United States District Court, D. Maryland
Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.
Emanuella Nkem Nnadozie (“Nnadozie”), Perpetua
Ezeh (“Ezeh”), and Sunday Aina
(“Aina”) (collectively, “plaintiffs”)
have filed an eleven count complaint against their former
employers alleging discrimination and retaliation in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a),
2000e-3(a) based on a series of events which ultimately
resulted in their respective terminations from employment at
the Patapsco Valley Center,  a skilled nursing center located
in Randallstown, Maryland.
pending before this Court is defendants' Genesis
Eldercare Network Services, Inc. and 9109 Liberty Road
Operations, LLC's (collectively,
“defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF
No. 33) (“Defendants' Motion”). The parties'
submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is
necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion
is GRANTED, and judgment shall be ENTERED in favor of
defendants on all counts.
ruling on a Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court reviews
the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris,
550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Hardwick ex rel. Hardwick v.
Heyward, 711 F.3d 426, 433 (4th Cir. 2013).
Valley Center (“PVC”) is a comprehensive long
term care center located in Baltimore County, Maryland, which
offers a variety of services, including long term geriatric
care, Alzheimer's care, orthopedic rehabilitation, and
dialysis services. (ECF No. 33-1 at ¶ 1.) PVC is managed
by defendant Genesis Eldercare Network Service, Inc.
(“Genesis Eldercare”). Plaintiffs were employed
by 9109 Liberty Road Operations, LLC. (ECF No. 33-1 at 1,
18.) In 2010, PVC's regulator, the Maryland Department of
Health and Mental Hygiene (“DHMH”), imposed a
civil monetary penalty on PVC based on certain deficiencies
found at the center. (ECF No. 33-1 at ¶ 5.) In response,
in November 2010, PVC installed new management at the
facility in order to impose more strict discipline on
employees to avoid future civil penalties. (Id. at
¶¶ 6-9.) Among the new personnel were the new
Administrator, Mary Hochradel, and the new Director of
Nursing, Denise Zimmerman. (Id. at ¶¶
Emanuella Nkem Nnadozie, born in Sierra Leone and raised in
Nigeria, began working as a nurse at PVC in September 2009.
(Nnadozie Dep. Tr. 54, ECF No. 33-5.) Nnadozie had previously
worked at another comprehensive care center, the Homewood
Center, also managed by defendant Genesis Eldercare.
(Id. at 86-92.) During Nnadozie's employment at
the Homewood Center, she was given a performance progress
report which indicated that her work “[n]eeds
improvement.” (Id. at 97-98.) Nnadozie then
requested transfer to PVC, where she began working as a Unit
Manager/Assistant Director of Nursing (“ADON”).
(Id. at 100-105.)
spring of 2010, Nnadozie went on maternity leave, but
eventually returned to work at PVC in September 2010.
(Nnadozie Dep. Tr. 132, ECF No. 33-5.) Shortly after her
return, Nnadozie was issued an individual Performance
Improvement Plan (“PIP”) notifying her how to
improve her work performance. (Id. at 167-74.) On
November 4, 2010, Nnadozie was involved in a yelling incident
with Senior ADON Evita Thompson, an African-American. (Young
Decl., Ex. G, ECF No. 33-9.) Several co-workers witnessed the
Denise Zimmerman began working at PVC in November 2010, PVC
management continued to complain of Nnadozie's work
performance. (Dezurn Decl., Ex. E, ECF No. 33-4.) Zimmerman
notified Nnadozie that she would be required to ensure that
personnel working under Nnadozie's supervision complied
with PVC's patient care and recordkeeping protocols.
(Id. at Ex. F.) Nnadozie alleges that Zimmerman had
developed a list of employees of African origin whom
Zimmerman had targeted for Nnadozie to discipline. (Nnadozie
Dep. Tr. 309-10, 314-16, ECF No. 33-5.)
changes at the center led to further tensions between
Nnadozie and PVC in 2011. First, Nnadozie asserts that
Zimmerman discriminated against her by declining to support
Nnadozie's application for a leadership position at PVC
in January 2011. (Nnadozie Dep. Tr. 234-37, ECF No. 33-5.)
Shortly thereafter, Zimmerman notified Nnadozie and similarly
situated ADONs that they were expected to arrive at work at
7:00 a.m. on a daily basis in order to see their respective
subordinate night, day, and evening shift employees.
