United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C LYNWOOD SMITH, Jr., District Judge.
This action was jointly commenced by Kimberly Haley-Muhammad and Deborah L. Rhynes against their former employer, Colonial Management Group, LP. Their joint complaint alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. ("FMLA"), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. This court severed the claims of Deborah L. Rhynes from those of Kimberly Haley-Muhammad in a memorandum opinion and order entered on August 26, 2014. Kimberly Haley-Muhammad then filed an amended complaint, asserting claims of race discrimination and a racially hostile work environment under Title VII and § 1981, and retaliation under the FMLA. The case presently is before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the pleadings, briefs, evidentiary submissions, and oral arguments of counsel, this court concludes that the motion should be granted.
I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that a court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that 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). In other words, summary judgment is proper "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "In making this determination, the court must review all evidence and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment." Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) ( en banc ) (quoting Haves v. City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995)). Inferences in favor of the non-moving party are not unqualified, however. "[A]n inference is not reasonable if it is only a guess or a possibility, for such an inference is not based on the evidence, but is pure conjecture and speculation." Daniels v. Twin Oaks Nursing Home, 692 F.2d 1321, 1324 (11th Cir. 1983) (alteration supplied). Moreover,
[t]he mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case. The relevant rules of substantive law dictate the materiality of a disputed fact. 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.
Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023 (quoting Haves, 52 F.3d at 921) (emphasis and alteration supplied). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986) (asking "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law").
II. SUMMARY OF FACTS
Defendant, Colonial Management Group, LP ("Colonial"), operates methadone treatment centers throughout the United States. Plaintiff, Kimberly Haley-Muhammad, is an African-American. She was hired by Colonial in November of 2002, to work as a Treatment Services Coordinator in the company's Huntsville Metro Treatment Center ("Huntsville Metro").
A. Plaintiff's Employment as a Treatment Services Coordinator
Plaintiff worked as a Treatment Services Coordinator at Huntsville Metro from November of 2002 to July of 2011, during which time she was supervised by Program Director Steve Flora. Flora, who is white, often discouraged his African-American employees from taking leave, but he rarely discouraged his white employees from doing so. Plaintiff lodged a complaint in 2010 with Flora's supervisor, Regional Director Susan Case, alleging that Flora was creating a "hostile work environment" by "screaming, hollering, [and] cursing" at his employees. Colonial conducted an investigation into plaintiff's complaint, terminated Flora's employment, and gave him $8, 335.68 in severance pay.
B. Plaintiff's Promotion to Program Director
Regional Director Susan Case, who is white, promoted plaintiff to the position formerly held by Steve Flora, Program Director of Huntsville Metro, in July of 2011. As Program Director, plaintiff managed the daily operations of Huntsville Metro and supervised its medical and clinical staff. Regional Director Susan Case served as plaintiff's direct supervisor from July of 2011 until Case stepped down from her position in May of 2012.
1. Plaintiff's training while under Susan Case's supervision
As plaintiff's supervisor, Susan Case was responsible for training plaintiff on her duties as the Program Director of Huntsville Metro: duties that included ensuring that the treatment center prepared for and passed inspections conducted by the Alabama Department of Mental Health.
When the State of Alabama changed its mandated patient assessment procedures during August of 2011, plaintiff asked Case to train her on the changes. Case refused to do so, however, and instead told plaintiff to "[j]ust do it." On the other hand, Case did provide such training to Brent Hamer, the white Program Director of a Colonial treatment center in Birmingham.
After being denied training by Case, plaintiff worked with her staff to research the new requirements, but "in the middle of training... Susan Case told [plaintiff] to stop; that it was not correct." Plaintiff continued to ask Case for training from December of 2011 to May of 2012, but Case instructed plaintiff to wait until October 1, 2012, when the State would provide further instructions. Significantly, however, the State's inspection of Huntsville Metro was set to occur five months earlier, in May of 2012. Plaintiff lodged a verbal complaint with Colonial's Director of Human Resources, Kristin Hilton, in May of 2012, alleging that she had not been trained to implement changes in patient assessment procedures. Notably, plaintiff did not mention race discrimination in her complaint.
2. Racial remarks while plaintiff was under Susan Case's supervision
Sometime during 2011, Regional Director Susan Case decided to hire a new Treatment Services Coordinator for Huntsville Metro. Two of Case's top three choices for the position were African-American, and the other was white. Case hired an African-American, Anthony Ardis, for the position.
