Crane v. Mary Free Bed Rehab. Hosp.

Decision Date11 December 2015
Docket NumberNo. 15-1358,15-1358
PartiesJILL CRANE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MARY FREE BED REHABILITATION HOSPITAL, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit


File Name: 15a0816n.06


BEFORE: GIBBONS and McKEAGUE, Circuit Judges; ANDERSON, District Judge.*

S. THOMAS ANDERSON, District Judge.

Jill Crane brought employment discrimination and retaliation claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and parallel discrimination and retaliation claims under Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act ("ELCRA"), Mich. Comp. Laws § 37.2201, against her employer Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital ("Mary Free Bed").1 The district court granted Mary Free Bed's motion for summary judgment, and Crane appeals that decision.

For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the decision of the district court.


Mary Free Bed provides acute care rehabilitation for patients with brain and spinal injuries. Crane, who is African-American, was employed by Mary Free Bed as a part-time nursing supervisor beginning in 2008. On either December 3 or 4, 2010, another nursing supervisor allegedly told Crane that a Caucasian patient's family had requested that no African-American caregivers provide care for the patient. Crane complained to Connie Brown-Olds, the Director of Nursing, about the request. Crane worked one more shift during the remaining seven days of the patient's stay.

Crane claims that Mary Free Bed's action in enforcing the race-based caregiver request constituted racial discrimination. Mary Free Bed denies that it honored the request.2 However, Mary Free Bed contends that even if the request had been honored, no aspect of Crane's employment changed in any way because of the request. She had the same work hours, responsibilities, duties, status, pay, and benefits after she heard of the request as she did before and, thus, suffered no adverse action. Furthermore, as a supervisor, Crane was not responsible for direct patient care, and Mary Free Bed reasons that any such policy would, therefore, have not affected her.

In August 2012, Crane applied for a newly-created Director of Education position at Mary Free Bed. The job was awarded to another candidate who is Caucasian. Mary Free Bed contends that the successful candidate's qualifications were objectively superior to Crane'squalifications, while Crane contends that she was denied the position because of her race and in retaliation for engaging in certain protected activities.

On appeal, Crane argues that the district court erred in granting Mary Free Bed's motion for summary judgment based on its determinations that: (1) Crane was not subjected to an adverse employment action even if Mary Free Bed did honor the caregiver request; (2) Crane could not establish that she was denied the Director of Education position for discriminatory reasons because her qualifications were not similar to those of the successful candidate; and (3) Crane could not show that she was retaliated against because there was no evidence of a causal connection between her protected activities and the selection of a different candidate for the Director of Education position.


We review de novo the grant of summary judgment by a district court. See Dodd v. Donahoe, 715 F.3d 151, 155 (6th Cir. 2013). Summary judgment is proper "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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must review all the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587. However, the "mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).


Section 1981 prohibits intentional race discrimination in the making and enforcing of contracts involving both public and private actors and provides a cause of action for both race-based employment discrimination and retaliation. 42 U.S.C. § 1981; Christian v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 252 F.3d 862, 867-68 (6th Cir. 2001). Similarly, the ELCRA prohibits "discriminat[ing] against an individual with respect to employment, compensation, or a term, condition, or privilege of employment, because of . . . race." Mich. Comp. Laws § 37.2202(1)(a).

Claims under these two statutes are analyzed under the framework developed for claims brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, thus, the same burden of proof and elements of a prima facie case apply. See In re Rodriguez, 487 F.3d 1001, 1008 n. 2 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Hazle v. Ford Motor Co., 464 Mich. 456, 462, 628 N.W.2d 515, 520-21 (2001) (applying the Title VII burden-shifting model to ELCRA claims)); see also Noble v. Brinker Int'l Inc., 391 F.3d 715, 720 (6th Cir. 2004) (explaining that the elements of a prima facie case and the burden of proof are the same for claims arising under Title VII and § 1981).

