Freeman v. University of Alabama Center for Psychiatric Medicine
MEMORANDUM OPINION. 36 MOTION to Compel Response to Plff's Request for Production No. 21 is MOOT; 60 MOTION to Strike Declaration of Plaintiff Edna Freeman and 61 MOTION to Strike Declaration of Cynthia Reed are DENIED. For the reasons stated herein, the Board's 48 MOTION for Summary Judgment is due to be granted with respect to the age and disability discrimination claims and denied with respect to the race and discrimination claims. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 6/8/2015. (YMB)
2015 Jun-08 AM 11:41
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
EDNA GERALDINE FREEMAN,
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA, )
Civil Action Number
Plaintiff Edna Geraldine Freeman, a 59-year old1 African-American with an
arthritic condition, alleges that her former supervisors at the University of Alabama
Birmingham’s Center for Psychiatric Medicine (“CPM”) discharged her
unlawfully because of her race, age, and alleged disability. Doc. 7 at 4-7.
Accordingly, Freeman brings claims against the Board of Trustees for the
University of Alabama for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (brought by and through 42 U.S.C. § 1983), age
discrimination under Alabama law, and disability discrimination under Alabama
law and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (“ADAAA”). Id.
This is Freeman’s age as of the date of her charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Doc. 7-1 at 2.
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Before the court is the Board’s motion for summary judgment. Doc. 48. For the
reasons below, except for the race discrimination claims, the motion for summary
judgment is due to be granted.2
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary
judgment is proper “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.” To support
a summary judgment motion, the parties must cite to “particular parts of materials
in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information,
affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other
materials.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). Moreover, “Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of
summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving
party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to
“go beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at
Also before the court are the Board’s motions to strike certain evidence on which Freeman relies in
response to the summary judgment motion. Docs. 60, 61. The motions are DENIED because—with one exception—
the evidence at issue has no bearing on the court’s ruling. As to the evidence that is relevant to the court’s ruling, the
motion is DENIED for the reasons in footnote twelve of this opinion. See infra pp. 14 n. 12. Plaintiff’s motion to
compel, doc. 36, which the court addressed during the February 13, 2015 discovery hearing, see doc. 37, is MOOT.
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324 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact
is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co.,
398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (all justifiable
inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party’s favor). However, “mere
conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a
summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir.
2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560,
1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Furthermore, “[a] mere ‘scintilla’ of evidence supporting
the opposing party’s position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing
that the jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573,
1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).
As of February 2012, Freeman held a Psychiatric Assistant (“PA”) position
in the geriatric unit of CPM.3 See doc. 50-1 at 22-24. However, Freeman
occasionally volunteered to work overtime shifts in other units. Id. at 25. One such
Freeman began working with CPM in 2006 as a Unit Support Specialist and earned a promotion to Unit
Secretary in 2012. Doc. 50-1 at 11. Shortly after her promotion, CPM transferred Freeman to the PA position after
eliminating the Unit Secretary position for budgeting purposes. Doc. 50-18 at 5.
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overtime assignment led to Freeman’s discharge. Specifically, on June 10, 2012,
Freeman volunteered for an overtime shift from 6:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the
adolescent unit. Id. at 29. During that shift, Freeman worked as a “sitter” for
adolescent patient A.S.4 Id. According to Jeana Fox, the Nurse Manager of the
adolescent unit, Freeman’s obligation as a “sitter” was to ensure that A.S. did not
harm herself or others. Doc. 50-10 at 10.5 Apparently, the “sitter” position requires
constant attention because, as Director of CPM Steve Nasiatka explains, a patient
can injure herself or others within seconds. See doc. 50-8 at 22. While Freeman
believes that she properly executed her duties as a “sitter” that day, her supervisors
disagreed after observing a surveillance video of purported inappropriate conduct
between A.S. and the other patients. Fox initially retrieved the surveillance video
to investigate an allegation from A.S. that another patient, J.M.C., “forced her to
kiss him” in front of Freeman. Doc. 50-10 at 6, 7. When Fox asked Freeman if she
saw the kiss, Freeman said no, and explained that she saw another patient, J.C.,
“pull J.M.C.’s pants down.” Id. at 6; doc. 50-1 at 36. After viewing the video, Fox
concluded that J.M.C and A.S. “appeared to kiss,” and that the video revealed
other inappropriate conduct between A.S. and other adolescent patients, including
the incident where J.C. pulled down J.M.C’s shorts. Id. at 11, 24. Based on Fox’s
The parties and the court refer to the adolescent patients by their initials to protect the patients’ privacy.
