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Jones v. UAB Health System

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

February 15, 2018

LOUIS W. JONES, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
UAB HEALTH SYSTEM, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          STACI G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The court has before it the January 19, 2017 motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant UAB Health System (“UABHS”). (Doc. 19). Pursuant to the court's initial order and April 5, 2017 order, the motion is fully briefed and under submission as of April 17, 2017. (Docs. 18, 30). After consideration of the briefs and evidence, the motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part for the following reasons.

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS

         Plaintiff, an African-American, began his employment with UABHS on January 3, 2013, as a systems analyst II on the staff of HealthQuest, part of the health system information services department. (Doc. 1 ¶ 17; Doc. 20-1 at 4). The HealthQuest staff support the hospital patient management and billing system and report to Jeff Dunkerley, the information systems manager. (Doc. 20-13 at 2; see Doc. 21 at 3).

         Plaintiff's first annual review covered the time period from his hire[2] through September 30, 2013. (Doc. 25-25). Dunkerley administered Plaintiff's first review in November 2013, and his remarks were generally positive. (Id.). Dunkerley rated Plaintiff as “met expectations” or “exceeded some expectations” in most areas and rated Plaintiff as “met some expectations” in the area of productivity, efficiency, and dependability. (Id. at 2-4). Dunkerley noted Plaintiff was “often late” which “has caused problems a few times” and suggested Plaintiff “could improve his overall results by prioritizing his work on a daily basis.” (Id. at 2, 4). Dunkerley testified he gave new employees some leeway during the first year of employment to become familiar with the HealthQuest system and it typically took a year to become proficient. (Doc. 20-13 at 4).

         Dunkerley expected HealthQuest employees to take more responsibility and work with less supervision after their first year. (Doc. 20-13 at 5). Plaintiff did not live up to Dunkerley's expectation after the first year, but instead his performance deteriorated. (Id.). For example, Plaintiff missed deadlines for projects, Dunkerley had to follow up with Plaintiff to complete assignments more than with other employees, and Dunkerley had to reassign some of Plaintiff's projects to get them completed on time. (Id.). Plaintiff disagreed with Dunkerley's assessment and testified Dunkerley scrutinized his work more closely and set unrealistic deadlines for his projects. (Doc. 25-15 at 2-10; Doc. 25-1 at 32, 36-37).

         During his second year of employment, on August 25, 2014, Plaintiff submitted his first complaint about Dunkerley to Jeanie Singer in Human Resources and to various other administrators. (Doc. 25-16 at 2-3). Among other things, Plaintiff contended he was being singled out by Dunkerley and treated differently because of his race. (Id.). Dunkerley was immediately aware of the complaint. (Doc. 25-6 at 10; Doc. 25-17 at 2). Following the complaint, Dunkerley began sending emails to individuals in Human Resources regarding Plaintiff, including matters occurring before Plaintiff made his complaint and information about Plaintiff's punctuality. (Doc. 25-6 at 10-16). There is no evidence Dunkerley sent similar emails about other employees. There is also no evidence in the record of complaints by Dunkerley about Plaintiff before his August 25, 2014 complaint.

         On October 3, 2014, Plaintiff took medical leave for wrist surgery. (Doc. 25-2 at 16). While on medical leave, on October 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed his first charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against Defendant alleging discrimination on the basis of race. (Doc. 25-24). Defendant, including Dunkerley, learned of Plaintiff's charge of discrimination while he was on medical leave. (Doc. 25-6 at 18). Plaintiff returned to work in late December. (Id. at 26).

         Because he was on medical leave during the annual review period, Dunkerley administered Plaintiff's second annual review when he returned. (Id.). This review was more critical of Plaintiff than the first review. (Doc. 25-26). Dunkerley rated Plaintiff as “met expectations” in the area of quality of work and “exceeded some expectations” in the area of communication but rated his work as “met some expectations” in most areas and “failed to meet expectations” in the area of productivity, efficiency, and dependability. (Id. at 3-6). Dunkerley specifically noted a number of project deficiencies, as well as problems working with the team. (Id.). Plaintiff disagreed with Dunkerley's assessment and testified he “for the most part” completed assignments on time and did not complete others because the deadlines were unrealistic or unworkable because the customer was still defining what it needed from the project. (Doc. 20-1 at 72-74).

         After his review, Dunkerley continued to note problems with Plaintiff's work. A few months later, on March 5, 2015, Dunkerley, his supervisor Melanie Turner, and Joan Wilson from Human Resources, had a telephone conference regarding Plaintiff. (Doc. 25-6 at 21). Wilson jotted handwritten notes from the call and transferred some of those notes to a typed document. (Docs. 25-10 and 25-11). During that call, Dunkerley stated Plaintiff was sixty days into a ninety day performance plan. (Doc. 25-10). That statement was false, and Dunkerley admitted he never placed Plaintiff on a performance plan and could not explain why he stated he did. (Doc. 25-4 at 19). Dunkerley also stated Plaintiff's productivity was still deficient, but Dunkerley worried if the problems were presented to Plaintiff it was “his word against mine” and Plaintiff would respond Dunkerley was not adequately communicating with him. (Docs. 25-10 and 25-11). Dunkerley admitted he felt his “hands had been tied” but he could “take off the gloves” if necessary. (Id.).

         Later that month, on March 23, 2015, Dunkerley sent an email to Singer and Wilson with a list of projects he reassigned from Plaintiff to other employees. (Doc. 25-32). Dunkerley stated he reassigned those projects “due to lack of progress.” (Id. at 3).

         A. The April 14, 2015 security alert

         Plaintiff had a project for patient management with a deadline on or about April 9, 2015. (Doc. 25-1 at 32-33). On April 8, 2015, Dunkerley sent an email to Plaintiff with questions regarding the outstanding project, noted the project was not near completion, and critiqued Plaintiff's work thus far on the project. (Doc. 20-7 at 235-36). Plaintiff responded to Dunkerley's concerns on the morning of April 9, 2015, and told him that he would have the project completed by April 14, 2015. (Id.; Doc. 25-1 at 33; Doc. 20-13 at 9).

         Less than an hour after responding to Dunkerley's concerns on April 9, Plaintiff sent an email with the subject line “Retaliation” to HR, detailing his allegations of retaliation since his return from medical leave. (Doc. 25-7). He also called the Ethics and Compliance Hotline at UABHS and made an identical complaint. (Doc. 20-6 at 49-50, 53-54).

         On the afternoon of April 13, Plaintiff requested to move the patient management program file from the testing environment to production, [3] indicating the program was complete. (Doc. 20-13 at 9; Doc. 25-1 at 13-14). Dunkerley approved the move of the program. (Doc. 20-13 at 9). Several hours later, Dunkerley noticed the wrong version of the program file was moved, and he emailed Plaintiff about it. (Id.). When he did not hear back from Plaintiff, Dunkerley asked tech support to check the audit log in an attempt to locate the proper version of the file. (Id.). Tech support reported Plaintiff's user ID deleted the proper ...


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