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Borden v. Cheaha Regional Mental Health Center, Inc.

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

March 22, 2018





         A. Summary of Ms. Borden's Claims

         On January 29, 2016, Plaintiff LaShunda R. Borden (“Ms. Borden”), who is representing herself, initiated this job discrimination lawsuit against Defendant Cheaha Regional Mental Health, Inc. (“Cheaha”). (Doc. 1). Ms. Borden filed an amended complaint (doc. 6) on February 23, 2016, that was entered on March 25, 2016.[1] As amended, her lawsuit asserts violations of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Id. at 4).[2]

         While this amended pleading is not organized into consecutively numbered counts, a broad reading of it confirms that Ms. Borden is primarily asserting two wrongful discharge claims against Cheaha-one on the basis of race and the other on the basis of retaliation for previously filing an EEOC charge. (See Id. at 3 (“Essentially [Cheaha] was trying to find a way to fire me because I had filed an EEOC charge.”); id. at 4 (“[Cheaha] placed me on suspension and I was subsequently terminated on December 17, 2014.”); id. (“I was targeted due to my race and because I had filed an EEOC [Charge] of Discrimination previously[.]”)).

         B. Summary of Pending Motions

         Pending before the Court is Cheaha's Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 26) (the “Rule 56 Motion”) filed on May 31, 2017. Cheaha filed its brief (doc. 27) and evidentiary submission (doc. 28) on this same date. On June 1, 2017, the Court entered its customary pro se summary judgment scheduling order (doc. 29) that gave Ms. Borden special notice of her right to respond to Cheaha's Rule 56 Motion with affidavits or other opposing evidence and warned her about the consequences of not adequately responding to it. Ms. Borden opposed the Rule 56 Motion on June 30, 2017. (Doc. 31). Cheaha followed with its reply brief (doc. 32) on July 24, 2017. Cheaha also moved to strike Ms. Borden's evidentiary materials (the “Strike Motion”), including her purported affidavit, as procedurally defective and for other reasons. (Doc. 33 at 1-2 ¶¶ 2-5).

         The Court subsequently discovered that Cheaha's brief in support of its Rule 56 Motion was missing multiple pages. (Doc. 34 at 1). The Court also agreed with Cheaha that Ms. Borden had “failed to substantially comply with Appendix II of its Uniform Initial Order . . . .” (id. at 2) and that her affidavit was procedurally deficient. (Id. at 3). In light of these multiple problems, the Court ordered Cheaha to file a corrected brief (id. at 1), allowed Ms. Borden to refile her opposing materials (id. at 3), and granted Cheaha's Strike Motion to that limited extent. Id.

         Cheaha then filed its corrected brief on November 2, 2017. (Doc. 35). Ms. Borden filed her opposing materials on November 29, 2017. (Docs. 38, 39). Cheaha followed with a second Motion To Strike (doc. 42) (the “Second Strike Motion”) and its reply (doc. 43) on December 14, 2017.

         For the reasons explained below, Cheaha's Second Strike Motion is due to be granted in part and otherwise denied. Further, its Rule 56 Motion is due to be granted in part and otherwise termed as moot.


         Cheaha was a public, non-for-profit corporation governed by a twenty-one member Board of Directors (the “Board”).[4] AF No. 2.1.[5] The Board was appointed by local governments under Alabama Act 310 of the 1957 Alabama Legislature. AF No. 2.2. Cheaha provided a continuum of services for persons with intellectual disabilities, serious mental illness, and substance abuse problems in a four-County area in east Alabama, which included Clay, Coosa, Randolph, and Talladega Counties. AF No. 2.3. As part of its outpatient mental health services, Cheaha operated four separate outpatient clinics located in Sylacauga, Lineville, Talladega, and Roanoke. AF No. 3.

