United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
E. Ott Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Christopher Hester filed a complaint in this
court alleging he was terminated because of his
race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964. (Doc. 1). The court has before it the June 29, 2018
motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant The University
of Alabama Board of Trustees
(“UAB”). (Doc. 26). The motion has been fully
briefed (docs. 27, 33, 38), and is now ripe for decision. For
the reasons set forth below, the motion is due to be granted.
OF FACTS 
Christopher Hester, an African-American, began his employment
with UAB on March 3, 2011, as a patient observer. (Doc. 28-1
(“Hester Dep.”) at 31). In December of 2013,
Hester applied for a Patient Care Technician
(“PCT”) position and was accepted. (Id.
at 36). He was transferred to the Jefferson Tower North 5
(JTN5) unit of the Center for Psychiatric Medicine (CPM) on
March 22, 2015. (Id. at 38.) The JTN5 unit serves as
an inpatient unit for psychiatric patients committed by a
probate court. (Doc. 28-3 (“Hand Dep.”) at 7).
Employees working in the unit provide long-term care to
patients suffering from psychiatric disorders making them a
danger to either themselves or the public. (Id. at
are trained in venipuncture, vital signs monitoring, and
blood sugar monitoring. (Id. at 12). As a PCT,
Hester reported to the Assistant Nurse Manager in CPM on the
JTN5 Unit, Daniel Nash. (Doc. 28-9 (“Nash Dep.”)
at 8, 13). Nash reported directly to the Nurse Manager in CPM
on the JTN5 Unit, Wren Hand. (Id. at 11; Hand Dep.
at 9). Hand reported directly to the Administrative Director
of Nursing over the CPM, Steve Nasiatka. (Doc. 28-5
(“Nasiatka Dep.”) at 12, 29; Hand Dep. at 11).
The Administrative Director of Nursing is the highest ranking
employee at the CPM facility.
employees working at UAB must follow certain guidelines and
procedures found in the UAB Code of Conduct and UAB Employee
Behavior Policy. (Doc. 28-7 (“Mayer Dep.”) at
14). In addition, all CPM employees must complete and operate
using the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) training.
(Id.). The CPI training program focuses on
“safe management of disruptive and assaultive
behavior.” (Doc. 28-2 at 105). UAB uses the CPI
training to maintain safety for patients and employees that
operate within CPM. (Hand Dep. at 18-19). The CPI training
teaches employees the escalation model of patient behavior
which includes identifying early warning of behavior
escalation and how to protect themselves and other patients
from a patient whose combative behavior has escalated. (Nash
Dep. at 19-20). CPM employees initially receive 8 hours of
CPI training in the same month they are hired and then
receive 4 hours of recertification training in addition to
CPI drills. (Hand Dep at 20-23). After an employee has
successfully completed CPI training, the employee is issued a
CPI Blue Card to signify completion of the training. (Doc.
28-2). Dealing with particularly difficult patients does not
alleviate the burden on UAB employees from adhering to the
CPI training and following other UAB policies and procedures.
(Hand Dep. at 31). Hester received CPI training and his CPI
Blue Card in December of 2011, and attended a refresher
course on March 26, 2015. (Hester Dep. at 35, 38-39).
utilizes a progressive discipline policy for a large number
of deficiencies and offenses. (Doc. 28-8 at 2). In other
words, in the absence of an act warranting immediate
termination, discipline normally begins at a lower level and
increases with each additional disciplinary action.
(Id.). However, the Employee Behavior policy
enumerates a number of offenses that can lead to immediate
termination without notice. (Id.). These offenses
include “incompetence in patient care” and
“dishonesty.” (Id.). Further, the UAB
Code of Conduct proscribes the “fabricat[ion] of
information” and “misrepresent[ation] of
events.” (Id. at 4). In addition, it requires
that UAB employees “provide the highest quality of care
by reaching for excellence.” (Id.).
October 27, 2015 Incident
morning of October 27, 2015, in exercise of his work
responsibilities, Hester woke patient C.L. from his sleep and
told him that breakfast was ready. (Hester Dep at 105).
Hester then took a seat in a chair placed on the JTN5 floor
in the same common area where C.L. awaited breakfast. (Doc.
