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Nnadozie v. Manorcare Health Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 15, 2019

EMANUELLA NKEM NNADOZIE, Plaintiff,
v.
MANORCARE HEALTH SERVICES, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Beth P. Gesner Chief United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Emanuella Nkem Nnadozie (“Nnadozie, ” or “plaintiff”) brings this employment discrimination action against defendants Manorcare Health Services, LLC, HCR Manor Care Services, Manorcare-Woodbridge Valley MD, LLC, Manorcare Health Services-Woodbridge Valley, and Heartland Employment Services (“HES” or “defendant”), alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, based on a series of events which resulted in her termination from her position as a registered nurse.[1] Currently pending before the court are: (1) Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration and Relief from the District Court's Determination Granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Plaintiff's Motion”) (ECF No. 67); (2) Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration (“Defendant's Opposition”) (ECF No. 69); and (3) Plaintiff's Reply Brief in Support of Her Motion for Reconsideration and Relief from the District Court's Determination Granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Plaintiff's Reply”) (ECF No. 70). The issues have been fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion (ECF No. 67) is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, this court considers the facts and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). In this case, plaintiff is asking this court to reconsider its finding of summary judgment in favor of defendants (ECF No. 44). Defendants, however, were the parties who originally moved for summary judgment. (ECF No. 32). Accordingly, plaintiff is the nonmoving party, so all facts will be considered and all reasonable inferences will be drawn in the light most favorable to plaintiff.

         Plaintiff was hired on May 15, 2013, as a Night Shift Registered Nurse (“RN”) Supervisor by Heartland Employment Services (“HES” or “defendant”) at the Woodbridge Facility. (ECF No. 32-1 at 13). Manorcare-Woodbridge Valley MD, LLC, owned the Woodbridge Facility and leased employees from HES, including plaintiff. (ECF No. 32-1 at 50). Plaintiff previously worked as a R.N. Supervisor at Future Care Health Care Corporation and as an Assistant Director of Nursing at Genesis Health Care Corporation (“Genesis”). (ECF No. 32-1 at 13). Plaintiff, a black female, was born in Sierra Leone and lived in Nigeria and France before moving to the United States in 1996 at age 19. Id.

         At the Woodbridge Facility, plaintiff was directly supervised by the Administrative Director of Nursing Services (“DON”). (ECF No. 69 at 10). Prior to October of 2013, this role belonged to Alisa Davis, a black female. Id. In October 2013, however, Davis left, and the role was filled by Michelle Jambora, a Filipino female, who acted as the interim DON. Id. On October 1, 2013, Jambora called the Woodbridge Facility three times during the night shift. (ECF No. 69 at 11). Plaintiff alleges that, at first, no one responded when she answered the phone. (ECF No. 39 at 2). On the third time, she alleged that Jambora “screamed at [plaintiff] and threatened her job . . . accused [plaintiff] of not doing her job . . . questioned whether [plaintiff] could be a supervisor at all and accused her of inability [sic] manage her employees.” Id. Plaintiff further stated that the call “left [plaintiff] in tears, feeling like she had incurred a physical attack.” Id. That day, plaintiff wrote a letter to Elizabeth Kaczor, the Vice President of Human Resources (“HR”), and expressed her concerns with the way Jambora spoke to her. (ECF No. 69 at 11).

         Over the subsequent few weeks, plaintiff alleged that Jambora reassigned her from being a House Supervisor to a Floor Nurse seven to ten times, which she described as “essentially a demotion, ” and gave her additional duties. (ECF No. 39 at 3-4). Plaintiff further alleged that no other nurse was assigned additional or floor work duties. Id. Plaintiff then spoke with HR Representative Karen Boxen and Jambora about the October 1, 2013 phone call and plaintiff's floor work assignments.[2] (ECF No. 39 at 5). Plaintiff also spoke with Staci Froelich, the Administrator of the Woodbridge Facility, on October 23, 2013, regarding Jambora's conduct. (ECF No. 39 at 5). Plaintiff alleges that, during this meeting, she asserted her belief that Jambora would treat her more fairly if she were not black. Id.

