United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
R. SWEENEY II, JUDGE
Johnson, an African American, sued Justus at Woodland Terrace
LLC d/b/a Woodland Terrace of Carmel (“Woodland
Terrace”), 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), and
42 U.S.C. § 1981. Woodland Terrace moves for summary
judgment. (ECF No. 54.) Because no reasonable jury could find
that Johnson was discharged because of her race, summary
judgment should be granted.
was hired as a Resident Assistant (Certified Nursing
Assistant (“CNA”)) for Woodland Terrace in
November 2016 and began working there in February 2017.
(Johnson Dep. 13, 19, ECF No. 55-3.) Her primary
responsibility was resident care and her duties included
assisting residents; answering all pages for resident
assistance in a timely manner; reporting changes in
residents' conditions and needs to the licensed nurse and
oncoming shift; and documenting and reporting care provided
and resident observations. (Johnson Dep., Ex. 6, ECF No. 55-3
at 98.) The 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. (Johnson Dep. Ex. 8 at 10, ECF
No. 55-3 at 68.) The handbook identified reasons for
disciplinary action, including unsatisfactory job
performance, unauthorized leaving of work or work areas prior
to the end of a scheduled shift, and “taking more than
specified time for lunch or break periods.”
(Id.) In the first few weeks of her employment,
Johnson signed and acknowledged receipt of the CNA job
description and the company handbook. (Johnson Dep. 20-21,
ECF No. 55-3.) Johnson agreed that the safety of the
residents should be a primary concern of all Woodland Terrace
nurses and CNAs at Woodland Terrace. (Johnson Dep. 18, ECF
No. 55-3.) Residents on the Memory Care Unit suffer from
dementia or other memory issues, and Johnson agreed that
keeping those residents safe required that they be regularly
observed. (Johnson Dep. 17, ECF No. 55-3.)
18 to July 19, 2017, Johnson was working the night shift at
Woodland Terrace. (Johnson Dep. 44, ECF No. 55-3.) She was
assigned to the Assistive Living Unit on the second floor.
(Johnson Dep. 40-41, ECF No. 55-3.) Woodland Terrace has
security cameras; the cameras show some of Johnson's
actions on July 19 from 1:23 a.m. to 4:44 a.m. (Johnson Dep.
38-46, ECF No. 55-3.) At 1:23 a.m., Johnson came onto the Memory
Care Unit to answer a call light and assist a resident.
(Johnson Dep. 38-39, ECF No. 55-3.) At 1:38 a.m., having
assisted the resident, Johnson left the Memory Care Unit.
(Johnson Dep. 40, ECF No. 55-3.)
asked if she recalled seeing any nurses at that time that
should have been assigned to the Memory Care Unit, Johnson
responded that Ashley Martin was in the Memory Care Unit.
(Johnson Dep. 39, ECF No. 55-3.) Johnson did not say that she
saw Martin on the unit, however. (Id.) Johnson said
she knew Martin was in the model room of the Memory Care Unit
“because that's where she stated she would
be.” (Id.) At 2:57 a.m., Johnson entered the
“In Motion Studio” on the third floor where she
performed stretching and yoga, which according to Johnson,
was “on [her] lunch.” (Johnson Dep. 40-41, ECF
No. 55-3.) At 4:23 a.m., Johnson and Cynthia Coleman exited
the studio. (Johnson Dep. 41, ECF No. 55-3.) At 4:25 a.m.,
Johnson and Cole-man entered the Life Enrichment Center,
which was a break room equipped with a microwave,
refrigerator, table, T.V., and sofa. (Johnson Dep. 42-43, ECF
No. 55-3.) Johnson remained in the Life Enrichment Center for
approximately twenty minutes until 4:44 a.m. (Id.)
Johnson testified that her lunch break was supposed to be one
hour. (Johnson Dep. 41, ECF No. 55-3.) Johnson had not
clocked out for the time she was in the In Motion Studio or
Life Enrichment Center (Stites Dep. 143-44, ECF No. 55-1),
although the Woodland Terrace company policy required her to
do so. (Johnson Dep., Ex C, ECF No. 55-3 at 84
(“Accurately recording time worked is the
responsibility of the Associate. . . . Time worked is all the
time actually spent on the job performing assigned duties. .
