Rhynes v. Colonial Management Group, LP
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING CASE that the motion forsummary judgment is GRANTED, and all claims asserted herein by Deborah L. Rhynes are DISMISSED with prejudice and Costs are taxed to plaintiff as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 3/17/2015. (AHI)
2015 Mar-17 PM 12:54
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
DEBORAH L. RHYNES,
Civil Action No. 5:14-CV-01651
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
The claims of the plaintiff in this action, Deborah L. Rhynes, originally were
asserted in a complaint filed jointly with Kimberly Haley-Muhammad.1 This court
severed the claims of Deborah Rhynes in a memorandum opinion and order entered
on August 26, 2014, and directed the Clerk to open a new case file styled Deborah
L. Rhynes v. Colonial Management Group, LP.2 Ms. Rhynes then filed an amended
complaint, asserting claims of race discrimination and a race-based hostile work
environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, against her former employer, Colonial
Management Group, LP.3 The case presently is before the court on defendant’s
See Kimberly Haley-Muhammad and Deborah L. Rhynes v. Colonial Management Group,
LP, Civil Action No. 5:13-cv-02061-CLS.
See doc. no. 1 (August 26, 2014 Memorandum Opinion and Order), at 11.
Doc. no. 2 (Amended Complaint).
motion for summary judgment.4 Upon consideration of the pleadings, briefs,
evidentiary submissions, and oral arguments of counsel, this court concludes that the
motion should be granted.
I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 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(a). In
other words, summary judgment is proper “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).
“In making this determination, the court must review all evidence and make all
reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment.” Chapman
v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quoting Haves v.
City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995)). Inferences in favor of the nonmoving party are not unqualified, however. “[A]n inference is not reasonable if it is
only a guess or a possibility, for such an inference is not based on the evidence, but
is pure conjecture and speculation.” Daniels v. Twin Oaks Nursing Home, 692 F.2d
Doc. no. 12.
1321, 1324 (11th Cir. 1983) (alteration supplied). Moreover,
[t]he mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary
judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the
outcome of the case. The relevant rules of substantive law dictate the
materiality of a disputed fact. A genuine issue of material fact does not
exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party
for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.
Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023 (quoting Haves, 52 F.3d at 921) (emphasis and alteration
supplied). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251–52 (1986)
(asking “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law”).
II. SUMMARY OF FACTS
Defendant, Colonial Management Group, LP (“Colonial”), operates methadone
treatment centers throughout the United States.5 Plaintiff, Deborah L. Rhynes is an
African-American. She was hired by Colonial on May 17, 2011, to work as a parttime nurse in the company’s Huntsville Metro Treatment Center (“Huntsville
Metro”).6 Colonial promoted Rhynes to a Treatment Services Coordinator position
two months later.7 Treatment Services Coordinators supervise clinical activities and
Doc. no. 35-6 (Hamer Deposition), at 24.
Doc. no. 14-2 (Rhynes Deposition), at 140.
Id. at 141; doc. no. 14-5 (Case Declaration), ¶ 3.
manage medical staff at the treatment centers.8
Rhynes participated in a conference call during May of 2012 that addressed
Colonial’s patient assessment procedures.9 Rhynes stated to the company’s Chief
Operating Officer, Brack Jeffries, that she would not follow Colonial’s patient
assessment procedures because, in her opinion, they violated state regulations.10
Jeffries responded: “maybe you [are] just in the wrong field.”11 Rhynes was
suspended for ten days while Colonial investigated her concerns.12
The following month, on June 12, 2012, Rhynes lodged a written complaint
against one of Huntsville Metro’s male nurses, Narciso Ortiz, who is not AfricanAmerican.13 Rhynes alleged in her complaint that Ortiz frequently cursed and yelled
at Huntsville Metro employees, but had never been disciplined.14 She also described
Doc. no. 14-2 (Rhynes Deposition), at 125.
Id. at 301, 314.
Id. at 314-16.
Id. at 317 (alteration supplied).