While none of Freeman’s supervisors confirmed this, nurse Joe Tucker, charge nurse Elaine Spaulding,
and two other employees in the adolescent unit explain that Freeman was required to be “in arms reach and
eyesight” from A.S. at all times. Docs. 50-16 at 7; 50-17 at 6; 50-19 at 4; 50-20 at 4.
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recommendation, Nasiatka and Freeman’s direct supervisor in the geriatric unit
(Kimberly Ayers) discharged Freeman on June 25, 2012 for “provid[ing] a false
statement” about the alleged kissing incident and for failing to “maintain [a] safe
and secure environment” for the patients. Docs. 50-10 at 17; 50-9 at 27.
According to the surveillance video before court, the conduct at issue
occurred over the course of approximately five minutes from 1:04 p.m. until 1:09
p.m.6 and primarily involved three patients: A.S., J.M.C, and J.C. See Surveillance
Video from June 10, 2012 *SEALED*. Throughout the video, which has no audio,
A.S., J.M.C., and J.C. congregate in the hallway of the unit, next to the nurse’s
station (which has windows spanning the length of the entire station). Id.
*SEALED*. As far as the court can discern from the video, the three patients
appear to be smiling, laughing, skipping, and teasing each other. Id. *SEALED*.
Meanwhile, the footage shows Freeman sitting in a chair in the hallway in the
center of the area where the patients are congregated. Id. *SEALED*.
A. Alleged kiss between J.M.C. and A.S.
At the start of the video, J.M.C., who is standing facing A.S. within arm’s
length of A.S.’s body, reaches out and rests his palms on A.S.’s shoulders for less
than one second, and then walks away. Id. *SEALED* at 13:04:03-05. A few
seconds later, with his back to the camera, J.M.C. approaches A.S. again, grabs her
Freeman disagrees with the time stamp on the video and maintains that the events occurred at a different
time because at 1 p.m., she was “aiding [Elaine] Spaulding[, the charge nurse,] with an incident with” another
patient. Doc. 58-11 at 13.
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by the shirt near her neck, and brings his face very close to hers for less than one
second.7 Id. *SEALED* at 13:04:10-12. At that moment, nurse Joe Tucker appears
in the video through the window of the nurse’s station next to J.M.C. and A.S. Id.
*SEALED* at 13:04:12. A.S. turns to look at Tucker through the window of the
nurse’s station, and almost simultaneously J.M.C. and A.S. quickly separate. Id.
*SEALED*. Tucker, like Freeman, maintains that he never witnessed any kiss
between J.M.C and A.S. Docs. 50-13 at 92; 50-17 at 5. As for Freeman, the
surveillance video is inconclusive as to whether she was looking in J.M.C. and
A.S.’s direction during the purported kiss. Id. *SEALED* at 13:04:10-15.8
B. Other inappropriate conduct
Aside from the alleged kiss, the other alleged inappropriate conduct
primarily centers around A.S. and J.C.’s attempts to pull down J.M.C.’s shorts.
Less than a minute after the alleged kiss, the video shows A.S. touching and
attempting to raise J.M.C.’s shorts, which are seemingly baggy. Surveillance Video
*SEALED* at 13:04:54-56. In reaction, J.M.C. reaches out and, while facing A.S.,
holds her by her forearms and guides her backwards several feet into a corner
against the window of the nurse’s station. Id. *SEALED* at 13:04:58-13:05:00.
