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Hensley v. Rutherford County

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

April 8, 2015

LISA HENSLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
RUTHERFORD COUNTY, TENNESSEE, d/b/a RUTHERFORD COUNTY JUVENILE DETENTION CENTER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.

Pending before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the defendant, Rutherford County, Tennessee (the "County") (Docket No. 16), to which the plaintiff has filed a Response in opposition (Docket No. 24). For the reasons stated herein, the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted and the plaintiff's claims will be dismissed.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiff, Lisa Hensley, filed this employment discrimination action against her employer, the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center (the "Center").[1] Since 2003, Hensley has worked as a Sergeant at the Center. In 2006, Hensley was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ("MS"). Hensley's present title is "Administrative Sergeant, " and her duties are limited to administrative functions.

Hensley filed this lawsuit on January 17, 2014, alleging that the County discriminated against her because of her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"), the Tennessee Disability Act, T.C.A. § 8-5-103 ("TDA"), [2] and the Tennessee Human Rights Act, T.C.A. § 4-21-101 et seq. ("THRA"); that the County retaliated against her in violation of Tennessee common law; and that the County's "intentional acts and omissions" constitute violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2615 et seq. ("FMLA"). (Docket No. 1.)

HOUSEKEEPING ISSUES

The County has moved for summary judgment on all claims, contending that (1) Hensley cannot establish the prima facie elements of her ADA, TDA, and FMLA claims, and (2) Hensley's common law retaliation and THRA claims are improper as a matter of law. Hensley's response to the motion is-put generously-difficult to follow. Moreover, some other submissions by the plaintiff, including her Complaint, are either procedurally defective or substantively incoherent, or both.

I. Conflation of ADA and FMLA Claims

First, the plaintiff's Complaint and Response to the pending motion address her ADA (and TDA) and FMLA claims as if the statutes are subject to the same legal standards. They are not.

For example, the plaintiff's Complaint alleges merely that "the intentional acts and omissions as described herein by the Defendant constitute violations of the Family Medical Leave Act." (Docket No. 1 ¶ 50.) The plaintiff neglects (in any submission to the court) to specify a theory of recovery under the FMLA (interference or retaliation) and, instead, merely argues that she must establish a " prima facie case of FMLA discrimination." (Docket No. 24 at 17.)[3] The court notes that another court in this district recently reprimanded another plaintiff (represented by the same counsel, Mr. Allman) for conflating the standards of the FMLA and ADA. See Perry v. Am. Red Cross Blood Servs., No. 3:13-cv-1146, 2015 WL 1401058, at *1 (M.D. Tenn. Mar. 26, 2015) (Campbell, J.). As Judge Campbell explained,

The FMLA does not deal with disability discrimination. A "serious health condition" under the FMLA is not the same as a "disability" for purposes of the ADA. The ADA, not the FMLA, requires an employer to accommodate an employee's disability' under appropriate circumstances. The FMLA, not the ADA, requires an employer to allow an employee leave of up to 12 weeks for a "serious health condition." The two Acts are not the same.

Id. Despite the plaintiff's misunderstanding of the statutes upon which she bases her claims, in the interest of justice and a timely resolution of the plaintiff's claims, the court will carefully consider her claims.

II. Procedural Defects with Respect to Plaintiff's Response to DSUF

Notwithstanding several admonitions from this court in other cases filed by Mr. Allman, he has continued to ignore the rules governing statements of fact that are required or permitted with respect to motions filed under Rule 56. See, e.g., Anderson v. McIntosh Constr., LLC, No. 3:13-cv-0304, 2014 WL 2207924, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. May 28, 2014). First, in response to the DSUF, the plaintiff's submission appears to "dispute" facts without appropriate citation to the record[4] or without actually disputing the fact.[5] Having closely reviewed the record, the court concludes that the defendant's cited facts are not in dispute. The exercise of reviewing these facts, which are not actually in dispute, was a waste of the court's time and resources.

III. The Plaintiff's THRA and Common Law Claims

The plaintiff does not address her THRA and common law retaliation claims in response to the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Accordingly, the court considers those claims to be abandoned and will dismiss both claims. Nonetheless, even if the plaintiff had not abandoned her THRA and common law claims, both claims would be dismissed as groundless.

First, it is well settled that the THRA does not provide a remedy for discrimination on the basis of disability. See Barnes v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 48 S.W.3d 698, 705 (Tenn. 2000) ("The [TDA] embodies the definitions and remedies provided by the [THRA]"); Perlberg v. Brencor Asset Mgmt., 63 S.W.3d 390, 394 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001) ("The [TDA] works in conjunction with the THRA to grant an individual a civil cause of action for wrongful discrimination based upon a handicap."). Second, the plaintiff's common law retaliation claim is improper because, under Tennessee law, a tort claim for retaliation requires that an employee was discharged. Here, it is undisputed that the plaintiff remains at her job as a Sergeant and that no discharge has occurred. See Guy v. Mut. of Omaha Ins. Co., 79 S.W.3d 528, 534 (Tenn. 2002). Moreover, as the defendant argues, sovereign immunity applies to the plaintiff's common law claim against the County. Id. at 536 (noting that, unlike the common law, Tennessee's whistleblowing statute protects public employees and provides a remedy for retaliatory discharge).

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The court notes that the record is scant and disorganized with respect to the facts underlying the plaintiff's allegations. Nevertheless, the court has combed the record and closely reviewed the parties' briefs and, to the best of its ability, will summarize the relevant facts below.

I. The Plaintiff's Employment, Generally

Hensley began working at the Center part-time in 2000, when she was attending college. Hensley began work as a full-time officer at the Center in 2002, shortly after she graduated from college. Her responsibilities as an officer were "basic jailer duties." After two years, Hensley was promoted to "Lead Officer, " and, in June 2003, Hensley was promoted to Supervisor. In 2005, the Center changed the titles for jobs within the Center. Hensley's new title became "Sergeant, " which remains her title today.

Around 2008, the Center determined that there was a need for a Sergeant who would perform administrative functions. Around this same time, Hensley "transitioned into [a] Swing Shift Sergeant position." As Swing Shift Sergeant, Hensley voluntarily took on certain administrative responsibilities. Her title reflected her hours, which "split" the first and second shift. At that time, the Center employed four Sergeants and one Swing Shift Sergeant. The roles were different because the Swing Shift Sergeant performed administrative functions.

II. The Plaintiff's Health

According to the plaintiff's testimony at her deposition, she was diagnosed with MS in November 2006. At an unspecified point in time, the plaintiff began to receive intravenous ...


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