Fife v. Vicksburg Healthcare, LLC, Civil Action No. 5:11cv157–KS–MTP.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtKEITH STARRETT
Citation945 F.Supp.2d 721
PartiesMaggie FIFE, Plaintiff v. VICKSBURG HEALTHCARE, LLC d/b/a River Region Medical Center and Darlene White, individually and in her Official Capacity, Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 5:11cv157–KS–MTP.
Decision Date13 May 2013

945 F.Supp.2d 721

Maggie FIFE, Plaintiff
VICKSBURG HEALTHCARE, LLC d/b/a River Region Medical Center and Darlene White, individually and in her Official Capacity, Defendants.

Civil Action No. 5:11cv157–KS–MTP.

United States District Court,
S.D. Mississippi,
Western Division.

May 13, 2013.

[945 F.Supp.2d 728]

John M. Mooney, Jr., Law Offices of John M. Mooney, Jr., PLLC, Madison, MS, for Plaintiff.

Alison Tasma Vance, Jeffrey A. Walker, Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens & Cannada, PLLC, Ridgeland, MS, for Defendants.


KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [46] of the Defendants Vicksburg Healthcare, LLC d/b/a River Region Medical Center (“RRMC”) and Darlene White. Having considered the parties' submissions, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be granted.


On August 26, 2010, Plaintiff Maggie Fife, a Caucasian female, was terminated from her employment with RRMC for purportedly violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) by accessing a co-worker's medical records. RRMC operates several medical facilities in Vicksburg, Mississippi, including a hospital and a separate medical clinic that is commonly referred to as the “Street Clinic”. At the time of her discharge, Plaintiff was fifty-two (52) years old and was working in the Street Clinic as a Medical Technologist. Plaintiff had been employed by RRMC for approximately twenty-five (25) years when she was terminated.

On October 27, 2011, Plaintiff brought this lawsuit against RRMC and her former supervisor, Darlene White, asserting numerous federal and state law claims in connection with the termination of her employment. ( See Compl. [1].) Plaintiff alleges employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (“ADEA”). Plaintiff also asserts the following state law causes of action: tortious breach of contract, wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.

[945 F.Supp.2d 729]

RRMC and Defendant White have moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. ( See Motion for SJ [46].) The motion has been fully briefed and the Court is ready to rule.

A. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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). “Where the burden of production at trial ultimately rests on the nonmovant, the movant must merely demonstrate an absence of evidentiary support in the record for the nonmovant's case.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir.2010) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The nonmovant must then “come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. “ ‘An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.’ ” Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir.2010) (quoting Daniels v. City of Arlington, Tex., 246 F.3d 500, 502 (5th Cir.2001)). “An issue is ‘genuine’ if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cuadra, 626 F.3d at 812.

The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir.2009) (citing Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir.2007)). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, “the court must view the facts and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, “[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir.2002) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is mandatory “ ‘against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.’ ” Brown v. Offshore Specialty Fabricators, Inc., 663 F.3d 759, 766 (5th Cir.2011) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)), cert. denied,––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2103, 182 L.Ed.2d 868 (2012).

B. Analysis
1. Federal Claims

The following circumstances are pertinent to Plaintiff's federal claims for relief. In July of 2010, one of RRMC's employees at the Street Clinic was diagnosed with a serious illness and became a patient at RRMC (the “Employee–Patient”).1 On July 22, 2010, Defendant Darlene White was advised by Lisa Hasty, a RRMC employee, that another RRMC employee, Liz Conner, had used her log-in and password information to view certain test results of the Employee–Patient on the hospital's Co–Path computer system.2 At that time,

[945 F.Supp.2d 730]

Defendant White was employed as the Administrative Laboratory Director and was responsible for managing both the hospital and Street Clinic laboratories. Defendant White subsequently advised Joy Hite, RRMC's Privacy and Compliance Officer, of the matter and Ms. Hite conducted an investigation as to whether the Employee–Patient's medical information had been improperly accessed by other RRMC employees.

