888 F.2d 1356 (11th Cir. 1989), 88-8944, Adams v. Bainbridge-Decatur County Hosp. Authority

Docket Nº:88-8944.
Citation:888 F.2d 1356
Party Name:Violeta ADAMS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. BAINBRIDGE-DECATUR COUNTY HOSPITAL AUTHORITY and its Members, Hubert Parker, W.T. Laslie, Graham Bolton, Woodrow Long, Gerald Woodward, Glennie Rozier, Henry Metcalf, individually and in their official capacities; Memorial Hospital and Manor; and Raymond Wright, individually and in his capacity as Executive Di
Case Date:November 24, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 1356

888 F.2d 1356 (11th Cir. 1989)

Violeta ADAMS, Plaintiff-Appellant,



Members, Hubert Parker, W.T. Laslie, Graham Bolton, Woodrow

Long, Gerald Woodward, Glennie Rozier, Henry Metcalf,

individually and in their official capacities; Memorial

Hospital and Manor; and Raymond Wright, individually and in

his capacity as Executive Director of Memorial Hospital and

Manor, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 88-8944.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

November 24, 1989

Ira P. Bernstein, Marc H. Salm, Mack & Bernstein, Atlanta, Ga., for plaintiff-appellant.

Ralph C. Smith, Jr., Smith, Perry & Epps, Bainbridge, Ga., William H. Norwood, Alexander & Varn, Thomasville, Ga., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

Before FAY and HATCHETT, Circuit

Page 1357

Judges, and ALLGOOD [*], Senior District Judge.

FAY, Circuit Judge:

This case requires determination of whether or not plaintiff-appellant Violeta Adams, who was discharged, had a property interest in her job as Director of Human Resources at Memorial Hospital and Manor (Memorial), a defendant-appellee, in Bainbridge, Georgia. By granting a directed-verdict motion of defendants-appellees, the trial judge found that Adams did not have a property interest in her continued employment in this position at Memorial. Following a jury verdict in favor of defendants-appellees as to the other claims raised, Adams' sole issue on appeal is the propriety of the district judge's directing the verdict. After a thorough review of the testimony and evidence presented at trial, we affirm.


A. Statement of Facts

Defendant-appellee Memorial is comprised of a hospital and adjoining nursing home, which are administered by defendant-appellee Bainbridge-Decatur County Hospital Authority (Hospital Authority). Plaintiff-appellant Adams has been employed by Memorial twice. From October, 1975 until September, 1976, she worked there as a part-time nurse. She left for a higher-paying job in a state hospital. 1

In 1977, Adams was hired by the nursing department of Memorial as a full-time nurse. Shortly thereafter, Adams, who is a licensed, registered nurse and has a master's degree in nursing education, was promoted to the administrative position of In-Service Director. In this job, she conducted courses in intensive care, neonatal care, and infection control for the medical community; coordinated community activities, such as a blood-pressure clinic; served on the hospital and nursing home infection-control committee; oriented new employees; and assisted in Memorial accreditation, licensure and quality assurance.

Defendant-appellee Raymond Wright became Executive Director at Memorial in September, 1977, following his appointment by the Hospital Authority. Employed by a definite, written contract pursuant to the Hospital Authority bylaws, Wright directs the daily activities and policies of Memorial; supervises the department heads, who have delegated authority, including hiring and firing, for their respective departments; and retains ultimate authority for termination of employees. The Hospital Authority bylaws provide that Wright may be removed as Executive Director only for cause after a hearing and vote by the Hospital Authority membership.

In April, 1978, Wright made Adams Director of Continuing Education and Training. Her duties included orientation for new employees, in-service education for the nursing department and for other departments in management, fire and safety, and other duties assigned periodically. Adams also retained some of her previous responsibilities, such as hospital accreditation, quality assurance and community education. Her hourly wage increased as Director of Continuing Education and Training.

In a May 20, 1983 memorandum to all employees, Wright announced the creation of a human resources department, which encompassed continuing education, employee relations, public relations and publications. He advanced Adams to Director of Human Resources in charge of this new department and stated that she also would handle other special projects. In addition to Adams' former education, infection control, quality assurance, accreditation and licensure responsibilities, her promotion included the duties of custody and maintenance of the personnel files as well as public relations and patient education. As Director of Human Resources, Adams had assistance from department personnel, whom she supervised.

