Robinson v. Carefocus, Inc., 1:10-CV-208

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Eastern District of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtCURTIS L. COLLIER
PartiesDEANDREA J. ROBINSON, Plaintiff, v. CAREFOCUS, INC., Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. 1:10-CV-208,1:10-CV-208
Decision Date08 July 2011

CAREFOCUS, INC., Defendant.

No. 1:10-CV-208


Dated: July 8, 2011

Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier


Plaintiff Deandrea Robinson ("Plaintiff") brings this lawsuit against her former employer Carefocus, Inc. ("Defendant"), alleging race and gender discrimination, race and gender harassment, and retaliation. Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment, which is supported by a memorandum (Court File Nos. 23, 26). Plaintiff filed a response (Court File No. 25), to which Defendant replied (Court File No. 30). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Court File No. 23).


Plaintiff, an African-American female, began working for Defendant in September 2007 as an at-will employee and was terminated January 7, 2010. She was initially hired in a support staff position and after receiving two promotions, held the position of program coordinator at the time of her termination (Court File No. 25-3 ("Plaintiff Dep.") pp. 166-167, 214; Court File No. 26-2 ("Weiss Dep.") p. 58).1 Defendant is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Maxim Healthcare Services

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("Maxim"), and provides support services to individuals with developmental disabilities. These individuals, referred to as "clients," are otherwise unable to care for themselves and reside in group homes and private residences. Plaintiff's duties as a program coordinator included "staffing scheduling, making sure that the clients made it to their appointments, monthly summaries, [and] supervisor visits" (Plaintiff Dep. p. 167). Plaintiff did not begin to have any issues with her employment until January 2009 (Plaintiff Dep. p. 167). During the period from January 2009 until Plaintiff's termination in 2010, Emily Hill ("Hill"), Program Director, was Plaintiff's direct supervisor and Summer Weiss ("Weiss"), office administrator, indirectly supervised Plaintiff.

In January 2009, Hill grabbed Plaintiff's breast in a playful manner while Plaintiff was in the team leader office (Plaintiff Dep. at 63). Although Plaintiff admits laughing off the incident, she states she "was in shock" at the time (id.). Hill described Plaintiff as nervous due to the presence of auditors and explains she grabbed Plaintiff's breast as "jocular in nature[,]" an action that "would like-lighten the mood" and help Plaintiff relax (Court File No. 25-4 ("Hill Dep.") pp. 16-17). There was at least one other individual present during this incident. In a letter dated February 25, 2009, Plaintiff first complained of this incident and also described an occasion in Hill's office where Hill "pretended like she had gonads in her hands" to give to Plaintiff (Court File No. 25-3, Ex. 3). Hill admitted "I postured as if I was unzipping my pants. I held out my hand and I asked [Plaintiff] to hold out her hand, and I said, here are my cojones." (Hill Dep. p. 19). Hill explained she made this remark after an altercation with a client in which she felt "she should have had a more professional response than being so afraid" (id.). Plaintiff further complained that Hill used the camera on her cellular phone to videotape the buttocks of a coworker, Jamie Bomar ("Bomar")(Court File No. 25-3, Ex. 3).

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Per instructions from Human Resources Generalist Sharon Smith ("Smith"), Plaintiff wrote the February 25, 2009 letter detailing Hill's conduct and gave it to Weiss (Plaintiff Dep. p. 63; Court File No. 25-3, Ex. 3). In response to Plaintiff's complaint, Defendant conducted an investigation and Laurice McCord,2 counseled Hill regarding her behavior (Court File No. 26-1 ("McCord Dep.") pp. 37-41; Court File No. 25-5 ("Smith Dep.") pp. 16-20; Hill Dep. p. 24). There was no written warning issued to Hill and "the disciplinary action would have been to inform [Hill] of the unprofessional conduct and that it's not acceptable" (Smith Dep. p. 20). Hill made no further inappropriate sexual comments or advances toward Plaintiff (Plaintiff Dep. pp. 117, 151). Plaintiff, however, felt there was not a proper investigation of this matter because a witness Plaintiff identified, Donna Clark, was not contacted by Craig Kile, a corporate relations manager (Plaintiff Dep. pp. 55-56, Court File No. 26-3 ("Kile Dep.") p. 39).

In the late spring/early summer of 2009, McCord omitted both Plaintiff's and another program coordinator's name from a slide presentation used as part of orientation for new employees (McCord Dep. pp. 49-50). There were two program coordinators, Plaintiff and Susie Collins, a white female, and both names were left off the slide. This oversight was corrected once Plaintiff reported it, however, Plaintiff claims this omission may have undermined her position (Plaintiff Dep. pp. 130-132, 234-35; McCord Dep. p. 51; Weiss Dep. pp. 127-28).

