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Carter v. A & E Supported Living, Inc.

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

November 29, 2017




         This action is before the Court on the motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 (Doc. 21) filed by Defendant A & E Supported Living, Inc. (“A & E”). Plaintiff Corrine Carter has timely filed a response (Doc. 23) in opposition to the motion, and A & E has timely filed a reply consisting of objections (Doc. 24) to certain of Carter's submissions in her response.[1] The motion is now under submission (see Doc. 22) and is ripe for disposition. Upon consideration, the Court finds that A & E's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 40) is due to be DENIED.

         I. Legal Standards

         “A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense--or the part of each claim or defense--on which summary judgment is sought. 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). “An issue of fact is ‘material' if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law and it is ‘genuine' if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Ave. CLO Fund, Ltd. v. Bank of Am., N.A., 723 F.3d 1287, 1294 (11th Cir. 2013) (quotations omitted). “Summary judgment is only appropriate if a case is ‘so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.' ” Quigg v. Thomas Cty. Sch. Dist., 814 F.3d 1227, 1235 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)) (citation omitted). However, a “ ‘mere scintilla' of evidence is insufficient; the non-moving party must produce substantial evidence in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Garczynski v. Bradshaw, 573 F.3d 1158, 1165 (11th Cir. 2009) (per curiam). In other words, “there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party … Where 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.” Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997) (quotations omitted).

         “[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.” Jackson v. West, 787 F.3d 1345, 1352 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (alteration adopted) (quotations omitted)). See also Allen, 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997) (“The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” (quotations omitted)). “The Court ‘must avoid weighing conflicting evidence or making credibility determinations.' ” Ave. CLO Fund, 723 F.3d at 1294 (quoting Stewart v. Booker T. Washington Ins., 232 F.3d 844, 848 (11th Cir. 2000)). However, “ ‘an inference based on speculation and conjecture is not reasonable.' ” Id. (quoting Blackston v. Shook & Fletcher Insulation Co., 764 F.2d 1480, 1482 (11th Cir. 1985)).

         “Where, as here, the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the moving party, in order to prevail, must do one of two things: show that the non-moving party has no evidence to support its case, or present ‘affirmative evidence demonstrating that the nonmoving party will be unable to prove its case at trial.' ” Hammer v. Slater, 20 F.3d 1137, 1141 (11th Cir. 1994) (quoting United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1437-38 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc)). “Once the movant adequately supports its motion, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show that specific facts exist that raise a genuine issue for trial.” Dietz v. Smithkline Beecham Corp., 598 F.3d 812, 815 (11th Cir. 2010). “For issues on which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the non-moving party must either point to evidence in the record or present additional evidence ‘sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency.' ” Hammer, 20 F.3d at 1141 (quoting Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993)).

         “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). “The nonmoving party may avail itself of all facts and justifiable inferences in the record taken as a whole.” Allen, 121 F.3d at 646 (quotation omitted). “If reasonable minds could differ on the inferences arising from undisputed facts, then a court should deny summary judgment.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Conclusory allegations and speculation are insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact.” Valderrama v. Rousseau, 780 F.3d 1108, 1112 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Cordoba v. Dillard's Inc., 419 F.3d 1169, 1181 (11th Cir. 2005) (“Speculation does not create a genuine issue of fact; instead, it creates a false issue, the demolition of which is a primary goal of summary judgment.”)).

         Importantly, “ ‘[t]here is no burden upon the district court to distill every potential argument that could be made based on the materials before it on summary judgment. Rather, the onus is upon the parties to formulate arguments; grounds alleged in the complaint but not relied upon in summary judgment are deemed abandoned.' ” Solutia, Inc. v. McWane, Inc., 672 F.3d 1230, 1239 (11th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (quoting Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 599 (11th Cir. 1995) (en banc)). Relatedly, while “it may consider other materials in the record[, ]” the “court need consider only the cited materials…” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3) (emphasis added).

         II. Factual Determinations

         A & E operates several group homes for intellectually disabled individuals. (Doc. 21-8 [Defendant's Ex. 7, Ezell Aff.] at 1, ¶ 3). This involves providing a home environment for them, and overseeing and assisting with their day-to-day schedule and certain aspects of their medical treatment, including distribution of medication. (Id.). Carter was hired by A & E as a certified nurse and began work on or about May 6, 2015. (Id., ¶ 5; Doc. 21-3 [Defendant's Ex. 2, Carter Depo.] at 2, p. 28). Carter's duties included significant interaction with the group home residents, including assisting them with adult daily living such as bathing and dressing, helping them in and out of bathtubs, general hygiene management, behavior management, and general household duties. (Doc. 21-8 at 1 - 2, ¶ 5). Due to the nature of their disabilities, residents could become aggressive towards their caregivers. (Doc. 21-2 [Defendant's Ex. 1, Battiste Depo.] at 10).

