Davis v. Baptist Memorial Hospital - Golden Triangle, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION re 47 Order on Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Senior Judge Glen H. Davidson on 4/19/13. (rel)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:II-CV-00234-GHD-DAS
BAPTIST MEMORIAL HOSPITAL - GOLDEN TRIANGLE, INC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING
DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment . Upon due
consideration, the Court finds that the motion is not well taken. Plaintiff has established a prima
facie case of race discrimination, and genuine disputes of material fact exist on whether
Defendant's proffered reasons for its actions were pretext for race discrimination or that race was
a motivating factor for Defendant's actions. Accordingly, summary judgment shall be denied.
A. Factual and Procedural Background
After filing an EEOC charge of race discrimination and receiving her right to sue letter,
Plaintiff Tarra Davis ("Plaintiff") brought this suit against her former employer, Baptist
Golden Triangle, Inc. ("Defendant"), alleging she was demoted and then
terminated for race-based reasons in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42
U.S.C. § 1981.
The following facts are not in dispute: Defendant hired Plaintiff, who is black, as an
ray technician in April of 2004. Plaintiff suffers from a medical condition known as trigeminal
neuralgia, which causes severe right facial pain.
After Plaintiffs condition worsened and
affected her ability to work, Plaintiff sought and was granted Family Medical Leave Act
("FMLA") leave from August 11, 2010 to November 3, 2010, at which time her FMLA leave
Plaintiff was still ill following the exhaustion of her leave on November 3,
2010, and Defendant granted her additional, non-FMLA leave. Plaintiff was notified by a letter
dated November 5, 2010 that (1) her FMLA leave had expired on November 3, 2010; (2)
Plaintiff was continuing her leave as personal, non-qualifying FMLA leave; (3) Defendant was
no longer able to hold Plaintiffs full-time X-ray technician position; and (4) Plaintiffs total
leave time, including both FMLA and non-FMLA leave, could not exceed six months. Plaintiff
was excused from work to undergo surgery in December of 2010. In January of 2011, Plaintiff
informed her supervisor that she had been released to return to work. Plaintiff was informed that
(1) her position had been filled by a white female already employed by Defendant; (2) Plaintiff
was still a full-time employee of Defendant, but had no position; and (3) Plaintiff should go
online and apply for a position when something became available. Subsequently, Plaintiff was
notified she was terminated.
Facts in dispute include, inter alia, those concerning what Plaintiff was told by Defendant
concerning the availability of her position following her leave of absence, when her position was
filled by the white employee, and whether Plaintiff was demoted prior to her termination.
B. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure
materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact
and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); Weaver v.
CCA Indus., Inc., 529 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2008). The rule "mandates the entry of summary
judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a
sufficient showing 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., 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.
The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the
court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548.
Under Rule 56(a), the burden then shifts to the non-movant to "go beyond the pleadings and by
. . . affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,'
designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.' " Id. at 324, 106 S. Ct.
2548; Littlefield v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist., 268 F.3d 275,282 (5th Cir. 2001); Willis v. Roche
Biomedical Labs., Inc., 61 F.3d 313,315 (5th Cir. 1995).
Where, as here, the parties dispute the facts, the Court must view the facts and draw
reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372,
378, 127 S. Ct. 1769, 167 L. Ed. 2d 686 (2007) (internal citations omitted). "However, a
nonmovant may not overcome the summary judgment standard with conclusional allegations,
unsupported assertions, or presentation of only a scintilla of evidence." McClure v. Boles, 490 F.
App'x 666,667 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312,319 (5th
C. Analysis and Discussion
Defendant argues that summary judgment should be granted on Plaintiffs race
discrimination claims under Section 1981 and Title VII. Section 1981, known as the "equal
contracts rights" provision, was enacted shortly after the Civil War and provides in pertinent part
that "[a]11 persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every
State and Territory to make and enforce contracts ... as is enjoyed by white citizens." 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981 (a).
