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Hodges v. CNCL, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

September 5, 2017

SUSAN HODGES PLAINTIFF
v.
CNCL, LLC d/b/a THE CARRINGTON NURSING CENTER DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SHARION AYCOCK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter arises on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [45]. Defendant moves the Court to summarily adjudicate Plaintiff's claims for discrimination and retaliation as a matter of law. Plaintiff responded [49], and Defendant replied [51].

         Facts and Procedural History

         Plaintiff Hodges began working as a nurse at The Carrington Nursing Center in 2010. In April 2012, Hodges took maternity leave for the birth of her first child. After exhausting her FMLA leave, Hodges obtained special permission from the Administrator, Debbie White, to take more time off work in order to care for her child, who had been hospitalized. She returned to work about two weeks later than planned, when management informed her that she would be converted into part-time status if she did not return.

         According to Defendant, Hodges proved a good employee under Debbie White. In the fall of 2013, Hodges was promoted to the position of Director of Nursing (DON). Hodges received a raise even though there was a compensation freeze in place in 2014. However, eventually, White was promoted and Nikki Williams replaced White as the new Administrator. At that time, White offered Hodges a DON position at another facility, which would have resulted in an increase in pay, but Hodges turned down the offer. Instead, Hodges remained at her position working under Williams.

         In 2014, Hodges became pregnant with her second child. Hodges was worried that she was leaving her coworkers in a bind when she went on maternity leave, because she was behind on many things. However, Williams reassured her that as long as things were in order, everything would be fine. Health complications caused Hodges to go on leave earlier than planned, and she was unable to complete neglected projects. On April 1, 2015, almost one month after Hodges had taken leave, Kathy Peacock, a nursing consultant for The Carrington's management company, conducted a mock survey of the facility in a routine visit. In Hodges' office, Peacock found several bags of medications that Hodges had neglected to destroy. She also found more medications behind the file folders in the drawers of Hodges desk, including Restoril and Xanax. Both medications are discontinued controlled substances issued to The Carrington for administration to residents. Regulations required the medications be stored in a double-lock cabinet with restricted access until they were destroyed. After Peacock completed a short investigation, she reported the incident to Williams, and the two terminated Hodges immediately.

         After filing her charge with the EEOC on May 4, Hodges filed the instant lawsuit alleging that she was terminated in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and in retaliation for disclosing her pregnancy to her superiors. Furthermore, Hodges alleges that she was terminated in retaliation for taking leave under FMLA.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         The moving party “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party must then “go beyond the pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when ... both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). When such contradictory facts exist, the Court may “not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments are not an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1997); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

         Analysis and Discussion

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against her in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and in retaliation for disclosing her pregnancy to her superiors, in violation of both Title VII and the FMLA. Furthermore, Hodges alleges that she was terminated in retaliation for taking leave under FMLA A. Plaintiff's Discrimination Claim Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). In incorporating the PDA, Title VII defines the term “because of sex” as including, “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). The PDA further provides that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” Id; see also Laxton v. Gap Inc., 333 F.3d 572, 578 (5th Cir. 2003).

         A claim brought under the PDA is analyzed like any other Title VII discrimination claim. Urbano v. Continental Airlines, Inc., 138 F.3d 204, 206 (5th Cir. 1998). Plaintiff's case is built on circumstantial evidence because she has presented no direct evidence of discrimination, which means that the Court will analyze her claim under the McDonnell Douglas framework. See Wallace v. Methodist Hosp. Sys., 271 F.3d 212 (5th Cir. 2001); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Under this framework, the Plaintiff must first create a presumption of discrimination by making out a prima facie case of discrimination. See Wallace, 271 F.3d at 219. The Plaintiff must show that (1) she was a member of the protected class, (2) she was qualified for the position she lost, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) that she was replaced with a similarly qualified person who was not a member of the protected class or that similarly situated employees were treated more favorably. See Laxton, 333 F.3d at 579 n.1; Grimes v. Wal-Mart Stores Texas, LLC, 505 F. App'x 376, 379 (5th Cir. 2013); McLaughlin v. W & T Offshore, Inc., 78 F. App'x 334, 338 (5th Cir. 2003).

         The burden then shifts to the employer to produce a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for her termination. See Wallace, 271 F.3d at 219. This causes the presumption of discrimination to dissipate. See id. The plaintiff then bears the ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact by a preponderance of the evidence that ...


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