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Wilson v. Corizon, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 23, 2015

KRYSTAL WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CORIZON, INC., doing business as Correctional Medical Services; ALVIN YATES, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN, District Judge.

This case is presently pending before the court on defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 22.)[1] Plaintiff Krystal Wilson has sued her former employer, defendant Corizon, Inc., and her former supervisor, defendant Alvin Yates, alleging that defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her race and gender and that they retaliated against her for complaining about discrimination.[2] Upon consideration of the record, the submissions of the parties, the arguments of counsel, and the relevant law, the court is of the opinion that defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, (doc. 22), is due to be granted.

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), summary judgment is appropriate "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); Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991); see Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). A dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1); see also Clark, 929 F.2d at 608 ("it is never enough simply to state that the non-moving party cannot meet its burden at trial").

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. "[C]ourts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the [summary judgment] motion.'" Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007)(quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)(per curiam)). Nevertheless, the non-moving party "need not be given the benefit of every inference but only of every reasonable inference." Graham v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999)(citing Brown v. City of Clewiston, 848 F.2d 1534, 1540 n.12 (11th Cir. 1988)); see also Scott, 550 U.S. at 380 ("When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.").

II. STATEMENT OF FACTS[3]

Defendant Corizon provides health care services to incarcerated persons. (Doc. 22-3 ¶ 3.) On November 1, 2007, Corizon contracted with the Alabama Department of Corrections to provide health care services in Alabama prisons, including the Donaldson Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison with approximately 1, 500 inmates. ( Id. ) It has three status classifications for its employees:

• Full-Time employees whom Corizon hires for and regularly schedules to work 40 hours per week;
• Part-Time employees whom Corizon hires for and regularly schedules to work less than 40 hours per week; and
• PRN[4] (Per Diem) employees whom Corizon hires to work "as needed" or to fill temporary vacancies. PRNs advise Corizon of their shift availability at least monthly. PRNs do not receive benefits and are not regularly scheduled each week.

(Doc. 22-3 ¶ 11 [footnote added]; see doc. 22-3, ex. E, at 31.) During the relevant time, Corizon had approximately 31 Caucasian employees (63%) and approximately 18 African-American employees (37%) at Donaldson. (Doc. 22-3 ¶ 3.)

Corizon's personnel policies and procedures are set out in a personnel manual entitled CMS Employee Success Guide [the Guide]. (Doc. 22-3 ¶ 4.) The Guide includes an Equal Employment Opportunity policy, in which Corizon pledged to treat all its employees equally without regard to age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, and disability. (Doc. 22-3 ¶ 5.) The Guide explicitly states that all employees may complain of discrimination without fear of retaliation and it contains a grievance procedure. (Doc. 22-3 ¶¶ 5-6.) Corizon encourages its employees to discuss any problem, issue, or concern first with their immediate supervisor. (Doc. 22-3 ¶ 6.) If the employee's immediate supervisor fails to properly handle the issue or if the employee believes that he or she cannot discuss the issue with his or her supervisor, the employee should contact the Health Services Administrator [HSA], the Regional Manager, the Human Resources Department, or the Vice President of Operations. ( Id. ) During all relevant time, Doug Green (white, male) was the acting Director of Nursing [DON], defendant Alvin Yates (African-American, male) was the HSA, [5] and Ken Dover (white, male) was the Regional Manager. (Doc. 22-3 ¶ 14; doc. 27-1 ¶¶ 4-5.)[6]

Corizon also has an anti-harassment policy, which states:

Harassment of any sort, whether verbal, physical, or visual, that is directed toward a person's gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, physical or mental disability, or age will not be tolerated.
Workplace harassment can take many forms; it can be found in statements, gestures, writings, signs, cartoons, pictures, e-mail, jokes and pranks, physical contact and assaults, and acts or threats of violence or retribution. Harassment is not necessarily sexual in nature. It may also take the form of other activity including derogatory statements or conduct not directed to the targeted or offended individual, but taking place in their presence.
[Corizon] prohibits not only harassment but also any type of retaliation for making a harassment complaint.... All [Corizon] employees, particularly Supervisors and Managers, have a responsibility for keeping the work environment free of harassment or retaliation of any type. Any employee, who becomes aware of an incident of harassment, whether by witnessing the incident or being told of it by others, must report the incident as soon as possible.

(Doc. 22-3, ex. C, at 22.) The Harassment Policy sets forth the internal complaint procedure, including an "800" number for employees to report claims of harassment. ( Id.; doc. 22-3 ¶ 9.) The Policy instructs employees to report harassment to "their Supervisor, the next level site or regional management, or the Human Resources Department in [St.] Louis." (Doc. 22-3, ex. C. at 22.) Corizon provides training and education on harassment to all employees during its new employee orientation program. (Doc. 22-3 ¶¶ 7, 10.)