(Id. at 271-75.) Nnadozie requested to be excused
from the 7:00 a.m. arrival rule, but PVC management promptly
denied this request. (Id. at 262-65.) In addition,
Nnadozie was assigned responsibility for an additional
nursing unit, bringing the total number of residents under
Nnadozie's care to approximately 50 or 60. (Id.
at 375-77.) Nnadozie acknowledged that this number of
residents under care is roughly equal to that assigned to
other ADONs. (Id.) Tensions peaked in late January
2011, when Nnadozie was involved in a dispute over patient
care with PVC's medical director, Dr. Levinson, and
another physician. (Id. at 389-418.)
these and other minor incidents, Zimmerman issued Nnadozie a
PIP on February 1, 2011. (Nnadozie Dep. Ex. 22, ECF No.
33-5.) This PIP notified Nnadozie that it was the
“Final Written Warning” she would receive prior
to termination. (Id.) On February 4, 2011, Nnadozie
sent PVC management a written rebuttal to the PIP, along with
a letter of resignation. (Id., Ex. 23.)
filed an Intake Questionnaire with the EEOC on May 9, 2011,
alleging discrimination on the basis of race and national
origin. (ECF No. 60-18.) The EEOC undertook an investigation
based on the Intake Questionaire. See ECF No. 60-21.
Following the investigation, Nnadozie filed her formal Charge
of Discrimination on April 5, 2012. (ECF No. 60-23.) The
Charge cites the imposition of additional work duties,
scheduling changes, certain statements by Zimmerman and
Hochradel, and defendants' refusal to respond to
Nnadozie's complaints as the basis for the Charge.
Perpetua Ezeh, born in Africa, began working at PVC in April
2010, after having worked for a separate Genesis entity,
Genesis Staffing, LLC. (Ezeh Dep. Tr. 28, 61, ECF No. 33-15.)
Ezeh worked as a Unit ADON on PVC's dialysis unit.
(Id. at 67-8.) PVC management began to complain of
Ezeh's work performance shortly after her arrival at the
center, issuing Ezeh a PIP. (Id. at 89-101.)
Complaints regarding Ezeh's performance persisted into
2011, resulting in Ezeh being issued another PIP. (Hochradel
Dep. Tr. 80-5, ECF No. 33-13.)
the PIP, Ezeh sent an email to defendants' Human
Resources Manager, Lee Ann Young, complaining of several
workplace requirements and conditions. (Ezeh Dep. Tr., Ex.
13, ECF No. 33-15.) Ezeh also complained that Denise
Zimmerman spoke to her inappropriately and made certain
comments regarding there being “too many
Nigerians” both in her class at Baltimore City
Community College, where Zimmerman worked as a teacher, and
at PVC. (Id.) Ms. Young states that she investigated
Ezeh's complaint, but did not find any basis to find that
she singled out Ezeh on the basis of her national origin.
(Young Dep. Tr. 201-09, ECF No. 33-12.)
same time, Ezeh's performance issues continued, resulting
in defendants' issuance of a Management Performance
Appraisal to Ezeh in June 2011. (Ezeh Dep. Tr., Ex. 14, ECF
No. 33-15.) Among the performance issues identified in the
Performance Appraisal was Ezeh's refusal to report for
work at 7:00 a.m. daily. (Id.) During a meeting to
discuss the Performance Appraisal, Ezeh confirmed her refusal
to report to work at that time unless another employee, Evita
Thompson, also reported at that time. (Id. at 166-67.)
PVC management was assessing how to address Ezeh's
performance issues, Ezeh was involved in a patient care
incident in which a patient with Hepatitis C bit and/or
scratched Ezeh. (Ezeh Dep. Tr. 191-95, ECF No. 33-15.) The
incident caused Ezeh great stress, and she chose to go on
FMLA leave beginning in July 2011. (Id., Ex. 18.)
same day that Ezeh went on medical leave, she contacted the
Genesis Corporate Hotline to complain again of
Zimmerman's treatment of her. (Young Dep. Tr. 212-13, ECF
No. 33-12.) Ezeh also submitted a letter to Genesis
complaining of “persecution and inequitable treatment
based on color, race, national origin and age.”
(Hochradel Dep., Ex. 7, ECF No. 33-13.)
her medical leave, Zimmerman, Hochradel, and Young met with
Ezeh to notify her that once she returned to work, she would
be required to report at 7:00 a.m. (Ezeh Dep. Tr. 212-16, ECF
No. 33-15.) Instead of accepting this requirement and
returning to work, Ezeh indicated by letter her intention to
return to her previous employer, Genesis Staffing, LLC, and
resigned from her position at PVC in October 2011.
(Id., Ex. 21.)
Ezeh attempted to return to work for Genesis Staffing, the
company declined to re-hire Ezeh on the basis that she had
violated the company's attendance policy during her
previous tenure with Genesis Staffing. (Mooney Decl. ¶
4, ECF No. 33-16.) Ezeh then sought reinstatement of her
position at PVC, but, having indicated her refusal to abide
by the 7:00 a.m. arrival directive, PVC declined to re-hire
Ezeh. (Ezeh Dep., Ex. 22, ECF No. 33-15.)
