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Jaggars v. Florence Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC

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

December 7, 2017




         This civil action proceeds before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 18). In its Motion, Defendant argues that because Plaintiff has no evidence to support her claims of race, age, and disability discrimination and retaliation, and there exist no genuine issues of material fact, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment. Based upon the following discussion, the court GRANTS the motion.

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he 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. Rule 56(a). Defendant, as the party seeking summary judgment, bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.317, 323 (1986)).

         A non-moving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact by producing evidence by which a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). In reviewing whether the non-moving party has met its burden, the court must stop short of weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations; one should credit the non-movant's evidence and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH-Siegen, 965 F.2d 994, 998-99 (11th Cir. 1992) (internal citations and quotations omitted). However, speculation or conjecture cannot create genuine issues of material fact. Cordoba v. Dillard's, Inc., 419 F.3d 1169, 1181 (11th Cir. 2005). A “mere scintilla of evidence” in support of the non-moving party also cannot overcome a motion for summary judgment. Young v. City of Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted).


         The undersigned sets forth the following facts for the summary judgment determination. On or about April 26, 2013, Defendant Florence Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC (FNRC) employed Plaintiff Rebecca D. Jaggars as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) at its location in Lauderdale County, Alabama. Plaintiff is Caucasian and Defendant hired her approximately seven months prior to her fortieth birthday. During Plaintiff's employment, Jennice Crowell served as the facility's Executive Director and Linda Graves served as the facility's Director of Nursing Services. Plaintiff's primary job duties consisted of administering medication to FNRC residents in a manner consistent with physicians' orders and completing paperwork pertaining to the medication dispensed. As an LPN, Plaintiff reported directly to Unit Manager Peggy Darby and Ms. Graves.

         FNRC required all LPNs, including Plaintiff, to comply with specific paperwork requirements. When administering medication, FNRC nurses relied on the Medical Administration Records (MARs), which served as the legal record of medication for each resident. Each resident has a MAR that reflects all medications prescribed to the resident and the times that the resident receives each medication. Federal regulations require nurses to sign the MAR after administering the medication, and each signature communicates to the nurses in the facility and other reviewing entities that the resident received medication consistent with a physician's orders. During her employment, FNRC counseled Plaintiff on at least one occasion for poor documentation, and Plaintiff's supervisor noted in her performance evaluation that her MAR documentation frequently had “holes” where she neglected to indicate when a patient received his or her medication.

         On August 19, 2014, FNRC sent resident RT[1] to Lake Point Behavioral Health for evaluation and treatment. Under standard procedure, FNRC sent RT's medical records to Lake Point Behavioral Health. That evening, a physician from Lake Point contacted Ms. Crowell to inform her of an inconsistency that he discovered while comparing RT's FNRC medical records to the standard pharmacology screen performed on RT upon his admission to Lake Point. Specifically, the physician stated that RT's records from FNRC indicated that RT received Norco (a narcotic pain medication) and Ativan (an anxiety medication) on the day of, and prior to, RT's admission at Lake Point, but RT's Lake Point pharmacology screen produced a negative result for those medications. FNRC expressed concern that these differing results indicated potential medication diversion, and it commenced an investigation that same night.

         Plaintiff, Krystle Duncan, and Jennifer Ward were the three nurses who most recently administered medications to RT during the period in question. Both Duncan and Ward are Caucasian and under 40 years old. RT's physician prescribed both drugs to RT “PRN”, meaning that RT only received these drugs when needed. For PRN narcotics, such as the pain medication Plaintiff allegedly administered to RT on the evening of August 18, 2014, the nurses must also document this administration as follows: (1) on a narcotics sheet, confirming that the nurse took the medication from the medicine cart and administered it to the resident; (2) on a PRN sheet, indicating that the resident received a PRN medication, and (3) on the resident's MAR. In addition, the nurse must document other information about the resident, such as the resident's pain level that justifies the need for a PRN narcotic.

