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Coleman v. Justus At Woodland Terrace, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

December 31, 2019

CYNTHIA COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
JUSTUS AT WOODLAND TERRACE LLC D/B/A WOODLAND TERRACE OF CARMEL, Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JAMES R. SWEENEY II, JUDGE

         Cynthia Coleman, an African American, sued Justus at Woodland Terrace LLC d/b/a Woodland Terrace of Carmel, alleging that it fired her because of her race in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Woodland Terrace moved for summary judgment. (ECF No. 66.) Because no reasonable jury could find that Coleman was discharged because of her race, summary judgment should be granted.

         I. Background

         Cynthia Coleman began working as a Charge Nurse for Woodland Terrace in February 2017. (Coleman Dep. 9, Ex. D, ECF No. 67-3.) Her major responsibilities included coordination and supervision of total nursing activities in her work area and her duties included making regular rounds of her assigned work area to ascertain the conditions of all residents, supervision of the resident care, and overseeing medicine aides and resident assistants (Certified Nursing Assistant (“CNA”)). (Coleman Dep., Ex. D. ECF No. 67-3.) The resident assistants reported to Coleman. (Id.)

         The Woodland Terrace Company Associate Handbook identified company policies, including an associate's duty to conduct herself in a professional manner that is in the residents' best interest. (Coleman Dep. Ex. C, ECF No. 67-3.) The handbook identified reasons for disciplinary action, including unsatisfactory job performance and unauthorized leaving of work or work areas prior to the end of a scheduled shift. (Id., ECF No. 67-3 at 86.) In February and March 2017, Coleman signed for and acknowledged receipt of the Charge Nurse job description and the company associate handbook. (Coleman Dep., Ex D, ECF No. 67-3.) Coleman agreed that the residents on the Memory Care Unit, who suffer from dementia and other memory issues, needed assistance caring for themselves and that their safety required their regular observation. (Coleman Dep. 13, ECF No. 67-3.) She also agreed that the safety of the Memory Care Unit residents was of primary concern to all nurses and staff at Woodland Terrace. (Id.)

         On July 18 to July 19, 2017, Coleman was assigned to work the night shift (7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.) in the Assisted Living area on the second floor at Woodland Terrace. (Coleman Dep. 12, 18, ECF No. 63-3.) Woodland Terrace has security cameras; the cameras show some of Coleman's actions and those of other staff during that shift. (Coleman Dep. ECF No. 67-3.)[1]

         Security camera footage showed that the overnight concierge entered the Memory Care Unit at 1:49 a.m., walked by the nurse's station, and encountered a female resident walking around by herself unattended. (Stites Dep. 133-34, ECF No. 67-1.) The concierge looked around the nurse's station, the dining room, the model unity, and the hallway and could not find a nursing staff member (Id. at 134-35.) The concierge walked by the model unit three times but could not locate a staff member. (Id. at 136.) Having been unable to locate a nursing staff member, the concierge went up to the second floor to get Coleman, the other nurse on site at the time, and found her in the Life Enrichment Center (essentially a break room with microwave, refrigerator, sofa, T.V., etc.). (Stites Dep. 136-37, ECF No. 67-1.) The concierge later reported to Executive Director Cole Stites that the other CNA staff were also in the Life Enrichment Center cutting the hair of Hawa Mengoua, a nursing staff member on duty. (Stites Dep. 137, ECF No. 67-1.) Coleman accompanied the concierge to the Memory Care Unit to assist the resident. (Stites Dep. 137-38, ECF No. 67-1.) After assisting the resident, Coleman left the Memory Care Unit unattended and with the unit keys. (Stites Dep. 138, ECF No. 67-1.) At one point that evening, Coleman had retrieved the keys from Ashley Martin, who was assigned to the Memory Care Unit that night. (Stites Dep. 132-33, ECF No. 67-1; Coleman Dep. 39, ECF No. 67-3.) Coleman had located Martin in the model unit in the Memory Care Unit watching T.V. (Coleman Dep. 39, ECF No. 67-3.) According to Executive Director Stites, this transfer of keys signaled that Martin was not working and was “off duty.” (Stites Dep. 132-34, ECF No. 67-1.)

         At 3:01 a.m., Coleman entered the In-Motion Studio where she performed stretching. (Coleman Dep. 34-35, ECF No. 67-3.) At 4:23 a.m., Coleman, accompanied by CNA Flay Johnson, exited the studio. (Coleman Dep. 35, ECF No. 67-3.) Coleman was supervising Johnson at that time. (Id.) Coleman admitted that the In-Motion Studio was not her duty station. (Id.) At 4:25 a.m., Johnson and Coleman entered the Life Enrichment Center, which was a break room equipped with a microwave, refrigerator, table, T.V., and sofa. (Coleman Dep. 35, ECF No. 67-3.) Coleman exited the Life Enrichment Center at 4:53 a.m. (Coleman Dep. 36, ECF No. 67-3.)

         Coleman was scheduled to work the night shift again on July 19 to 20, 2017. When she reported to work, she, along with all the nursing staff from the night shift the night before, were called into a meeting with Executive Director Stites and Health Services Director Diane Kohan. (Coleman Dep. 20, ECF No. 67-3.) Sites told the staff that he wanted to know about what had happened on the Memory Care Unit the night before, and he said that he knew it had been left unattended. (Coleman Dep. 20-22, ECF No. 67-3; Def.'s Answer to Pl.'s Interrog. No. 6, ECF No. 67-4.) The staff said that the Memory Care Unit had not been left unattended and that someone had been on the unit. (Coleman Dep. 22, ECF No. 67-3.) All five employees were fired. (Def.'s Answer to Pl.'s Interrog. No. 6, ECF No. 67-4.) No. one told Coleman that she was being fired because of her race. (Coleman Dep. 24-25, ECF No. 67-3.)

         Woodland Terrace explains that it terminated Coleman's employment for abandonment of residents and her job duties while she was in the Life Enrichment Center and working out for long periods of time. (Stites Dep. 71-74, 79, ECF No. 67-1.) When Stites and Kohan were reviewing the videos of the night shift and deciding what action to take, the issue of race was never discussed. (Stites Dep. 152, ECF No. 67-1.) In deciding to discharge the nursing staff, Stites and Kohan considered the nurses' job duties and abandonment of their assigned areas. (Stites Dep. 152-53, ECF No. 67-1.)

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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 dispute as to a material fact is genuine when the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). At the summary judgment stage, a court views the facts and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. at 255.

         III. Discussion

         Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). In deciding whether the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the plaintiff's race caused the discharge courts consider the evidence “as a whole.” Ortiz v. Werner Enters., Inc.,834 F.3d 760, 765 (7th Cir. 2016). The burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) remains a useful tool for presenting and assessing the evidence in discrimination cases. Joh ...


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