J.M.C. and A.S. are not visible to the camera for a few seconds, but Freeman
This is the purported kiss that Fox and Nasiatka observed when they reviewed the surveillance video.
The video is inconclusive because—with respect to the footage from the camera facing Freeman during
the incident—the few seconds of footage of this interaction are completely missing. See Surveillance Video
*SEALED* at 12:04:10-15.
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appears to be watching them during this time. Id. *SEALED*. As J.M.C. and A.S.
walk out of the corner, A.S. approaches J.M.C. from behind and tugs downwards
on his shorts. Id. *SEALED* at 13:05:11-12. J.M.C.’s shorts do not come off, and
A.S., J.C., and Freeman appear to be laughing. Id. *SEALED* at 13:05:13-15.
For the next several seconds, the video shows A.S., J.M.C., and J.C.
skipping and walking around Freeman in the hallway. Id. *SEALED* at 13:05:1538. The three patients walk to the back of the hallway a few feet behind Freeman,
who has her head turned halfway toward them. Id. *SEALED* at 13:05:35-40. The
video next shows J.C. appearing to rub her buttocks against the front of J.M.C’s
body for approximately one second, and the patients appear to be laughing. Id.
*SEALED* at 13:05:38-43. Presumably after hearing the laughter, Freeman turns
her head fully around, and at that moment, A.S. hits J.M.C. on his buttocks and
walks a short distance away laughing. Id. *SEALED* at 13:05:43-48. Still behind
Freeman, J.C. briefly attempts to pull down J.M.C.’s shorts. Id. *SEALED* at
13:05:50. It is not clear from the video whether J.C. succeeded, and the three
patients quickly separate and all appear to be laughing. Id. *SEALED*. Freeman
appears to be speaking to the patients, perhaps telling them to stop,9 id.
*SEALED* at 13:05:58, and A.S and J.C. give each other “high fives,” id.
*SEALED* at 13:06:04.
As far as the court can discern from attempting to read her lips, Freeman appears to say, “Y’all need to
stop.” Surveillance Video *SEALED* at 13:05:58.
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Less than one minute later, A.S. and J.C. execute their third attempt to pull
down J.M.C.’s shorts. This time, A.S. initially reaches out to pull the shorts, but
J.M.C. dodges her attempt. Id. *SEALED* at 13:06:36-37. Then, J.C. succeeds in
pulling J.M.C.’s shorts down after an interaction that lasts approximately ten
seconds, with J.M.C. falling to the floor while resisting and trying to pull his shorts
back up. Id. *SEALED* at 13:06:38-49. After the incident, J.C. and A.S. walk
away and “high five” each other. Id. *SEALED* at 13:06:50-53. Throughout this
incident, Freeman is sitting near the patients. Id. *SEALED* at 13:06:38-49. For
the first five seconds of the ten-second episode during which J.M.C. attempted to
resist J.C., Freeman remains seated and appears unaffected. See id. *SEALED* at
13:06:39-45. Toward the end of these five seconds, J.M.C. is on the floor resisting
J.C., and J.C. had basically succeeded in pulling down J.M.C’s shorts. Id.
*SEALED*. At this point, the footage from the camera facing Freeman skips over
the next nine seconds. See id. *SEALED* at 13:06:45, 13:06:54.10 When the
footage resumes, Freeman is still seated, and J.C. has walked away from J.M.C.
and is sitting in a chair in the hallway in front of Freeman. Id. *SEALED* at
13:06:54-13:07:00. J.M.C. leaves the hallway briefly and is outside of the camera’s
view for approximately the next fifteen seconds. Id. *SEALED* at 13:07:00-15.
