United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
DEBORAH L. RHYNES, Plaintiff,
COLONIAL MANAGEMENT GROUP, LP, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
LYNWOOD SMITH, District Judge.
The claims of the plaintiff in this action, Deborah L. Rhynes, originally were asserted in a complaint filed jointly with Kimberly Haley-Muhammad. This court severed the claims of Deborah Rhynes in a memorandum opinion and order entered on August 26, 2014, and directed the Clerk to open a new case file styled Deborah L. Rhynes v. Colonial Management Group, LP.  Ms. Rhynes then filed an amended complaint, asserting claims of race discrimination and a race-based hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, against her former employer, Colonial Management Group, LP. 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, Deborah L. Rhynes is an African-American. She was hired by Colonial on May 17, 2011, to work as a part-time nurse in the company's Huntsville Metro Treatment Center ("Huntsville Metro"). Colonial promoted Rhynes to a Treatment Services Coordinator position two months later. Treatment Services Coordinators supervise clinical activities and manage medical staff at the treatment centers.
Rhynes participated in a conference call during May of 2012 that addressed Colonial's patient assessment procedures. Rhynes stated to the company's Chief Operating Officer, Brack Jeffries, that she would not follow Colonial's patient assessment procedures because, in her opinion, they violated state regulations. Jeffries responded: "maybe you [are] just in the wrong field." Rhynes was suspended for ten days while Colonial investigated her concerns.
B. Harassment Complaint
The following month, on June 12, 2012, Rhynes lodged a written complaint against one of Huntsville Metro's male nurses, Narciso Ortiz, who is not African-American. Rhynes alleged in her complaint that Ortiz frequently cursed and yelled at Huntsville Metro employees, but had never been disciplined. She also described an occasion on which Ortiz verbally assaulted Rhynes in her office and refused to leave, making her feel physically threatened. Although Rhynes did not mention race in her written complaint, she complained verbally to Regional Director Brent Hamer that Ortiz had a history of verbally abusing the African-American female employees at Huntsville Metro.
Colonial's Director of Human Resources, Kristin Hilton, briefly discussed Rhynes's complaint with her while Hilton was investigating another issue at Huntsville Metro. Hilton had flown to Huntsville to investigate a white employee's allegations of sexual harassment and, at the conclusion of that investigation, she discharged the employee responsible for the harassment. Hilton merely asked Rhynes a few questions about her allegations of harassment, and stated that Ortiz "has been [at Huntsville Metro for] ten years[, ] and nobody has ever complained so there's nothing I can do."
After Kristin Hilton spoke to Rhynes, she and Regional Director Brent Hamer conducted an investigation "and concluded that both Ms. Rhynes and Mr. Ortiz were to blame for the incident. As such, [they] decided not to discipline either Ms. Rhynes or Mr. Ortiz."
Deborah Rhynes's supervisor, Program Director Kimberly Haley-Muhammad, took FMLA leave during the summer of 2012, and Regional Director Brent Hamer assigned some of Haley-Muhammad's responsibilities to the Treatment Services Coordinators at Huntsville Metro. Hamer assigned Haley-Muhammad's cash handling responsibilities to Rhynes during July of 2012. Hamer explained Colonial's cash handling procedures as follows:
Colonial's cash handling procedures, which are contained in Colonial's Policies and Procedures Manual, require an accounting of money collected from patients' methadone treatments at the end of each shift. The nurses are then required to input the cash collection, methadone distributed and methadone remaining in inventory into Methasoft, a software program designed for methadone clinics. Prior to relieving the nurses from their shifts, the Program Director or [Treatment Services Coordinator] checks the accounting to ensure it is correct and that the amount of money collected equals the doses of methadone distributed. The Program Director or [Treatment Services Coordinator] then signs off on the nurse's accounting, collects the money from the nurse, completes deposit slips for the cash collected, scans the completed deposit slips, forwards the scanned slips to the accounting department, places the slips in numbered bank envelopes and locks the envelopes in Colonial's safe. The Program Director or [Treatment Services Coordinator] then records the deposit in a log book for Loomis, an armored car company that picks up the deposits.
Doc. no. 14-1 (Hamer Declaration), ¶ 11 (alterations supplied). Brent Hamer then stated that
Ms. Rhynes was responsible for handling Huntsville Metro's cash and recording the correct deposit for July 4, 2012 and July 5, 2012. Ms. Rhynes recorded a total deposit of $14, 282.00 for July 4, 2012. On July 5, 2012, Colonial collected $8, 734.00 in cash from patients but there was no corresponding deposit. Colonial's log book indicates Loomis did not pick up any bank deposit envelopes on July 5, 2012. [Loomis's log book contains Rhynes's signature next to the deposits made on July 4, 6, 7, and 8, however. In September 2012, Colonial's accounting department discovered $8, 734.00 was missing as a result of the deposits from July 4, 2012 and July 5, 2012. Ms. Haley-Muhammad informed [Regional Director Brent Hamer] of the discrepancy, and [the two] conducted an investigation.
Id. ¶ 12 (alterations and footnotes supplied).
Rhynes could not provide Hamer and Hilton an explanation for the missing money. As such, Colonial "blamed [Rhynes] for the money being missing, " and never gave her "any indication that they believed somebody else was responsible for that missing money."
At the conclusion of the investigation into the missing money, Director of Human Resources Kristin Hilton decided to terminate Rhynes's employment. Rhynes received the ...