         At the time of her discharge, Ms. Borden was employed in the position of Consumer Clerk[6] at Cheaha's Talladega outpatient clinic. (Doc. 39 at 64).[7] This outpatient clinic provided mental health services to persons residing in Talladega County and the surrounding area (referred to as “consumers”). AF No. 4.2. Many of these consumers were indigent and had no other available source of treatment. AF No. 4.3. The Talladega clinic also included a professional staff consisting of a therapist, part-time psychiatrist, and a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner. AF No. 4.4.[8]

         As listed on the position description for Consumer Clerk, Ms. Borden's job “DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES” were:

1. Ensures confidentiality is maintained in the administrative process.
2. Verbally requests correct payment/co-pay from each OP consumer.
3. Collects and records consumer payments.
4. Provide[s] receipts to consumers.
5. Drops each collection in the safe as it is received.
6. Prepares/makes a deposit at least once per week or as needed.
7. Reconciliation of deposits and fees weekly.
8. Ensures all accounts receivable processes follow [Cheaha] policies, maintaining detailed paperwork.
9. Notifies supervisor and Business Manager of any discrepancies related to accounts receivable process.
10. Notifies supervisor of any issues with fee collection.
1. Reports and staffs any concerns and/or problems as they arise with community relationships.
2. Completes administrative review at 6 months and closes all files following center policy.
3. Copies and prepares and sends out disability determination paperwork in a timely manner.
4. Copies and prepares claims from Lawyers and outside sources following the center Release of Information policy.
5. Completes initial contacts in a timely manner as needed.
6. Follows schedule related to mail delivery and pick up.
7. Switchboard operator as needed following center protocol.
8. Assists in ensuring all cris[e]s are seen in a timely manner.
11. Assist[s] consumers with problems/concerns as needed.
12. Assist[s] with checking billing and taking to business office as directed.
13. Provide[s] administrative Review at 6 month and closure keeping all forms as needed.
14. Provide[s] back up for setting appointments.
15. Assist[s] with the doctor schedule as needed.
16. Enures all office duties are performed as assigned.
17. Serves as a liaison between the Business Office and the Sylacauga Outpatient Office.
18. Serves as a liaison between the direct care staff and support staff, ensuring an effective and smooth office flow.
19. Ensures confidentiality is maintained in the administrative process.
20. Works with Coordinator/Therapist to ensure all potential crises are screened and handled appropriately.
21. Assists doctors and center nurse with Doctor Day.
22. In the absence of the Coordinator, provides non-clinical oversight of office and ensures services are provided appropriately.
23. Ensures confidentiality is maintained in the administrative process.
1. Establishes and maintains professional working relationships with staff, community agencies, and other professionals in the community. Exemplifies professional conduct as a representative of [Cheaha], responding to community needs and requests in a timely manner.
2. Observes and follows all center policies and procedures.
3. Performs other relevant duties as assigned.

         (Doc. 39 at 66-67). This job description further indicated that “Job Duties are subject to change based on office needs.” (Doc. 39 at 67).

         As summarized by Ms. Atkinson, Ms. Borden's job duties and responsibilities at the Talladega location generally included:

a. Properly and efficiently answering the telephone. There were occasionally instances where calls seeking emergency assistance were received from [c]onsumers or others dealing with issues pertaining to [c]onsumers.
b. Properly and efficiently managing scheduling appointments including issues that arose due to conflicts and communicating with the [c]onsumers and professional staff to make sure that the [c]onsumers understood when their appointments were set and handling the rescheduling of any appointments as may have been necessary, so that the professional staff was utilized to its fullest capacity.
c. Properly and efficiently managing the reception desk at the clinic, ensuring that [c]onsumers sign in and that the professional staff were alerted that the [c]onsumer had arrived for his or her appointment, so that [c]onsumers were not left waiting for extended periods of time.
d. Collecting and organizing the files for the [c]onsumers to be seen by the professional staff the day before their scheduled appointment, so that the professional staff did not encounter unnecessary delays while looking for files.
e. Maintain the confidentiality of the identity of the [c]onsumers, consistent with State and Federal law and regulations.
f. Supporting the general needs of the professional staff on a daily basis, and professionally interacting with that staff, to achieve the common goal of providing much needed mental health services to the [c]onsumers.

(Doc. 28 at 6-7 ¶¶ 9.a-9.f).

         The importance of Ms. Borden's ability to properly perform her job responsibilities was particularly critical given the nature of the operation at issue. AF No. 6.1.[10] The clinic provided much needed mental health services to consumers. AF No. 6.2.[11] These individuals frequently had no other source of treatment or support. AF No. 6.3.[12] Many of them were highly impaired or disturbed, and could ...

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