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Nalls v. Corizon Health, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

August 10, 2017

WILMA NALLS, Plaintiff,
v.
CORIZON HEALTH, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. HAROLD ALBRITTON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

          I. INTRODUCTION

         This cause is before the court on a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 14) by Defendant Corizon Health, Inc. (“Corizon”), together with supporting and opposing briefs and exhibits.

         Nalls filed a Complaint on May 31, 2016 (Doc. # 1), alleging race and age discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq., respectively. Specifically, Nalls brings claims of hostile work environment (Count I), disparate treatment (Count II), age discrimination (Count III); and retaliation (Count V).

         On June 5, 2017, Corizon filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 14) on all of Nalls's claims. Subsequently, Nalls responded (Doc. # 18), and Corizon replied (Doc. # 22). For the reasons to be discussed, the Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be GRANTED, in part, and DENIED, in part.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The party asking for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ” relying on submissions “which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings” and show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

         Both the party “asserting that a fact cannot be” and the party asserting that a fact “is genuinely disputed” must support their assertions by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “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)(A), (B). Acceptable materials under Rule 56(c)(1)(A) include: “depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party “must do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). On the other hand, the evidence of the nonmovant must be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in its favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         After the nonmoving party has responded to the motion for summary judgment, the 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).

         III. FACTS

         The facts before the court, viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, are as follows:

         Nalls is a 70-year-old, black female. She has been a registered nurse since 1990. (Doc. # 19-1, p. 8:11-8:15; 12:13-12:15). In 2005, Prison Health Services, which later became Corizon, hired Nalls to work the day shift as a charge nurse. (Doc. 19-1, p. 12:16-12:23). As a charge nurse, Nalls worked in the infirmary and in the emergency room. Her regular duties included paperwork, checking charts for audits, prison inspections, making assignments for other nurses, keeping up with inventory of needles and syringes, and “whatever needed to be done.” (Doc. # 19-1, p. 70:18-71:14); (Doc. # 19-2, p. 6:18-7:4; 21:1-21:14; 41:1-41:10)

         Nalls reported to the Director of Nursing (“DON”); and the DON reported to the Health Services Administrator (“HSA”) (Doc. # 19-1, p. 53:8-54:14). On July 7, 2014, Jessica Duffell (“Duffell”) was hired at Corizon as the HSA. (Doc. # 19-7, p. 6:9-6:15). In October 2014, Corizon hired Dorothy Price (“Price”) as DON. (Doc. # 14-3, p. 6:2-6:9).

         Just after Duffell was hired, Nalls overheard Duffell on the telephone stating that “there were more black nurses and only two white nurses, and she was afraid of reverse discrimination, and there are too many of y'all.” (Doc. # 19-1, p. 54:16-20). When Nalls heard Duffell's remark, she responded that she did not like that word ‘y'all.' “What do you mean y'all?” She told Duffell that she believed the term was a “racial statement” that was “obviously prejudicial.” (Doc. # 19-1, p. 61:1-61:14). Nalls further told Duffell that her previous HSA did not have a problem with there being more black nurses than white nurses, to which she responded “he is not here now.” (Doc. # 19-4, p. 3).

         Then, in 2015, when Duffell was either 68 or 69-years-old, Duffell made other comments that Nalls found offensive. Duffell testified in her deposition that:

A. “Now, she kept saying stuff like, I just looked at your chart -- I mean looked at your record, how old are you? I said, well, if you looked at my record, you already know how old I am. How do you make so much money? I said I've been here ten years, I get incentive raises every year. And one year the administrator thought I was really Cracker Jack, and he gave me an extra over -- across-the-board raise. She said: Hmm, don't you have grandchildren? I almost said none of your business, but I didn't. I was polite, I said yes, I do. Well, don't you need to be at home with your grandchildren? Are you drawing your Social Security too, Miss Rich? Don't you need to be at home with your grandchildren? She just really pushed all kinds of buttons with me, because she was out of her place. So I -
Q. What do you mean out of her place?
A. Asking me those questions.
Q. Oh, you mean that was none of her business?
A. Thank you. She went right over the cup of tea, right over the top. You know when you pour so much and the cup runs over? Now, this was not -- This is not a professional question. We were not -- I could have a -- I had had a more casual conversation with Dorothy Price than I had ever had with Ms. Duffell, and she just went right over the top. Then she said things like, well, I know what I'm going to call you since you got grandchildren and you just insist on working, I'm going to call you Nana Nalls. I said my name is Ms. Nalls; my grandchildren don't call me Nana. Well, I'm going to call you Nana. And that's what she called me from then on.