Id. at 300–01. The results of that investigation are undisclosed. In addition, Rhynes has
not alleged that she was suspended without pay.
Doc. no. 14-10 (Rhynes June 12, 2012 Complaint).
Id. at ECF 3. “ECF” is the acronym for “Electronic Case Filing,” a system that allows
parties to file and serve documents electronically. See Atterbury v. Foulk, No. C-07-6256 MHP,
2009 WL 4723547, *6 n.6 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 8, 2009). Bluebook Rule 7.1.4 permits citations to the
“page numbers generated by the ECF header.” Wilson v. Fullwood, 772 F. Supp. 2d 246, 257 n.5
an occasion on which Ortiz verbally assaulted Rhynes in her office and refused to
leave, making her feel physically threatened.15 Although Rhynes did not mention race
in her written complaint, she complained verbally to Regional Director Brent Hamer
that Ortiz had a history of verbally abusing the African-American female employees
at Huntsville Metro.16
Colonial’s Director of Human Resources, Kristin Hilton, briefly discussed
Rhynes’s complaint with her while Hilton was investigating another issue at
Huntsville Metro.17 Hilton had flown to Huntsville to investigate a white employee’s
allegations of sexual harassment and, at the conclusion of that investigation, she
discharged the employee responsible for the harassment.18 Hilton merely asked
Rhynes a few questions about her allegations of harassment, and stated that Ortiz “has
been [at Huntsville Metro for] ten years[,] and nobody has ever complained so there’s
nothing I can do.”19
(D.D.C. 2011) (citing The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation R. B. 7.1.4, at 21 (Columbia Law
Review Ass’n et al., 19th ed. 2010)). Even so, the Bluebook recommends “against citation to ECF
pagination in lieu of original pagination.” Wilson, 772 F. Supp. 2d at 257 n.5. Thus, unless stated
otherwise, this court will cite the original pagination in the parties’ pleadings. When the court cites
to pagination generated by the ECF header, it will, as here, precede the page number with the letters
Id. at ECF 4.
Doc. no. 14-2 (Rhynes Deposition), at 342.
Id. at 240–244.
Id. at 242–43 (alterations supplied).
After Kristin Hilton spoke to Rhynes, she and Regional Director Brent Hamer
conducted an investigation “and concluded that both Ms. Rhynes and Mr. Ortiz were
to blame for the incident. As such, [they] decided not to discipline either Ms. Rhynes
or Mr. Ortiz.”20
Deborah Rhynes’s supervisor, Program Director Kimberly Haley-Muhammad,
took FMLA leave during the summer of 2012, and Regional Director Brent Hamer
assigned some of Haley-Muhammad’s responsibilities to the Treatment Services
Coordinators at Huntsville Metro.21 Hamer assigned Haley-Muhammad’s cash
handling responsibilities to Rhynes during July of 2012.22
Colonial’s cash handling procedures as follows:
Colonial’s cash handling procedures, which are contained in
Colonial’s Policies and Procedures Manual, require an accounting of
money collected from patients’ methadone treatments at the end of each
shift. The nurses are then required to input the cash collection,
methadone distributed and methadone remaining in inventory into
Methasoft, a software program designed for methadone clinics. Prior to
relieving the nurses from their shifts, the Program Director or
[Treatment Services Coordinator] checks the accounting to ensure it is
correct and that the amount of money collected equals the doses of
methadone distributed. The Program Director or [Treatment Services
Coordinator] then signs off on the nurse’s accounting, collects the
Doc. no. 14-1 (Hamer Declaration), ¶ 9 (alteration supplied).
Doc. no. 14-2 (Rhynes Deposition), at 186; doc. no. 14-1 (Hamer Declaration), ¶ 10.
Doc. no. 14-2 (Rhynes Deposition), at 186.
money from the nurse, completes deposit slips for the cash collected,
scans the completed deposit slips, forwards the scanned slips to the
accounting department, places the slips in numbered bank envelopes and
locks the envelopes in Colonial’s safe. The Program Director or
[Treatment Services Coordinator] then records the deposit in a log book
for Loomis, an armored car company that picks up the deposits.
