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McKnight v. Nationwide Better Health Insurance

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 29, 2014



CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Ginnie McKnight, proceeding pro se, filed this action alleging discriminatory treatment by her former employer, Nationwide Better Health Insurance ("Nationwide"), [1] in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). She claims discriminatory treatment based on race, retaliatory discharge, a hostile work environment, and failure to accommodate a disability. Nationwide has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, Nationwide's motion will be granted.[2]


McKnight began working for Nationwide in July 2007 as a Disease Management Coordinator. (Compl., ECF No. 1, at 2; Hendy Aff., ECF No. 2, ¶ 8.) McKnight, who is African American, initially reported to Kim Stokes, an African American woman. (Compl. at 3; Hendey Aff. ¶ 13.) After Stokes left the company, McKnight reported to Chanell Banks, also an African American woman. (Compl. at 3; Hendey Aff. ¶ 15.)

The evidence demonstrates, and McKnight does not dispute, that, soon after her hire, she began having attendance and tardiness problems. Under Nationwide employment policies, employees that have at least four "chargeable occurrences" within three months or seven "chargeable occurrences" within twelve months may be placed on an "Attendance Improvement" plan. (Section 12.1, Nationwide Policy Guide, Hendey Aff. Ex. A.) "Chargeable occurrences" include absences occurring with less than 24 hours notice or that are unscheduled or not approved in advance. ( Id. ) The exception is leave protected by statutes like the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("the FMLA"). ( Id. ) An employee with more than the allowable "chargeable occurrences" is placed on "Attendance Improvement" for a period of three to twelve months, as set by the employee's manager and Human Resources. ( Id. ) The employee's manager, working with Human Resources, also specifies the number of allowable absences the employee may have during her "Attendance Improvement" period. ( Id. ) If the employee does not comply with the terms of her "Attendance Improvement" plan, her employment is subject to termination at the time she violates the plan. ( Id. )

McKnight was first placed on a "Performance Improvement Plan" on January 7, 2008. (Hendey Aff. Ex. C.) She was provided with a warning notifying her that she had accumulated seven unplanned absences and had been late for work on fourteen days between the date of her hire in July 2007 and December 27, 2007. ( Id. ) Some of the absences and late arrivals occurred during the ninety-day probationary period during which new hires are to take no unplanned leave or ever be late. ( Id. ) The warning also noted that McKnight previously had received two verbal warnings regarding her attendance. ( Id. ) McKnight was placed on an additional sixty-day probationary period during which she was expected to adhere to the attendance policy-which was reiterated in the warning. ( Id. ) McKnight noted in the "employee comments" section of the warning that she was absent due to illness related to her asthma and an emergency room visit on October 31, 2007, as well as "emergencies that weren't foreseen." ( Id. ) Kim Stokes, her supervisor, verified that McKnight had submitted a doctor's note for her visit to the emergency room on October 31, 2007, but had provided no documentation of illness for the other days she was absent. ( Id. )

On her first performance review, administered on January 10, 2008, covering the period from her hire through December 31, 2007, McKnight received a rating of "did not meet" for a number of objectives, including attendance, professionalism, completing documentation, being available in the call queue as required, being a team player, and committing errors. (Hendey Aff. Ex. B at 2.) She also was reminded of Nationwide's attendance policy. ( Id. at 5.)

McKnight's placement on Performance Improvement was renewed again, beginning February 12, 2008, for sixty days, due to continued lateness and unexcused absences. (Hendey Aff. Ex. D.) This warning noted that she had been leaving early, or not coming in at all, without first notifying her supervisors. ( Id. ) It warned McKnight that if she did not comply with the company's attendance policies during the sixty-day period, "consequences of further disciplinary action up to termination will be applied." ( Id. )

McKnight received a "final written warning" on March 5, 2008, from her new supervisor, Chanell Banks. (Hendey Aff. Ex. E.) The warning documented new unplanned absences and noted that she had not complied with the plans on which she previously had been placed for improvement. ( Id. ) It further stated that McKnight could not incur any further attendance infractions and that "[f]ailure to meet the minimum expectations outlined above will result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment." ( Id. ) Without explanation, McKnight refused to sign the warning. ( Id. )

Despite being told the March 5 warning was the final one, McKnight was late on March 11 and 20, 2008. (Hendey Aff. Ex. F.) She was issued another warning and given another sixty days in which to have no "chargeable occurrences." ( Id. ) Although apparently improving for a time, McKnight took two unplanned absences in May and was late on several days in June 2008. (Hendey Aff. Ex. G.) As a result, she was issued another warning on July 3, 2008. ( Id. )

McKnight's attendance did not improve, and she was placed on Performance Improvement yet again on October 28, 2008, after several instances of tardiness in July, August, September, and October.[3] (Hendey Aff. Ex. H.) The written warning stated that McKnight could not be tardy at all during the next three months or she would face discharge. ( Id. ) McKnight signed the warning acknowledging that she had received a copy. ( Id. ) Although Nationwide told McKnight her employment would be terminated should she be late again, she was given another chance when she was late on November 10, 2008, receiving yet another Performance Improvement warning.[4] (Hendey Aff. Ex. I.) This warning stated that "[a]ny future instances of tardy within the next three(3) months will result in the termination of the associate's employment." ( Id. (emphasis in original).)

Despite yet another warning, and what appears to the court to be multiple "second" chances not required by the company's policy, McKnight was late again on January 9 and 12, 2009. (Hendey Aff. ¶ 33; Hendey Aff. Ex. J.) Due to these additional instances of tardiness, McKnight's employment was terminated on January 14, 2009. (Hendey Aff. ¶ 33.)

McKnight's claims in this case center on a number of grievances she has with the username she was assigned by Nationwide, her inability to obtain a different work schedule and desk location, comments made by her coworkers, and her ultimate discharge. Because she has failed to provide evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude Nationwide discriminated ...

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