         Plaintiff was injured at work on October 30, 2013 and was out on medical leave until December 30, 2013. (ECF No. 69 at 12). Plaintiff alleges that, upon her return on December 30, 2013, she was told by Jambora that “she could choose between her old position but working additional time, or working as a floor nurse.” (ECF No. 39 at 5). Plaintiff did not accept either, however, as she was still recovering from her injury, and returned to work on limited duty. (ECF No. 37-1 at 6). Plaintiff was primarily responsible for reviewing lab results and notifying patients and family members of abnormal results. (ECF No. 69 at 12). On December 30, plaintiff also met with Regional HR Director John Kolesar and Froelich to discuss her concerns that “Jambora was discriminating against her and continuing to harass her, and that nothing had been done about it.” (ECF No. 39 at 5).

         On January 13, 2014, plaintiff documented in resident J.B.'s progress notes that she had informed the responsible party (“RP”) of J.B. (her daughter, C.B.) that J.B. had abnormal lab results. (ECF No. 69 at 12). Earlier that day, however, the morning staff was informed that C.B. had passed away over the weekend. Id. Another RN Supervisor, Cordilia Agbam, noticed this discrepancy and “became concerned that resident J.B.'s lab result had not been provided to the correct person.” Id. Agbam reported this issue to Jambora. Id. On January 15, 2014, plaintiff was called into a meeting and asked about the progress note. (ECF No. 39 at 12). Plaintiff stated that she called and spoke with someone who claimed to be J.B.'s RP. Id. Plaintiff was then suspended without pay pending an investigation of the incident. Id.

         During the investigation, Agbam reviewed plaintiff's other January 13, 2014 notes and discovered that plaintiff documented that she informed resident E.W. of his lab results and called his RP, although no one answered. (ECF No. 69 at 13). E.W. informed Agbam, however, that he had never received his lab results or spoken with plaintiff, and defendant noted that E.W. was his own RP. Id. Agbam again reported this issue. Id. Defendant also discovered during the investigation that, while plaintiff was on suspension, plaintiff called C.B.'s number to conduct her own investigation into the identity of the person who answered the phone. (ECF No. 69 at 14 (citing ECF No. 32-4 at 114)).

         As a result of defendant's investigation, defendant subsequently decided to terminate plaintiff's employment and informed plaintiff of such during a meeting on February 19, 2014. (ECF No. 69 at 15). Defendant relied on its work rule A-28, an “all-encompassing” rule that required employees to “[c]onduct yourself in other major instances of conduct not specifically listed.” Id. Specifically, defendant stated that, regarding resident J.B., plaintiff “failed to properly review the progress notes” and “failed to take appropriate steps to confirm the identity of the person answering the phone.” (ECF No. 69 at 14). As to resident E.W., defendant “weighed the evidence and found E.W. more believable than [plaintiff.]” Id. Finally, defendant found that it was “unprofessional and insensitive” for plaintiff to call C.B.'s phone number “for her personal purposes” during her suspension. (ECF No. 69 at 15). Subsequent to her termination, plaintiff's position was filled with a white female. (ECF No. 67-1 at 8).

         Plaintiff alleges that this investigation was “disingenuous” and began merely two weeks after her December 30, 2013 complaint that Jambora was discriminating against her and harassing her. (ECF No. 67-1 at 7). Plaintiff further alleges that, during December of 2013, managers at the Woodbridge Facility, including Administrator Froelich, learned that she was engaged in litigation against her previous employer, Genesis.[3] Id. On April 14, 2014 plaintiff initiated charges against defendant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (“MCCR”) alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of her race and national origin and retaliated against after protesting such activity. (ECF No. 32-1 at 9-10). Plaintiff filed the instant case before this court on February 10, 2015. (ECF No. 1).

         In her Amended Complaint, plaintiff asserts three counts: (1) “unlawful suspension and termination of plaintiff Nnadozie, on account of race and national origin discrimination and retaliation, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981”; (2) “retaliatory alteration of Nnadozie's working conditions, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e and 42 U.S.C. § 1981”; and (3) “hostile work environment, inflicted upon plaintiff Nnadozie, on account of her race and national origin, and in retaliation for protected activity, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.” (ECF No. 8 at 8). Specifically, in her first count, plaintiff alleges she was suspended without pay and ultimately terminated based on her race and national origin as well as her litigation against her prior employer, Genesis, and her internal discrimination complaints. Id. In her second count, plaintiff also alleges that defendant altered her working conditions by assigning her substantial additional duties in retaliation for her litigation against Genesis and her internal complaints. (ECF No. 8 at 9). Finally, in her third count, plaintiff alleges that defendant created and subjected plaintiff to a hostile work environment by allowing hostile conduct, including “altering her job duties, shouting at her, badgering her about her breaks, etc., ” based on her race, national origin, litigation against Genesis, and internal discrimination complaints. (ECF No. 8 at 10).