Doc. no. 14-1 (Hamer Declaration), ¶ 11 (alterations supplied). Brent Hamer then
Ms. Rhynes was responsible for handling Huntsville Metro’s cash and
recording the correct deposit for July 4, 2012 and July 5, 2012. Ms.
Rhynes recorded a total deposit of $14,282.00 for July 4, 2012. On July
5, 2012, Colonial collected $8,734.00 in cash from patients but there
was no corresponding deposit. Colonial’s log book indicates Loomis
did not pick up any bank deposit envelopes on July 5, 2012. [Loomis’s
log book contains Rhynes’s signature next to the deposits made on July
4, 6, 7, and 8, however24]. In September 2012, Colonial’s accounting
department discovered $8,734.00 was missing as a result of the deposits
from July 4, 2012 and July 5, 2012. Ms. Haley-Muhammad informed
[Regional Director Brent Hamer] of the discrepancy, and [the two]
conducted an investigation.
Id. ¶ 12 (alterations and footnotes supplied).
Rhynes could not provide Hamer and Hilton an explanation for the missing
money.26 As such, Colonial “blamed [Rhynes] for the money being missing,” and
Id. at 198–99.
Id. at 225–26.
Id. at 203.
Id. at 214. At the time of her deposition, Rhynes testified that she still had no explanation
for the missing money. Id. She also testified that she was unsure whether she actually handled the
missing money. Id. at 210.
never gave her “any indication that they believed somebody else was responsible for
that missing money.”27
At the conclusion of the investigation into the missing money, Director of
Human Resources Kristin Hilton decided to terminate Rhynes’s employment.28
Rhynes received the following termination notice on September 26, 2012:29
List of previous warnings and type(s) of corrective action(s):
07/09/2012 Written Warning – Policy Violation/Work Quality
Summary of Unacceptable Behavior
On 09/11/2012, an internal accounting audit revealed Ms.
Deborah Rhynes, Treatment Services Coordinator at Huntsville
Methadone Treatment Center failed to report to the corporate office a
cash discrepancy from 07/05/2012 resulting in a financial loss of
$8,734.00. On 7/6/2012, there was no deposit made for the previous
day’s money. The total amount collected on 07/05/2012 was $8,734.00,
however that money went missing. Ms. Rhynes did not escalate the
issue of the missing money. Ms. Rhynes did not make anyone aware
that there was a deposit missing.
After the missing deposit was discovered and brought to Ms.
Rhynes attention, she completed a [Colonial] Incident Report Form —
on which [she] states that she “was not aware of the error” until
09/11/2012 when she was asked to help locate the daily receipts totaling
Id. at 214–15 (alteration supplied).
Doc. no. 14-7 (Defendant’s Responses to Interrogatories), ¶ 1.
Doc. no. 2 (Amended Complaint), ¶ 6.
Ms. Rhynes was appointed in charge of the clinic on behalf of
Kimberly [Haley-Muhammad], Program Director, during her absence.
Part of that responsibility included the accuracy, safekeeping and
accountability of the clinic’s cash and the end of the day count. Ms.
Rhynes[’s] daily tasks included securing the cash in a safe storage,
depositing the cash, and accurate reporting of all funds including cash
Ms. Rhynes did not alert her regional director or any member of
management that a deposit was missing.
Ms. Rhynes[’s] actions are in violation of [Colonial] Policy and
Procedures, Section 2 – “Organizational Management, Cash Control and
Fiscal Management,” Section 6 Personnel Policies – “Zero Tolerance
Policies (ZTP),” Unethical Business Practices, “not making bank
deposits,” issues occurring on property that result in a financial loss to
the organization can be considered unethical business practices.
