BETTS v. SUMMIT OAKS HOSPITAL
OPINION. Signed by Judge Susan D. Wigenton on 1/10/2017. (seb)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATE DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
WILLIE KAY BETTS,
SUMMIT OAKS HOSPITAL,
Civil Action No. 14-06357-SDW-LDW
January 10, 2017
WIGENTON, District Judge.
Before this Court is Defendant Summit Oaks Hospital’s (“Defendant”) Motion for
Summary Judgment, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56. Jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331. Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391. This opinion is issued without oral
argument pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 78. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant’s Motion
for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
Defendant Summit Oaks Hospital is a substance abuse and mental health treatment center
located in Summit New Jersey. (Dkt. No. 61-3 (“Phillips Cert.”) ¶ 2.) Defendant hired Plaintiff
Willie Kay Betts (“Plaintiff”) as a full-time nurse in November 2011. (Def.’s Statement of Material
Facts (“SMF”) ¶ 1.) As part of her employment, Plaintiff was primarily assigned to Defendant’s
Rehabilitation Unit, “TU2.” (Id. ¶ 2.) Although TU2 was considered Plaintiff’s “home unit,” she
was, at times, also assigned to work in Defendant’s Detoxification Unit, “TU3.” (Def.’s SMF ¶¶ 31
4; Pl.’s SMF ¶ 3.) Summit Oaks Hospital regularly requires its employees to temporarily staff
units that are not the employees’ home units in order to satisfy the hospital’s staffing needs. (Def.’s
SMF ¶ 4; Pl.’s SMF ¶ 4.) According to Defendant, such temporary staffing, referred to by the
parties as “floating,” is consistent with the hospital’s written policy for the management of nursing
personnel. (See Def.’s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (“Def.’s Br. Supp.”) at 3; Phillips Cert., Ex. A
(“Daily staffing is adjusted according to census, patient acuity, and the availability of staff.”).)
However, Plaintiff takes issue with her staffing of TU3.
According to Plaintiff, she was assigned to TU3 “for the greater part of 2012.” (Pl.’s SMF
¶ 3.) Although Plaintiff concedes that she was not officially transferred to TU3, she claims that
she was staffed exclusively in TU3 until either late 2012 or early 2013. (Dkt. No. 61-2, Ex. B.
(“Betts Dep.”) at 55:1-19.) In addition, Plaintiff contends that after she returned to TU3 in late
2012 or early 2013, she was floated to TU3 more often than other nurses until she resigned from
the hospital on August 1, 2015. (Pl.’s Br. Opp. Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.’s Br. Opp.”) at 2; Pl.’s SMF ¶
8.). Specifically, Plaintiff contends that she was floated “twice as much as Mikola [Mikolav],” the
only other full-time day shift nurse assigned to TU2. (Id.; Def.’s SMF ¶ 6.) 1 Plaintiff also asserts
that she was floated to TU3 more often than Defendant’s per-diem and part-time nurses. (Pl.’s Br.
Opp. at 2.) According to Plaintiff, she was disproportionately assigned to TU3 because of her race
and color. (Compl. ¶ 9.)
In contrast, Defendant first contends that from 2013 to 2015, Mikolav was floated to TU3
nearly as often, and at times more often, than Plaintiff. (Phillips Cert. ¶ 8.) 2 In addition, Defendant
Mikola Mikolav (“Mikolav”) is Caucasian. (Pl.’s SMF ¶ 4.) Although Plaintiff does not appear to state
her race or color, the Complaint does state she was not treated “as fairly as [her] white co-workers.” (Compl.
¶ 9.) Defendant states in its Motion that Plaintiff is “black.” (Def.’s Br. Supp. at 3.)
Defendant’s submissions state that from 2013 to 2015, Plaintiff was floated to TU3 18%, 12%, and 7% of
the time, respectively. (Phillips Cert. ¶ 8.) From 2013 to 2015 Mikolav was floated 14%, 14%, and 7%,
respectively. (Id.) Although Plaintiff complains that some of the time sheets Defendant turned over during
asserts that floating Plaintiff to TU3 served the hospital’s staffing needs and that there is no hospital
policy requiring that full-time nurses be given staffing preferences over per-diem nurses. (Def.’s
SMF ¶ 9.) Finally, Defendant points out that although Plaintiff was floated to TU3, this did not
affect Plaintiff’s title, pay, or employment benefits. (Id. ¶ 7.)