During the hiring process, however, Case stated in a "high tone" to plaintiff that it was against Colonial policy "to have all African-American management, " because "the management team had to match the [patient] population." The patient population of the Huntsville Metro Treatment Center is 90 percent white. Case testified in an affidavit that the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities conducted an audit of Huntsville Metro in September of 2011, and "determined that the staff did not match the clinic population, as the management and most of the staff were African-American, and the patient population was predominately White." The "Opioid Treatment Program Standards Manual" produced by the Commission states that treatment centers must demonstrate cultural competency: a benchmark that is accomplished, at least in part, "by hiring persons who are representative of the persons served."
Case frequently engaged in "screaming matches" with plaintiff. On one occasion, she told plaintiff: "Just do as I tell you to do, you and your people are just being stubborn, just do it." Plaintiff testified that she never complained that Case's reference to "you and your people" was either racist or offensive because she "feared for [her] job."
Susan Case stepped down from her position as Regional Director in May of 2012, and Colonial hired Brent Hamer to replace her. Hamer had served as the Program Director for one of Colonial's treatment centers in Birmingham for eleven years before his promotion. Colonial did not post the job opening, however, so plaintiff did not have an opportunity to apply for it.
C. FMLA Leave
Plaintiff took FMLA leave from June 4 to July 17, 2012, during which time Regional Director Brent Hamer "was in charge" of Huntsville Metro.
Director of Human Resources Kristin Hilton visited Huntsville Metro on June 27, 2012, while plaintiff was on leave. During her visit, Hilton discovered that disciplinary notices had been issued to two lower-level employees by one of the center's Treatment Services Coordinators on September 28, 2011: i.e., during the year prior to plaintiff's FMLA leave. According to Colonial policy, however, disciplinary notices may be issued only by a Program Director. Therefore, Kristin Hilton issued the following "Final Warning" to plaintiff on July 15, 2012, two days before plaintiff returned to work:
The [disciplinary notices] were presented on September 28, 2011 by the Treatment Services Coordinator[, ] which resulted in miscommunication of the situation. As a result[, ] two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges were filed. During the investigation of the charges and in the months leading up to mediation on April 3, 2012[, ] at no time did Ms. [Haley-Muhammad] divulge to the Director of Human Resources that she did not present the documentation. The information could have resulted in an additional financial loss to the organization. The progressive discipline actions must be presented by Program Directors as they are trained in disciplinary procedures.
Ms. [Haley-Muhammad's] actions are a dereliction of duty and did result in a financial loss to the organization. Ms. [Haley-Muhammad] observed poor judgment and failed to follow the correct course of action as stated in the [Colonial Policy and Procedure Manual].
Ms. [Haley-Muhammad's] actions are in violation of [three sections of the Policy and Procedure Manual:] "Unprofessional behavior to patients, co-workers or vendors"; "Inability, negligence or unwillingness to perform assigned work or maintain expected performance levels; poor performance"; and, "Insubordination, including inability to work amicably with supervisor or fellow team members (poor attitude) as well as refusal to perform tasks assigned by a supervisor."
Action Plan for Improvement:
Ms. [Haley-Muhammad] will make sure that she is following the proper procedures at all times. Ms. [Haley-Muhammad] will review the Policy and Procedure Manual and direct any questions or concerns to the Regional Director and/or the Corporate Office. Any other policy violations will result in further disciplinary action, up to and including separation of employment[.]
Doc. no. 35-8 (Final Warning) (alterations supplied). Plaintiff believed the "Final Warning" to be unfair. Not only was it the first discipline she had received during her ten years of employment with Colonial,  but on September 28, 2011 - the date on which the disciplinary notices had been issued - plaintiff was on vacation, and her direct supervisor (Susan Case) had instructed the Treatment Services Coordinator to issue the notices. Regardless of the fairness of those circumstances, there is no evidence that the warning was motivated by a racist animus. Further, no tangible consequences attached to it, either on the date of its issuance or subsequently.
D. Drug Enforcement Administration Audit
Two Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") investigators conducted an audit of Huntsville Metro treatment records on June 26, 2012. Their investigation covered the quarterly period from March 26 through June 26, 2012,  and revealed both "a significant shortage of Methadone" in the center's inventory, and a failure "to account for and properly maintain records of approximately 3, 423 milligrams or dosage units of methadone." Colonial was informed ...