Prohibited Behavior – (#3) “Inability, negligence or unwillingness
to perform assigned work or maintain expected performance levels; poor
performance,” (#5) “Inappropriate cash handling resulting in a financial
loss for [Colonial], and (#6) “Failure to adhere to [Colonial’s] policies
Doc. no. 14-12 (Termination Notice), at 1 (alterations supplied). Rhynes did not
receive any severance pay.30
Following her termination, Rhynes lodged a complaint of discrimination with
Colonial, but Colonial took no action on that complaint.31 Colonial replaced Rhynes
with Dustin Vick, who is a white male, and paid him a higher salary than it had paid
Id. ¶ 16.
Id. ¶ 11.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Charge and Dismissal
Rhynes filed a formal “Charge of Discrimination” with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission on October 18, 2012.33 The agency issued a “Dismissal and
Notice of Rights” on August 14th of the following year, stating that it had terminated
its investigation of her charge because it was unable to conclude that the information
obtained established violations of the civil rights statutes.34 That document notified
Rhynes of her right to file suit, and this action followed.
III. HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT
Plaintiff’s attorney acknowledged during oral argument that plaintiff had
abandoned her claim for a race-based hostile work environment. Accordingly,
summary judgment is due to be granted on that claim.
IV. RACE DISCRIMINATION
Rhynes’s race discrimination claims are asserted under Title VII and § 1981,
both of which “have the same requirements of proof and use the same analytical
framework . . . .” Standard v. A.B.E.L. Services, Inc., 161 F.3d 1318, 1330 (11th Cir.
The essential element under each statute is proof that the employer
Id. ¶ 15.
Doc. no. 2-1 (EEOC Charge).
Doc. no. 2-2 (Dismissal and Notice of Rights).
intentionally inflicted the adverse employment action complained of because of the
plaintiff’s race. See, e.g., Vessels v. Atlanta Independent School System, 408 F.3d
763, 767 (11th Cir. 2005) (observing that disparate treatment claims based upon a
plaintiff’s race and “brought under Title VII, § 1981, and § 1983, all require proof of
Direct evidence of an employer’s discriminatory intent usually is not available.
See, e.g., Sheridan v. E.I. DuPont de Nemors & Co., 100 F.3d 1061, 1071 (3d Cir.
1996) (en banc). That is true in this case. Thus, plaintiff bears the initial burden of
establishing the employer’s discriminatory intent through the use of circumstantial
evidence. See Vessels, 408 F.3d at 767. Federal courts evaluate the sufficiency of
such evidence using some variant of the analytical framework announced by the
Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), as
subsequently elaborated in Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450
U.S. 248 (1981). See also, e.g., St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502
(1993); Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1024 (11th Cir. 2004) (en banc);
Berman v. Orkin Exterminating Co., Inc., 160 F.3d 697, 701 (11th Cir. 1998); Bigge
v. Albertsons, Inc., 894 F.2d 1497, 1501 (11th Cir. 1990).
Under that familiar framework, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie
case of disparate treatment, which gives rise to a presumption of discrimination. To
rebut that presumption, the employer must articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory
reason for the contested employment action. If the employer does so, the presumption
of discrimination drops from the case, and the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to
show that the defendant’s proffered reason is merely a pretext for unlawful
discrimination. See, e.g., McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802-05; Burdine, 450 U.S.
The specific elements of a plaintiff’s prima facie case generally vary with the
nature of the adverse employment action that is complained of. Here, Rhynes
complains of four adverse employment actions: race-based wage discrimination;
denial of severance pay; suspension; and termination.35
Race-Based Wage Discrimination
To establish a prima facie case of race-based wage discrimination, Rhynes
must show that she belongs to a protected class; similarly-situated comparators
outside her protected class received higher wages; and, she was qualified to receive
the higher wages. Cooper v. Southern Co., 390 F.3d 695, 734–35 (11th Cir. 2004),
overruled on other grounds by Ash v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 546 U.S. 454, 457 (2006).
Rhynes belongs to a protected class, and she has identified one suitable comparator:
See doc .no. 2 (Amended Complaint).
i.e., Dustin Vick, her successor.36 Accordingly, Rhynes has established a prima facie
case of wage discrimination.