         All defendants filed a motion for summary judgment as to all of plaintiff's claims in the Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 32). Plaintiff opposed this motion and argued that genuine disputes of material fact precluded summary judgment on all claims. (ECF No. 39). On November 28, 2016, the court granted defendants' motion. (ECF No. 44). Preliminarily, the court found that only HES was plaintiff's employer, and granted summary judgment as to all remaining defendants.[4] (ECF No. 44 at 1). The court went on to find that plaintiff did not present any direct evidence of racial discrimination, and thus analyzed whether plaintiff made out a prima facie case of racial discrimination under the McDonnell burden-shifting framework. Id. (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)). The court held that plaintiff failed to “establish that her job performance was satisfactory and that similarly situated employees outside of her class received more favorable treatment than did she.” (ECF No. 44 at 2). Alternatively, the court noted, “the reasons articulated by defendant for the termination of her employment constituted ‘legitimate, non-discriminatory reason[s]' and plaintiff has not shown that the proffered reason is pretextual.” Id. n.2. Accordingly, the court granted summary judgment to defendant. Id.

         Plaintiff timely appealed the court's November 28, 2016 decision (ECF No. 46), but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her appeal as interlocutory (ECF No. 49 at 5). The Court stated that, while plaintiff's complaint “clearly alleged discrimination, retaliation, and harassment claims, ” and defendants moved for summary judgment on all three claims, the district court “failed to resolve the retaliation and harassment claims.” (ECF No. 49 at 4-5). Currently pending is Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration and Relief from the District Court's Determination Granting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (“Plaintiff's Motion”) in which plaintiff argues that the court wrongly granted summary judgment to defendant. (ECF No. 67 at 10). Defendant opposes this motion and ask the court to uphold the finding of summary judgment in favor of defendant on plaintiff's race discrimination claim and grant summary judgment on her remaining claims. (ECF No. 69 at 9).

         II. RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CLAIM

         In its November 28, 2016 order, this court held that plaintiff failed to present any direct evidence of racial[5] discrimination, and plaintiff thus needed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. (ECF No. 44 at 1). See Tibbs v. Baltimore City Police Dep't, Civil No. RDB-11-1335, 2012 WL 3655564 at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 23, 2012) (“Where the record contains no direct evidence of discrimination or retaliation, plaintiff's claims must be analyzed under the burden-shifting scheme established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973).”) Specifically, “[a]n employee establishes a prima facie case of disparate treatment on the basis of race . . . discrimination under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by showing that (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) her job performance was satisfactory; (3) she was subjected to an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated employees outside of her class received more favorable treatment.” Id. at *4. The court here found that plaintiff failed to establish the second and fourth elements of this test and granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 44 at 2).

         Plaintiff argues that the district court “erred in dismissing [plaintiff's] Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 race discrimination claims. It ignored all [plaintiff's] evidence to the contrary in finding that [plaintiff] failed to show she was performing satisfactorily, and failed even to acknowledge that she was replaced by someone white.” (ECF No. 67-1 at 23). As to the second prong, plaintiff argues that the court failed to consider her proof that defendant's basis for alleging unsatisfactory behavior was pretextual. Id. Plaintiff further challenges “the entirety of [defendant's] evidence of unsatisfactory performance” and alleges that the court failed to view the evidence in the light most favorable to her. (ECF No. 67-1 at 24). As to the fourth prong, plaintiff argues that she met this element by demonstrating that her position was filled by a “similarly qualified white candidate, ” and that the court erred “by not even addressing the obvious white replacement comparator.” Id.

         In response, defendant argues that the court properly found that plaintiff could not establish the second or fourth prongs. (ECF No. 69 at 22). Specifically, defendant argues that plaintiff was not performing satisfactorily at the time of her termination because “it had evidence, after an investigation, that she falsely documented providing lab results to a deceased family member of resident J.B. and to an alert and oriented patient, resident E.W., . . . shared confidential patient information with someone not authorized to receive it . . . [and] admitted to using PHI [personal health information], that is, the deceased family member's phone number, for her own purposes, and contacting that number while on suspension.” (ECF No. 69 at 23-24). Furthermore, defendant argues that plaintiff's alleged evidence of pretext “is insufficient to overcome [defendant's] legitimate non-discriminatory reasons to terminate her employment.” (ECF No. 69 at 25). As to the fourth prong, defendant argues that plaintiff “cannot show that similarly situated employees outside her protected class were treated more favorably.” (ECF No. 69 at 23). Defendant further argues that, while plaintiff was replaced with a white individual, this replacement was only in the position for two months before being replaced by a black woman and then a black male. Id.

