Edwards v. Creoks Mental Health Services, Inc.

Decision Date25 January 2007
Docket NumberNo. 05-CV-0454-CVE-SAJ.,05-CV-0454-CVE-SAJ.
Citation505 F.Supp.2d 1080
PartiesDorothy L. EDWARDS, Plaintiff, v. CREOKS MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Oklahoma

Dorothy L. Edwards, Tulsa, OK, pro se.

Charles Sumner Plumb, III, Chad J. Kutmas, Doerner Saunders Daniel & Anderson, Tulsa, OK, for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

EAGAN, Chief Judge.

Now before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt.# 48). Plaintiff Dorothy L. Edwards ("Edwards"), appearing pro se, filed her complaint on August 8, 2005 alleging that defendant Creoks Mental Health Services, Inc. ("Creoks") discriminated against her on the basis of her religion and disability in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Plaintiff also alleges that defendant fostered a hostile work environment and retaliated against her after she filed for unemployment benefits. In addition to her federal claims, plaintiff alleges that defendant is liable for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract.1 For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that defendant is entitled to summary judgment on all of plaintiffs claims.

I.

Creoks is a non-profit corporation that provides mental health services to low-income individuals throughout Northeastern Oklahoma. Dkt. # 49, Affidavit of Brent Black ("Black Affidavit"), ¶ 4. Creoks services are provided by licensed therapists ("LPCs") and other professionals, including individual rehabilitation specialists and case managers. Id. Individual rehabilitation specialists are professionals who teach clients skills such as relaxation therapy or other life skills. Dkt. # 49, Black Affidavit, ¶ 7. Case managers refer clients to different sources to help them with their needs. Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition, Part 1, at 11.

An individual who qualifies for treatment by Creoks is first interviewed by an LPC, who determines what services that individual should receive through Creoks. Id., ¶ 5. If the LPC determines that the client needs individual rehabilitation or case management, then an individual rehabilitation specialist or case manager is assigned to that client. Id. According to Brent Black ("Black"), the chief executive officer of Creoks, the services can be terminated at the election of either the LPC or the client. Id., ¶ 6.

On April 8, 2004, Edwards entered into a contract with Creoks entitled "Subcontractor Agreement." Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition Ex. 1, Subcontractor Agreement. The Subcontractor Agreement stated that Edwards would provide individual rehabilitation or case management services. The dates and time of services were to be determined based on client need. The Subcontractor Agreement further stated that the "services will be delivered and documented in conformance with Creoks policies, procedures, and protocols." Id. On April 8, 2004, Edwards also signed a document entitled "Verification of Creoks Personnel Policies." Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition Ex. 2. This form stated: "I have received a copy of the personnel policies and understand that it is my responsibility to become familiar with its contents. I agree to abide by all of its rules, policies, terms, and conditions, realizing that failure to do so may result in disciplinary action and/or termination." Id., Further, the document stated: "I understand and agree that my employment is terminable at will so that both the agency and I remain free to choose to end our work relationship at any time and for any reason or for no reason at all without either party incurring any liability." Id. Creoks contends that, during her association with Creoks, Edwards was free to provide similar services for other human service providers. Dkt. # 49, Ex. 1, ¶ 7. Indeed, Edwards provided some services for Madonna House in 2004, while she was working at Creoks. Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition, Part 1, at 15.

During Edwards' association with Creoks, Creoks had in place a dispute resolution/grievance procedure. Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition Ex. 9. According to this policy, if an employee had a grievance, including alleged discrimination based on religion or disability, the employee should present a written request for formal review by the employee's supervisor. Edwards never filed a written complaint pursuant to this policy.

Edwards performed individual rehabilitation services at Creoks' clients' homes. Edwards wrote her own treatment plans and had control over the methods used to provide the services. Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition, Part 1, at 14. She submitted her treatment plans to Black for approval. Id. While she was supposed to seek Blacks' approval only in the beginning of her employment to "get the swing of things," Edwards recalls seeking his approval beyond the first few weeks with Creoks. Id. Creoks provided Edwards with paperwork and supplies, but she conducted her treatment work at clients' homes and completed paperwork at her own home. Id. at 15-16.