Colonial contends that it paid higher wages to Dustin Vick because he held a
doctoral degree, whereas Rhynes had obtained only her master’s degree.37 Colonial
further contends that it paid Vick higher wages because Vick had several years of
experience working at a methadone treatment facility before he was hired by
Colonial, whereas Rhynes had no prior experience before she was hired by the
company.38 Colonial met its burden of stating legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons
for the pay disparity.
Rhynes offered no arguments concerning pretext for her wage discrimination
claim either in her briefing or at oral argument. Further, the court could find no
evidence casting doubt upon Colonial’s stated reasons for paying Dustin Vick higher
wages than Rhynes. Accordingly, summary judgment is due to be entered in favor
of Colonial on plaintiff’s race-based wage discrimination claim.
Race-Based Refusal to Tender Severance Pay
Rhynes contends that Colonial’s refusal to tender her severance pay was based
Id. ¶ 15. Rhynes also pointed to her predecessor, Kimberly Crawford, as a comparator, but
Rhynes does not dispute that she actually was paid more than Crawford. See doc. no. 13 (Summary
Judgment Brief), at 5, ¶ 21; doc. no. 18 (Plaintiff’s Response).
Doc. no. 14-1 (Hamer Declaration), ¶ 15.
upon her race.39 Even so, she cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination
because she cannot point to any similarly-situated employee outside her protected
class who received severance pay following termination of employment.
The burden of identifying similarly situated individuals is a heavy
one. See McDonald v. Village of Winnetka, 371 F.3d 992, 1002–03 (7th
Cir. 2004) (“It is clear that similarly situated individuals must be very
similar indeed.”). In the employment context, the Eleventh Circuit
requires that “similarly situated” individuals be similar “in all relevant
respects.” Knight v. Baptist Hospital of Miami, Inc., 330 F.3d 1313,
1316 (11th Cir. 2003). The determination is fact-specific, and the goal
is to make realistic, accurate comparisons. “Exact correlation is neither
likely nor necessary, but the cases must be fair congeners. In other
words, apples should be compared to apples.” Dartmouth Review v.
Dartmouth College, 889 F.2d 13, 19 (1st Cir. 1989), overruled on other
grounds by Educadores Puertorriquenos en Accion v. Hernandez, 367
F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2004).
Hicks v. Jackson County Commission, 374 F. Supp. 2d 1084, 1098 (N.D. Ala. 2005)
(Smith, J.). Rhynes has pointed to four possible comparators, but none was employed
by Colonial as a Treatment Services Coordinator.40 Indeed, it is undisputed that
Colonial “has not paid any [Treatment Services Coordinator] severance over the last
five years.”41 Further, Rhynes has not shown that the circumstances surrounding the
termination of the four supposed comparators were similar to those surrounding her
Doc. no. 18 (Plaintiff’s Response), at 15.
Doc. no. 13 (Summary Judgment Brief), at 20, ¶¶ 107–10; doc. no. 18 (Plaintiff’s
Response), at 5.
Doc. no. 14-7 (Defendant’s Responses to Interrogatories), at 7 (alteration supplied).
own termination. See Maniccia v. Brown, 171 F.3d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1999) (“We
require 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.”).
Accordingly, summary judgment is due to be entered in favor of Colonial on
plaintiff’s claim for denial of severance pay.
Suspension Because of Plaintiff’s Race
Rhynes contends that her suspension during May of 2012 was discriminatory.42
Even so, she cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination because she cannot
point to any similarly-situated employee outside her protected class who was accused
of similar misconduct but was disciplined differently. See id. She contends that two
Huntsville Metro nurses, Rick Layzod and Melissa Burt, also refused to follow
Colonial’s assessment procedures, but were not disciplined. Plaintiff’s counsel
admitted during oral argument, however, that there was no evidence that either
Layzod or Burt actually communicated their refusal to anyone other than plaintiff, or
that the two actually failed to follow the assessment procedures. Further, there is no
evidence that the alleged comparators were accused of any misconduct.