Plaintiff was out of the office on vacation in June 2009 and during this time, other staff members learned of Plaintiff's complaint about Hill. Plaintiff alleges Hill treated her differently when she returned from vacation (Plaintiff Dep. p. 76). "Hill would turn her back when talking to me to communicate . . . you could just see by her body language" (id.). Plaintiff claims when she

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confronted Hill about why she did not say good morning to her or Donna Clark, Hill responded "maybe because you're not white, that's why I'm not speaking" (id.). Hill also made comments to Plaintiff that she "was shaped like a white girl" and had a "white girl's ass" (Plaintiff Dep. p. 67). Also during this time, Plaintiff claims Weiss stated she did not think black people washed their hair (id. at 71). Plaintiff is not sure whether Weiss said this out of malice as Weiss seemed genuinely surprised Plaintiff had washed her hair (id.). Plaintiff testified that although Weiss never said anything, Plaintiff felt Weiss did not want to hear complaints from Plaintiff because Plaintiff was a black female (id. at 247).

Plaintiff testified that Bomar called her a "bitch" at one point and informed Plaintiff she hated Oprah Winfrey and President Obama (Plaintiff Dep. pp. 61-62, 142-43). On September 4, 2009, Plaintiff and Bomar had an altercation which resulted in Bomar throwing a pen at Plaintiff (Plaintiff Dep. pp. 58-61). Bomar was terminated the following day after Plaintiff reported the incident (id. at 58, Weiss Dep. pp. 75-76). Plaintiff testified she thinks Bomar threw the pen because Bomar "wanted to do [Plaintiff's] job" and Bomar "didn't like what [Plaintiff] had to say" (Plaintiff Dep. pp. 59-61). Plaintiff does not know if Bomar threw the pen because Plaintiff was black, but claims Bomar did not throw the pen because Plaintiff was a female (id. at 60).

Following the pen incident, Plaintiff took medical leave for twelve weeks from September to December 2009 (Plaintiff Dep. p. 168, Kile Dep. pp. 67-68). She was diagnosed as having depression, anxiety, chronic insomnia and post traumatic stress disorder (Court File No. 25-6 ("Dr. Johnson-Crum Dep.") pp. 15-18). Plaintiff wrote a six-page letter to McCord in early September 2009, complaining of unfair treatment - including being omitted from the orientation slides, the pen incident, and Hill's comment she would not speak to Plaintiff because she was "not white" (Kile

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Dep. pp. 32-33; Court File No. 25-3, pp. 57-62). McCord forwarded Plaintiff's letter to Kile who initiated an investigation into Plaintiff's allegations (Kile Dep. pp. 32-33). Plaintiff also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on October 7, 2009.

In Plaintiff's absence, other staff members created schedules for the clients, and staff and house managers were instructed to direct their concerns to Hill instead of Plaintiff (Plaintiff Dep. pp. 105-07; Hill Dep. 77-78; McCord Dep. pp. 75-76). When Plaintiff returned to work in December, she received a written warning from Hill for failing to coordinate a client's medical appointment (Hill Dep. pp. 57-59; Court File No. 26-6). Plaintiff was again disciplined on December 25, 2009, for failing to coordinate holiday schedules with clients (Plaintiff Dep. pp. 197-98; Court File No. 26-6). Plaintiff admits she failed to coordinate the holiday schedules (Plaintiff Dep. p. 202) but denies any fault for the missed medical appointment (Court File No. 25-3, p. 56). Instead, Plaintiff testified the client missed the medical appointment because another employee sent untrained staff to the client's house (Plaintiff Dep. p. 205).

After these two incidents, Hill informed Plaintiff she was resigning (Court File No. 25-4, p. 12). Hill asked Plaintiff to schedule medical appointments for clients but Plaintiff indicated in an email she was uncomfortable with this part of her job (Plaintiff Dep. pp. 205-212; Hill Dep. pp. 5657; McCord Dep. pp. 110-111; Kile Dep. pp. 51-52). Scheduling medical appointments was one of the responsibilities Plaintiff held in her position as program coordinator (Plaintiff Dep. pp. 167, 208-09; Weiss Dep. pp. 46-47). In an email exchange between Plaintiff and Hill, Plaintiff indicates following the incident in December, she did not feel comfortable scheduling medical appointments and that she would not feel comfortable performing this task until Hill left (Court File No. 25-4, p. 8). On January 6, 2010, Hill forwarded this chain of email correspondence to both McCord and

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Weiss, with the message "I consider this insubordination and hostility. Thoughts?...

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