Section 1981 defines "make and enforce contracts" as including "the making,
performance, modification, and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment of all benefits,
privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship." 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (b).
For Plaintiff to establish a prima facie case under Section 1981, she must "produce direct
or circumstantial evidence of purposeful discrimination by the defendant." Jatoi v. Hurst
Euless-Bedford Hosp. Auth., 807 F.2d 1214, 1219 (5th Cir. 1987) (citing Ramirez v. Sloss, 615
F.2d 163, 168 (5th Cir. 1980», When there is no direct evidence of unlawful discrimination, as
here, Section 1981 race discrimination claims are analyzed under the same evidentiary
framework as Title VII claims. Taylor v. Seton Brackenridge Hosp., 349 F. App'x 874, 876-77
(5th Cir. 2009) (citing Flanagan v. Aaron E. Henry Cmty. Health Servs. Ctr., 876 F.2d 1231,
1233 (5th Cir. 1989); Roberson v. Allte! Info. Servs., 373 F.3d 647,651 (5th Cir. 2004». Thus,
the Court will analyze Plaintiff's Section 1981 and Title VII race discrimination claims under the
same McDonnell Douglas framework.
Under McDonnell Douglas, an employee alleging racial discrimination against her
employer based on circumstantial evidence must first establish a prima facie case of
discrimination. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S. Ct. 1817. The burden then shifts to
the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment
action. Id., 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S. Ct. 1817. Only then does the presumption of discrimination
disappear and the burden shift back to the plaintiff to show pretext or that the defendant's actions
were motivated in part by race discrimination.} The Court notes that even under McDonnell
I The Court notes that in the Fifth Circuit the mixed-motive framework has not yet been extended to
Section 1981 claims, and it is unclear how far the United States Supreme Court's holding in Gross v. FBL Financial
Services, Inc. has scaled back the extension of the mixed-motive application. See generally Gross, 557 U.S. 167,
129 S. Ct. 2343, 174 L. Ed. 2d 119 (2009); see also Crouch v. JC Penney Corp., 337 F. App'x 399,402, n.l (2009)
(finding that Gross "raises the question of whether the mixed-motive framework is available to plaintiffs alleging
discrimination outside of the Title VII framework"). The mixed-motive framework's applicability is further called
into question by the decisions of other circuits that had previously addressed the question and found it inapposite in
Douglas's burden-shifting framework, the ultimate burden remains with the plaintiff. See Reeves
v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 143, 120 S. Ct. 2097, 147 L. Ed. 2d 105
(2000) (quoting Tex. Dep't o/Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253, 101 S. Ct. 1089,67 L.
Ed. 2d 207 (1981)).
1. Prima Facie Case 0/Race Discrimination
Under McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff must first make a prima facie case of race
discrimination, that is, the plaintiff must demonstrate that she "(1) is a member of a protected
group; (2) was qualified for the position at issue; (3) was discharged or suffered some adverse
employment action by the employer; and (4) was replaced by someone outside [her] protected
group or was treated less favorably than other similarly situated employees outside the protected
group." McCoy v. City o/Shreveport, 492 F.3d 551,556-57 (5th Cir. 2007). The plaintiff "need
only make a very minimal showing" to establish a prima facie case. Nichols v. Loral Vought Sys.
Corp., 81 F.3d 38, 41 (5th Cir. 1996).
The Court finds that Plaintiff has met her prima facie burden, as (1) it is undisputed that
Plaintiff is a member of a protected class; (2) despite Defendant's protestations to the contrary,
Plaintiff has satisfied the qualified prong of her prima facie case by asserting that she is a
certified X-ray technician and worked in her position for Defendant for six years prior to the
occurrences giving rise to this suit; (3) Plaintiff has shown that she suffered an adverse
employment action-whether or not she was demoted, unquestionably, she was terminated by
Defendant; and (4) Plaintiffhas shown she was replaced by a white person, and replacement by a
Section 1981 claims even prior to the Supreme Court's holding in Gross. See Mabra v. United Food & Commercial
Workers Local Union No. 1996, 176 F.3d 1357, 1357 (11th Cir. 1999) (comparing the language of both statutes and
determining an extension of the mixed-motive framework to Section 1981 claim would be inappropriate); Aquino v.
