, Ex. 19, at 282-87.) On August 28, 2014, Ms. Forde issued Plaintiff a final written warning for Plaintiff's "four call-ins and numerous tardies." (Aug. 28, 2014 Final Written Warning, Doc. 39, Ex. 9, at 189.) The warning stated, "The next occurrence of not meeting hospital policy could result in termination." (Id. at 190.) In rebuttal, Plaintiff offered an excuse that on July 9, 2014, she "had no one to get [her] son off the bus" and she already worked her forty hours for the week. (Id.)

         On March 12, 2015, Ms. Forde issued Plaintiff a second final written warning. (Mar. 12, 2015 Final Written Warning, Doc. 39, Ex. 11, at 194-95.) Between the August 28, 2014 final written warning and the second final written warning, Plaintiff was tardy at least thirty times. (See Pl.'s Time Detail from 2008 to 2017, at 287-91.) In the March 12, 2015 final written warning, Ms. Forde stated, "This has been a habitual and serious problem and improvement has not been seen, therefore the next occurrence of a tardy will result in immediate termination." (Mar. 12, 2015 Final Written Warning, at 194.)

         On September 9, 2016, Ms. Forde issued to Plaintiff the third final written warning, which, again, stated that "the next occurrence of a tardy will result in immediate termination." (Sept. 9, 2016 Final Written Warning, Doc 39, Ex. 12, at 196-97.) Within the twelve months preceding the September 9, 2016 warning, Plaintiff was tardy over thirty-five times. (See Pl.'s Time Detail from 2008 to 2017, at 294-302.)

         On December 31, 2016, Plaintiff was late for work. At 6:11 p.m., Plaintiff's coworker, Amita Simmons, emailed Ms. Forde complaining that she had to stay late because Plaintiff had not arrived for her 6:00 p.m. shift. (See Dec. 31, 2016 Email from Ms. Simmons, Doc. 39, Ex. 21, at 308.) Ms. Forde reviewed Plaintiff's badge history and security footage; both showed she arrived at the lab at 6:12 p.m. on December 31, 2016. (See Pl.'s Badge History Report, Doc. 39, Ex. 20, at 307; Forde's Decl., Doc. 64-4, ¶ 10.)

         Plaintiff also failed to clock in on December 31, 2016. When an employee fails to clock in, she must request a time card adjustment by filling out the "Time Card Adjustment Sheet, " which includes a place for the employee's name, date, and problem resulting in the needed adjustment. (See Time Card Adjustment Sheet, Doc. 39, Ex. 18, at 246.) The Time Card Adjustment sheet is filled out in chronological order. (Forde's Decl., ¶ 6.)

         The Time Card Adjustment Sheet at issue contains two entries. Line one: "Amita Simmons, 12/31/16, Forgot to clock in at 4:00 a.m." (Time Card Adjustment Sheet, at 246.) Line two: "R Luke, 12/1/16, forgot to clock in @ 6 pm." (Id.) Ms. Forde knew Plaintiff was late on December 31, 2016, given Ms. Simmons's email, the security footage, and Plaintiff's badge history.

         When reviewing the time records for employees for the week of late on December 31, 2016. (Forde's Decl., ! 5.) Ms. Forde believed that the date written by Plaintiff on the Time Card Adjustment Sheet was a misprint and Plaintiff actually meant to sign it for December 31, 2016, rather than December 1, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 9.) Consequently, Ms. Forde believed Plaintiff falsified her time record by requesting a clock-in adjustment for December 31, 2016, of 6:00 p.m. when she did not arrive until 6:12 p.m. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         B. Termination

         Ms. Forde recommended plaintiff for termination because Plaintiff was tardy on December 31, 2016, after her third final written warning, and Ms. Forde believed Plaintiff falsified her attendance record. (Id.; Recommendation for Termination for PI.) Christa Pardue, the Laboratory Director who is Caucasian, received notice of the termination from Ms. Forde. Then, the Recommendation for Termination was sent to Vita Mason, an Employee Relations Specialist in the Human Resources ("HR") Department who is African American. (Jan. 9-11, 2017 Email Exchange, Doc. 56-7; Westbrook's Decl., Doc. 64-5, ¶ 5.)

         Upon receipt of the termination, Ms. Mason reviewed Plaintiff's employment file. (Mason's Dep., Doc. 58, 11:15-19.) Ms. Mason examined the claims made by Ms. Forde and found that she could not definitively prove nor disprove that Plaintiff had falsified her time records. (Mason's Dep., at 19:2-20:5 ("[I]t wasn't proven but it wasn't disproven either.").) Regardless, Ms. Mason found that Plaintiff was tardy on December 31, 2016, in violation of her September 6, 2016 warning, which provided that the next violation would result in immediate termination. (See Jan. 25, 2017 Letter from Ms. Mason.) Plaintiff does not challenge that she was tardy on December 31, 2016; only that she did not falsify her records. Plaintiff was also tardy on January 7, 2016, while Ms. Mason was investigating her recommended termination. (See Pl.'s Time Detail from 2008 to 2017, at 303.)

         Ms. Mason submitted the Recommendation for Termination based on attendance issues to Chris Westbrook, the Vice President of HR at University Hospital who is Caucasian, for his final approval. (Westbrook's Decl., ¶ 1; Jan. 9-11, 2017 Email Exchange, Doc. 56-7; see also Mason's Dep., at 11:19-25.) Mr. Westbrook approved the termination. (Jan. 9-11, 2017 Email Exchange.) On January 11, 2017, Plaintiff received a phone call from Ms. Mason, Ms. Forde, and Ms. Pardue explaining that she was terminated. (Pl.'s Am. Br. Supp. Mot. for Summ. J., Doc. 54-2, at 2.)

         C. Plaintiff's EEOC Charge

         On February 24, 2017, Plaintiff submitted an Intake Questionnaire to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") . (EEOC Intake Questionnaire, Doc. 39, Ex. 15, at 224- 31.) In the Intake Questionnaire, Plaintiff states that Ms. Forde and Ms. Pardue discriminated against her by terminating her because of her race. (Id. at 225.) On May 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC alleging the following:

I began employment with the above-named employer on or about May 7, 2006, and I was last employed as a Lab Processor. On or about January 11, 2017, I was discharged. I am aware of similarly-situated Caucasian co-workers who were not discharged for committing similar violations.
The reason given for my discharge was attendance violations.
I believe that I was discriminated against due to my race, African-American, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.

(EEOC Charge of Discrimination, at 203.) Plaintiff states that on July 24, 2017, the EEOC issued her a Notice of Right to Sue. (Compl., Doc. 1, at 6.) On October 9, 2018, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment. On October 30, 2018, Defendant moved for the same. For the following reasons, the Court finds no issues of material fact and summary judgment for Defendant proper.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if "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). Facts are "material" if they could "affect the outcome of the suit under the governing [substantive] law, " Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986), and a dispute is genuine "if the non[-]moving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor." Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001). The Court must view facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), and must "draw all justifiable inferences in [the non-moving party's] favor." United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 ...


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