"To show employment discrimination, the plaintiff must present either direct evidence of discrimination or circumstantial evidence that would allow an inference of discriminatory intent." Ross v. Pfizer, Inc., 375 F. App'x. 450, 453 (6th Cir. 2010). "[D]irect evidence is that evidence which, if believed, requires the conclusion that unlawful discrimination was at least a motivating factor in the employer's actions." Jacklyn v. Schering-Plough Healthcare Prods. Sales Corp., 176 F.3d 921, 926 (6th Cir. 1999); see also Johnson v. Kroger Co., 319 F.3d 858, 865 (6th Cir. 2003) (explaining that "direct evidence of discrimination does not require a factfinder to draw any inferences in order to conclude that the challenged employment action was motivated at least in part by prejudice against members of the protected group.") "[T]he evidence must establish not only that the plaintiff's employer was predisposed to discriminate onthe basis of [race], but also that the employer acted on that predisposition." Hein v. All Am. Plywood Co., 232 F.3d 482, 488 (6th Cir. 2000).

A discrimination case relying on circumstantial evidence is analyzed under the burden-shifting framework delineated in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), and later clarified in Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981).3 To establish a prima facie case for race discrimination under § 1981, a plaintiff must show that "(1) [s]he belongs to an identifiable class of persons who are subject to discrimination based on their race; (2) the defendant intended to discriminate against [her] on the basis of race; and (3) the defendant's discriminatory conduct abridged a right enumerated in section 1981(a)." Amini v. Oberlin Coll., 440 F.3d 350, 358 (6th Cir. 2006). Under the ELCRA, a plaintiff may prove disparate treatment by showing that she was a member of a protected class and that she was treated differently than members of a different class for the same or similar conduct. Reisman v. Regents of Wayne State Univ., 188 Mich. App. 526, 538, 470 N.W.2d 678, 685 (1991).

"On a motion for summary judgment, a district court considers whether there is sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute at each stage of the McDonnell Douglas inquiry." Cline v. Catholic Diocese of Toledo, 206 F.3d 651, 661 (6th Cir. 2000) (applying the McDonnell Douglas framework to a sex-discrimination claim). "[A] plaintiff in a race discrimination action 'has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case.'" Nguyen v. City of Cleveland, 229 F.3d 559, 562 (6th Cir. 2000) (quoting Burdine, 450 U.S. at 252-53). The keyquestion is always whether the plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that she suffered an adverse employment action under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253.

A plaintiff alleging discrimination with direct evidence is not subject to the McDonnell Douglas framework, although "she still must establish that she suffered an adverse employment action in order to state a claim." Vredevelt v. GEO Group, Inc., 145 F. App'x 122, 128 (6th Cir. 2005). Accordingly, regardless of whether Crane proceeds on the basis of direct evidence or circumstantial evidence, she must demonstrate that she suffered an adverse employment action as a result of the alleged discrimination.

Crane contends that she has presented both direct and indirect evidence of racial discrimination. She argues that the mere fact that assignments were made by Mary Free Bed on the basis of race, regardless of the impact on her personally, violated her rights under § 1981 and the ELCRA. She also contends that, as a supervisor, she was responsible for all the patients on her shift and denying her the right to care for a particular patient as needed was discriminatory even if she did not in fact have to care for that patient.

Not every action taken by an employer that potentially affects an employee rises to the level of an adverse employment action. White v. Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 364 F.3d 789, 796-97 (6th Cir. 2004). Instead, a plaintiff must point to a materially adverse change in the terms or conditions of her employment. Kocsis v. Multi-Care Mgmt., Inc., 97 F.3d 876, 885 (6th Cir. 1996). Examples of a materially adverse change include "termination of employment, a demotion evidenced by a decrease in wage or salary, a less distinguished title, a material loss of benefits, or other indices that might be unique to a particular situation." Id. at 886. At aminimum, the change in employment conditions must be more than an inconvenience or an alteration of job...

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