Honda of Am., Inc., 158 F. App'x 667, 676 (6th Cir. 2005) ("Congress inserted the specific statutory provision
[supporting the mixed-motive framework] only into Title VII ... it did not amend [Section] 1981 in an analogous
person outside the plaintiffs protected class is an alternative means of satisfying the fourth
element of the prima facie case, see Harris v. First Am. Nat'l Bancshares, Inc., 484 F. App'x
902,904 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Okoye v. Univ. of Tex. Hous. Health Sci. etr., 245
F.3d 507, 512-513 (5th Cir. 2001». Thus, Plaintiff has met her initial burden, and in so doing,
has raised an inference of intentional discrimination which Defendant must rebut by providing a
legitimate and nondiscriminatory justification for the adverse action. See Meinecke v. H & R
Block ofHous., 66 F.3d 77,83 (5th Cir. 1995).
2. Legitimate, Nondiscriminatory Reason for Adverse Employment Action
The Court now turns to examine whether Defendant has articulated a legitimate
justification for the adverse employment action. Defendant articulated the following reasons for
Plaintiffs ultimate termination from her employment with Defendant: (1) Plaintiff had no
certainty that her position would be available following her leave of absence, as she was so
informed upon the expiration of her FMLA leave; (2) Defendant had difficulty finding
employees to cover Plaintiff s shifts during her leave of absence, and the result was overworked,
fatigued employees; (3) Plaintiff failed to apply for any other position with Defendant, despite
being told that she would have approximately one month to search for and apply for any
available positions for which she was qualified and that if she failed to apply for any position she
would be terminated; (4) Plaintiff was offered an as-needed X-ray technician position, but
declined the offer; and (5) Plaintiff remained eligible for rehire.
These justifications are sufficient to rebut Plaintiffs case on a prima facie level. Thus,
the burden shifts back to Plaintiff to show pretext or mixed motives.
3. Pretext/Mixed Motives Alternative
Plaintiff argues that the Defendant's actions of replacing her with a white employee and
tenninating her were pretextual and/or that race motivated Defendant's actions in part. Plaintiff
contends that (1) she was reassured by supervisors that her position would be available after she
returned from the leave of absence; (2) employees covering Plaintiffs shifts in her absence were
not overworked, as Defendant was far from understaffed with about forty-five X-ray technicians
and two as-needed imaging technicians who could cover Plaintiff's shifts; (3) Plaintiff did not
apply for any comparable alternative position with Defendant because none were made available
to her; and (4) Defendant offered Plaintiff an as-needed X-ray technician position not
comparable to her previous full-time X-ray technician position. Plaintiff maintains that white
employees in her same situation had been returned to their position after returning to work under
similar circumstances. Plaintiff further maintains that her replacement was a white employee
who had served as an as-needed X-ray technician and was substantially less qualified than
Plaintiff for the position. Overall, Plaintiff maintains that Defendant's alleged actions towards
her were due to her race. The Court finds that Plaintiff has highlighted genuine disputes of
material fact with respect to whether Defendant's proffered justification was a mere pretext for
These genuine disputes preclude summary judgment on her race
discrimination claims. Further, the Court may exercise its discretion to allow Plaintiff's claims
to proceed to trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91
L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986) ("Neither do we suggest ... that the trial court may not deny summary
judgment in a case where there is reason to believe that the better course would be to proceed to
a full trial.").
In sum, the Court finds that the Defendant's motion for summary judgment  should
be DENIED and the case should proceed to trial.
A separate order in accordance with this opinion shall issue this day.
If day of April, 2013.
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