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Corbin v. Jackson Hospital & Clinic, Inc.

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

December 3, 2018

JACOB CORBIN, Plaintiff,
v.
JACKSON HOSPITAL & CLINIC, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER[1]

          SUSAN RUSS WALKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jacob Corbin brings this action against defendant Jackson Hospital & Clinic, Inc. (“Jackson”), alleging disability discrimination and retaliation pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (the “ADA”), as amended by the ADA Amendments Act (the “ADAAA”), and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. (the “RA”). See Doc. 1.[2] Jackson is a healthcare provider and hospital located in Montgomery County, Alabama. Corbin was hired by the defendant in 2002 and fired in November of 2013. During his employment, Corbin reached the position of “team leader” within the defendant's Information Technology (“IT”) department. Plaintiff held the team leader job title until his termination. This lawsuit concerns allegations of discrimination related to plaintiff's purported disability, as well as allegations that the defendant retaliated against Corbin due to that disability.

         This cause is presently before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. See Doc. 27. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion, see Doc. 47, and Jackson replied, see Doc. 48. Upon review of the motion and the record, the court concludes that defendant's motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         A movant is entitled to summary judgment if he “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). For summary judgment purposes, an issue of fact is “material” if, under the substantive law governing the claim, its presence or absence might affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). If the movant fails to satisfy its initial burden, the motion for summary judgment will be denied. Kernel Records Oy v. Mosley, 694 F.3d 1294, 1300 (11th Cir. 2012). If the movant adequately supports its motion, the burden shifts to the opposing party to establish - “by producing affidavits or other relevant and admissible evidence beyond the pleadings” - specific facts raising a genuine issue for trial. Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1315 (11th Cir. 2011); Dietz v. Smithkline Beecham Corp., 598 F.3d 812, 815 (11th Cir. 2010); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “All affidavits [and declarations] must be based on personal knowledge and must set forth facts that would be admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence[.]” Josendis, F.3d at 1315; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

         The court views the evidence and all reasonable factual inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Miller's Ale House, Inc. v. Boynton Carolina Ale House, LLC, 702 F.3d 1312, 1316 (11th Cir. 2012); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). However, “[i]f no reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact and summary judgment will be granted.” Morton v. Kirkwood, 707 F.3d 1276, 1284 (11th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         BACKGROUND AND RELEVANT FACTS[3]

         I. Plaintiff's Employment at Jackson

         Jackson's IT department maintained the hospital's computer systems, including its internet networks, telephone systems, and other electronic and cyber resources. See Doc. 47-19 at 2. The IT department was managed by a director, who was responsible for three teams within the department: the financial team, the clinical team, and the infrastructure team. Id. The infrastructure team oversaw the hospital's networks, telephones, and internet connectivity. Id. Until early November of 2013, a “team leader” supervised each of the three teams. Id.

         Jacob Corbin began working at Jackson in 2002, and ultimately obtained the position of infrastructure team leader. See Doc. 1 at 2. In this position, Corbin's responsibilities included duties having to do with the hospital's technological infrastructure. See Doc. 47-19 at 2. During at least some of Corbin's time as infrastructure team leader, Kris Carpenter was the director of the IT department and Corbin's supervisor. See Doc. 47-1 at 9. In September of 2013, the defendant hired Michael James to be the new Vice President (“VP”) and Chief Operating Officer (“COO”). See Doc. 47-19 at 1. In this role, James was responsible for the oversight and maintenance of the Hospital's IT systems. Id. at 2.

         II. Plaintiff's Diagnosis

         In 2010, [4] Corbin was diagnosed with narcolepsy with cataplexy by Dr. Rubin Richardson. See Doc. 47-1 at 16. Corbin avers that, shortly thereafter, he notified Carpenter of this diagnosis. Id. at 16. Corbin attests that the narcolepsy with cataplexy caused him increased sleepiness and memory loss. Id. at 3-4.

         Following this diagnosis, Corbin says that he felt pressured by Carpenter to explain his condition publicly at a department meeting. Id. at 22. Moreover, Carpenter notified a vendor that Corbin would not be available in the early morning or late at night due to his narcolepsy. Id. at 23. Also, Samantha Ivery claimed to have once heard someone at work make a joke about narcolepsy during her time as a member of Jackson's IT department; Ivery, however, could not recall any specifics regarding the joke, including which employees may have been involved or who it may have been about. See Doc. 47-4 at 2. Similarly, Andy Johnson, a former member of Jackson's IT department, claimed that Corbin's “narcolepsy was a joke in the IT department, ” but did not elaborate with specific details. See Doc. 47-17 at 3.