28-13 (“Incident Video”); Nasiatka Dep. at 23).
Before breakfast, C.L. refused to allow his vitals to be
taken and refused to ingest his prescribed medication.
(Hester Dep. at 56). As a result and in accordance with
hospital policy, C.L.'s breakfast was delayed until C.L
decided to cooperate. (Id. at 55-56). C.L. became
agitated when he had not received his breakfast and began to
speak to himself and to the hospital staff using violent and
manic language. (Id. at 56-57). He paced the JNT5
floor occasionally speaking with Hester and other members of
the staff. (Id. at 122; Incident Video). He demanded
that Hester provide breakfast. (Id.). When Hester
refused to provide breakfast, C.L. slowly approached Hester
while addressing him verbally. (Incident Video). Throughout
the entire approach, the C.L.'s hands were at his side.
(Id.). As C.L. drew close, Hester quickly rose from
his chair with his hands extended in front of his body and
wrestled the patient to the ground. (Id.). After a
brief period of wrestling on the floor, another hospital
employee ended the encounter. (Id.). The entire
event lasted only a few seconds. (Id.).
Investigation and Termination
Shortly after the altercation, the Human Resources Department
initiated a review of the incident. (See Doc. 28-23
at 2). As part of that investigation, Hester completed a
written statement relating his version of the events. (Doc.
28-2 at 125-26). In the statement, Hester asserted that he
was attacked by C.L. (Id. at 125). Specifically,
[C.L.] became combative and started threatening staff. My
staff members and I remained calm and stated quiet until
[C.L.] could calm down; then [C.L.] turned to me, and asked
could he have his tray. I remained calm, and said to him I
didn't want to engage in a power struggle, with my head
slightly down. I didn't want to make eye contact while
[C.L.] was upset, and that's when he attacked me, and hit
me with a closed fist while I was sitting down. I stood up as
I was getting hit to descalate [sic] the situation I was in,
and tried to hold [C.L.'s] left arm so I could inform CPI
than [C.L.] and I legs got tangled. We fell to the floor and
as we were falling [C.L.] took his arm and put it around my
neck . . . .
(Id. at 125-26).
was terminated on November 10, 2015. (Doc. 28-18 at 3). The
stated reasons for his termination include a “violation
of You and UAB 7.3.1 ‘Inappropriate behavior toward, or
discourteous treatment of, patients, '” as well as
not following the core value “Do Right.”
(Id.). The counseling record specifically stated
Hester “went beyond what is appropriate becoming
involved in an altercation with the patient rather than
utilizing CPI techniques, ” the “physical
altercation . . . was not part of CPI training for safely
managing a patient's physical aggression, ” and his
action posed a risk to the patient's safety.
(Id.). Additionally, the counseling record noted
that Hester's written statement did not accurately
reflect the incident. (Id.).
maintained the final responsibility for the termination
decision; however, Kelly Mayer and Greg Erwin from Human
Resources were in agreement as to the decision to terminate
Hester. (Nasiatka Dep. at 16-17, 23; Mayer Dep. at 27-28;
Doc. 28-10 (“Erwin Decl.”) ¶ 21). The
decision was based on their review of the video footage and
their resulting conclusion that Hester had failed to adhere
to UAB policies and his CPI training. (Nasiatka Dep. at 17).
Specifically, the reviewers found Hester failed to stand up
and distance himself from the approaching patient, and he did
not take supportive stance, use interim control position,
block and move, or run away. (Nasiatka Dep. at 18, 32; Nash
Dep. at 28; Doc. 28-23 at 13). Nasiatka believed that
Hester's actions placed C.L., and other people in the
common area at risk. (Nasiatka Dep. at 34). In addition,
Erwin testified the inconsistency between the video evidence
and Hester's written statement was another independent
ground for termination because dishonesty is prohibited by
UAB handbook policies. (Erwin Decl. ¶ 24).
Nash nor Hand participated in the ultimate termination
decision, although they played a role in the investigation.
(Nash Dep. at 19-23, 28; Hand Dep. at 88). In fact, Nasiatka
testified he overruled Hand's recommendation not to
terminate Plaintiff,  but instead to issue a written warning and
provide additional education. (Nasiatka Dep. at 16; Doc. 28-6
EEOC Charge and ...