Cooper v. Jackson–madison County Gen. Hosp. Dist.

Decision Date28 September 2010
Docket NumberNo. 1:09–cv–01115–JDB–egb.,1:09–cv–01115–JDB–egb.
Citation742 F.Supp.2d 941
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Tennessee
PartiesJoe B. COOPER, Plaintiff,v.JACKSON–MADISON COUNTY GENERAL HOSPITAL DISTRICT, Defendant.

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Elizabeth G. Ford, The Law Offices of Louis W. Ringger, Jackson, TN, for Plaintiff.John D. Burleson, Jesse Daniel Nelson, Rainey Kizer Reviere & Bell, Jackson, TN, for Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

J. DANIEL BREEN, District Judge.

On May 12, 2009, the Plaintiff, Joe B. Cooper, brought this action against the Defendant, Jackson–Madison County General Hospital District (JMCGHD), alleging employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, and sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e. Before the Court is the Defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket Entry (“D.E.”) No. 26.) The Plaintiff responded to the motion, and the Defendant replied to the Plaintiff's response. (D.E. Nos. 34, 35.) For the reasons stated herein, the Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff was employed as a licensed clinical social worker at Pathways of Tennessee, Inc., a non-profit corporation of which JMCGHD is the sole shareholder. He was employed in that position from September 25, 2006, until he resigned on August 10, 2007. Although Cooper operated primarily out of Pathways' Dyersburg, Tennessee facility, he also worked in Pathways' Brownsville, Tennessee facility one day per week. He was the only licensed clinical social worker in Brownsville.1 (Depo. of Joe B. Cooper 11, D.E. No. 26–4.) The Plaintiff's allegations of discrimination stem from his relationship with Sheila Odom, the Director of the Brownsville office and his supervisor there. ( Id. at 12.)

Prior to accepting his position with Pathways, the Plaintiff had received multiple warnings concerning Odom and the difficulties of working in the Brownsville office. ( Id. at 7.) Janice Matthews, a former Pathways employee and friend of the Plaintiff, advised him that working in Brownsville “was difficult, that she felt unwanted” and “that everybody hated going.” ( Id. at 6.) According to the Plaintiff, Matthews told him that [t]he whole system was set up differently” in Brownsville, including paperwork and assignment of job responsibilities. ( Id.) He related that Matthews described Odom as a “rude, ... angry woman.” ( Id. at 7.) Similarly, Cliff Nathaniel, the Director of the Dyersburg and Tiptonville offices, told him that “Sheila can be difficult” and that many people had been sent to Brownsville but had not worked out. ( Id. at 12.) However, neither Matthews nor Nathaniel indicated that Odom was a racist or that he would be treated poorly due to his race. ( Id. at 13.)

After accepting his position, the Plaintiff claims that he received other admonitions about Odom and about working in Brownsville from the Dyersburg staff. ( Id.) He acknowledges, however, that the staff's concerns about her stemmed from his professional qualifications rather than his race. ( Id.) According to the Plaintiff, [t]he thing that they felt would probably be giving me trouble was that since she wasn't qualified to be ... the director, they felt that she might see me as a threat.” ( Id.) As a licensed clinical social worker, Cooper had higher qualifications than Odom, and the Dyersburg staff thought she might view him as one who would vie for her position. ( Id.)

During the early part of his time in Brownsville, the Plaintiff characterizes Odom's demeanor towards him as “condescending,” “uncooperative,” and “openly hostile.” ( Id. at 16, 17.) He states that upon arriving in Brownsville on his first day, she denied knowing that he would be working there and failed to give him any orientation of the office. As early as his third visit, Cooper verbally complained to Nathaniel about Odom's attitude toward him. ( Id. at 17.) The Plaintiff alleges that by his third, fourth, or fifth visit, Odom had interfered with his care of patients and refused to answer questions about patients.( Id.) He claims that she would bring him her own work such as treatment plans and other forms to complete. ( Id.) On one particular occasion, the Plaintiff contends that Odom “walked into [his] office when [he] had a patient, threw a chart on [his] desk, saying, He's Medicare. I can sit on my happy ass for an hour.’ ( Id.) Cooper further avers that Odom regularly spoke badly of him in front of other employees. ( Id.) Perhaps most significant in this case, the Plaintiff states that Odom regularly referred to him as “whitey” or “white boy” and on one occasion told him to “get [his] white ass out of [his] fine car.” ( Id. at 18, 19.)

