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Veluzat v. Williamson Medical Center

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

November 10, 2014



JOHN T. NIXON, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Richard Veluzat was fired from his job as a pharmacist at Williamson Medical Center ("WMC") on November 1, 2011, allegedly in retaliation for his complaints about racial discrimination in his department. Veluzat sued WMC for retaliatory discharge and associational discrimination under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Pending before the Court is Defendant WMC's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 35.) Veluzat failed to present evidence of pretext, therefore Defendant's motion is GRANTED.


A. Factual History

Plaintiff Richard Veluzat began work as a pharmacist for Defendant WMC in October 2001. (Doc. No. 35-1 at 48.) Janet Nock became the Director of Pharmacy in 2007. (Doc. No. 47-2 at 12-13.) According to Veluzat, Nock was an abusive manager who decimated employee morale - "everybody had problems with her." (Doc. No. 47-1 at 116.) Veluzat claims that Nock also discriminated, and condoned discrimination, against African-American and Hispanic employees in the department. ( See, e.g., Doc. No. 47-1 at 115-17, 224.) Veluzat states that he reported specific incidents of discrimination to Nock, other managers, and representatives of Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. ("Gallagher"), a consulting group hired to assess employee satisfaction with workplace conditions at WMC. Veluzat believes he became Nock's "special target" because of his relationship to African American employees and he was unfairly disciplined and ultimately fired in retaliation for reporting discrimination against them. ( Id. at 117.) Veluzat asserts that he voiced concerns about discrimination in the pharmacy on a number of occasions from 2007 to 2011:

(1) In early 2007, Nock made all employees read aloud from meeting minutes during staff meetings; some African-American employees told Veluzat that they found this behavior offensive and "reminiscent [of] Jim Crow Laws." Veluzat reported this to Julie Miller, WMC's Assistant Chief Operating Officer.[1] ( Id. at 237-40.)
(2) In the spring of 2008, Ruby Matthews, an African-American woman, approached Veluzat and complained that Nock "was constantly treating her like a child, and demeaning her and raising her voice, making [her] do the work of two people." ( Id. at 212.) According to Veluzat, "[Matthews] said that slavery ended a hundred years ago, " Veluzat told Nock about these remarks, and Nock responded "I'm done with you." ( Id. at 212-14.) Nock denies that Veluzat ever complained about race discrimination to her. (Doc. No. 47-2 at 41.)
(3) In July 2009, Yvette Bean, an African-American woman, emerged from a sterile room wearing a blue bonnet worn to protect pharmacy products from contamination. Rhonda Demonbreun, a white woman, said, "[L]ook at her, she looks like a black smurf." (Doc. No. 47-1 at 226-27.) Veluzat did not report the incident, but he encouraged Bean to report it. ( Id. at 227-28.)
(4) In the fall of 2009, Matthews told Veluzat that Nock "doesn't like black people, " a belief Veluzat thought was based on Nock's poor treatment of Matthews and some other pharmacy employees that day. ( Id. at 219.) Ysella Torrez replied, "[S]he doesn't like brown people either, unless they're cleaning her house." ( Id. ) Veluzat states that he related both statements to Steve Pruter, then the Assistant Director of Pharmacy, but Pruter took no action. ( Id. at 219-21.) Pruter does not recall this incident or any reports of discrimination allegedly made by Veluzat. (Doc. No. 35-6 at 6.)
(5) In 2010, Nock criticized Andrea Goodsen's "appearance, her earrings and her hairstyle. And she thought that was inappropriate because she didn't see anything that much different than other people of color's hairstyle and earrings, and dress." (Doc. No. 47-1 at 224.) Veluzat claims he probably told Pruter about Goodsen's complaints, but does not remember. ( Id. )
(6) In a June 2010 meeting with Human Resources Director Tim Burton to discuss a disciplinary action against him, Veluzat told Burton it was unfair that he was being disciplined because he had tried to "protect... co-workers who have been hysterical and calling me crying because of the way [Nock]'s talked to them because of the color of their skin." ( Id. at 181.) According to Burton, Veluzat never reported any concern that employees were mistreated because of their race. (Doc. No. 47-4 at 49.)
(7) In 2009, Bean was "having trouble" with Joann Kolb, who complained that Bean's "perfume or soap or something" was causing her to have asthma attacks. (Doc. No. 47-1 at 233.) Nock asked Bean to enter the pharmacy through the back door, wash all of her clothes with hypoallergenic detergent, and avoid perfume. Some of the other employees "decided to see if Joann had an issue with Yvette because she was black, as some of them speculated. So another employee wore Yvette's body spray perfume and Joann commented that she smelled really good." ( Id. )
Veluzat did not report this development to Nock, though he asserts that he told the Gallagher representatives about the incident during the 2011 survey. ( Id. at 247.) He claims he also reported that Nock maintained a "very upsetting environment, and that it was emotionally hurting employees and it seemed to be especially African American employees that she didn't like." ( Id. at 243, 247.)
Although the Gallagher study notes that a representative met with Veluzat and describes the concerns he relayed during that conversation, the study does not indicate that Veluzat was concerned about racial discrimination in the pharmacy. (Doc. No. 53 at 5.) Marlene Cole, the Gallagher representative who met with Veluzat, does not recall Veluzat making any report of race discrimination within the pharmacy. (Doc. No. 47-3 at 19-20.)
(8) In September or October 2011, ten days before his annual review was due, Veluzat told Pat Guy, the liaison between Nock and the pharmacy employees, that Nock "did not like black people... [and that] Ysella had said she doesn't like brown people either." (Doc. No. 47-1 at 192.)
(9) Nock was replaced by Joanna Merritt in October 2011. That month, Veluzat told Merritt how "the employees, especially African American employees, had been given a hellish time at times." ( Id. at 113.) According to Veluzat, Merritt responded, "[T]his place needs more men... this place is kind of a nest of pit vipers, isn't it?" ( Id. at 114.) Merritt, on the other hand, claims that she was unaware of any concerns ...

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