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Strahan v. Bowen Center

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 6, 2017

SARA M. STRAHAN, Plaintiff,
BOWEN CENTER, et al., Defendants.


          JON E. DEGUILIO Judge United States District Court

         This is an employment case arising out of plaintiff Sara M. Strahan's former employment as a mental health technician with Bowen Center, a mental health care provider. Strahan alleges that Bowen Center interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act and discriminated against her on the basis of her race, sex, and age when it terminated her employment. She filed this suit against Bowen Center and two of her former supervisors, Kenny Harris and Ginger McKee. Discovery has now closed and the defendants have moved for summary judgment, arguing that Strahan cannot establish that the decision to fire her was based on her membership in any protected class or that it interfered with her rights under the FMLA. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies the motion as to Ms. Strahan's race discrimination claim, but grants the motion as to the remaining claims.


         On summary judgment, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating 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). A “material” fact is one identified by the substantive law as affecting the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A “genuine issue” exists with respect to any material fact when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. Where a factual 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, and summary judgment should be granted. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Servs. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, this Court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable and justifiable inferences in that party's favor. Jackson v. Kotter, 541 F.3d 688, 697 (7th Cir. 2008); King v. Preferred Tech. Grp., 166 F.3d 887, 890 (7th Cir. 1999). However, the non-moving party cannot simply rest on the allegations contained in its pleadings, but must present sufficient evidence to show the existence of each element of its case on which it will bear the burden at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Robin v. Espo Eng'g Corp., 200 F.3d 1081, 1088 (7th Cir. 2000).

         II. FACTS

         A. Legal Standard

         Before recounting the material facts in the case, the Court must address a plaintiff's burden in responding to a motion for summary judgment, in light of the bizarre nature of Ms. Strahan's response brief. For the most part, Ms. Strahan's response brief copies the defendants' opening brief verbatim, but with minor alterations to resolve issues in the opposite direction, [1]and with passing references to other evidence that Ms. Strahan argues creates disputes of fact. As one example, the defendants' statement of facts contains a paragraph discussing multiple instances in which Ms. Strahan failed to perform her job properly. Ms. Strahan's response brief includes that entire paragraph verbatim-including its introduction that “Strahan repeatedly failed to perform various aspects [of] her regular job duties appropriately”-but then appends the following sentence to the end: “One [sic] again see Strahan and Regan's affidavits, Exhibits B and A, which contradicts [sic] these statements.” [DE 31 p. 4].

         That sort of approach does not satisfy a party's burden of identifying disputed facts in response to a motion for summary judgment. Under Rule 56(c)(1), “A party asserting that a fact . . . is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). That requires more than simply attaching exhibits to a brief and making blanket assertions that the exhibits create disputes of fact; it is not the Court's duty to comb through affidavits to find what portions of those affidavits contradict which of the many facts in a defendant's brief. Ms. Strahan's affidavit is seven pages long and includes nearly 200 pages of exhibits, and the Court need not attempt to determine what in those materials supports Ms. Strahan's arguments when her brief only cites generally to the affidavit as a whole. As the Seventh Circuit explained in Packer v. Trs. Of Ind. Univ. Sch. Of Med.:

It is not the court's role or obligation to read an entire deposition or affidavit in an effort to locate the particular testimony a party might be relying on; the court ought to know what portion of a witness's testimony the party is invoking so that it can focus its attention on that testimony and assess whether it is admissible and actually supports the fact or inference for which it is cited.

800 F.3d 843, 850 (7th Cir. 2015); see also Diadenko v. Folino, 741 F.3d 751, 757 (7th Cir. 2013) (“[A] district court is not required to scour the record looking for factual disputes or to scour the party's various submissions to piece together appropriate arguments. A court need not make the lawyer's case.”). Thus, the Court resolves the present motion based on the facts that are properly before it, meaning almost entirely those supplied by the defendants. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2) (stating that where a party fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact, the court may “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion”).

         B. Factual Background

         Sara Strahan worked as a mental health technician at Bowen Center from May 2009 through June 25, 2014. In that position, Ms. Strahan assisted the doctors and nursing staff with mentally ill or special needs patients. While Ms. Strahan had many supervisors during her five years of employment with Bowen Center, defendants Kenny Harris and Ginger McKee served as her primary supervisors at the time of her termination. Mr. Harris was the Director of Nursing, and Ms. McKee was a staff nurse who supervised Ms. Strahan's shift and who directly supervised Ms. Strahan.

         During Ms. Strahan's employment with Bowen Center, she received discipline on a number of occasions for being offensive toward co-workers. In 2010, Mr. Harris had to counsel her after staff members submitted complaints regarding her offensive interactions with them. In 2011, she received a verbal warning after supervisors received a complaint from a Philippian co-worker about a racially insensitive comment Ms. Strahan made pertaining to the co-worker's food. In 2012, Ms. Strahan refused to comply with instructions from her then-supervisor. She was reprimanded and suspended for one shift for cursing at her supervisor and leaving work early. Ms. Strahan received reprimands on other occasions for failing to perform aspects of her job duties correctly. For example, in 2011, Ms. Strahan was reprimanded for not properly identifying each patient by ID band before taking the patient's vitals. And in 2013, she failed to confiscate a pocket knife from a patient when admitting him. Additionally, Ms. Strahan was reprimanded for improperly auditing patient charts and documenting patient names for insurance purposes.

         Further, Ms. Strahan violated Bowen Center's attendance policy multiple times during her employment. In January 2014, Ms. Strahan received a final written warning after she called in sick after her shift had already begun. Ms. Strahan knew at that time that any subsequent attendance violation would result in her termination. Finally, in June 2014, Ms. Strahan reported that she would be five minutes late, but she arrived to work thirty-five minutes late. That same shift, she also left early without approval from her supervisor. Therefore, citing “ongoing issues with respect to communication and attendance, ” Bowen Center terminated Ms. Strahan's employment on June 25, 2014. [DE ...

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