Accordingly, summary judgment is due to be entered in favor of Colonial on
See doc. no. 2 (Amended Complaint).
Rhynes’s discriminatory suspension claim.
Termination Because of Plaintiff’s Race
“A prima facie case of discriminatory discharge may be established in different
ways.” Nix v. WLCY Radio/Rahall Communications, 738 F.2d 1181, 1185 (11th Cir.
1984). Here, Rhynes seeks to establish a prima facie case of discriminatory
termination according to a method articulated by the Eleventh Circuit in Nix: i.e., that
she is “a member of a protected class,” and she was “qualified for the job, but was
fired and replaced by one outside the protected class.”43 Id. None of those elements
is in dispute.
Accordingly, Rhynes has established a prima facie case of
Colonial contends that Rhynes’s employment was terminated because she
“fail[ed] to report a loss of $8,734.00 that went missing when she was responsible for
Colonial met its burden of articulating a legitimate, non-
discriminatory reason for terminating Rhynes’s employment.
In order to show that an employer’s stated reasons are merely a pretext for
discrimination, a plaintiff “must demonstrate such weaknesses, implausibilities,
inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer’s proffered
See doc. no. 18 (Plaintiff’s Response), at 13.
Doc. no. 13 (Summary Judgment Brief), at 29 (alteration supplied).
legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could find them unworthy
of credence.” Alvarez v. Royal Atlantic Developers, Inc., 610 F.3d 1253, 1265 (11th
Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also, e.g., Kragor v. Takeda
Pharmaceuticals America, Inc., 702 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2012); Combs v.
Plantation Patterns, 106 F.3d 1519, 1538 (11th Cir. 1997); Cooper-Houston v.
Southern Railway Co., 37 F.3d 603, 605 (11th Cir. 1994).
Rhynes first contends that Colonial’s stated reason is merely a pretext for
discrimination because Colonial did not discipline Regional Director Brent Hamer
for the missing cash, “even though he was in charge of the clinic during [Program
Director Haley-Muhammad’s] absence, and testified that he most likely prepared cash
deposits during [her] absence.”45 Hamer is not a proper comparator, however.
Rhynes has not shown that Hamer actually mishandled cash — or that he was accused
of doing so — and was not disciplined. See Rioux v. City of Atlanta, 520 F.3d 1269,
1280 (11th Cir. 2008) (holding that a plaintiff can demonstrate pretext using
comparator evidence only if the plaintiff and the comparator “are involved in or
accused of the same or similar conduct and are disciplined in different ways”)
(emphasis supplied). Instead, Rhynes argues that Hamer, as Regional Director, was
ultimately responsible for the missing cash and should have been disciplined instead.
Doc. no. 18 (Plaintiff’s Response), at 8–9, ¶ 16 (alterations supplied).
Rhynes cannot establish pretext simply by laying the blame for her alleged
misconduct at the feet of her supervisor. At oral argument, plaintiff’s counsel
contended that it was unfair for Colonial to hold Rhynes solely responsible for the
missing cash, considering Hamer also had cash handling responsibilities.46 As the
Eleventh Circuit has emphatically reiterated, however, “federal courts do not sit as
a super-personnel department that reexamines an entity’s business decisions. No
matter how medieval a firm’s practices, no matter how high-handed its decisional
process, no matter how mistaken the firm’s managers,” the courts do not interfere.