J.M.C. then returns to the hallway and approaches J.C., who is still seated in the
Perhaps because the video skips on two occasions, Freeman “recalls [the] incidents in the video . . . [but
disputes] that they were sequential in nature.” Doc. 58-11 at 8.
Page 8 of 20
chair in front of Freeman, and J.C. reaches forward and again attempts to pull
down J.M.C.’s shorts. Id. *SEALED* at 13:07:15. For the next several seconds,
Freeman is looking toward J.C. and appears to speak to her. Id. *SEALED* at
13:07:18-31. J.C. at one point seems to acknowledge Freeman by turning her head
and looking toward Freeman. Id. *SEALED* at 13:07:24. For the remainder of the
video, neither A.S. nor J.C. attempt to pull down J.M.C.’s shorts. See id.
*SEALED* at 13:07:24-13:08:50.
The last incident of inappropriate conduct occurred about one minute after
J.C. pulled down J.M.C’s shorts. While J.C. is sitting in the chair in front of
Freeman, J.M.C. approaches and sits on the arm of the chair, and then leans onto
J.C. and makes pelvic thrusting motions onto her body for approximately three
seconds. Id. *SEALED* at 13:08:22-27. As J.M.C. is doing this, Tucker appears
from the window of the nurse’s station, and J.M.C. quickly stands up from the
chair. Id. *SEALED* at 13:08:27-34. Tucker appears to gesture toward J.M.C. as
J.M.C. looks toward Tucker through the window. Id. *SEALED* at 13:08:30-32.
During this incident, Freeman is seated close by and, even though it appears that
she sees J.M.C’s behavior, does not appear to react in any way. Id. *SEALED* at
13:08:27-34. A few seconds later, J.M.C. approaches J.C. again, stands facing J.C.
while J.C. is seated, and places his palms on top of her shoulders. Id. *SEALED*
at 13:08:37. When J.C. tries to push him away, J.M.C. leans forward and places the
Page 9 of 20
weight of his entire body on J.C. for approximately four seconds. Id. *SEALED*
at 13:08:38-44. During this interaction, Freeman is gesturing in J.M.C’s direction
and looks like she is speaking. Id. *SEALED*. While J.M.C. is laying on top of
J.C., Elaine Spaulding (the charge nurse on duty that day) appears in the window
of the nurse’s station and appears to witness J.M.C.’s behavior. Id. *SEALED* at
13:08:41-44. Presumably, Spaulding either spoke to J.M.C.11 or knocked on the
window because J.M.C. suddenly stood up, walked over to Spaulding, and
appeared to communicate with Spaulding with hand gestures. Id. *SEALED* at
C. Freeman’s termination and alleged discriminatory animus
According to Nasiatka, who ultimately made the decision to discharge
Freeman, Freeman had a duty “at a minimum, [to remove] A.S. from the situation
where the three [patients] . . . were making contact with one another, and [seek]
help . . . from the nursing staff.” Doc. 50-8 at 21. Nasiatka explains that although
the patients in the adolescent unit are prohibited from touching each other, the
patients nonetheless touch each other “quite frequently,” and the staff is trained to
first verbally tell them to stop. Id. Then, if the touching “doesn’t happen again . . .
the verbal redirection has worked. However, if it doesn’t stop then it is a
continuation, which would require some additional . . . intervention.” Id. From
According to Freeman, the nurse’s station was not enclosed on the top to allow the nurses to hear and
communicate with persons in the hallway. Doc. 58-11 at 2.
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Nasiatka’s perspective, the conduct in the video “was all a continuation of an issue
that should have been resolved in a more meaningful way.” Id. Specifically,
Nasiatka explains that Freeman should have [gotten] up and physically separated”
the patients to put an end to the touching. Id. at 29.
