United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Lynn Howell brings this case against Baptist Health System,
Inc. (“Baptist”) under Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e et seq. She alleges that Baptist
required her to work in an environment tainted by pervasive
sexual harassment and retaliated against her for lodging
complaints related to that harassment. Howell also brings two
state law claims against Baptist-assault and battery and
negligent supervision. Baptist has filed a motion for summary
judgment on all of Howell's claims, doc. 38, and that
motion is now fully briefed, docs. 42; 45; 48, and ripe for
review. Based on a thorough examination of the parties'
briefs and the record, the court finds that summary judgment
in favor of Baptist is due to be granted with respect to
Howell's Title VII hostile work environment claim, and
denied as to the Title VII retaliation claim and the state
Standard of Review
judgment is proper “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). A dispute about a material fact 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).
evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all
justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor.”
Id. at 255. Indeed, it is explicitly not the role of
the court to “weigh conflicting evidence or to make
credibility determinations.” Mize v. Jefferson City
Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996); see
also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (explaining
“[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the
evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the
facts are jury functions, not those of a judge”).
“mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations
are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment
motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326
(11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park,
Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)).
Nor will “a . . . ‘scintilla of evidence in
support of the nonmoving party . . . suffice to overcome a
motion for summary judgment.'” Melton v.
Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1219 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting
Young v. City of Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th
Cir. 2004)). Instead, if “the record taken as a whole
could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the
non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial,
'” and summary judgment is appropriately granted.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation omitted).
following facts reflect an assessment of the record in the
light most favorable to Howell. Howell worked for Baptist for
over 25 years in various administrative capacities. Doc. 45
at 1. In November 2013, while serving as the clinic manager
for Baptist's clinic in Gardendale, Alabama, Howell began
working several days each week at the Baptist clinic in
Pinson, Alabama. Id. at 1-2; Doc. 42 at 5. Baptist
eventually offered Howell a position as clinic manager at the
Pinson location. Doc. 42 at 5. Although Howell initially
declined this offer, she went on to accept the position in
January 2014. Id. at 6. As clinic manager in Pinson,
Howell “directly managed all clinic staff except for
after starting her new position, Howell was confronted with
poor morale among the staff along with a variety of other
problems. Doc. 39-55 at 5- 10, 19-21. Howell's testimony
reveals that virtually all of these problems pertained to
staff-related difficulties with implementing various Baptist
administrative policies, dealing with challenging hourly
requirements, and working with one of the clinic physicians,
Dr. Walter Wilson. Id.; Doc. 39-21 at 1-2. Dr.
Wilson allegedly flaunted Baptist procedures at every turn,
micro-managed the staff, and frequently used profanity in the
office. Id. Although Dr. Wilson had no direct
supervisory authority over Howell, she alleges that he had
the final say regarding employment and disciplinary decisions
in the clinic, and that he operated the Pinson facility as
his own private business with little oversight from Baptist.
Docs. 39-55 at 7-9, 11, 18-19; 44-1 at 3. Howell also alleges
that Dr. Wilson frequently ignored Baptist's rules and
guidelines in his practice, and that he instructed his staff
to do the same. Doc. 39-55 at 11, 19.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
all of the facts supporting Howell's allegations of
sexual harassment stem from a single incident in March of
2014. Doc. 42 at 7. On the day of the incident, a
front-office employee purportedly tricked Howell into a
private, closed door meeting with Adam Goldweber, an outside
pharmaceutical sales representative and, allegedly, a person
who had previously engaged in sexually harassing behavior at
the Pinson clinic. Doc. 39-55 at 16-17. In his meeting with
Howell, Goldweber, who Howell asserts was a friend of Dr.
Wilson's, made a series of inappropriate comments
including referring to a “lesbian affair”
conducted by a previous clinic manager and claiming that he
was “a very controlled lover . . . [who] could rock
[Howell's] world.” Id. at 16.
understandably became extremely uncomfortable and ended the
conversation immediately. She then reported the encounter to
Dr. Wilson, who purportedly told her not to complain about
the incident because of his friendship with Goldweber.