         As part of the investigation, FNRC drug tested Plaintiff, Duncan, and Ward. Defendant alleges that Plaintiff's and Duncan's initial drug screens were positive, while Ward's initial drug screen was negative. However, Plaintiff disputes this allegation and argues that Defendant informed her that Plaintiff's initial urine screen was negative. (Pl. Dep. at 127-28, ll. 19-23, 1-3). Because of the allegedly positive drug screens, and the role in administering RT's medication more recently than Ward, FNRC suspended Plaintiff and Duncan pending investigation. FNRC sent Plaintiff's and Duncan's drug screens to a lab for confirmation; Plaintiff's results were negative, while Duncan's results were positive.

         The investigation also involved a thorough review of several residents' medical records, including their narcotics sheets, PRN sheets, and MARs. Although the investigation did not reveal any missing medication, Ms. Crowell and Ms. Graves discovered that both Plaintiff and Duncan committed multiple serious documentation errors. For example, FNRC prescribed Norco, a PRN (“as needed”) narcotic, to Resident GJ. In May 2014, Plaintiff signed the controlled drug record for Resident GJ nineteen (19) times, which indicated that she administered Norco to GJ 19 times. However, she only signed GJ's MAR once in May 2014, and she only documented GJ's pain for three (3) days that month. Furthermore, Plaintiff made similar documentation errors in the medical records of two other residents. Plaintiff does not dispute these documentation errors, and she understands the nursing standard of properly documenting resident care, including medication. Crowell and Graves allege that, because of Plaintiff's multiple documentation errors, they terminated Plaintiff's employment. Crowell and Graves also terminated Duncan's employment, as she had also committed documentation errors.

         On November 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Compl., Ex. A). In her Charge, Plaintiff alleged discrimination based on race, age, and alleged disability, as well as retaliation. (Id.) The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue on July 1, 2015. (Compl., Ex. B). On September 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County, Alabama, alleging claims of discrimination based on race, age, and disability, and a claim of retaliation. (Compl.) FNRC removed the action to this Court on October 26, 2015. (Doc. 1).


         Plaintiff's Race Discrimination Claim

         Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer “to discriminate against any individual with respect to [her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race.” 42 U.S.C. §2000e-2(a)(1). Under Title VII, the plaintiff possesses the burden of establishing a prima facie case of employment discrimination. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).

         A plaintiff may sustain this burden in any one of three ways: (1) by presenting direct evidence of discriminatory intent; (2) by presenting circumstantial evidence of discriminatory intent through the McDonnell-Douglas test; or (3) by demonstrating through statistics a pattern of discrimination. Rioux v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 520 F.3d 1269, 1274 (11th Cir. 2008).

         Plaintiff offers circumstantial evidence of race discrimination; therefore, the court evaluates her discrimination claim through the burden shifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973). Under this scheme, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case. Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its employment decision. Rioux at 1275. If the employer carries its burden of production, the plaintiff must show that the reason the employer offered is pretext for discrimination. Id.

         To state a prima facie case for race discrimination, Plaintiff must show that she (1) was a member of a protected class; (2) the Defendant subjected her to an adverse employment action; (3) her employer treated similarly situated employees more favorably than she; and (4) she was qualified to do the job. Ashmore v. Sec., Dept. of Transp., 503 Fed.Appx. 683, 687 (11th Cir. 2013)(citing Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1562 (11th Cir. 1997)). Plaintiff argues in her complaint that Defendant discriminated against her based on her race. However, Defendant avers that Plaintiff abandoned this claim by failing to address it in her response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         The Eleventh Circuit has held that the failure of a party to respond or oppose a pending motion may constitute an abandonment of the claims at issue in that motion. See, e.g., Coalition for the Abolition on Marijuana Prohibition v. City of Atlanta, 219 F.3d 1301, 1326 (11th Cir. 2000)(finding that a party's failure to brief and argue an issue before the district court renders the claims abandoned); Hooper v. City of Montgomery, 482 F.Supp.2d 1330, 1334 (M.D. Ala. 2007) (concluding that a plaintiff's failure to respond to claims in a defendant's motion to dismiss resulted in dismissal of those claims as abandoned). As portrayed in Plaintiff's response, she failed to respond to the Defendant's arguments against her race discrimination claim; thus, she neglected to address the merits of Defendant's contentions regarding that claim. See, e.g., Edmondson v. Bd. of Trustees of Univ. of Ala., 258 Fed.Appx. 763, 765 (11th Cir. 2008)(finding that “grounds alleged in the complaint but not relied upon in summary judgment are deemed ...

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