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Stoudemire v. Opp Health & Rehabilitation, LLC

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

August 5, 2019

LACIE STOUDEMIRE, et al., Plaintiffs,



         This is an employment discrimination case where six former employees of Opp Health & Rehabilitation (“OHR”) were terminated for allegedly abusing a resident at the facility. (Doc. 48) at 1; (Doc. 92) at 1. Plaintiffs argue their termination was racially motivated and, therefore, they assert claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended 42 U.S.C. §2000e, et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Doc. 48) at 6-7. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims, arguing that Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a prima facie case of discrimination and that OHR had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Plaintiffs. (Doc. 92) at 29; 33. For the reasons below, the undersigned concludes that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 91) should be granted.


         Plaintiffs are six African-American women who were employed by OHR. (Doc. 110) at 1-2; (Doc. 92) at 3-4. Plaintiff Beverly Berry (“Berry”) started working at OHR in 1998 as a Certified Nursing Assistant (“CNA”). (Doc. 110) at 2-3; (Doc. 92) at 4-5. Plaintiff Kimberly Hill (“Hill”) started working at OHR in 1996 as a CNA. (Doc. 110) at 2-3; (Doc. 92) at 5. Plaintiff Lessie Lott (“Lott”) started working at OHR in 1999 as a CNA. (Doc. 110) at 2-3; (Doc. 92) at 5. Plaintiff Analyna Marshall (“Marshall”) started working at OHR in 1994 as a Housekeeping Assistant. (Doc. 110) at 2-3; (Doc. 92) at 6. Plaintiff Barbara Tyson (“Tyson”) started working at OHR in 2004 as a CNA. (Doc. 110) at 2-3; (Doc. 92) at 6. Plaintiff Lacie Stoudemire (“Stoudemire”) started working at OHR in 1994 as a nursing assistant. (Doc. 92) at 6. Stoudemire was promoted to be a Licensed Practical Nurse (“LPN”) in 1998. Id. at 6-7.

         While employed at OHR, Plaintiffs were provided with an employee handbook. (Doc. 110) at 3; (Doc. 92) at 7. The employee handbook outlines disciplinary procedures employees face, to include termination, if they violate OHR policies against resident abuse. (Doc. 92) at 7; (Doc. 102-2) at 21. The OHR abuse policy (Doc. 107-1) defines verbal abuse as “the use of oral, written, or gestured language that willfully includes disparaging and derogatory terms to residents or their families, or within their hearing distance regardless of their age, ability to comprehend, or disability.” Id. at 2. The OHR abuse policy defines mental abuse as “humiliation, harassment, threats of punishment or deprivation.” Id. at 3. Employees receive bi-yearly training on residence abuse. (Doc. 92) at 12.

         On February 22, 2016, a resident of OHR, J.G., made a complaint to OHR, accusing Plaintiffs of verbal and mental abuse. (Doc. 110) at 5-7; (Doc. 92) at 20-21. J.G. is a 63-year-old African-American male with multiple health conditions, including an amputated left leg and a missing eye. (Doc. 92) at 7-8. Specifically, J.G. claimed that Plaintiffs accused him, on multiple occasions, of causing Stoudemire's daughter, Shalonda Lawrence (“Lawrence”) to suffer a miscarriage and lose her baby. Id. at 14-20. Plaintiffs' accusations stemmed from an incident that occurred sometime during the week of February 14, 2016, when Lawrence assisted Tyson with lifting J.G. from his bed to his wheelchair. Id. at 14. A few days later, Lawrence suffered a miscarriage. Id. There is no evidence in the record regarding whether lifting J.G. actually caused Lawrence's miscarriage. Id.

         J.G. testified that, after Tyson learned of Lawrence's miscarriage on February 21, 2016, she came into his room “and said you know you made [Lawrence] to lose her baby, didn't you. . . .” (Doc. 100-1) at 8-9. After denying he made Lawrence lose her baby, J.G. testified that Tyson was “yelling at the top of her voice” and said “[y]es, you did make [Lawrence] lose her baby.” Id. J.G. said the accusation “really hurt [him].” Id.

         Stoudemire went to speak to J.G. later that day when another CNA told her J.G. was crying. (Doc. 93-1) at 37-38. Stoudemire testified that J.G. “look[ed] kind of sad” and told her that Tyson's comments “hurt [him] in [his] heart.” Id. at 39-40. Stoudemire did not report Tyson's or J.G.'s comments to OHR management or complete an incident report as required by OHR policy. Id. at 39.

         Hill and Berry accused J.G. of causing Lawrence's miscarriage the next day, on February 22, 2016, when they were taking him to the shower. (Doc. 93-3) at 23-24; (Doc. 93-5) at 28-29. Hill testified that she told J.G. that “you might not should have asked [Lawrence] to help you get up the other day.” (Doc. 93-3) at 24. Marshall testified that she heard Hill tell J.G. that “you the reason [Lawrence] lost her baby.” (Doc. 93-5) at 29. J.G. also testified that he heard Lott and Marshall talking in the hallway saying, “you know you lost-you made [Lawrence] lose her baby” and that he was upset by their comments. (Doc. 100-1) at 16-18.

         On February 22, 2016, J.G. complained to another CNA regarding the comments made to him by Plaintiffs. (Doc. 92) at 20. The CNA reported J.G.'s complaint to OHR management that same day. Id. Plaintiffs were immediately suspended pending an investigation into J.G.'s accusation. (Doc. 110) at 4-5; (Doc. 92) at 21-22. During the investigation, each Plaintiff provided written and oral statements which generally corroborated J.G.'s description of events. (Doc. 92) at 22-25. After conducting their investigation, OHR concluded Plaintiffs engaged in verbal and mental abuse of J.G. and, therefore, terminated their employment. (Doc. 110) at 4-5; (Doc. 92) at 25.


         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a reviewing court shall grant a motion for “summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Supreme Court explains that ‘[o]ne of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-324 (1986). When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is warranted if the nonmovant fails to “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to [its] case.” Id. at 322. The legal elements of the claim dictate which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A fact is not material if a dispute over that fact will not affect the outcome of the case under the governing law. Id.

         In determining whether a genuine issue for trial exists, the court must view all the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003); Patton v. Triad Guar. Ins. Corp., 277 F.3d 1294, 1296 (11th Cir. 2002). Likewise, the reviewing court must draw all justifiable inferences from the evidence in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         However, the Court is bound only to draw those inferences that are reasonable.

         “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted); see also Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 (“[O]nce the moving party has met ...

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