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Chaney v. Plainfield Healthcare Center

September 29, 2009

BRENDA CHANEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PLAINFIELD HEALTHCARE CENTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sarah Evans Barker, Judge United States District Court Southern District of Indiana

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 26], filed by Defendant, Plainfield Healthcare Center, on February 19, 2009. In its motion, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation, brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, cannot succeed as a matter of law. For the reasons set out below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

Factual Background

Plaintiff, Brenda Chaney ("Chaney"), is an individual residing in Indiana and a former employee of Defendant, Plainfield Healthcare Center ("Plainfield"). Plainfield is a 189 bed healthcare facility located at 3700 Clarks Creek Road in Plainfield, Indiana. Plainfield provides various levels of care, including skilled care, traditional care, and respite and hospice care, primarily to long-term residents. Aff. of Gray at ¶ 3-4.

In 2004, Chaney obtained certification to work as a Certified Nursing Assistant ("CNA"). In 2006, Chaney applied to work at Plainfield as a CNA and was interviewed by John Reyes ("Reyes"), Director of Nursing at Plainfield. After the interview, on June 20, 2006, Plainfield hired Chaney to work as a CNA. Dep. of Chaney pgs. 81, 169. Chaney was an "at-will" employee and did not have an employment contract with Plainfield at any time during her employment there. Dep. of Chaney at 100.

Prior to beginning her actual work at Plainfield, Chaney attended an orientation session on June 22, 2006. At this orientation, Chaney received documents related to her employment at Plainfield, including: (1) the Associate General Orientation Checklist; (2) the employee handbook; and (3) Plainfield's Abuse Protection and Response Policy. Dep. of Chaney at 85, 89, 97. The employee handbook Chaney received detailed Plainfield's policies related to Equal Employment Opportunity; Discrimination in the Workplace; Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation Concern Procedure; and Standards of Conduct. Dep. of Chaney at 91-92. Chaney took this handbook home with her and read it over after the orientation. Dep. of Chaney at 90.

Chaney's job duties as a CNA included the following: assisting residents to the bathroom and with bedpans; changing and cleaning residents; changing bed linens; stabilizing residents; and generally watching over residents. Dep. of Chaney at 103-04. Chaney worked as a CNA at the Plainfield facility from late June 2006 until her termination on September 7, 2006.

I. Chaney's Complaints of Racial Hostility

Chaney alleges that numerous instances of racial discrimination and harassment occurred during her employment at Plainfield. Her specific allegations include the following:

* On at least two occasions, fellow employees at Plainfield directed derogatory comments at Chaney: on one such occasion, a fellow CNA named Audria ("CNA Audria") referred to Chaney, in her presence, as a "black bitch"; and, on another occasion, an unidentified nurse stated, in Chaney's presence, "why do they keep hiring these black niggers?" Dep. of Chaney at 120, 121, 186, 210, 173-178.

* On at least three occasions, Chaney was prohibited from working with a certain resident because the CNA Assignment Sheet for that resident stated that the resident "prefer[red] no black CNAs." Dep. of Chaney at 189, 193-94.

* On at least one occasion, Chaney was reminded by a co-worker that she could not assist a certain resident because of her race. Dep. of Chaney at 124-125.

* Chaney states generally that she observed other black CNAs quit shortly after starting work at Plainfield because of racial hostility towards them. Dep. of Chaney at 125, 129, 174.

Chaney asserts that she complained to her Unit Manager, Loretta Askew, as well as to another unidentified supervising RN, about the racial comments of which she was the target. Dep. of Chaney at 122, 125, 127, 128, 1130, 176, 197-98.*fn1

II. Termination of Chaney's Employment

On September 6, 2006, Mandy Cafouras ("Cafouras"), a co-worker of Chaney's at Plainfield, initiated a "Performance Improvement Notice," which complained that Chaney had ignored a resident's bed alarm, even after Cafouras told her to check on it. Chaney did not apparently respond, at least not promptly. Defendant's Submission to EEOC [Exhibit 24] at 14. After Cafouras herself went to check on the bed alarm, Chaney entered the resident's room. Cafouras asked Chaney to help with the resident, but Chaney replied, "That's not my patient." Id. Chaney then apparently attempted to aid Cafouras, at which point, according to Cafouras, Chaney stated, "She's shitting." Id. In addition to describing this occurrence, Cafouras's Notice stated that Chaney had not done her "walk through" that morning, as she was required to do. Id. Director of Nursing Reyes received the Notice prepared by Cafouras on September 6.

