United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
For Mary Campbell, Plaintiff: Allen Durham Arnold, David R Arendall, ARENDALL & ARNOLD, Birmingham, AL.
For Northway Health and Rehabilitation LLC, also known as Northway Halth and Rehabilitation LLC, Defendant: Brooke M Nixon, Thomas W Scroggins, ROSEN HARWOOD PA, Tuscaloosa, AL.
SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
This case is before the court on defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 16.) Plaintiff claims that defendant, her former employer, discriminated against her based on her race and retaliated against her for asserting rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ). Upon consideration of the Motion, the supporting and opposing memoranda, arguments
of counsel and the relevant law, the court finds, for the reasons stated below, that defendant's Motion is due to be granted.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (" the Federal Rules" ), summary judgment is appropriate " if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Associates, Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that it is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules requires that the nonmoving party go beyond the pleadings and show that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324-25. " There is a genuine issue of material fact if the nonmoving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor." Waddell, 276 F.3d at 1279; see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court's function is not to " weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Determining credibility, weighing evidence, and drawing legitimate inferences from the facts are all functions of the jury, see id. at 255; therefore, the court must accept as true all evidence favoring the nonmoving party and draw all justifiable inferences from the evidence in that party's favor. Nevertheless, the nonmoving party need not be given the benefit of every inference but only of every reasonable inference. See Brown v. City of Clewiston, 848 F.2d 1534, 1540 n.12 (11th Cir. 1988).
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Defendant hired plaintiff on June 12, 2005 as a Licensed Practical Nurse [" LPN" ]. (Campbell Depo. (doc. 18-1) at 60:8-11, 85:20-22.) During her employment, plaintiff took FMLA leave twice, once beginning in June 2009 and once in September 2010. ( Id. at 59:10-14; doc. 19 at 2-3.) On both occasions, plaintiff asked for " time off" and Northway's business office gave plaintiff an FMLA form to fill out. (Campbell Depo. at 137:1-18.)
On June 2, 2012, plaintiff and her sister were in the car, waiting at a stoplight, when they were hit from behind. ( Id. at 112:5-17; doc. 14 at 3 ¶ 10.) Plaintiff broke her two front teeth and her shoulder and arm were swollen. (Campbell Depo. at 112:5-17.) Plaintiff was not scheduled to work June 3rd. (Doc. 19 at 5; doc. 14 at 3 ¶ 11.) Plaintiff called the nurse line each morning from June 4th to June 7th to report that she would be absent, and June 8th was her off day. (Doc. 19 at 5; Campbell Depo. at 122:17-22, 123: 6-7, 142:15-16.) On the voicemails, plaintiff " told [Sloan Phillips] about the accident and that [she] wouldn't be coming in, the doctor just wanted [her] to stay close and just move around slowly until . . . the pain and the swelling subsided some." (Campbell Depo. at 122:17-22.)
Phillips testified that she told plaintiff on June 5th " that if she was going to be off anymore, that she needed to file FMLA." (Phillips Depo. at 21:3-6.) Phillips is responsible for reporting FLMA-qualifying events. ( Id. at 24:6-9.) There is some ambiguity as to what details Phillips told Freddy Skelton about plaintiff's absence. Phillips was asked " [D]id you ever tell anybody about the fact that you thought that Mary might need FMLA leave, other than Mary, on the 5th?" She responded, " Freddy Skelton." (Phillips Depo. at 24:10-14.) However, Phillips subsequently stated that she did not remember what she said to Skelton other than that plaintiff would be off, did not remember if she mentioned the FMLA to Skelton, and did not understand what injuries plaintiff suffered in the car wreck. (Phillips Depo. at 24:15-25:10.) Skelton must sign off on every FMLA leave. (Skelton Depo (doc. 19) 25: 19-20.) Skelton knew about the car wreck after it occurred, but did not recall the details of it at his deposition. ( Id. at 25:1-4.) On June 9th, plaintiff returned to work as scheduled, a doctor's note in hand excusing her for her days missed. (Doc. 14 at 3 ¶ 15; doc. 15 at 3 ¶ 15.) Plaintiff never completed FMLA forms regarding her absences, and defendant did not designate plaintiff's absences between June 4th and June 8th as FMLA leave. ( See doc. 17 at 6 13; doc. 22 at 6; Campbell Depo. at 246:11-23.) Plaintiff worked June 9th, 10th, 12th and the morning of the 13th. (Campbell Depo. at 143:6-144:7; 146:22-147:6; 149:7-15.)