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Since Adams assumed the job of the former personnel director, her responsibilities also involved recruiting, interviewing and screening job applicants, orienting new employees, preparing the pay-scale system, and ascertaining that department heads followed the proper procedure and documentation in discharging employees. As part of her orientation of new employees, Adams reviewed the Memorial Hospital and Manor Personnel Policy Handbook (Personnel Policy Handbook). The Personnel Policy Handbook, approved by the Hospital Authority in 1979, was effective while Adams was Director of Human Resources.

Relevant to this case is the grievance procedure outlined in the Personnel Policy Handbook. A dissatisfied employee has a three-step procedure of expressing a grievance to the immediate supervisor, first; to the responsible department head, second; and to the Executive Director, third. 2 Depending on an employee's position, steps can be eliminated. For example, Adams, as a department head, would register her grievances directly with the Executive Director.

In 1983, Wright assigned Adams the project of revising the disciplinary procedures at Memorial. She formulated proposed disciplinary procedures on the concept of progressive discipline, essentially consisting of an oral warning, a written reprimand, probation, suspension and discharge. Adams and her assistants spent approximately a year collecting disciplinary procedures from various hospitals and submitting drafts and revisions to the department heads for approval.

Her last revision, dated July 27, 1984, describes progressive discipline, minor and major violations, involuntary terminations, appeals, criteria for proving just cause, and contains forms for disciplinary use, such as a notice of suspension. The final page of this revision is a receipt statement to be signed by employees signifying that they have read and understood the disciplinary procedures to be used at Memorial. Following distribution of this last revision of disciplinary-action procedures, Adams placed the signed receipts from employees in their personnel files, and she gave the disciplinary-action procedures to new employees during orientation, also obtaining

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receipt statements from them. Adams considered this latest revision to be the Memorial disciplinary-action manual.

Wright, however, testified that the so-called disciplinary-action manual, compiled by Adams, "[a]bsolutely" was not an official document of Memorial since it was "[n]ot even approved at the lowest department head level" because of ambiguities that never were corrected. R3-266. Furthermore, Adams admitted that the disciplinary manual was not formally adopted by the Hospital Authority. R2-190. Wright gave Adams authority for compiling the revisions for Memorial disciplinary action, but not for approval, which was the responsibility of the department heads, the Executive Director and the Hospital Authority. Wright was unaware that Adams had distributed the disciplinary document, that she was using it in orientation, that employees were required to sign a receipt statement, and that the forms were being utilized in disciplining employees. When Wright learned that copies of this document were throughout Memorial, he had them removed.

Before Wright became aware of Adams' distribution and use of the final revision of the disciplinary-action procedures for Memorial, he was informed of complaints, regarding Adams' performance as Director of Human Resources, from department heads and the medical staff. Generally, these complaints were that Adams was interfering in the department heads' hiring and firing of their personnel and affecting morale at Memorial. 3 Wright talked with Adams on several occasions concerning complaints that he had received from department heads regarding their difficulty in working with her. Consequently, he did not give her a pay raise in 1984. R3-292.

By the summer of 1986, the complaints of Adams' interference with department heads had escalated, and Wright began considering the reorganization of the human resources department. Basically, the complaints to Wright were that Adams was involving herself too much in the selection of prospective employees and in the operation of the various departments rather than acting as a support person. 4 In addition to complaints that Adams was interfering with the selection of nurses in the screening process, Cynthia Vickers, Director of Nursing, brought to Wright's attention two incidents disruptive to the operation of the nursing department.

First, during the summer of 1986, Vickers gave some nurses a raise and not others. Vickers reported to Wright that Adams had taken credit for the raises obtained by some nurses and that she had blamed Vickers for the failure of other nurses to receive raises. Wright considered this creation of dissension among the nursing staff sufficient to demonstrate Adams' interference in the operation of the nursing department. R3-299-300. Second, Vickers was coordinating the opening of an intensive care unit and asked Adams for training for the nurses. Because Adams did not schedule this training, the intensive care...

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