On May 1, 2007, Corizon hired plaintiff Krystal Wilson (white, female) as a Licensed Practical Nurse [LPN]. (Doc. 22-3, ex. F, at 33-34; doc. 22-8, ex. 17, at 96.) At that time, Corizon gave Wilson a copy of the Guide. (Doc. 22-3 ¶ 4.) On June 15, 2009, Corizon trained and tested Wilson on its anti-harassment policy. ( Id. ¶ 11.) Thereafter, it re-tested her in April 2010, June 2010, and April 2011. ( Id. )

Wilson's performance review on May 20, 2010, indicated she either exceeded standards or met standards in every category. (Doc. 22-10 at 36-38 [Wilson exceeded standards in 7 categories and met standards in 26].) Green testified Wilson was a "good employee" and a "hard worker" and that she "performed well" in her position. (Doc. 22-9 at 14, 25; doc. 22-3 ¶ 14.)

The Charge Nurse was the direct supervisor of the nurses on the shift and could initiate discipline of the nurses if events warranted. (Doc. 22-9 at 21-22; doc. 27-1 ¶ 3.) Kimberly Hewitt (African-American, female), RN, was the day-shift Charge Nurse.[7] (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 3; doc. 22-9 at 22.)

Wilson testified that Hewitt told her several times "that white girls were weak and that black women were strong." (Doc. 22-4 at 35-36, 39.) She said Hewitt would not speak to her and that "it was just always real tense." ( Id. at 35.) She testified that, as far as she knew, Hewitt acted "ugly" only toward her. (Doc. 22-4 at 41.) She said, "[Hewitt] would not speak to me.... [W]hen she would, it was very hateful. You would see her laughing and joking and playing around and helping other African-American employees, but with me, she would not help. She would not talk unless she absolutely had to." ( Id. at 148; see also id. at 178-79.) She testified that Hewitt and Yates appeared to get along very well and they laughed and joked together. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 6.) According to Wilson, Hewitt's behavior became more hateful and aggressive toward her after Yates was hired. ( Id. )

Hewitt testified that Wilson was difficult to work with because she always had problems that she brought to work. (Doc. 22-12 at 30.) She testified that Wilson had difficulty focusing on her work and that she would forget what she was doing and have to be reminded. ( Id. at 33.)

In July 2010, approximately 210 Donaldson inmates became infected with tuberculosis [TB]. (Doc. 22-3 ¶ 15; doc. 27-1 ¶ 9.) In response, Corizon created a temporary, part-time LPN day-shift position, the INH nurse, [8] whose sole responsibility was to provide medical care and treatment to the TB patients. (Doc. 22-3 ¶ 15; doc. 27-1 ¶ 8.) On or about July 19, 2010, Wilson voluntarily transferred from her full-time (40 hours per week) day-shift position to the part-time (32 hours per week) temporary INH nurse position. (Doc. 22-3 ¶ 15; doc. 27-1 ¶ 8.) At the time she transferred to the INH nurse position, she knew the position was temporary "until the TB situation was cured." (Doc. 22-4 at 195-96; doc. 27-1 ¶ 8; doc. 22-3 ¶ 15.)

As the TB outbreak became controlled, Wilson cared for fewer TB inmates and she began assisting the day shift nurses in the infirmary and the pill-call room during her shift in addition to seeing TB patients. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 10; doc. 22-3 ¶ 16.) By April, only a few inmates were on the INH protocol. (Doc. 22-4 at 29-30; doc. 22-8 at 125-26; doc. 22-8, ex. 9, at 75.)

On April 29, 2011, Wilson was assisting LPN Tiffany Nicholas[9] (white, female) with the diabetic pill call. (Doc. 22-4 at 46; doc. 22-3 ¶ 16.) Wilson drew up insulin using a "cheat sheet" the day shift nurses, Nicholas and Sandra Hackworth (African-American, female) had created. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 11.) Green testified that this was the only time he was aware a cheat sheet had been used to prepare inmates' medication. (Doc. 22-9 at 29-30.) Wilson prepared the inmates' insulin and gave the syringes to Nicholas to give to the inmates. (Doc. 22-4 at 50.) Later, when Wilson went to sign off on the Medication Administration Record [MAR] she noticed that the physician had changed one inmate's type of insulin, but the "cheat sheet" had not be updated. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 12; doc. 22-4 at 50-52.) Wilson told Nurse Practitioner Dennis Butler (white, male) that she had relied upon the accuracy of information on a nurses' cheat sheet, rather than checking the MAR, and had given the inmate the wrong insulin. (Doc. 22-4 at 52; doc. 27-1 ¶ 13.)

Pursuant to Corizon policy, nurses must administer medications only from the MAR. (Doc. 22-8 at 71; doc. 22-3 ¶ 16.) Corizon had trained and tested Wilson on proper medication administration. (Doc. 22-3 ¶ 16.)

Green and Butler told Wilson to take the inmate to the infirmary so his vital signs could be monitored for any adverse reaction. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 13; doc. 22-4 at 52-53.) As soon as Hewitt learned about the incident, she went to the medication room and talked to Nicholas and Hackworth. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 15; doc. 22-4 at 53-54.) Wilson is not sure what Hewitt said to Nicholas and Hackworth immediately after the medication error, but she testified that Hewitt appeared to be attempting to inflame the situation because Nicholas and Hackworth came out of the medication room and were upset with Wilson. (Doc. 22-4 at 54-55; doc. 27-1 ¶ 16.) According to Nicholas's statement, dated April 29, 2011, "Hewitt came to the med room and asked [Nicholas] to speak with Butler and see what was going on with [the inmate's] blood sugar." (Doc. 22-8, ex. 1, at 50-51.) This statement of what Hewitt said coincides with Hackworth's statement that Hewitt told Nicholas to go to the infirmary to "see what was going on with [the inmate's] insulin." (Doc. 22-8, ex. 5, at 64.)