As a result of her dissatisfaction with being assigned, at times, to TU3, Plaintiff filed a
charge of discrimination with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights on May 24, 2013.
(Compl. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff subsequently filed a charge of discrimination with the United States Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on August 6, 2013. (Phillips Cert., Ex. E.) The
EEOC conducted an investigation and, on July 28, 2014, issued a right-to-sue letter detailing the
EEOC’s determination that Defendant had discriminated against Plaintiff. (Compl. at 5.)
However, the EEOC declined to file suit against Defendant and advised Plaintiff of her right to
file a private lawsuit within ninety days of receipt of the letter. (Id.) On October 14, 2014, Plaintiff
commenced the instant action. (Dkt. No. 1.)
According to the Complaint, Defendant discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of her
race and color in contravention of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e, et
seq. (“Title VII”) by (1) not treating her “as fairly as . . . [her] white co-workers”; (2) not offering
her “equal assignments . . . as a full time employee, as opposed to per diem and part time
employees”; and (3) by failing to address her “complaints regarding discriminatory behavior”
towards her by her co-workers. (Compl. ¶ 9.) At this stage of the case, it appears that these claims
discovery were “sanitized” using white-out, Plaintiff does not specify whether the time sheets from which
Defendant gathered this specific information, comparing how often Mikolav and Plaintiff were floated to
TU3, were affected. Nonetheless, as explained below, this Court’s decision does not depend on a
determination of whether Plaintiff was floated to TU3 more often than Mikolav.
boil down to Plaintiff’s contention that she was assigned to TU3 more often than other nurses
because of her race or color. (See generally Pl.’s Br. Opp.)
Defendant moved for summary judgment in this matter, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56, on
August 26, 2016. (Dkt. No. 61.) Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition on September 6, 2016, (Dkt.
No. 62), and Defendant filed a brief in reply on September 13, 2016. (Dkt. No. 66.)
Summary judgment is appropriate “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). The “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an
otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no
genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A
fact is only “material” for purposes of a summary judgment motion if a dispute over that fact
“might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. at 248. 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.” Id. The dispute is not genuine if it merely involves “some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
The moving party must show that if the evidentiary material of record were reduced to
admissible evidence in court, it would be insufficient to permit the non-moving party to carry its
burden of proof. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Once the moving party
meets its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts
showing a genuine issue for trial and may not rest upon the mere allegations, speculations,
unsupported assertions, or denials of its pleadings. Shields v. Zuccarini, 254 F.3d 476, 481 (3d
Cir. 2001). “In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make
credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving
party’s evidence ‘is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.’”
Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at
The non-moving party “must present more than just ‘bare assertions, conclusory
allegations or suspicions’ to show the existence of a genuine issue.” Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Serv.,
409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325). Further, the nonmoving party is required to “point to concrete evidence in the record which supports each essential
element of its case.” Black Car Assistance Corp. v. New Jersey, 351 F. Supp. 2d 284, 286 (D.N.J.
2004) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23.) If the non-moving party “fails to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which . . .
[it has] the burden of proof,” then the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23.
Furthermore, in deciding the merits of a party’s motion for summary judgment, the court’s
role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether
there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. The non-moving party cannot defeat
summary judgment simply by asserting that certain evidence submitted by the moving party is not
credible. S.E.C. v. Antar, 44 F. Appx. 548, 554 (3d Cir. 2002).