Ms. Hite initially attempted to obtain an audit of the Co–Path system with respect to the Employee–Patient's records, but was unable to obtain one. Ms. Hite subsequently obtained audits of the HBO system, which Ms. Hite used to determine that the following RRMC employees had accessed the Employee–Patient's medical information without any legitimate reason for doing so: Plaintiff Maggie Fife, Shirley Cosby, Shirley Brewer, Mary Elizabeth Conner,3 Sylvia McBeath and Jennifer Smith. Ms. Hite interviewed each of these employees. Plaintiff and Shirley Cosby denied accessing the Employee–Patient's medical information. Plaintiff told Ms. Hite that she already knew what was wrong with the Employee–Patient because they were friends and that during the relevant time frame, “people were using each other's computers because the [HBO] system was down.” (Fife Dep. [53–1] 104:1–5.) Plaintiff and Shirley Cosby were terminated for violating HIPAA on August 26, 2010. Brewer, Conner, McBeath and Smith all admitted to accessing the Employee–Patient's medical information without authorization. Each of these employees received a written warning and Ms. Smith was also suspended for three (3) days without pay.

Also during the summer of 2010 (specifically, on August 20), Plaintiff met with Defendant White and was told that she was going to be laid off effective August 27, 2010. Shirley Cosby was also present at this meeting. Defendant White advised the Plaintiff and Ms. Cosby that laboratory testing would be performed at the hospital, as opposed to the Street Clinic, and thus, Plaintiff's services were no longer needed. Ms. Cosby's Phlebotomist position was not being eliminated because blood samples would still be taken at the Street Clinic. Defendant White further stated that another employee at the Street Clinic who was out on sick leave, the Employee–Patient, would be laid off and that the Employee–Patient would be advised of this decision through the mail. Ms. Cosby purportedly questioned whether the Employee–Patient could be terminated while he or she was out sick, and walked out of the meeting after Ms. White stated, “we can do that.” (Cosby Dep. [53–3] 40:4–12.)

On August, 23, 2010, Plaintiff went to see Anita Oliphant, RRMC's Interim Human Resources Director, and told her that she had been laid off by Defendant White and requested a copy of the reduction-in-force policy. Purportedly, Ms. Oliphant was rude to the Plaintiff and would not give her a copy of the policy. On August 25, Ms. Oliphant contacted the Plaintiff and offered her a position in the hospital laboratory, involving the same duties the Plaintiff had been performing at the Street Clinic. Plaintiff declined the position because the shift hours would have interfered with her ability to care for her ninety-five (95) year-old mother. On the morning of August 26, Plaintiff called the

[945 F.Supp.2d 731]

corporate hotline and complained that Ms. Oliphant was rude and did not provide her with a copy of the reduction-in-force policy; that there was a breach of confidence in Defendant White telling her she would be laid off in front of a co-worker (Shirley Cosby); and, that she was not offered a chemistry supervisor position with hours comparable to those she was working at the Street Clinic. On the afternoon of August 26, Plaintiff was terminated for violating HIPAA.

Plaintiff alleges disparate treatment, disparate impact, and retaliation under both Title VII and the ADEA in connection with the preceding circumstances. As an initial matter, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Title VII and ADEA claims against Defendant Darlene White fail as a matter of law. Neither statute allows a plaintiff to maintain a claim against an individual supervisor. See Ackel v. Nat'l Commc'ns, Inc., 339 F.3d 376, 381 n. 1 (5th Cir.2003) (“Individuals are not liable under Title VII in either their individual or official capacities.”) (citation omitted); Stults v. Conoco, Inc., 76 F.3d 651, 655 (5th Cir.1996) (holding that there is no basis for individual liability against supervisory employees under the ADEA). Furthermore, Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Defendant White are redundant since her employer, RRMC, is a party to this lawsuit. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985) (Official capacity...

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