         The parties also dispute the proper standard of review for this motion. Plaintiff argues that the proper standard of review for “reconsideration requests when there is no final judgment as to all issues” is Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b).[6] (ECF No. 70 at 6 (citing Bradford v. HSBC Mortg. Corp., 838 F.Supp.2d 424, 427 (E.D. Va. 2012)). Defendant argues that, because “[t]he Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not expressly recognize motions for ‘reconsideration, '” the court should rely on Rules 59(e) and 60(b), which “authorize a district court to alter, amend, or vacate a prior judgment.” (ECF No. 69 at 17 (citing Works v. Astrue, 2012 WL 380116 at *2 (D. Md. Feb. 3, 2012)). Defendant further argues that motions under each Rule are disfavored and should only be granted in exceptional circumstances, and that plaintiff does not meet these standards. (ECF No. 69 at 18-19).

         Here, because the court's November 28, 2016 order did not resolve all three claims brought by plaintiff, the correct standard for review is Rule 54(b). Am. Home Assurance Co. v. KBE Building Corp., Civil No. CCB-13-1941, 2015 WL 1209940 at *1 (D. Md. March 16, 2015) (“A motion to reconsider an interlocutory order arises under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b).”) While Rules 59(e), which allows a court to alter or amend a final judgment upon a motion filed within 28 days after the entry of the judgment, and 60(b), which allows a court to grant relief from a final judgment, “do not govern reconsideration of an interlocutory order, the Fourth Circuit has suggested that at least parts of those rules may guide a court's analysis.” Cohens v. Md. Dep't. of Human Res., 933 F.Supp.2d 735, 742 (D. Md. 2013). Specifically, courts will consider whether “(1) there has been an intervening change in controlling law; (2) there is additional evidence that was not previously available; or (3) the prior decision was based on clear error or would work manifest injustice.” Am. Home Assurance Co., 2015 WL 1209940 at *1 (citing Nana-Akua Takyiwaa Shalom v. Payless Shoesource Worldwide, Inc., 921 F.Supp.2d 470, 480 (D. Md. 2013)). Plaintiff need not, however, show “extraordinary circumstances, ” as is required by Rules 59(e) and 60(b). Id. (citing Netscape Commc'ns Corp. v. ValueClick, Inc., 704 F.Supp.2d 544, 546 (E.D. Va. 2010)).

         Plaintiff does not allege that there has been an intervening change in controlling law or that there is additional evidence that was not previously available. Accordingly, her “motion rises and falls on proof of ‘clear error' or ‘manifest injustice' . . . [her] ‘motion may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Am. Home Assurance Co., 2015 WL 1209940 at *2 (quoting Tepeyac v. Montgomery Cty., 5 F.Supp.3d 745, 770 (D. Md. 2014)). Plaintiff argued in her Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (“Opposition”) (ECF No. 39) that she established all four elements of a prima facie case of racial discrimination. (ECF No. 39 at 34). Specifically, she argued that she met the second prong because her performance was satisfactory prior to January 13, 2014, the date in question, and that a reasonable jury could find that defendant's reasons for her termination were pretextual. (ECF No. 39 at 35). She also argued that she met the fourth prong because she was replaced by a white American woman with the same qualifications as her. Id. While now she argues that the prior decision was based on clear error, she “merely rehearses arguments that [she] previously asserted and this court previously rejected. Retreading old ground cannot justify reconsideration.” Am. Home Assurance Co., 2015 WL 1209940 at *2. Plaintiff has not established that the prior decision granting summary judgment for defendant on plaintiff's racial discrimination claim is based on “clear error or would work manifest injustice.” Id. Accordingly, plaintiff's Motion is denied as to her racial discrimination claim, and the court will not disturb its prior decision granting summary judgment for defendant on Count I of plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

         III. RETALIATION AND HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT CLAIMS

         A. Standard of Review

         In its order dated November 28, 2016, the court did not address plaintiff's retaliation claims or hostile work environment claim. (ECF No. 44). Accordingly, the court must ...


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