Elrod v. Sears, Roebuck, and Co., 939 F.2d 1466, 1470 (11th Cir. 1991). See also
Alvarez, 610 F.3d at 1266 (“The question is whether [plaintiff’s] employers were
dissatisfied with her for these or other non-discriminatory reasons, even if mistakenly
or unfairly so, or instead merely used those complaints about [plaintiff] as cover for
discriminating against her”) (alterations and emphasis supplied). Moreover, Rhynes
has cast no doubt on whether Colonial “in good faith believed” that Rhynes was
responsible for the cash deposits on July 5, 2012. Elrod, 939 F.2d at 1470 (emphasis
in original). On the contrary, Rhynes testified that Colonial “blamed [her] for the
money being missing,” and never gave her “any indication that they believed
Id. at 5, ¶ 101.
somebody else was responsible for that missing money.”47
Rhynes also attempts to show pretext by pointing to other comparators: i.e.,
nurses Narciso Ortiz and Bridget Liddell.48 Rhynes contends that nurse Narciso
Ortiz, among others, was responsible for several “cash discrepancies” at Huntsville
Metro, but that he was never disciplined.49 Rhynes clarified her contention in the
following colloquy from her deposition:
Most of the cash discrepancies would be $100 or less,
Do you know of anybody who had a cash discrepancy of
several thousands of dollars on a day that they were handling the cash?
Not on one day, but I think my statement was over time, I
don’t know how much each individual’s amount of cash would have
add[ed] up [to].
Do you know if anybody else had cash discrepancies in the
thousands of dollars sitting here today?
I don’t know.
Doc. no. 14-2 (Rhynes Deposition), at 257–58 (alterations supplied). It must be noted
that Rhynes could not testify as to how many times Ortiz was accused of cash
Doc. no. 14-2 (Rhynes Deposition), at 214–15 (alteration supplied).
Id. at 238–39, 254.
Doc. no. 14-2 (Rhynes Deposition), at 253–54.
discrepancies, or as to any specific amounts.50
Ortiz’s alleged misconduct, though somewhat similar in kind to the conduct of
which Rhynes was accused, is clearly dissimilar in degree. See Maniccia, 171 F.3d
at 1368 (11th Cir. 1999) (“We require 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”). Further, there
is no evidence that Ortiz ever was responsible for “the accuracy, safekeeping and
accountability of [Huntsville Metro’s] cash and the end of the day count.”51 Ortiz’s
mishandling of very small sums of money, on an undisclosed number of occasions,
is not sufficiently similar to Rhynes’s alleged misplacement of $8,730, an entire day’s
worth of Huntsville Metro’s cash deposits, to demonstrate pretext.
Rhynes next points to Bridget Liddell as a comparator. Lidell is a nurse whose
faulty recordkeeping resulted in Colonial being fined $1.8 million by the United
States government’s Drug Enforcement Administration.52
misconduct resulted in a large financial loss to Colonial, her misconduct was wholly
unrelated to cash handling.53 Accordingly, Liddell is not a suitable comparator.
See doc. no. 14-2 (Rhynes Deposition), at 252–59.
Doc. no. 14-12 (Termination Notice), at ECF 1 (alteration supplied).
Doc. no. 14-2 (Rhynes Deposition), at 238.
Rhynes listed several more comparators in her amended complaint — i.e.,
Susan Case, Leslie Putnam, Jennifer Needham, Karen Pinion, Steve Flora, and
Charity Haugen — but none of those employees was accused of misconduct related
to cash handling or financial losses to Colonial.54 Instead, Rhynes contends only that
they “violated regulations and company policies” but were not disciplined.55 Rhynes
cannot establish pretext simply by generalizing her own misconduct and that of others
in hopes of identifying a suitable comparator.
Rhynes has failed to show that Colonial’s articulated reason for the termination
of her employment is merely a pretext for discrimination. Accordingly, summary
judgment is due to be entered in favor of Colonial on Deborah L. Rhynes’s
discriminatory termination claim.
V. CONCLUSION AND ORDERS
Based upon the foregoing discussion, it is ORDERED that the motion for
summary judgment filed by defendant, Colonial Management Group, LP, is
GRANTED, and all claims asserted herein by Deborah L. Rhynes are DISMISSED
with prejudice. Costs are taxed to plaintiff. The Clerk is directed to close this file.
Doc. no. 2 (Amended Complaint), ¶ 8.
DONE and ORDERED this 17th day of March, 2015.
United States District Judge
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