Id. at 16-17. Dr. Wilson also took the opportunity
to make a series of inappropriate comments including: (1) a
reference to the previous clinic manager having sex with
Goldweber; (2) a reference to the previous clinic
manager's “camel toe;” and (3) looking down
Howell's blouse while telling Howell she should
appreciate men who looked at her breasts because
“humans are the only people that have sex looking at
each other.” Id.; Doc. 45 at 9. Bizarrely, Dr.
Wilson also gave Howell a “head noogie, ” a term
the parties use to refer to Dr. Wilson's practice of
grabbing another person's head and pressing his forehead
against their face. Docs. 39-55 at 25; 45 at 9. Including
this incident, Howell asserts that she received five
“head noogies” from Dr. Wilson. Doc. 39-55 at
addition to the Goldweber episode, Howell points to one other
significant harassing event. Purportedly, Dr. Wilson summoned
Howell into his office and asked her to pick out her body
type in an open Sports Illustrated swimsuit magazine
on his desk. Id. at 18. Although Howell declined to
do so, Dr. Wilson attempted to pressure her into accepting
his request by noting which body type he thought Howell
possessed and telling her “[y]ou've got the body .
. . just pick it out.” Id.; Doc. 45 at 10. At
the conclusion of this interaction, Dr. Wilson gave Howell
another “head noogie, ” apparently in an attempt
to lighten the mood. Doc. 39-55 at 18.
further alleges that Dr. Wilson twice called her into his
office so that he could look at her butt, id. at 37,
that he routinely cursed and demeaned women in her presence,
and that he instructed her to only send pharmaceutical sales
reps to meet with him if they were at least a 34C in bra
size. Id. at 6, 8-11, 37, 43; Docs. 44-2 at 2; 45 at
3. Additionally, Howell claims that Dr. Wilson posted both
sexually explicit and racially derogatory images on his
office door. Doc. 39-55 at 22-23. Howell asserts that she
promptly reported all of these incidents to her supervisors
in Baptist's corporate office, as well as to a third
party human resources consultant working with the staff at
the Pinson clinic. Id. at 18-19, 22, 36.
addition to the alleged incidents of sexual harassment,
Howell further avers that Dr. Wilson made a number of
racially derogatory statements which she also reported to
Baptist. These comments mostly involved Dr. Wilson's
adamant opposition to the hiring of African-Americans. In one
instance, Dr. Wilson explained that he would not “have
a mother fucking [racial epithet] working here.”
Id. at 11. Dr. Wilson repeated this racial epithet
in several other contexts around the office, and he
maintained a bulletin board by his office which included a
derogatory cartoon of President Barrack Obama. Id.
at 8-9, 22. After Howell reported these highly offensive
remarks to Baptist, Dr. Wilson confronted Howell and raised
his voice at her stating “Let me make this goddamn
clear. I hire my own people. I've told you that. Not them
. . . I am pissed that you have made that complaint. . . I
hire my own goddamn mother fucking people.”
Id. at 18. Allegedly Dr. Wilson also informed Howell
that she would lose her job if she continued her complaints.
after Dr. Wilson learned that Howell had reported Goldweber
to Baptist, he confronted her twice in her office telling her
he was “pissed” she had chosen to report the
incident despite his request that she not do so. Id.
at 37. He also purportedly instructed Howell to “get
[her] head out of corporate's ass.” Doc. 39-58 at
32. These allegedly retaliatory actions replicated a pattern
of behavior in which Dr. Wilson belittled Howell and her
adherence to Baptist's rules and regulations by, among
other things, labelling her “the biggest bitch”
for attempting to follow proper workplace protocol. Doc.
39-55 at 10, 28.
these events occurred in the roughly three and a half months
between when Howell began working full time at the Pinson
clinic and when she took medical leave in May 2014. Doc. 44-2
at 2. During her leave, Howell continued to communicate with
Baptist regarding the conditions in Pinson. Doc. 42 at 14-19.
Based on these conversations, Baptist administrators met with
Dr. Wilson and informed him that Baptist would not renew his
contract. Id. at 18-19; Doc. 45 at 18. Howell never
returned to work following her medical leave. Doc. 42 at 14.