Plaintiff's broken teeth hurt. (Campbell Depo. at 157:12-158:15.) She took Tylenol on June 9th and 10th, but on the 13th, she switched to Lortab. ( Id. at 159:7-160:2.) On the 12th, plaintiff called Warrior Dentistry to make a 12:30 appointment for the following day, June 13th, knowing that if she kept her appointment, someone would have to cover until 3:00 when her shift ended. ( Id. at 143:3-5, 146:2-147:2, 161:18-22.) She was going to try to work through the pain and cancel her appointment, but the pain was too much and she decided she would keep the appointment after all. ( Id. at 162:9-15, 187:21-188:12, 190:12-15.) On June 13th, plaintiff told Vaneese Cannon twice that she was going to a dentist appointment, once at 10:00 a.m. and once just before she left. ( Id. at 183:5-20.) Cannon is the R.N. Unit Supervisor, from whom plaintiff thought she needed permission to leave. ( Id. at 177:2-6.) Cannon said, " Okay." ( Id. at 178:21-23.) Plaintiff also visited Phillips's office at 10:00 a.m. and told Phillips that she had a dental appointment and that one of her colleagues had agreed to cover for her. As a Staff Development Nurse or " nurse manager," Phillips can give permission for LPNs to leave early, since she arranges who covers the carts. (Campbell Depo. at 177:10-14; Phillips Depo. at 6:3-6, 6:24-7:4.) According to plaintiff, Phillips was on the phone, but said " Okay, Mary Campbell." (Campbell Depo. at 184:22-185:6.) That is what Phillips calls plaintiff, Mary Campbell. ( Id. at 182:19-20.) Phillips did not ask when Campbell first found out about her appointment. ( Id. at 185:16-18.) Plaintiff clocked out at 11:43 a.m., en route to Warrior Dentistry. (Doc. 19 at 71.)
Phillips's and Cannon's testimonies read differently from plaintiff's. According to Cannon, plaintiff talked with her at 11:00 a.m. to inform her that plaintiff was leaving at 11:30 for a dentist appointment. (Cannon Depo. at 28:3-7.) Cannon did not feel that she had unilateral authority to allow LPNs to leave early. ( Id. at 80: 11-22.) This was not a problem on June
13th, however, because Cannon claims that plaintiff told her that plaintiff had already spoken with Phillips, which Cannon took to mean that plaintiff had permission. ( Id. at 78:8-24, 92:14-93:1.) Cannon said, " Okay." ( Id. at 92:1-2, 17-18.)
According to Phillips, plaintiff saw her twice on June 13th, once when Phillips clocked in, and once while making rounds. Plaintiff did not talk to her. (Phillips Depo. at 17:14-17.) Then, as plaintiff was leaving, she " peeked her head in the door and told [Phillips] . . . that she had counted her cart with [her colleague LaPaula Davis] and she was leaving; and she had gotten permission from [Cannon]." (Phillips Depo. at 8:20-24.)
Around seven o'clock the following morning, Freddy Skelton, defendant's administrator, called plaintiff and Cannon into his office. (Campbell Depo. at 164:8-17.) According to plaintiff, he said, " [Y]ou left the building yesterday without permission and I consider that neglect of duty and as of today you're terminated from Northway." (Campbell Depo. at 165:15-18.) When plaintiff asked for a copy of the papers Skelton had put before her, he told her no and slammed the door in her face. ( Id. at 166:17-19.)
As administrator, Skelton had " managerial authority over every employee of [d]efendant." (Doc. 23-2 at 7.) He could discipline and fire employees, which he sometimes did in consultation with HR. (Skelton Depo. at 7:17-8:5.) Plaintiff's brief refers to Skelton as " [d]efendant's decisionmaker," (doc. 22 at 24, 27), and " the decision-maker," ( id. at 8), and defendant agrees: " Skelton [was] the sole decision maker who determined [p]laintiff's discipline for leaving the facility." (Doc. 17 at 11 ¶ 27.) When deciding whether to fire plaintiff, Skelton considered plaintiff's " past performance," (Skelton Depo. at 134:16), including her " previous conference reports," ( id. at 134:19-20). ( See also id. at 104:21-23, 88:2-4.) Skelton testified that plaintiff's conference reports written more than a year prior to her termination were " not necessarily" relevant. ( Id. at 65:21, 67:10-11, 67:21-68:3.) Plaintiff had received two written warnings (one for unauthorized shift swapping and one for failing to record a medication on a patient's chart (" performance not up to standards" )) and one verbal warning (for excessive ...