The Plaintiff noted that he spoke with Cliff Nathaniel two to three times a month about the situation with his supervisor in Brownsville. ( Id. at 20.) However, Cooper did not inform Nathaniel about the severity of the racial references and because he was African–American, “race [wa]s just not an issue with [Nathaniel] at all,” and he “didn't want to put [Nathaniel] in the middle of it.” ( Id. at 18, 20.) Although the Plaintiff made requests to stop working out of the Brownsville facility, Nathaniel informed him that he would have to continue because no other licensed social workers were available to travel there. ( Id. at 19, 20–21.)

The Plaintiff maintained that his problems with Odom intensified over time. ( Id. at 21.) On July 27, 2007, he filed a written complaint with Nathaniel which was forwarded to the Pathways Human Resources Department and received on August 8, 2007. (D.E. No. 34–1, at ¶ 7.) In that complaint, Cooper detailed his difficulties with Odom:

As we have discussed several times there have been problems with my relationship with Sheila Odom since the start of my employment with Pathways last year.

-On my second day I was told to report to work at 9am instead of 8am when I had arrived. She stated that she did not like to get up and that she would have to see clients at 8 if I did. I was also told that I could leave at 4pm if my last appointment did not show. I have followed her directions.

-Sheila made no attempt to involve me as a staff member. I have yet to be invited to eat with them in their daily luncheon for example—this is minor but telling of her attitude from the beginning.

-Sheila's voice is loud and carries easily in the building. I became used to not being spoken to and actually it was more pleasant that way. I heard myself being referred to as “whitey” and “that white boy” on a regular basis. This was not done in a playful but rather a demeaning way. At times it was clear that she wanted me to hear her. Initially it was infrequent but gradually escalated. At that time I was the only white and the only male in the facility. These racial remarks ceased suddenly recently when another white employee was hired and I was hoping for the best. It was not to come. I was [sic] now referred to by my first name although I repeatedly asked to go by my middle name but at least it was an improvement.

In recent weeks the incidents have worsened.

-I was asked to return my office key with no explanation given.

-On 7–16 I was doing one of my three intakes in the afternoon when Sheila entered my office without knocking as usual. She slammed a chart on my desk and said He's Medicare and your problem. This means I can sit on my happy ass for an hour.” Luckily the client was mentally challenged and did not seem to see the inappropriateness of this.

-Twice in the last few weeks—I don't remember the dates I have tried to discuss two intakes with Sheila that she had done. Each time she put her hand to my face and told me “never ask me about a patient again” and walked away.

-On 7–23 the problem came to a head. When I entered the office at 9am Sheila was obviously angry and said she wanted to see me in my “so-called office.” When we sat down she said” [sic] What makes you think you can bring your white ass in that fancy car in here whenever you want?” I reminded her of the initial hours she told me to come and she said she did not remember. Gave no reply when I asked why she had let me continue if it was wrong. The conversation deteriorated and my job was threatened. She then said it didn't matter if we got along or not as she was leaving soon to go manage a hospital. Finally the situation calmed and I asked her to start over and to give me a hug and call me by my name—she did so and I thought things were better. Shortly afterwards I was told by three of the four staff present (two in person and one by phone) that they were told by Sheila not to talk to me unless it was strictly business or they would be written up.

I do not expect the Brownsville staff to back me up at all. They are completely bullied by Sheila and will do anything to stay out of controversy. This stems in great part to Sheila telling them often that Pam is her best friend and that she can do as she pleases. They believe her. These are some good people simply caught up in a bad situation and I am not trying to draw them into anything. When they can they have been helpful and totally considerate of me. No racial references have been made by them at all. When I ask for assistance when Sheila is not around I get it.

I am sorry to have bring this to you but I feel I have taken more than enough. Extremely low volume of appointments have affected my productivity—for example I had only three scheduled last week. Sheila's solution has been to load me down with Tenn Care clients or to do her and Catherine's treatment plans[,] CRG's[,] etc. I don't mind intakes but I do not feel I should [be] expected to do others' paperwork when I know there is ample time for her to do her own. I know there has to be someone with a license at Brownsville but I feel that I have done my tour of duty and its someone else's time. The relationship with...

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