. . Associates should accurately record the time they begin
and end their work, as well as, the beginning and ending time
of each meal period.”)).
a.m., an orientee (staff in training) responded to a call
light to assist a resident on the Memory Care Unit. (Stites
Dep. 145, ECF No. 55-1.) All nurses carry pagers that would
have been activated by the call light; the other nurses were
either not carrying their pagers or not responding to them.
(Stites Dep. 146, ECF No. 55-1.) At 5:07 a.m., the orientee
again answered a call light on the Memory Care Unit for the
same resident needing assistance. (Stites Dep. 146, ECF No.
55-1.) Woodland Terrace's Executive Director Cole Stites
testified that it was not appropriate to leave the orientee
in charge of the Memory Care Unit without a regular employee
there to provide supervision. (Stites Dep. 8, 145, ECF No.
55-1.) Besides, that orientee came from outside the Memory
Care Unit to respond to the call light; Martin had not
responded to the call light. (See Stites Dep. 146,
ECF No. 55-1.)
was scheduled to work the night shift again on July 19 to 20,
2017. When she reported to work, Woodland Terrace's
Executive Director Stites and Health Services Director Diane
Kohan told her not to clock in, but to go the conference
room. (Johnson Dep. 22, ECF No. 55-3; Stites Dep. 151, ECF
No. 55-1.) She was later joined by the other nursing staff
who had worked the night shift the day before: Coleman,
Martin, Hawa Mengoua, and an aid named Brittany. After Stites
and Kohan entered the conference room, Sites asked the staff
several times to tell him what had happened the night before.
(Johnson Dep. 23, ECF No. 55-3.) Martin asked what he was
referring to, and Stites said that if they did not say what
had happened, all of them would be fired. (Johnson Dep. 23,
ECF No. 55-3.) The staff responded by saying that they did
not know what Stites was talking about. (Id.) No.
one gave Stites and Kohan any explanation about what had
happened the night shift before. (Johnson Dep. 25, ECF No.
55-3.) Stites then announced that all five employees were
fired. (Johnson Dep. 23-24, ECF No. 55-3.) Johnson testified
that the staff were not given any reason for their
terminations, but she did recall being asked who had been on
the Memory Care Unit the night before. (Johnson Dep. 23-24,
ECF No. 55-3.)
Terrace explains that it terminated Johnson's employment
on July 19, 2017, for abandonment of residents based on her
leaving her assigned duties of licensed residential care to
go where there were no licensed residential rooms for
extended periods of time and leaving the Memory Care Unit
unattended. (Stites Dep. 71-72, 74, ECF No. 55-1.) When
Stites and Kohan were reviewing the videos of the night shift
and deciding what action should be taken, the issue of race
was never discussed. (Stites Dep. 152, ECF No. 55-1.) 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. 55-1.)
Neither Stites nor Kohan said anything to Johnson to suggest
that the decision to terminate her employment was on the
basis of her race. (Johnson Dep. 28, ECF No. 55-3.)
Summary Judgment Standard
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.
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).
However, 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. Johnson v. Advocate Health &
Hosps. Corp., 892 F.3d 887, 894 (7th Cir. 2018). The
parties have employed this framework, and the Court does as
well. See id.
the McDonnell Douglas framework, a plaintiff must
show that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she
was meeting her employer's legitimate expectations; (3)
her employer took an adverse employment action against her;
and (4) a similarly situated employee outside the protected
class was treated more favorably. SeeFields v.
Bd. of Educ. of City of Chi.,928 F.3d 622, 625 (7th
Cir. 2019); Johnson, 892 F.3d at 894-95. If the
plaintiff makes this showing, then the burden shifts to the
defendant to “articulate a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action,
at which point the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to
submit evidence that the employer's explanation is
pretextual.” Simpson v. Franciscan Alliance,