Davis v. Copelan, s. A94A1769

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Writing for the CourtMcMURRAY; POPE, C.J., and SMITH
Citation452 S.E.2d 194,215 Ga.App. 754
Docket NumberA94A1770,A94A1771,A94A1772 and A94A1773,Nos. A94A1769,s. A94A1769
Decision Date05 December 1994

Page 194

452 S.E.2d 194
215 Ga.App. 754
DAVIS et al.
DAVIS et al.
DAVIS et al.
Nos. A94A1769, A94A1770, A94A1771, A94A1772 and A94A1773.
Court of Appeals of Georgia.
Dec. 5, 1994.
Reconsideration Denied Dec. 19, 1994.
Certiorari Denied March 17, 1995.

Page 195

[215 Ga.App. 769] Deborah M. Vaughan, Eugene Novy, Novy, Jaymes & Vaughan, Atlanta, for Cathy Davis et al.

Theodore Freeman, Philip W. Savrin, Drew, Eckl & Farnham, Atlanta, for Robbie Russell.

Michael A. Pannier, Sullivan, Hall, Booth and Smith, A. Lee Parks, Kirwan, Goger, Chesin & Parks, P.C., Atlanta, for South Fulton Medical Center, Inc. and Copelan.

[215 Ga.App. 754] McMURRAY, Presiding Judge.

Cathy Davis, Isiah Floyd, Jr., Calvin Getter, Jessie Gibson, Gail Huitt, Ernestine Laidler, Juanita Levell, Mary White, and Frances Worthy (plaintiffs) brought an action against South Fulton Medical Center, Inc.

Page 196

("South Fulton" or "the hospital"), the hospital's chief executive officer, Neil Copelan, its personnel director, Pat Cheek, Robbie Russell, individually and in his capacity as a law enforcement officer for the City of East Point, Georgia, and other defendants who are not named herein in view of the fact the cases on appeal relate [215 Ga.App. 755] only to the parties specifically named herein, alleging that Cheek and Copelan disparaged their good names and reputations by accusing them of crimes they did not commit and that these hospital officials, along with Officer Robbie Russell, subjected them to fascist-type interrogation before terminating their employment with the hospital. In pertinent part, plaintiffs assert claims against South Fulton, Cheek and Copelan for libel, slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress and employment discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiffs assert state law claims against Russell for intentional infliction of emotional distress and claims pursuant to 42 USC § 1983 for deprivation of rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Defendants denied the material allegations of plaintiffs' complaint (as amended) and filed motions for summary judgment against hotly disputed evidence underlying plaintiffs' claims. However, after giving plaintiffs the benefit of all reasonable inferences and construing the evidence in a light which most favorably supports their claims, Miller v. Rieser, 213 Ga.App. 683, 684, 446 S.E.2d 233, we observe the following:

During the summer of 1991, Pat Cheek contacted the Tri-Cities Narcotics Task Force to investigate reports of missing inventory and suspicious employee activity at the hospital. East Point Police Officer Robbie Russell responded and his resulting undercover investigation led hospital officials to discharge 29 employees, including plaintiffs. 1 However, before their discharges, each employee was separately called to South Fulton's personnel department for unexpected (by each plaintiff) but well-rehearsed interviews with Personnel Director Pat Cheek and Undercover Police Officer Robbie Russell. These meetings were not simply pre-termination hearings as required by the hospital's employee handbook; the interviews were set up to glean information to support criminal charges South Fulton and Officer Russell were developing against two other hospital employees. The interrogations followed the same essential format, Cheek and Russell employing veils of force, authority and intimidation to draw information from plaintiffs against other hospital employees or to induce plaintiffs to make statements against their own interest.

At about 12:30 in the afternoon on October 22, 1991, Cathy Davis, an employee at South Fulton for over 14 years, was unexpectedly summoned to appear before Pat Cheek in the hospital's human resources office. Davis responded immediately and, upon entering the [215 Ga.App. 756] personnel director's office, she observed Pat Cheek sitting behind her desk and Officer Russell standing by a chair in front of the door. Russell flashed a badge and handed Davis a card, but did not verbally identify himself. Russell then turned and instantly accused Davis of stealing, falsely informing her that she had been videotaped receiving stolen property. Russell asked Davis if she was acquainted with a pharmacy technician who had given her a dose of prescription medication. However, before Davis could respond, Russell bellowed out, demanding to know if Davis was calling the pharmacy technician a liar. Russell informed Davis that the pharmacy technician claimed to have given Davis two bags of drugs (penicillin) from the hospital pharmacy. Davis denied this allegation and informed Russell that, over the years, hospital pharmacists or pharmacy technicians had occasionally given her single doses of nonprescription medication and (apparently on one occasion) a single dose of medication for which she had a legitimate doctor's prescription. Davis explained that this practice was an apparent perquisite of employment, openly approved by hospital

