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Hassen v. Ruston Louisiana Hospital Company, L.L.C.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 1, 2019

LABRITTANY K. HASSEN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
RUSTON LOUISIANA HOSPITAL COMPANY, L.L.C., doing business as Northern Louisiana Medical Center, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana

          Before KING, SMITH, and WILLETT, Circuit Judges.

          DON R.WILLETT, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         In this Title VII race-discrimination case, LaBrittany Hassen contends that Ruston Louisiana Hospital denied her a full-time nurse position and later fired her from her part-time position because she's black. The district court granted summary judgment to the hospital, concluding that Hassen failed to satisfy the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. We AFFIRM.

         I

         LaBrittany Hassen worked at a large hospital called the Northern Louisiana Medical Center as a PRN nurse.[1] "PRN" stands for "pro re nata"-a Latin phrase, which (roughly translated) means "in the circumstances."[2] In other words, PRN nurses are as-needed workers.[3] Although Hassen had applied for a PRN position, she had also applied for a full-time position. But the hospital interviewed and hired her only as a PRN. This was in February 2012.

         On the same day, the hospital hired two full-time nurses with less experience than Hassen. One had no nursing experience; and the other had graduated only one year before with merely a temporary license. Hassen, on the other hand, had graduated from nursing school three years before and had her full license. Even so, all three nurses had the same duties.

         The reason for these hiring decisions? Hassen says that it's because she's black, whereas the two full-time nurses are white.

         Two months after starting work, Hassen saw notices for two full-time vacancies. She approached her supervisor about the positions, but her supervisor replied that Hassen wasn't qualified. So Hassen didn't apply.

         Next, Hassen alleges that the hospital fired her because of her race. What happened was this: In the summer of 2012, Hassen told her supervisor that she had accepted a full-time nursing position elsewhere. In response, the hospital fired her. The hospital prefers the phrase "purging" for removing a PRN from the work pool. Whatever the term, Hassen ascribes her termination to race discrimination. The hospital disputes this.

         The hospital says that Hassen's hours at her new full-time job directly conflicted with the only shifts available to PRN nurses. The hospital also underscores that it told Hassen that she remained "eligible for re-hire" if she applied. And the hospital stresses that Hassen never applied for re-hire.

         Hassen timely filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC found "reasonable cause to believe" that the hospital violated Title VII. Unable to settle with the hospital, the EEOC ended its investigation and issued Hassen a right-to-sue letter. Off to federal court.

         But Hassen didn't fare well there. Applying the McDonnell Douglas framework, [4] the district court granted the hospital's summary-judgment motion, dismissing the suit with prejudice. The court held that Hassen had made a prima facie case that the hospital didn't hire her for a full-time position, but that she failed to show that the hospital's stated explanation was mere pretext. The court also held that Hassen failed to make a prima facie case that her firing was improper. But the court held that even if she had, she still failed to show that the hospital's justification was mere pretext.

         II

         Standards for assessing summary judgment are well settled. A district court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[5] We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the district court.[6] But we view the evidence and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmovant.[7] Even so, barebones, conclusory, or otherwise-unsupported assertions won't cut it;[8] the nonmovant "must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts indicating a genuine issue for trial."[9]

         III

         When-as here-a plaintiff proffers circumstantial evidence of discrimination, the plaintiff must satisfy the Supreme Court's McDonnell Douglas framework.[10] It's a three-part burden-shifting scheme. As we recently explained in Morris, the framework first requires the plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of discrimination.[11] To do that, the plaintiff must show:

1. She's a member of a protected group;
2. She was qualified for the position at issue;
3. The employer fired her or took some adverse employment action; and
4. The employer replaced her with someone outside the protected group or treated her less favorably than other similarly situated employees outside the protected group.[12]

         Then, the burden shifts to the defendant. The defendant must "articulate a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action."[13] If the defendant does, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff, who must offer evidence that the employer's reason was mere pretext.[14]

         Here, the parties don't dispute the first two prima facie elements. Hassen is black, a protected class. And she holds a nursing degree. The hospital doesn't challenge her qualifications. We first decide ...


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