Freeman counters that each time she observed touching, she verbally
redirected the patients to stop, and the patients complied. Doc. 58-11 at 11. She
also explains that her supervisors “never offered [her] the opportunity to view the
video . . . to explain [her] actions or to provide context or to explain that there were
nurses directly witnessing the behavior, which [she] could see from [her] vantage
point.” Id. at 8. Moreover, while Nasiatka believed Freeman gave a false report by
saying that she did not witness the alleged kiss between A.S. and J.M.C., doc. 50-8
at 26, Freeman maintains that she in fact did not see the alleged kiss, doc. 58-11 at
8. In light of this, Freeman filed this lawsuit alleging that her supervisors
discharged her based on race, age, and disability animus.
The Board contends that it is entitled to sovereign immunity as to the
Alabama age and disability discrimination claims, and summary judgment as to all
remaining claims. With respect to the issue of immunity, the Board is correct that,
under Article I, Section 14 of the Alabama Constitution, “[t]he State of Alabama
shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.” This provision “has
Page 11 of 20
been described as a ‘nearly impregnable’ and ‘almost invincible’ ‘wall’ that
provides the State an unwaivable, absolute immunity from suit in any court.” Ex
parte Town of Lowndesboro, 950 So. 2d 1203, 1206 (Ala. 2006). Significantly, this
court has previously held that the “Board of Trustees [of the University of
Alabama] . . . is a state agency entitled to governmental immunity under the
Alabama Constitution.” Harris v. Bd. of Trustees Univ. of Alabama, 846 F. Supp.
2d 1223, 1235 (N.D. Ala. 2012); see also Hutchinson v. Bd. of Trustees of Univ. of
Alabama, 256 So. 2d 281, 283 (Ala. 1971) (Alabama Constitution prohibits the
Board “from being made a party defendant in any suit at law or in equity”). In light
of this legal authority, the court agrees that the Board is immune from Freeman’s
age and disability discrimination claims that are premised on Alabama law.
Accordingly, the court will dismiss these claims.
A. Federal race and disability discrimination claims
As to the remaining race and disability discrimination claims, the Board
contends that Freeman cannot establish a prima facie case, or alternatively, that she
cannot rebut the reason for her termination. Doc. 49 at 25-30. The court will first
address Freeman’s race discrimination claims under Title VII and Section 1983,
and then turn to her disability discrimination claim under the ADAAA.
1. Race discrimination
To establish a prima facie case of race discrimination under Title VII or
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Section 1983, Freeman must show that (1) she belongs to a protected class; (2) she
was subjected to an adverse job action; (3) her employer treated similarly situated
employees outside her classification more favorably; and (4) she was qualified to
do the job. Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1562 (11th Cir. 1997) (citing
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973)). At issue here is
the third element—i.e., whether Freeman has identified a similarly situated
employee that was “involved in or accused of the same or similar conduct” but that
her supervisors “disciplined in different ways.” See id. For this inquiry, the burden
is on Freeman “to show a similarity between [her] conduct and that of white
employees who were treated differently and not on [the Board] to disprove their
similarity.” Jones v. Gerwens, 874 F.2d 1534, 1541 (11th Cir. 1989) (citation,
alteration, and internal quotation marks omitted). In assessing similarity between
Freeman’s conduct and that of her comparators, “‘[t]he most important variables in
the disciplinary context, and the most likely sources of different but
nondiscriminatory treatment, are the nature of the offenses committed and the
nature of the punishments imposed.’” Id. at 1540 (citation omitted). In this regard,
the Eleventh Circuit requires “that the quantity and quality of the comparator’s
misconduct be nearly identical to prevent courts from second-guessing employers’
reasonable decisions and confusing apples with oranges.” Maniccia v. Brown, 171
F.3d 1364, 1368 (11th Cir. 1999).
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Here, Freeman maintains that Spaulding and Tucker, who are both
Caucasian, committed “nearly identical” misconduct because they “witnessed
much of the allegedly sexual horseplay that is charged against [Freeman]” and did
“nothing more, and perhaps even less” to address the situation. Doc. 57 at 29.
