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Martin v. Justus at Woodland Terrace LLC

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

December 31, 2019




         Ashley Martin, 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) et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Woodland Terrace moves for summary judgment. (ECF No. 62.) Because no reasonable jury could find that Martin was discharged because of her race, summary judgment should be granted.

         I. Background

         Ashley Martin was hired as a Licensed Practical Nurse (“LPN”) for Woodland Terrace in February 2017. (Martin Dep. 13, ECF No. 63-3.) She had an orientation period for about one month and began working there in April that year. (Id.) She worked a full-time schedule and was assigned to the night shift, which was 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. (Id. at 13-14) Martin was required to work three days per week, and sometimes worked more than that minimum requirement. (Martin Dep. 14, ECF No. 63-3.) Her job description stated that she was responsible for supervising the nursing activities in her designated area during her assigned tour of duty. Resident assistants (Certified Nursing Assistant (“CNA”)) in that area reported to her. (Martin Dep., Ex C, ECF No. 63-3 at 69.) Martin's major responsibilities included health services team leadership and resident care such as making regular rounds of her assigned work area, supervising the care of residents in her area, caring for residents, and delegating responsibility to resident assistants. (Id.) While employed with Woodland Terrace, Martin was also working at other assistive living communities. (Martin Dep. 10-12, 14, ECF No. 63-3.)

         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. (Martin Dep. Ex. C, ECF No. 63-3.) 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. 63-3 at 86.) In late February and early March 2017, Martin signed for and acknowledged receipt of the LNA job description and the company associate handbook. (Martin Dep., Ex D, ECF No. 63-3.) Martin agreed that the residents on the Memory Care Unit, who suffer from dementia and other memory issues, needed assistance caring for themselves. (Martin Dep. 19, ECF No. 63-3 (stating that “[t]hey're high volume.”).)

         On July 18 to July 19, 2017, Martin was working the night shift at Woodland Terrace. (Martin Dep. 18, ECF No. 63-3.) She was assigned to the Memory Care Unit. (Id.) Woodland Terrace has security cameras; the cameras show some of Martin's actions that evening. (Martin Dep. 53-54, 58-59, ECF No. 63-3.)[1] At 1:08 a.m., Martin entered the model unit (a sample unit that prospective residents could view). At 5:08 a.m., she exited the model unit. (Id.) Martin testified that she “probably” went “in and out, in and out” of the model unit during that four hours (Martin Dep. 54, ECF No. 63-3); however, Martin's appearance on the video at 5:08 a.m. was the first visual of her since the beginning of that four-hour period. (Stites Dep. 146, ECF No. 63-1.) Woodland Terrace's Health Services Director Diane Kohan testified that staff was not authorized to be in the model unit. (Kohan Dep. 58, ECF No. 72-1.)

         Meanwhile, 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. 63-1.) The concierge looked around the nurse's station, the dining room, the model unit, 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 still 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 Cynthia 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. 63-1.) The concierge later reported to Woodland Terrace Executive Director Cole Stites that the other CNA staff were also in the Life Enrichment Center cutting Hawa Mengoua's hair. (Stites Dep. 137, ECF No. 63-1.) Coleman went with the concierge to the Memory Care Unit to assist the resident. (Stites Dep. 137-38, ECF No. 63-1.) After assisting the resident, Coleman left the Memory Care Unit unattended and with the unit keys. (Stites Dep. 138, ECF No. 63-1.) Video from the Memory Care Unit showed that no one appeared on the unit from 2:34 a.m. until 2:57 a.m. (Stites Dep. 139, ECF No. 63-1.)

         At 4:57 a.m., an orientee (staff in training) went onto the Memory Care Unit to respond to a call light and assist a resident. (Stites Dep. 145, ECF No. 63-1.) 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. 63-1.) 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. 63-1.) Executive Director 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. 63-1.) Martin did not respond to either call light. (See Stites Dep. 146, ECF No. 63-1.)

         At 5:10 a.m., Martin walked up and down the hallway for less than two minutes and then returned to the model unit. (Stites Dep. 146-47, ECF No. 63-1.) Director Stites's review of the video did not show anything significant happening on the Memory Care Unit between 5:10 a.m. and 6:10 a.m. (Stites Dep. 147, ECF No. 63-1.) Based on his review of the video, Director Stites concluded that no one was on the Memory Care Unit during that time period. (Id.) At 6:10 a.m., nurse Cynthia Coleman went into the model unit to get Martin. (Stites Dep. 147, ECF No. 63-1.) At 6:12 a.m., Martin left the model unit. (Id.) Director Kohan testified that the camera showed no activity on the Memory Care Unit “for a very extended period of time.” (Kohan Dep. 58, ECF No. 72-1.) At her deposition, Martin recalled that at one point that evening, Coleman had retrieved the keys from her in order to assist a resident. (Martin Dep. 54, ECF No. 63-3; see also Stites Dep. 132-33, ECF No. 63-1.) According to Director Stites, this transfer of keys signaled that Martin was not working and was “off duty.” (Stites Dep. 132-34, ECF No. 63-1.)

         Martin was scheduled to work the night shift again on July 19 to 20, 2017. When she reported to work, she was directed to the conference room. After all the staff from the night shift the night before-Martin, Coleman, Johnson, Hawa Mengoua, and an aid named Brittany-were gathered, Executive Director Stites and Health Services Director Kohan entered the conference room. Sites asked the staff if there was anything to report from the night before. (Def.'s Answer to Pl.'s Interrog. No. 6, ECF No. 63-4.) Martin said that she had been on the Memory Care Unit the entire night. (Id.) She had no explanation as to why the concierge could not locate her on the unit and had to go to the second floor to find a staff member to assist a resident. (Id.) Coleman had no explanation for why she would have to go assist a resident on the Memory Care Unit if Martin was on the unit. (Id.) No one gave Stites and Kohan any explanation about what had happened the night shift before. Stites announced that all five employees were fired. (Id.)

         Woodland Terrace explains that it terminated Martin's employment for abandonment of residents and her job duties on the Memory Care Unit. (Stites Dep. 71-74, ECF No. 63-1.) 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. 63-1.) 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. 63-1.)

         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. ...

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