         III. Plaintiff's Complaints

         On February 11, 2013, Corbin submitted his first internal complaint alleging that Carpenter was discriminating against him based on a disability. See Doc. 47-20. Corbin says that Carpenter's hostility towards him, and Carpenter's attempt to change his job description, prompted him to file this initial complaint. See Doc. 47-1 at 26. As part of his complaint, Corbin alleged, among other things, that Carpenter “does not communicate effective[ly], ” that Carpenter yells at him, that Carpenter gives him a “hard time about accommodating his disability, ” and that she “criticizes his team in front of other directors.” See Doc. 47-21. In order to investigate and address this complaint, Gilbert Darrington, Jackson's Director of Human Resources, met with Carpenter and Corbin on February 18, 2013. Id. At this meeting, Carpenter agreed to accommodate Corbin's disability and to meet with the staff in order to address any rumors involving Corbin. Id. Darrington also advised Carpenter that she could not alter Corbin's job description “after the fact” given that there was no business reason for the change and “because [Corbin] had a disability that prevented [him] from filling that position.” See Doc. 47-1 at 21. Notably, Corbin testified that he does not believe that he “ever requested any type of accommodation” for his narcolepsy. Doc. 27 at 15.

         IV. Plaintiff's Job Performance

         Most of the time, Carpenter designated Corbin a “role model” employee. See Doc. 47-1 at 27. The “role model” distinction was the highest category that an employee could receive as part of an evaluation. Id. at 25. Further, an employee's pay was influenced by the evaluations; in other words, the higher the evaluation, the higher the pay increase for the year. Id.

         Corbin characterizes the June 2013 evaluation-during which he was assessed as “exceed[ing] standards, ” one level below “role model” status-as retaliation on the part of Carpenter due to Corbin's complaints. Id. at 25. However, according to Carpenter, Corbin's February 2013 complaint did not factor into her evaluation of him. See Doc. 27 at 79. Also, Carpenter avers that she was directed to adjust her department's evaluations in order to decrease the amount in raises its members would receive for the year. Id. at 75.

         Michael Ritzus, Jackson's VP of outpatient services, had a number of work-related interactions with Corbin. See Doc. 27 at 47. Ritzus describes Corbin's behavior as unprofessional and his work as negligent, and he shared these thoughts with Carpenter. Id. at 53. On July 29, 2013, Ritzus became so frustrated with the IT department, and with Corbin, that he drafted a memorandum detailing the issues. See Doc. 47-9 at 1. Corbin was also issued a written warning setting out complaints made against him due to his “[p]oor job performance.” Doc. 47-9 at 2-3. On September 19, 2013, after receiving this written warning, Corbin responded with a lengthy complaint describing his interactions with Carpenter, among others, and the alleged discrimination that he suffered due to his disability. See Doc. 47-8.

         When the situation did not improve, Ritzus took his complaint to Joe Riley, Jackson's Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”). See Doc. 27 at 54. Based on conversations between Ritzus and Riley, it became clear to Ritzus that Jackson's IT department was not performing well, and its struggles were having an adverse effect on the hospital's objectives. Id. at 54-56. Due to the IT department's issues, Riley, Jackson's CEO, hired Jackson Thornton Technologies (“JTT”), an external IT consulting firm, to perform an audit of the department and to make recommendations to improve its performance. See Doc. 47-19 at 2.

         V. JTT's Audit and the Microsoft Licenses

          When he became Jackson's new VP and COO, James was presented with JTT's final report. See Doc. 47-19 at 3. The JTT report underscored significant problems within the IT department's infrastructure team, particularly with Corbin's reported poor management. Id. In order to address JTT's findings and recommendations, Riley and James discussed restructuring the IT department and its management. Id.

         While JTT conducted its review, Microsoft conducted a software audit. Id. The IT department and its leadership team, Carpenter and Corbin, were responsible for maintaining software licensing. See Doc. 48 at 15-16. As part of its report, JTT warned that Microsoft imposes significant financial penalties on companies whose software licenses are not in compliance. See Doc. 47-19 at 3. In October of 2013, Microsoft determined that Jackson was not in compliance and, as a result, asked for payment of over $300, 000.00. Id.

         VI. Plaintiff's Termination

         On November 11, 2013, Darrington informed Corbin by letter that Jackson had eliminated his position and that his employment was terminated. See Doc. 47-12; see also Doc. 47-13. Darrington avers that he was present at a subsequent meeting where the issue with the Microsoft licenses was cited, at least in part, as the reason for the removal of both Carpenter and Corbin. See Doc. 47-2 at 3. Riley, the CEO, and James, the COO, decided to allow Carpenter to resign and to eliminate Corbin's position. See Doc. 47-19 at 3-4. Riley and James made this decision in response to the JTT report and the Microsoft software audit. Id. at 3-4. Corbin's position, Infrastructure Team Leader, was never again opened or filled. Id. at 4.

         VII. Plaintiff's ...


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