Spaulding and Tucker indeed appear in the video during three of the critical
instances of inappropriate touching and, like Freeman, do not appear to make any
physical attempt to separate the patients. Surveillance Video *SEALED* 13:04:12,
13:08:27-34, 13:08:41-44. Furthermore, although the video does not show the
entire nurse’s station, Freeman maintains that from her vantage point, she saw the
nurses “directly witnessing the behavior.” Doc. 58-11 at 8.12 In light of this
evidence and the limited vantage point of the video, the court concludes that a jury
should decide whether Spaulding and Tucker also observed the same behavior that
The Board moved to strike this evidence from paragraph 33 of Freeman’s April 27, 2015 declaration,
contending that Freeman’s declaration is (1) a sham declaration that contradicts her deposition testimony, and (2)
based on speculation “to the extent she relies on the [surveillance] video to support these allegations.” Doc. 60 at 34, 10. The court rejects both of these arguments because, first, it finds no inconsistency between Freeman’s
deposition and her declaration on this issue. The Board cites to Freeman’s responses to broad deposition questions
such as, “Can you tell me everything that you know that supports your claim of discrimination?” and, “Have you
told me all the facts and evidence that you have?” Doc. 50-1 at 54, 57, 59, 61. However, absent a specific deposition
question asking whether Freeman could see the nurses in the nurse’s station from her vantage point during the
relevant time period, the court is not prepared to strike the evidence. See Van T.Junkins & Assocs., Inc. v. U.S.
Indus., Inc., 736 F.2d 656, 657 (11th Cir. 1984) (requiring “clear answers to unambiguous [deposition] questions
which negate the existence of any genuine issue of material fact” and disregarding portions of the plaintiff’s
affidavit as a sham where he “made crystal clear in three places in the deposition” that his contract with the
defendant did not contain a condition but later stated plainly in his affidavit that it did). Finally, as to the Board’s
second contention, the court finds no evidence that Freeman is relying on the surveillance video to formulate her
contentions. Rather, Freeman is apparently relying on her recollection in stating, “There were nurses directly
witnessing the behavior, which I could see from my vantage point.” Doc. 58-11 at 8.
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Freeman witnessed, failed to act, and yet faced no discipline.13
Ultimately, even if Spaulding and Tucker are not similarly situated
comparators, this “does not necessarily doom [Freeman’s] case.” Smith v.
Lockheed-Martin Corp., 644 F.3d 1321, 1328 (11th Cir. 2011). Rather, “where the
plaintiff presents circumstantial evidence that creates a triable issue concerning the
employer’s discriminatory intent—the essential element of a claim for
discrimination—the plaintiff will always survive summary judgment.” Jones v.
Water Works Bd. of the City of Birmingham, No. 2:10-CV-1323-AKK, 2012 WL
2856651, at *10 (N.D. Ala. July 5, 2012) (citing Lockheed-Martin, 644 F.3d at
1328) (internal quotation marks omitted). And indeed, “a triable issue of fact exists
if the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, presents ‘a
convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence that would allow a jury to infer
intentional discrimination by the decisionmaker.’” Id. (quoting Silverman v. Bd. of
Educ., 637 F.3d 729, 733 (7th Cir.2011)). While anti-discrimination laws do not
prevent an employer from “interpret[ing] its rules as it chooses . . . and . . .
mak[ing] determinations as it sees fit,”14 Maniccia, 171 F.3d at 1369, nonetheless,
The court finds no support for the Board’s contention that a “sitter” is not similarly situated to the nurses.
In fact, there is no evidence establishing that only Freeman had an obligation to address the patients’ behavior. To
the contrary, at least some responsibility seemingly rests with the nurses since Nasiatka’s claim is that Freeman
should have “sought help . . . from the nursing staff.” Doc. 50-8 at 21.
