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Hutchins v. Spectracare Health Systems, Inc.

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

July 9, 2018

KIMBERLY HUTCHINS, Plaintiff,
v.
SPECTRACARE HEALTH SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          GRAY M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), this case was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for further proceedings and determination or recommendation as may be appropriate. Doc. 7. Plaintiff Kimberly Hutchins, proceeding pro se, filed this action on February 24, 2017, asserting claims in connection with the denial of Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave and race discrimination and retaliation in her employment. Doc. 1.[1] Now before the court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant SpectraCare Health Systems, Inc. (“SpectraCare”). Doc. 18. After careful consideration of the parties' submissions, [2] the applicable case law, and the record as a whole, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the motion for summary judgment be GRANTED.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         The court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the federal claim in this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1331. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue, and the court finds adequate allegations to support both.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). The moving party “always 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 demonstrate the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In responding to a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material fact.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, “the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). If the nonmoving party's evidence is “merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986) (citations omitted). “However, disagreement between the parties is not significant unless the disagreement presents a genuine [dispute] of material fact.” Gamble v. Pinnoak Resources, LLC, 511 F.Supp.2d 1111, 1122 (N.D. Ala. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). A factual dispute is genuine when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         When a district court considers a motion for summary judgment, all evidence and inferences drawn from the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Graham v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999). “The court must avoid weighing conflicting evidence or making credibility determinations. Instead, the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the non-movant's] favor.” Gamble, 511 F.Supp.2d at 1122 (internal quotation marks omitted). “Where a reasonable fact finder may draw more than one inference from the facts, then the court should refuse to grant summary judgment.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The facts viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant are as follows: Hutchins was employed with SpectraCare, which is a non-profit corporation that provides mental health, intellectual disability, and substance abuse services. Hutchins began working at SpectraCare in June 2013. When her employment ended in December 2015, she was a Day Treatment Director.

         The written job description for Hutchins provided by SpectraCare lists eight primary job functions and performance expectations. Doc. 17-7. These include managing the day treatment program, managing the financial aspects of the program, supervising the day treatment staff, providing therapeutic services, maintaining client records, serving as part of the emergency services staff including crises services, other duties including transportation, and regular attendance with timely arrival and departure according to scheduled hours. Doc. 17-7.

         In her brief in response to the motion for summary judgment, Hutchins states, without citation to any supporting evidence, that 75% of her job function was to perform the duties of day treatment groups, complete assessments of new intakes, and the renewal of current treatment plans. Doc. 20 at 5. She also states in her brief, however, that it was “known that some leadership roles were part of my job functions but not my full job function.” Doc. 20 at 5. In her deposition, she testified that leadership was an essential function of her job. Doc. 17-1 at 126.

         In May 2015, a complaint was raised about Hutchins' work performance. In June 2015, Hutchins received a Step II Plan under SpectraCare's progressive discipline program in response to the May 2015 complaint. Hutchins testified in her deposition that she was not at work when the incident resulting in the Step II Plan occurred and that she was blamed for the incident because of her race. Hutchins wrote a rebuttal to the Step II Plan. Susie Kingry, Chief Operations Officer of SpectraCare, and Laura Deal, Chief Human Resources Officer, met with Hutchins about her rebuttal on July 8, 2015, and informed her that the disciplinary action would not be retracted.

         Hutchins filed a grievance with SpectraCare on June 29, 2015 in which she identified perceived mistreatment based on the Step II Plan and her meeting with Deal and Kingry. In her grievance, she stated that she did not receive fair treatment in that she and other therapists engaged in the same behavior, but only she was disciplined for it. Doc. 17-5.

         Hutchins was issued a Step II Addendum on August 11, 2015. Hutchins did not lose pay or benefits as a result of the Step II Plan or the Step II Addendum.

         Hutchins contends in her brief that the discipline she received caused her to experience problems with blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and fibromyalgia. On August 17, 2015, Hutchins requested FMLA paperwork. Hutchins' doctor completed the paperwork and indicated on the form that Hutchins was unable to perform a job function. Doc. 17-2 at 4. Specifically, the doctor stated that Hutchins was unable to function in a leadership role due to the symptoms of her diagnosed conditions. Doc. 17-2 at 4.

         Hutchins subsequently met with Deal and Kingry. Kingry informed Hutchins that she would be given FMLA leave until she could perform leadership responsibilities. Doc. 17-7 at 5. Hutchins went on FMLA leave in September 2015. She never provided follow-up paperwork to show that she could meet the essential functions of her job and would be capable of returning to work.

         On December 1, 2015, SpectraCare sent a letter to Hutchins informing her that her FMLA leave was exhausted and that SpectraCare would not be able to continue to hold her position because her physician indicated a need for Hutchins' continued absence with an uncertain return date. Doc. 17-4.

         IV. ...


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