Smith v. University of Mississippi Medical Center
ORDER granting 32 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge Carlton W. Reeves on 3/7/2018. (AC)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
AVA S. SMITH
CAUSE NO. 3:16-CV-885-CWR-FKB
UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI
Before the Court is the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Docket No. 32. The
familiar legal standard applies. The parties agree that Smith’s retaliation claim fails, so the
analysis begins and ends with her race discrimination claim.
UMC begins by challenging Smith’s prima facie case. It contends that Smith, who is
African-American, has not shown that she was replaced by a person outside of her race or
otherwise subjected to differential treatment. In a declaration, however, former coworker
Kimberly Pigford says UMC replaced Smith with a white person. That is enough.
UMC justifies terminating Smith by pointing to her disciplinary record. In 2013 and
2014, several coworkers and patients had complained that Smith was unprofessional and
argumentative. UMC counseled Smith and placed her in its “Progressive Discipline Process.”
The last such complaint was made by a patient on December 16, 2014. UMC terminated Smith
three days later.
Smith agrees that she was fired for unprofessional conduct. She nevertheless contends
that her case should proceed to trial because she was not rude to the patient who filed the
December 2014 complaint, and because two statements from former coworkers suggest that
UMC is being less than truthful. In the first, Pigford attests that in October or November 2014,
Pigford’s manager asked her to write a false statement alleging that Smith had cursed at another
employee. The second statement is a letter from former coworker Barbara Sumrall, who writes,
“I have not witnessed Ava [Smith] being rude to any of our patients.”
The legal standard at this step is well-established:
the plaintiff must produce substantial evidence indicating that the proffered
legitimate nondiscriminatory reason is a pretext for discrimination. The plaintiff
must rebut each nondiscriminatory reason articulated by the employer. A plaintiff
may establish pretext either through evidence of disparate treatment or by
showing that the employer’s proffered explanation is false or unworthy of
credence. An explanation is false or unworthy of credence if it is not the real
reason for the adverse employment action. Evidence demonstrating that the
employer’s explanation is false or unworthy of credence, taken together with the
plaintiff’s prima facie case, is likely to support an inference of discrimination
even without further evidence of defendant’s true motive. No further evidence of
discriminatory animus is required because once the employer’s justification has
been eliminated, discrimination may well be the most likely alternative
explanation. The rare instances in which a showing of pretext is insufficient to
establish discrimination are (1) when the record conclusively reveals some other,
nondiscriminatory reason for the employer’s decision, or (2) when the plaintiff
creates only a weak issue of fact as to whether the employer’s reason was untrue,
and there was abundant and uncontroverted evidence that no discrimination
occurred. A decision as to whether judgment as a matter of law is appropriate
ultimately turns on the strength of the plaintiff’s prima facie case, the probative
value of the proof that the employer’s explanation is false, and any other evidence
that supports the employer’s case and that properly may be considered on a
motion for judgment as a matter of law.
Laxton v. Gap Inc., 333 F.3d 572, 578–79 (5th Cir. 2003) (quotation marks, citations, and ellipses
On review, the Court is not persuaded that Smith has demonstrated a genuine issue of
material fact on pretext. Smith admitted in written discovery that she was “terminated from
UMMC on December 19, 2014 for unprofessional and rude conduct [she] displayed toward a
patient.” Her attempt to contradict that evidence through a subsequent declaration cannot be
considered, see S.W.S. Erectors, Inc. v. Infax, Inc., 72 F.3d 489, 496 (5th Cir. 1996), and the
Sumrall letter is of no use, since Smith confesses to the behavior Sumrall claims she never
witnessed. Based on the available evidence, UMC’s reason for terminating Smith is neither false
nor unworthy of credence.
To be sure, Pigford’s testimony is damaging to UMC. Management should not be asking
employees to lie about their coworkers. And, unfortunately, this is not the first time a plaintiff has
produced evidence that a UMC manager asked a subordinate to fabricate “disparaging letters
concerning [the plaintiff’s] professionalism.” Zhan v. Univ. of Mississippi Med. Ctr., No. 3:14CV-777-CWR-FKB, 2016 WL 5374141, at *5 (S.D. Miss. Sept. 26, 2016). Smith was not
terminated on the basis of a fabricated letter, though—she admits the conduct that caused her to
be fired. Without more, her race discrimination claim cannot proceed.
The motion is granted. A separate Final Judgment shall issue.
SO ORDERED, this the 7th day of March, 2018.
s/ Carlton W. Reeves
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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