In this regard, the Board relies on Nasiatka’s belief that Freeman’s position as a “sitter” for A.S. required
her to remove A.S. from the situation with J.C. and J.M.C. Doc. 50-8 at 21. However, there is an issue of fact on this
point in light of Fox’s testimony that A.S. was not constantly “on one-to-one” with Freeman during the shift because
CPM was “trying to kind of taper [A.S.] off of one-to-one [with a sitter]” at the time. Doc. 50-10 at 23-24. Because
of this, throughout a given day, A.S. is sometimes “on one-to-one” but at other times is “off of one-to-one.” Id. And,
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the court cannot allow an employer to gloss over an incomplete record, especially
where, as here, it pertains to a critical disputed fact. Specifically, the surveillance
video before the court skips over key portions of the footage from the camera
facing Freeman—particularly the portion where J.M.C. and A.S. allegedly kissed
and when J.M.C. was on the ground fighting off J.C.’s attempt to pull down his
shorts. See Surveillance Video *SEALED* at 13:04:10-15; 13:06:45; 13:06:54.
Moreover, the court notes that Tucker told his supervisors that he did not witness a
kiss between J.M.C. and A.S., doc. 50-17 at 4, and—although he appears in the
surveillance video standing in the nurse’s station near J.M.C and A.S. during the
alleged kissing incident, see Surveillance Video *SEALED* 13:04:12—seemingly
faced no accusation of lying like Freeman. In light of this evidence, the court finds
“weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions” in
the record that create a “genuine issue of material fact as to the truth or falsity” of
the reason for Freeman’s termination. See Alvarez v. Royal Atl. Developers, Inc.,
610 F.3d 1253, 1267 (11th Cir. 2010) (“weaknesses, implausibilities,
inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions” in the employer’s proffered
reason establishes pretext); Evans v. McClain of Ga., Inc., 131 F.3d 957, 963 (11th
Cir.1997) (“[A] plaintiff can survive a motion for summary judgment . . . simply
by presenting evidence sufficient to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as
Fox admits that she is “not sure what A.S.’s pattern” was for that particular day or whether she was on one-to-one
during the relevant window of time. Id. According to Freeman, “A.S. was not on one-on-one anymore at one
o’clock.” Doc. 50-1 at 34.
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to the truth or falsity of the employer’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.”).
For these reasons, the court will deny summary judgment as to the race
2. Disability discrimination
To establish her prima facie case of discriminatory discharge under the
ADAAA, Freeman must show that she (1) had a disability, (2) was otherwise
qualified to perform the job, and (3) was discriminated against based on her
disability. Collado v. United Parcel Serv., Co., 419 F.3d 1143, 1149 (11th Cir.
2005). At issue here is whether Freeman meets the first element, which requires a
showing that (a) she suffers from a physical or mental impairment that
substantially limits one or more of the major life activities, (b) there is a record of
such impairment, or (c) her employer regarded her as having such an
impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). The court concludes that Freeman has not met
this burden and will address each element in turn.
a. There is no evidence that Freeman’s impairment substantially limits
her major life activities
Freeman maintains that her arthritis substantially limits her major life
activities because she suffers from “abnormal movement of her knees” which often
makes walking and sitting painful. Docs. 57 at 37-38; 58-13 *SEALED* at 40.
Unfortunately, pain alone is insufficient to establish a claim; rather Freeman must
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show that her arthritis “substantially limits” her ability walk or sit—i.e., that her
walking or sitting is “significantly restricted as to the condition, manner or duration
under which the average person in the general population can perform the same
major life activity [of walking and sitting].” See Rossbach v. City of Miami, 371
F.3d 1354, 1357, 1359 (11th Cir. 2004). Freeman failed to present any such
evidence, and, accordingly, her claim fails. See id. (testimony that plaintiff “cannot
sleep normally” did not establish substantial limitation because it “was couched in
vague terms and unaccompanied by any evidence that the described afflictions
were any worse than is suffered by many adults”).