         Pamela Battiste is a registered nurse who works for A & E on a contract basis as a medication assistant supervisor. (Id. at 2). With Battiste's approval and certification, unlicensed nurses such as Carter could, after passing certain training, distribute medication to A & E residents. (Id. at 2 - 3). Battiste was the sole decision-maker on whether to allow A & E employees to dispense medication under her license. (Id. at 10 - 11).

         Unbeknownst to A & E, Carter was several months pregnant when she started work there, though there is some dispute over whether Carter was aware of her pregnancy at the time. A & E first became aware of the pregnancy on June 4, 2015, when Battiste met with Carter at one of A & E's facilities to discuss setting up a time for medication distribution training. This was Battiste's first time meeting Carter. (Id. at 4 - 5). Carter requested that the training take place during working hours because she often had doctor appointments on her off days due to her high-risk pregnancy. (Id. at 5).[2] Carter also told Battiste that her doctor had wanted to admit her to a hospital due to high blood pressure at a recent appointment but didn't because Carter's children were with her. (Id. at 6).

         According to Battiste, Carter “went ballistic” when Battiste gave her a date for training, acted “upset” about another employee, and complained that A & E “was so unprofessional.” (Id. at 5 - 6). Battiste determined that she would not permit Carter to dispense medication under her supervision because, in her opinion, Carter's behavior at the June 4 meeting was “unprofessional.” (Id. at 11).[3]Without Battiste's approval to dispense medication, Carter would be limited to working the “third shift, ” “ten to six.” (Id. at 11 - 12).

         On June 5, 2015, Carter was called into a meeting with two of A & E's owners, Andrella Andrews and Melissa Ezell. (Doc. 21-5 [Defendant's Ex. 4, Ezell Depo.] at 2 - 3). Battiste was also present. (Id.). Ezell informed Carter that A & E management was concerned about her high-risk pregnancy. (Id. at 4 - 5). Specifically, Ezell shared her concerns that Carter “was at risk to be hurt and [Ezell] didn't want that for her or her unborn child, for her baby; nor did [she] want to put the people that [A & E] serve at risk…” (Id. at 5). Ezell also informed Carter that Battiste had declined to certify her to dispense medication due to her purported “unprofessional behavior.” (Id. at 5 - 6).

         Ezell informed Carter that she would still be willing to let Carter work the third shift. (Id.). However, Ezell required Carter to first obtain a doctor's note saying that it was okay for her to perform her duties at A & E, before she would be placed back on shift. (Id. at 5). Ezell required that the note be very specific to indicate that the doctor knew what Carter's job entailed from a physical standpoint. (Id.). Carter subsequently gave A & E management a letter dated June 12, 2015, signed by a registered nurse rather than a doctor, stating that Carter “has not been placed on any work restrictions and is deemed medically able to maintain her current work schedule and job functions.” (Doc. 21-6 [Defendant's Ex. 5]). The letter did not specifically indicate that the signatory knew what Carter's job entailed from a physical standpoint, as Ezell had requested. (Id.)

         According to A & E, on June 16 or 17, 2015, Ezell and Andrews again met with Carter. (Doc. 21-7 [Defendant's Ex. 6, Andrews Depo.] at 7). They asked her to get a supplemental letter providing “additional input from the doctor on…whether or not he specifically was aware of the job duties [Carter] had to perform and the conditions under which she had to perform them[.]” (Id. at 8). However, they informed her that she was eligible to work the third shift, as well as the first and second shifts on weekends where she could work alongside someone that Battiste would allow to dispense medication. (Id.). Carter was “instruct[ed] to get in touch with management about working one of those shifts that she was eligible for” but “never” did. (Id. See also Doc. 21-5 at 7 (Ezell testified that Carter was asked to let A & E “know when she wanted to be put back on the schedule” but “was never put back on the schedule…because she did not…say, okay, I'm ready to be put back on the schedule.”)).

         In her EEOC charge executed under penalty of perjury, Carter agrees that she “was not returned to the schedule” after she provided the note. (Doc. 23-1 at 6). However, Carter “denies that a second meeting took place.” (Doc. 21-1 ...

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