As discussed above, Plaintiff contends that Defendant violated Title VII by floating her to
TU3 more often than other nurses during her employment at Summit Oaks Hospital. 3 Under Title
VII, it is an “unlawful employment practice for an employer”:
(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to
discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms,
conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color,
religion, sex, or national origin; or
(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in
any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment
opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of
such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-2. In considering Plaintiff’s claim under Title VII, this Court must first apply
the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting test, which places the initial burden on a plaintiff to
establish a prima facie case of discrimination. See Storey v. Burns Int'l Sec. Servs., 390 F.3d 760,
763 (3d Cir. 2004), as amended (Dec. 20, 2004) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411
U.S. 792 (1973)). To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII, Plaintiff must
demonstrate: (1) that she is a member of a protected class; (2) that she was otherwise qualified for
the position; (3) that she has suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) that the adverse action
occurred under circumstances that give rise to an inference of discrimination. Jones v. Sch. Dist.
of Philadelphia, 198 F.3d 403, 412 (3d Cir. 1999).
Under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1), if a plaintiff initially institutes proceedings with a state or local agency,
a charge of discrimination must be filed with the EEOC within 300 days after an unlawful employment
practice occurs. Because Plaintiff filed her charge of discrimination with the EEOC on August 6, 2013, her
claim may not be based on discrete acts of discrimination that occurred before October 10, 2012. See Nat'l
R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113 (2002) (holding “discrete discriminatory acts are not
actionable if time barred, even when they are related to acts alleged in timely filed charges.”) As a result,
this Opinion focuses on Plaintiff’s staffing of TU3 on and after October 10, 2012.
Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, “[t]he burden then must
shift to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for” its employment
action. McDonnell Douglas Corp, 411 U.S. at 802. If the employer satisfies this burden, the burden
then shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the employer’s purported reason for the adverse
employment action was “in actuality a pretext for intentional race discrimination.” Jones, 198 F.3d
Regarding step one of the McDonnell Douglas test, establishing a prima facie case of
discrimination, Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that she suffered an adverse
employment action. (Def.’s Br. Supp. at 9-12.) An adverse employment action is “a significant
change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with
significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”
Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 761 (1998); see also Storey, 390 F.3d at 764 (“We
have defined ‘an adverse employment action’ under Title VII as an action by an employer that is
‘serious and tangible enough to alter an employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges
of employment.’” (quoting Cardenas v. Massey, 269 F.3d 251, 263 (3d Cir. 2001) (citation
omitted))). In this instance, Plaintiff was tasked with working, at times, in TU3 when her preferred
unit was TU2. (Pl.’s SMF ¶¶ 2-3; Pl.’s Br. Opp. at 3.) However, “[m]inor actions, such as lateral
transfers and changes of title and reporting relationships, are generally insufficient to constitute
adverse employment actions.” Langley v. Merck & Co., 186 F. App’x 258, 260–61 (3d Cir. 2006).
Although Plaintiff expressed her preference to work only in TU2, and contends that in TU3 “you
do the work of five people,” (Betts Dep. at 251:18-20), she has not submitted any evidence to show
that being floated, or even transferred to TU3, had a tangible impact on her employment.
Plaintiff’s title, pay, benefits, and terms of employment remained the same throughout her
employment at Summit Oaks Hospital. (Phillips Cert. ¶ 9; Betts Dep. At 251:9-18.) Without more,
simply being tasked with working, at times, in a different unit, does not amount to an adverse
employment action. See Swain v. City of Vineland, 457 F. App’x 107, 110–11 (3d Cir. 2012)
(explaining that when “[t]here is no evidence [a plaintiff suffered] any ‘serious and tangible’
alteration of his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment . . . . a lateral
transfer . . . in and of itself does not amount to a significant change in employment status.”
(citations omitted)). Plaintiff, having shown only that she was, at most, subjected to repeated
temporary lateral transfers, has failed to establish a prima facie case of employment
discrimination. 4 Accordingly, Defendant is entitled to summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s Title
For the reasons stated above, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
s/ Susan D. Wigenton
SUSAN D. WIGENTON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Magistrate Leda D. Wettre
Although it does not appear to be addressed in Plaintiff’s Opposition, Defendant also suggests that
Plaintiff’s Title VII claim is based on an incident in which Plaintiff “called ahead for ‘take out’ lunch from
the Hospital dining room and was told that the Hospital does not pack up lunches for employees.” (Def.’s
SMF ¶ 11.) To the extent Plaintiff did intend this incident to be the basis of another claim under Title VII,
such an occurrence is not the type of “significant change in employment status” that could constitute an
adverse employment action.
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