February 4, 2012, Ezeh filed an EEOC Charge of Discrimination
alleging national origin discrimination and retaliation.
(Ezeh Dep., Ex. 25, ECF No. 33-15.)
Sunday Aina, born in Nigeria, began working as a geriatric
nursing assistant (“GNA”) at PVC in February
2009. (Aina Dep. Tr. 9, 26-29, ECF No. 33-20.) As a GNA, Aina
was directly responsible for patient care, including bathing,
transport, and monitoring of residents' physical
conditions. (Id., Ex. 4.)
in the first month of his employment at PVC and on several
subsequent instances, PVC management notified Aina of
deficiencies in his work performance and the quality of care
he provided to residents. (Aina Dep. Ex.'s 5, 7, 8, 9,
10, ECF No. 33-20.)
April 2011, Aina submitted a request for approximately 30
days of vacation in order to travel to Africa to marry. (Aina
Decl., ECF No. 60-25 at ¶ 2.) Mary Hochradel denied
Aina's request, stating that the length of time requested
was excessive. (Hochradel Dep. Tr. 302-08, ECF No. 33-13.)
Aina interpreted this decision as discriminatory on the basis
of his national origin. (Aina Dep. Tr. 163-64, ECF No.
16, 2011, Aina was issued a PIP, noted as a “Final
Written Warning, ” based on a resident's complaints
that Aina neglected to provide proper care to the resident.
(Hochradel Dep., Ex. 27, ECF No. 33-13.) The PIP also
entailed a three-day suspension without pay. (Id.)
Aina disputes the resident's allegations of neglect.
(Aina Dep. Tr. 116-26, ECF No. 33-20.) Following the issuance
of the PIP, Aina submitted an Intake Questionnaire with the
EEOC alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin
and complaining of the three day unpaid suspension. (Aina
Dep., Ex. 18, ECF No. 33-20.)
November 2011, Aina was ultimately terminated from his
position after PVC determined that Aina had failed to report
bruising on the face of a resident under Aina's care.
(Aina Dep. Tr. 172-87, ECF No. 33-20.) Aina asserts that he
was instructed not to notify the nurses of the resident's
bruising because state inspectors were in the building at the
time. (Id. at 170-71.)
Aina had previously submitted an EEOC Intake Questionnaire,
it was not until several months after Aina's termination
that he filed his formal EEOC Charge of Discrimination, again
alleging national origin discrimination. (Id., Ex.
19.) While filed subsequent to his termination, the Charge
does not allege discrimination in his termination.
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a 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(c). A material fact is one that “might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law.” Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718
F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Thus,
summary judgment is proper “only when no
‘reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.'” Monon Corp. v. Stoughton
Trailers, Inc., 239 F.3d 1253, 1257 (Fed. Cir. 2001)
(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255)). When
considering a motion for summary judgment, a judge's
function is limited to determining whether sufficient
evidence exists on a claimed factual dispute to warrant
submission of the matter to a jury for resolution at trial.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
undertaking this inquiry, this Court must consider the facts
and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party. Libertarian Party of Va., 718
F.3d at 312; see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372,
378 (2007). However, this Court must also abide by its
affirmative obligation to prevent factually unsupported
claims and defenses from going to trial. Drewitt v.
Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993). If the
evidence presented by the nonmoving party is merely
colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary
judgment must be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at
249-50. On the other hand, a party opposing summary judgment
must “do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.”
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); see also In re Apex Express
Corp., 190 F.3d 624, 633 (4th Cir. 1999). As this Court
has explained, a “party cannot create a genuine dispute
of material fact through mere speculation or compilation of
inferences.” Shin v. Shalala, 166 F.Supp.2d
373, 375 (D. Md. 2001) (citations omitted).
All Plaintiffs' Claims Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
eleven counts set forth in the Complaint purport to be
brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (ECF No. 1.)
“Section 1981 prohibits discrimination on the basis of
race, but it ‘does not bar discrimination purely on the
basis of national origin.'” Akinjide v. Univ.
of Maryland E. Shore, DKC 09-2595, 2011 WL 4899999, at
*7 (D. Md. Oct. 13, 2011) (quoting Schouten v. CSX
Transp., Inc., 58 F.Supp.2d 614, 617 (E.D.Pa.1999)).
See Saint Francis Coll. v. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S.
604, 613, 107 S.Ct. 2022, 95 L.Ed.2d 582 (1987).
“Although ‘race' may be ‘construed ...
broadly for purposes of § 1981, ' if ‘a
plaintiff's allegations reference only his place of
origin and do not focus on specific ethnic characteristics
associated with that place of ...