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Turner v. Jefferson County Commission

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

June 11, 2019

AMBER TURNER, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFERSON COUNTY COMMISSION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Amber Turner brings a claim for relief stemming from an alleged violation of her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against Defendant Personnel Board of Jefferson County (“the Personnel Board”), Cooper Green Mercy Health Services, Barry Hudson, Armika Berkley, Roger McCullough, and Anna Elizabeth Hill. (Doc. 3).[1] Currently before the court[2] is the motion to dismiss filed by the Personnel Board. (Doc 7). The motion has been fully briefed, (docs. 34, 36), and is now ripe for decision. Also before the court is a motion to stay discovery that was filed by the Personnel Board. (Doc. 42). For the following reasons, the court concludes that the motion to dismiss is due to be granted and the motion to stay is moot.

         I. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes a motion to dismiss claims in a complaint on the ground that the allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On such a motion, the ‘“issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'” Little v City of North Miami, 805 F.2d 962, 965 (11th Cir. 1986) (quoting Scheur v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). The court assumes the factual allegations in the complaint are true and gives the Plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable factual inferences. Hazewood v. Foundation Financial Group, LLC, 551 F.3d 1223, 1224 (11th Cir. 2008).

         Rule 12(b)(6) is read in light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) which requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” in order to, ‘“give the defendant fair notice of what the … claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level….” Id. Thus, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, '” i.e., its “factual content … allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS[3]

         Plaintiff is an African American female who was formerly employed as a clinical pharmacist at Cooper Green Mercy Hospital. (Doc. 3 ¶¶ 7, 16). She was hired as a clinical pharmacist in April 2016 via the civil service system administered by the Personnel Board. (Id. ¶¶ 15-17). Shortly after being hired in 2016, Plaintiff realized that she was one of only two African American clinical pharmacists employed there. (Id. ¶ 20). Approximately two weeks after she started work, Plaintiff and the other African American pharmacist were assigned to work in the oncology/chemo practice, after the Caucasian pharmacists refused. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 24, 26). Neither Plaintiff nor the other African American pharmacist were qualified to work with the chemotherapy drugs, unlike the other Caucasian pharmacists. (Id. ¶ 27). Plaintiff told her supervisor, Elizabeth Hill, that she did not want to work around potentially hazardous chemotherapy chemicals, that it was not safe for the patients to allow her to work with the drugs, and asked why they could not hire an as-needed oncology pharmacist to temporarily fill the position. (Id. ¶ 28).

         A few hours later, Plaintiff spoke with Barry Hudson in personnel about the situation. (Id. ¶ 29). After this conversation, Hill “threatened Turner telling her she is a probationary employee and if she doesn't want to work in chemotherapy, they will get someone that will.” (Id.). Plaintiff reiterated that she did not want to work in chemotherapy, she was not hired for that position, and that it was unsafe for patients. (Id. ¶ 30). Plaintiff suggested that Caucasian and African American pharmacists rotate to “ensure trained coverage, ” but Hill “did not follow up on this suggestion.” (Id.).

         At Hill's suggestion, Plaintiff again met with Hudson and raised the same issues on April 15, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 32). She questioned why the African American pharmacists were being “segregated” to this position. (Id. ¶ 32). Hudson threatened Plaintiff's job and told her that “‘they' could place individuals wherever they want.” (Id. ¶ 33). After the meeting, Plaintiff continued to question the work assignment, but never received a response. (Id. ¶ 34).

         On April 20, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging race discrimination with the hospital's affirmative action officer. (Id. ¶ 35). There was an investigation during which the Receiver met with Hill and Roger McCullough, the director for Cooper Green. (Id. ¶ 36). On May 17, 2016, Plaintiff received a letter stating that her complaint “lacked merit and was closed.” (Id.). That being said, neither Plaintiff nor the other African American pharmacist were required to fill the chemotherapy position thereafter. (Id.).

         Sometime thereafter, Plaintiff “observed several items requiring management's attention involving timeclock fraud and the improper dispensing of scheduled narcotics.” (Id. ¶ 37). She notified Hill, as well as a co-employee, regarding the improper dispensing of the scheduled narcotics in late September or early October 2016. (Id. ¶ 38). On October 18, 2016, she told management about the alleged time clock fraud. (Id. ¶ 39).

         At the time of Plaintiff's six month point of her employment, while she was still in the probationary period, Plaintiff contends that Hill, Hudson, and McCullough decided that her employment should be terminated before the end of the probationary period because of her complaints. (Id. ¶¶ 40-43). Plaintiff alleges “they discussed how to document [her] file with evidence of poor performance, even if untrue” with the purpose of providing sufficient basis for her termination. (Id. ¶¶ 44, 45). “Hill reached out to the Caucasian employees asking for incidents involving” Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 47).

         On October 24, 2016, Hill met with Plaintiff “to retroactively discipline her” for multiple issues. (Id. ¶ 52). Plaintiff disputes the issues as presented by Hill. (Id. ¶¶ 53-54). “These false allegations prompted [Plaintiff] to file a second complaint with the Office of the Affirmative Action Officers on October 28, 2016, wherein she alleged race discrimination and that her October 24, 2016 discipline was retaliation based on her first complaint of race discrimination.” (Id. ¶ 55).

         During the coming months, Hill continued to “solicit[] reasons to discipline” Plaintiff as part of a plan to terminate her employment before the probationary period ended. (See id. ¶¶ 56-65). Plaintiff alleges that two “write-ups” were drafted but were never given to Plaintiff. (Id.). Then, on February 7, 2017, McCullough and Hudson “pulled Turner into a closed door meeting and verbally disciplined[4] ...


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