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Hamilton v. New Horizons Home Healthcare Limited Liability Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

July 31, 2018

MARY HAMILTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW HORIZONS HOME HEALTHCARE LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant New Horizons Home Healthcare Limited Liability Company's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 19] filed on May 31, 2018. Plaintiff Mary Hamilton responded [ECF No. 21] on July 2, 2018, and the Defendant replied [ECF No. 23] on July 18, 2018. The Defendant has moved for summary judgment on the federal claims involved in this case but did not move on the Plaintiff's claim for violations of Indiana common law. In the event that the Court grants summary judgment as to the federal claims, the Defendant requests that the Court remand the remaining state law claim to state court.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiff was formerly employed by the Defendant as a client coordinator, beginning in August 2014. The Plaintiff's close friend, Chelsey Sorah, was also employed by the Defendant as a human resources coordinator. In April 2015, Sorah began a period of leave due to complications with a pregnancy. In late June, the Defendant asserts that it discovered that, despite having not returned to work, Sorah had worked a number of shifts as a caregiver that had been assigned to the Plaintiff. Sorah's name did not appear on the Defendant's caregiver schedule, nor was she paid by the Defendant for these shifts. Rather, the Defendant paid the Plaintiff for the shifts, and the Plaintiff paid Sorah in cash. The Defendant claims that it had no prior knowledge of this arrangement between Sorah and the Plaintiff and that, upon discovering it, reported the incidents to the State of Indiana, which concluded that Sorah had committed Medicaid fraud. The Plaintiff, however, asserts that the Defendant was fully aware and even approved of the arrangement. The Defendant subsequently terminated Sorah and reprimanded the Plaintiff for her role in the work arrangement.

         After her termination, Sorah filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (“IDWD”) as well as charges of discrimination against the Defendant with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”), alleging violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Sorah filed her EEOC complaint on August 27, 2015. The Defendant contested Sorah's claim for unemployment benefits.

         The IDWD held a hearing regarding Sorah's claim for unemployment benefits on September 30, 2015. After hearing testimony regarding the work arrangement at issue, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) presiding over the hearing asked to speak with the Plaintiff. The ALJ asked the Plaintiff only whether her work arrangement with Sorah had been approved by management. The Plaintiff answered affirmatively, contradicting the Defendant's assertion that it had no knowledge of the arrangement prior to the end of June. The ALJ did not ask the Plaintiff any further questions, and the Plaintiff did not offer any further testimony. The ALJ did not inquire of anybody regarding the claims of discrimination Sorah filed with the EEOC, and there is no indication of record that prior to the IDWD hearing the Plaintiff was even aware that Sorah had filed EEOC claims.

         Immediately following the IDWD hearing, Jerome Metz, the Defendant's owner, as well as two other members of the Defendant's management discussed the Plaintiff's testimony and determined that the Plaintiff had falsified her testimony for the purpose of helping her friend obtain unemployment benefits. The Plaintiff was presented with a write up, but she refused to sign it, maintaining that her testimony was truthful. Later that day, on October 1, 2015, the Defendant terminated the Plaintiff.

         The Plaintiff filed her Complaint against the Defendant on November 28, 2016 [ECF No. 1], alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII, the ADA, and Indiana Common Law. She asserts that she was terminated for telling the truth at the IDWD regarding the work arrangement between her and Sorah.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper where the evidence of record shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the Court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-movant to “go beyond the pleadings” to cite evidence of a genuine factual dispute that precludes summary judgment. Id. at 324. “[A] court has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial.” Waldridge v. Am. Heochst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). If the non- movant does not come forward with evidence that would reasonably permit the finder of fact to find in its favor on a material issue, then the Court must enter summary judgment against it. Id.

         ANALYSIS

         Title VII prohibits an employer from “discriminat[ing] against any individual . . . because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by [Title VII] . . . or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under [Title VII].” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3 (a). It is also unlawful under the ADA to “coerce, intimidate, or interfere with any individual . . . on account of his or her having aided or encouraged any other individual in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by [the ADA].” 42 U.S.C. § 12203(b).

         A Plaintiff may prove retaliation using either the direct or indirect method of proof. Argyropoulos v. City of Alton, 539 F.3d 724, 732 (7th Cir. 2008). “To survive a summary judgment motion using the direct method, ‘the plaintiff must present direct evidence of (1) a statutorily protected activity; (2) an adverse employment action taken by the employer; and (3) a causal connection between the two.'” Lloyd v. Mayor, City of Peru, No. 3:15-cv-624, 2018 WL 2445566, at *3 (N.D. Ind. May 29, 2018) (quoting Davis v. Con-Way Transp. Cent. Express, Inc., 368 F.3d 776, 786 (7th Cir. 2003)). To establish a prima facie case of retaliation under the indirect method, the Plaintiff must show that she (1) engaged in statutorily protected activity; (2) suffered a materially adverse action; (3) met her employer's legitimate expectations, i.e., was performing her job satisfactorily; and (4) was treated less favorably than some similarly situated employee who did not engage in statutorily protected activity. Argyropoulos, 539 F.3d at 733. “[F]ailure to establish any one element of the prima facie case is fatal to an employee's retaliation claim.” Atanus v. Perry, 520 F.3d 662, 677 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Hudson v. Chi. Transit Auth., 375 F.3d 552, 560 (7th Cir. 2004)). But if the employee establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Id. The burden then shifts back to the employee to demonstrate that the employer's reason is pretextual. Id.

         In this case, the Plaintiff chooses to argue her claims under the direct method of proof because the Defendant “did not even attempt to mask the retaliatory animus that motivated its decision to terminate [her] employment . . . .” (Pl. Resp. Br. 5, ECF No. 21.) The Defendant disputes that the Plaintiff can meet her burden to show two of the three elements of her claim: that she engaged in a ...


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