(Doc. # 19-1, p. 108:18-110:12). In March 2015, Nalls objected to Duffell for calling her “Nana, ” because she believed it was offensive. She told Duffell, “None of my children, grandchildren, or anybody called me Nana. That sounds like an old-timey, excuse my French, white name from when they used to have nannies and mammies to take care of the children, they called them Nana. I am not that.” (Doc. # 19-1, p. 112:9-112:14). Nevertheless, even after Nalls objected, Duffell continued calling her “Nana” both to her face and in front of other employees. (Doc. # 19-1, p. 113:6-113:8; 121:7-121:8). One of her coworkers, Dawn Young, overheard Duffell calling Nalls “Nana” “[m]aybe about two times.” (Doc. # 19-2, p. 56:3-57:3)

         Additionally, after Nalls objected, Duffell responded, “Since you are so smart, why don't you stay in the back of the infirmary and don't come back here until we need you.” (Doc. # 19-1, p. 121:3-121:8). Nalls was thereafter assigned to work in the Infirmary, where she would work until she was fired in May 2015.

         While working in the Infirmary, Nalls was responsible for feeding and cleaning nine older, heavier men. (Doc. # 19-1, p. 142:4-142:9). Nalls complained that she needed help with these responsibilities, but Duffell responded, sarcastically, “You're so smart and know everything, I'm sure you can handle it. And walked away.” (Doc. # 19-1, p. 146:6-11). Nalls also asked for a Hoya lift and a hospital bed, but her request was denied. (Doc. # 19-1, p. 148:20-22). Although other nurses were assigned to work in the Infirmary, (Doc. # 19-7, p. 33:22-34:22), (Doc. # 14-3, p. 14:6-15:1), at that point, Nalls believed Duffell was doing everything she could to try and make Nalls quit.

         On May 8, 2015, Nalls injured her back lifting a patient off of his bed. (Doc. # 19-10); (Doc. # 19-21)[1]. Duffell drove Nalls to the hospital. On their way to the hospital, Duffell told Nalls, “you're too old for this. You need to draw your Social Security, and stay home with your grandchildren.” (Doc. # 19-1, p. 159:1-159:12). Later on, Duffell called Nalls and told her that she had to be back at work on Monday or else she would be fired. (Doc. # 19-1, p. 164:7-165:8). Over the weekend, it became clear that she would not be able to make it into work on Monday. She called and left a message on the answering machine saying that she could not make it to work on the following Monday because she was still under her doctor's care. (Doc. # 19-1, p. 164:19-165:2).

         Meanwhile, prior to Nalls's injury, Price and Duffell had begun an investigation into allegations that Nalls had violated a workplace rule prohibiting inmate runners from performing skilled nursing tasks. The investigation began when Leo Nunez (“Nunez”), an inmate at Bullock Correctional Facility and a runner assigned in the Infirmary, under the supervision of Nalls, reported to Price that he was concerned about another patient's blood pressure. When Price asked why he was concerned about another inmate's vitals, Nunez responded, “well, because I've been taking it, you know, and its been high and it hasn't been high.” (Doc. # 19-7, p. 107:9- 107:15). This raised Price's suspicion that Nalls was inappropriately delegating skilled nursing tasks to untrained inmates. Accordingly, Price began an investigation.

         Corizon's personnel and training manual provides that “Inmates do not provide health care services.” (Doc. # 14-7, p. 28). It further provides, in relevant part, that “(1) Inmates do not make treatment decisions or provide patient care. (2) Inmates do not . . . or handle medical records, medications, or surgical instruments and sharps.” Id. A discussion of the intent of this work rule is that “the health services are provided by health staff are not substituted with inmates workers.” Id. Finally, an employer manual provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections explicitly states that employees shall not “Direct inmates to provide direct patient care. Inmates are to be used only as custodians in the hospital area.” (Doc. # 14-7, p. 32).

         After Nunez reported that he had been taking another inmate's blood pressure, Price and Duffell began an investigation, including collecting written statements from other inmates and nurses, to determine whether it was true-and, ultimately, whether to fire Nalls. First, Duffell and Price corroborated Nunez's story with another inmate, Kevin Vines (“Vines”), who was also assigned as a runner in the Infirmary. (Doc. # 19-7, p. 110:15-111:2). Additionally, Vines informed them that other nurses in the Infirmary were aware that Nalls was having runners take vital signs from inmates in the infirmary. (Doc. # 19-7, p. 108:21-108:23).

         In response to these allegations, Duffell organized a meeting with her staff to explain what inmate runners are allowed to do-and what they are not allowed to do. After the meeting, some of the nurses independently came to Duffell to report that Nalls was having inmate runners take vital signs of the other inmates. Duffell then instructed them to “write me a statement.” (Doc. # 19-7, p. 113:11-114:1).

         On May 14, 2015, Duffell and Price received written statements from Pauline Perryman, RN, LPN; and Marty Thomley, LPN, confirming that Nalls had ordered inmates to take vitals from inmate patients. Additionally, inmates Nunez and Vines did the same. On May 16, 2015, Edwanna McNeil, LPN wrote a similar statement. After gathering all of those statements, Duffell and Price wrote a formal recommendation to ...


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