Page 197

management. Although the practice of giving single doses of medication to hospital employees was (later) affirmed as a legitimate benefit of employment by the hospital's vice president in charge of human resources (Jack H. Taylor, Jr.), Russell informed Davis that she was stealing hospital property and that her employment was terminated. Russell then advised Davis that she could either sign a statement admitting her alleged transgressions or go to jail. Under protest, Davis complied with this demand. Davis prepared and executed a statement indicating that she had received, in accordance with hospital policy, single doses of nonprescription medication and medication (for which she had a prescription) from the hospital pharmacy. The 45-minute interrogation then terminated and Davis was escorted off the hospital's property. Davis later applied for unemployment benefits, but she was initially refused because the Georgia Department of Labor separation notice the hospital filed provided that Davis was terminated for "theft by receiving stolen property of [the] hospital." However, when Davis appealed this decision, the hospital failed to appear or otherwise put up any evidence supporting its allegation and Davis was awarded unemployment compensation. She was never charged with any criminal offense.

At about 3:00 in the afternoon on October 24, 1991, Isiah Floyd, Jr., then employed as an operating room technician at South Fulton for two years, was advised by his supervisor that Pat Cheek wanted to see him in her office. Floyd responded immediately and, upon entry into the personnel director's office, he observed Cheek sitting behind her desk and Officer Russell sitting right inside the door. Floyd also noticed an unholstered gun on the seat of a chair in Cheek's office. Russell instantly ordered Floyd to sit down. Floyd complied. Russell [215 Ga.App. 757] then asked if Floyd knew who he was, opened his coat and flashed a plastic badge and advised Floyd that he was suspected of dealing illegal drugs on hospital property. Russell threatened that Floyd "would be carried to jail" and that Russell "should lock [him] up right now." When Floyd tried to respond, Russell told him to "shut up and don't say nothing, if [he] did, he was going to take [Floyd's a__] to jail." Floyd denied the accusations, but Cheek did not respond. Russell went on making threatening gestures, advising Floyd that jail was an alternative and that he would come to Floyd's home (apparently) to arrest him. Russell then flipped through a folder of certain undisclosed documents and informed Floyd that he had "10 years of back charges [against Floyd]." (Floyd testified in his deposition that he has a wife and children; that he did not sell drugs on hospital property and that he has never been convicted of a crime.) After 45 minutes of the interrogation, the interview terminated and so did Floyd's employment. The hospital later filed a separation notice with the Georgia Department of Labor providing that Floyd was terminated because he "was observed buying/selling drugs on hospital property." However, Floyd was never charged for any criminal wrongdoing relating to Russell's accusations.

At about 4:30 p.m. on October 24, 1991, Calvin Getter, a two-year employee in the hospital's environmental services department, was informed by his supervisor that Pat Cheek wanted him in her office. Upon arriving at the personnel office, he discovered Pat Cheek's door closed. Getter knocked on the door and Officer Russell told him to come in and take a seat. Russell was sitting at the door with his back against the wall and Cheek was sitting at her desk. Russell immediately asked if Getter knew who he was and Getter replied, "you're a cop." Russell then called Getter a "smart [a__] and said he would ride [Getter] out of there with handcuffs on [and] take [Getter] to jail." Russell then accused Getter of buying and selling drugs on hospital property and told Getter that the hospital had him on camera doing so. Getter asked to see Russell's proof, but Cheek informed him he was being fired for buying and selling drugs on hospital premises regardless of proof. The 20-minute interrogation then ended and Getter was escorted off the premises by personnel from the hospital's security force. The hospital filed a separation notice with the Georgia Department of Labor providing that Getter was terminated because he was "observed buying drugs on hospital property." Getter was never

Page 198

charged for any of the crimes leveled by the hospital and Russell.

On October 22, 1991, Jessie Gibson, employed at South Fulton in the environmental services department for over a year and a half, was unexpectedly summoned to Pat Cheek's office. When he arrived, Pat Cheek's office door was closed. Gibson...

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