According to Wilson, this medication error was not particularly serious and her employment was never in jeopardy. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 14; see also 22-8 at 95 [Yates testified that "[d]iscipline was never even brought into the equation at all."].) Wilson testified that she had accepted responsibility for the medication error as soon as she discovered it. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 14; doc. 22-4 at 54.) According to Wilson, Nicholas and Hackworth did not appear upset with her about the incident or about her reporting the incident. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 15.)

When Yates was notified about the medication error, he convened a telephone conference call with Wilson and the other day-shift nurses at work that day. (Doc. 22-8 at 83-84.) The conference call included Wilson, Nicholas, Hewitt, and Hackworth, as well as Butler. (Doc. 22-8 at 84; doc. 27-1 ¶ 18.) Before the call, according to Wilson, Hackworth had stated that she did not know why she was being called into the office, to which Hewitt had responded "because you are black." (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 19; doc. 22-4 at 59.) After the conference call, Wilson complained to Green about Hewitt's "because you are black" comment. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 21.) Green told her to talk to Yates. ( Id. )

During the conference call, Wilson and Nicholas agreed that Nicholas had instructed Wilson to use the MAR, and not the cheat sheet, to prepare the insulin for the inmates. (Doc. 22-8 at 85-86, 106.) Yates considered the matter closed following the conference call. ( Id. at 94, 106.) Yates never disciplined either Wilson or Nicholas over the medication error. (Doc. 22-8 at 95.)

At Yates's request, the nurses submitted written statements regarding the April 29, 2011, medication error. (Doc. 22-8 at 75-76.) Wilson's first statement did not mention Hewitt's comment to Hackworth. (Doc. 22-8, ex. 4, at 62.) Hackworth's statement does not mention Hewitt's "because you are black" comment; however, she did recount a discussion between Nicholas and Wilson regarding what Wilson had told Butler about the medication error, after which Wilson "stormed out of the room." (Doc. 22-8, ex. 5, at 64.) Thereafter, according to Hackworth's statement, Green asked Nicholas to apologize to Wilson for hurting her feelings and Nicholas refused, stating that she had not done anything wrong. ( Id. )

On Saturday, April 30, 2011, Wilson prepared a second statement. (Doc. 22-8, ex. 3, at 56-60; doc. 22-4, ex. 3, at 171.) Yates testified that he received this statement on Monday, May 2, 2011. (Doc. 22-8 at 80.) That same day, Wilson verbally complained to Yates and he told her to put her complaint in writing. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 21; doc. 22-4 at 60.) In the statement dated April 30, 2011, Wilson said that Nicholas had told her to use the cheat sheet and that the cheat sheet was up-to-date. ( Id. at 56-57.) According to her statement, she told Green and Butler about the cheat sheet. ( Id. at 57.) She stated that Nicholas had accused her of bringing her name up to Butler, which Wilson denied. (Doc. 22-4, ex. 3, 171.) Also, Wilson stated, "Mrs. Nicholas did not tell Mr. Yates the truth. She stated she told me to not use the sheet for insulin. That is not true. That statement was never made." (Doc. 22-8, ex. 3, at 58.) She recounted Hewitt's "because you are black" statement, which she claimed was "very disrespectful" and "a racist remark." (Doc. 22-8, ex. 3 at 58-59; see also doc. 22-4 at 59-60.) Wilson complained that Hewitt was harassing her by going to Nicholas and Hackworth and "trying to stir something up". (Doc. 22-4, ex. 3, at 171-72.)

Yates testified that Wilson was upset on Monday, so he told her to go home. (Doc. 22-8 at 94, 107.) After Wilson left, Yates talked to the staff about harassment. ( Id. at 109-10, 120.) Wilson was not informed about this meeting. (Doc. 27-1 ¶ 26.)

After leaving work on Monday, Wilson went home and typed a third statement, which she gave to Yates on Wednesday, May 4, 2011, in which she "request[ed] to either work on the other side of medical and not in the infirmary, or [to] change to a different shift due to the situation that occurred on 4/29/2011." (Doc. 22-8, ex. 7, at 68; doc. 22-4 at 84-85; doc. 27-1 ¶ 25.) She wrote:

I feel as though it would be a hostile environment to work with certain coworkers. As a nurse at Donaldson you have to work as a team and I feel as though certain nurses would not be willing to work as a team with me. I feel that this situation has the potential to negatively affect the Inmates we provide care to. I greatly appreciate your attention in this matter.

(Doc. 22-8, ex. 7, at 68.) She did not identify the "certain coworkers" or "certain nurses" referred to in this statement. ( See id. ) Also, she did not allege that her work environment is hostile because of her gender or her race; rather, she said the hostility was based on the "situation ...


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