Chaney disputes that she was reluctant to help and failed to do her duties. She contends that she never ignored the resident's light, but did not respond because it was already past her official time to clock out for the day. According to Chaney, she reminded Cafouras that CNAs are prohibited from staying past their work shifts without approval of a supervisor. Chaney contends that Cafouras declined to approve extra work time for Chaney, and, for this reason, Chaney left. Dep. of Chaney at 134.

Chaney also argues that Cafouras's Notice referred to two CNAs and that it was CNA C.J. Hart, not Chaney, who refused to help Cafouras.*fn2 Dep. of Chaney at 137, 141. However, Chaney's assertion in this regard is not supported by the contents of Cafouras's Notice because Cafouras clearly refers only to Chaney as having been involved in the incident. See Defendant's EEOC Submission at 14.

Chaney also contends that she never used the vulgar expletive, "shit," in any way in the resident's presence. Dep. of Chaney at 150. Unit Manager Loretta Askew, who is typically assigned the task of investigating incidents such as this one, investigated the complaint filed by Cafouras. Aff. of Askew at ¶ 6c. In the course of the investigation, the resident's roommate told Askew that she neither heard nor saw anything inappropriate during the incident in question. Id. at ¶ 6d. Askew reported this finding to Reyes, along with her belief that Cafouras fabricated the story. Id. at ¶ 6e. According to Askew, Reyes told her that she (Askew) was overstepping her duties and that he would, therefore, handle the matter. Id.

After investigating Cafouras's allegations, Reyes concluded that Chaney had, in fact, engaged in the inappropriate conduct described. Aff. of Reyes ¶ 21. Reyes put his conclusions into a second "Performance Improvement Notice," dated September 6, 2006, and decided to terminate Chaney's employment. Id. at ¶¶ 22-23. Reyes contacted Human Resources employee, Donna Gray, and asked Gray to inform Chaney that she was fired. Id. at ¶ 24. The following day, Gray told Chaney that her employment had been terminated and that she could come in the next day for a meeting with her supervisors, who would explain to Chaney the basis for her termination. Aff. of Gray at ¶ 7; Dep. of Chaney at 143, 147.

On September 8, 2006, Chaney returned to Plainfield for a meeting with Reyes, Gray, and Administrator Joe Pittman. Dep. of Chaney at 147, 149, 212. Chaney was asked to give her version of the events, but the termination decision was not reversed. Aff. of Reyes. ¶ 27.

On September 25, 2006, Chaney filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC charge"). Chaney's EEOC charge alleged that she was subjected to racial harassment and discrimination and that Plainfield was unresponsive to her complaints. On October 18, 2007, the EEOC issued Chaney a Notice of Rights letter. Compl. ¶ 7. On January 17, 2008, Chaney filed the Complaint in the present action, bringing three counts against Plainfield: (1) race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (2) race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and (3) retaliation in violation of Title VII.

Legal Analysis

I. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record 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(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Disputes concerning material facts are genuine where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In deciding whether genuine issues of material fact exist, the court construes all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See id. at 255. However, neither the "mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties," id., 477 U.S. at 247, nor the existence of "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), will defeat a motion for summary judgment. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000).

The moving party "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The party seeking summary judgment on a claim on which the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial may discharge its burden by showing an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Id. at 325.

Summary judgment is not a substitute for a trial on the merits, nor is it a vehicle for resolving factual disputes. Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). Therefore, after drawing all reasonable inferences from the facts in favor of the non-movant, if genuine doubts remain and a reasonable fact-finder could find for the party opposing the motion, summary judgment is inappropriate. See Shields Enterprises, Inc. v. First Chicago Corp., 975 F.2d 1290, 1294 (7th Cir. 1992); Wolf v. City of Fitchburg, 870 F.2d 1327, 1330 (7th Cir. 1989). But if it is clear that a plaintiff will be unable to satisfy the legal requirements necessary to establish his or her case, summary judgment is not only appropriate, but mandated. See Celotex, 477 U.S. ...


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