Creoks paid Edwards by the job and did not deduct income tax for payment of her services to Creoks' clients. Dkt. # 49, Ex. 1, ¶ 8. In her 1099-forms, Creoks listed Edwards' payment as "non-employee compensation." Dkt. # 49, Ex. B. Edwards took business-related tax deductions for mileage and other expenses that she incurred in 2004 as a result of her work for Creoks. Dkt. # 49, Ex. C. When she was hired, Edwards was told that she was an independent contractor. Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition, Part 1, at 12. Black maintains that, at all times, Creoks considered Edwards to be an independent contractor. Dkt. # 49, Ex. 1, ¶ 7. However, Edwards argues that the Oklahoma Department of Labor classified her as an "employee" and not an "independent contractor" in granting her unemployment compensation benefits. Dkt. # 50, at 7.

Edwards testified that she suffers from a "generalized anxiety disorder." Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition, Part 2, at 19. Edwards never told management about her disability. Id.; Dkt. # 49, Black Affidavit, ¶ 13. According to Edwards There was no need to [tell management about my disability]. I needed no accommodations. I — I have — I can do my job, and I can do it well. I have problems within myself, and I have problems when I'm being pressured or whatever.

Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition, Part 2, at 19. Edwards told only Audrey Milton ("Milton"), another Creoks employee, about her disability. Id. According to Edwards, Milton commented that Edwards could not perform her job responsibilities because of her anxiety disorder. Id. Milton did not make such alleged comments to Edwards directly, but to other undisclosed Creoks employees. Id.

Edwards claims that an undisclosed person, who Edwards refers to as her "slanderer", see Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition, Part 2, at 1, called Creoks and made negative comments about her. Id. at 21-23. Edwards does not, have any evidence that anyone made such a call; however, she "believes within my heart and soul some — the information got to [Creoks' employees] some kind of way." Id. at 22. According to Edwards, the other Creoks' employees turned against her after they heard these allegedly slanderous comments. She argues that, due to the comments by this "slanderer," the LPCs removed Edwards from their treatment plans. Id. at 25. She testified, "[The LPCs] didn't choose for me to work with them anymore after hearing all the gossip and the slander that was called in by my slanderers to Creoks." Id. Prior to her termination, Edwards filed a complaint to the licensure board on the ground that the LPCs decision to take her off of their treatment plans was "unprofessional." Id. at 19.

Edwards also complained that some of her co-employees made disparaging comments about her. For example, on one occasion, Milton asked her if she was schizophrenic. Id. at 2. Edwards also claims that "a big issue was made over the fact that I was a Jehovah's Witness." Id. at 15. Milton told Edwards that she (Milton) was shocked that Edwards was a Jehovah's Witness. Id. Edwards testified, "I feel it was discriminative [sic] when they even talked about [my religion] negatively." Id.

During her association with Creoks, Black maintains that Edwards struggled to perform her duties in accordance with Creoks' policies and procedures. Dkt. # 49, Black Affidavit, ¶ 9. First, Creoks asserts that Edwards impermissibly taught religion to her clients. For example, Edwards had a client who "was terrified of going to hell because of the religious teachings she had." Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition, Part 1, at 22. Edwards met with the client and "wrote her treatment plan in an effect where she could go to the Bible on her own and learn what the Bible itself had to say about that hellfire thing or whatever else was giving her problems." Id. She maintains that "teaching her how to go to the Bible and form her own opinions about what was true and what was false" did not constitute religious "witnessing." Id., Part 2, at 17. In addition to teaching a client how to read the Bible, Edwards took a client to a Jehovah's Witness meeting with her. Id. at 15. She maintains that, at the time, she did not know it was improper to take a client to a religious meeting. Id.

Creoks management was also concerned that Edwards accepted some clients who were not covered by Medicaid because Creoks' sole source of revenue was through Medicaid. Dkt. # 49, Edwards Deposition, Part 1, at 20. However, Edwards testified that Black granted her permission to accept some non-Medicaid clients. Id. at 20. She remembers one instance where Black did not permit her to accept a non-Medicaid client. Id. at 20-21.

Edwards admits that she had difficulty adhering to the Creoks' procedures for filling out and completing paperwork. Id. at 21. However, she...

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