b. There is no record of Freeman’s alleged disability
Similarly, while Freeman maintains that she discussed her arthritic condition
with Ayers and Erwin in February or March of 2012,15 doc. 57 at 38, there is no
evidence of the necessary record of “a history of . . . a mental or physical
Freeman maintains that when she joined the geriatric unit in February 2012, she informed Ayers of her
“diagnosis of arthritis that adversely affected [Freeman’s] knees and . . . [her] ability to take stairs.” Id. Ayers
allegedly told Freeman to take the elevator, and that “other nurses complained about [Freeman] being ‘slow
walking.’” Id. Also, “Ayers required [Freeman] to sign a form that was specifically tailored to [her] . . . that
emphasized the walking required and the requirement to walk quickly from time to time . . . as a condition to . . .
being transferred to the PA position.” Id.
Freeman also describes that Greg Erwin in human resources—who sat in on Freeman’s termination—was
aware of Freeman’s “situation with [her] knees and her arthritic condition” because they had discussions about it. Id.
While Erwin claims he did not know of any disability, doc. 50-12 at 31, the record includes an email thread between
Nasiatka and the Director of Employee Relations Anita Bonasera where Nasiatka explains that Erwin had been privy
to the fact that “Ayers . . . began to notice issues with Ms. Freeman’s mobility and capabilities to perform her role”
in the geriatric unit, doc. 58-9. Once Ayers noticed these issues, Erwin gathered “fitness for duty” documentation,
and Erwin had the results of that process as of July 5, 2012. Id. Finally, during the termination meeting, Freeman
claims that Nasiatka made a comment about the amount of time it took Freeman to get out of her chair during the
June 10, 2012 shift. Doc. 50-26 at 5.
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impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 45 C.F.R. §
84.3(j)(2)(ii). As such, her claim also fails for this reason.
c. There is no evidence that Freeman’s supervisors regarded her as
Finally, the evidence is insufficient to establish that Freeman’s supervisors
regarded her as disabled. To meet this element, Freeman must show that she “(1)
has an impairment that does not substantially limit a major life activity, but is
treated by an employer as though it does; (2) has an impairment that limits a major
life activity only because of others’ attitudes towards the impairment; or (3) has no
impairment whatsoever, but is treated by an employer as having a disability as
recognized by the [Americans with Disabilities Act].” Standard v. A.B.E.L. Servs.,
Inc., 161 F.3d 1318, 1327 n. 2 (11th Cir. 1998) (citing 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(l)).
Under each of these elements, “[a]s with actual disabilities, a perceived impairment
must be believed to substantially limit a major life activity of the individual.” Id. at
1327. In attempting to meet this standard, Freeman points to two facts: Ayers’
statement that other employees complained of Freeman being “slow walking,” and
the e-mail Nasiatka sent to Bonasera where he noted that Ayers “began to notice
issues with Ms. Freeman’s mobility and capabilities to perform her role.” Docs.
58-9; 58-11 at 7. However, this evidence alone does not show that Ayers or
Nasiatka “considered [Freeman] as significantly restricted in the ability to perform
either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes as compared to the
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average person having comparable training, skills, and abilities.” See Morales v.
Georgia Dep’t of Human Res., Dep’t of Human Res., Div. of Family & Children
Servs., 446 F. App’x 179, 182-83 (11th Cir. 2011); Standard, 161 F.3d at 1328.
Therefore, because the court finds no evidence that Freeman’s supervisors treated
her as if she suffers from a substantially limiting impairment, the court rejects
Freeman’s argument on this issue. For these reasons, in light of the lack of
evidence establishing Freeman’s disability, the court concludes that Freeman’s
disability discrimination claim fails at the prima facie level.
For the reasons stated above, the Board’s motion for summary judgment is
due to be granted with respect to the age and disability discrimination claims and
denied with respect to the race discrimination claims. The court will enter a
separate order consistent with this opinion.
DONE the 8th day of June, 2015.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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