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Bradley v. Elmcroft Senior Living, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

September 18, 2017




         Defendant Elmcroft Senior Living, LLC, d/b/a Elmcroft of Kingsport, LLC (“Elmcroft”) has filed a motion for summary judgment as to plaintiff Melissa Bradley's claims of race discrimination and retaliation [Doc. 21]. Having carefully considered the pending motion, related pleadings and materials [Docs. 21, 30, 31], the motion is now ripe for determination.

         I. Relevant Facts

         Elmcroft provides assisted living services at operations throughout the country, including an assisted living community in Kingsport, Tennessee. On November 14, 2014, Elmcroft hired plaintiff Melissa Bradley, an African-American female, as a Resident Assistant at the Kingsport facility [Doc. 22-1 at p. 5]. Plaintiff received an hourly wage of $9.00 per hour, which was the wage she requested on her employment application [Id. at p. 6]. Resident Assistants provide a variety of personal care to Elmcroft residents such as helping residents with meals, dressing, bathing, administering medication, and ambulating [Doc. 22-1 at p. 68-71]. Resident Assistants are frequently required to lift and/or move residents and must be able to lift and/or move 25 pounds up to 100 pounds [Id.].

         At the time of plaintiff's employment, Resident Assistants were assigned to one of three shifts [Id. at p. 6]. Plaintiff was initially assigned to the second shift, 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., but she was later moved to the third shift, 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. [Id. at pp. 6-7]. The first and second shifts are staffed with approximately eight (8) Resident Assistants, but only three (3) Resident Assistants are assigned to the third shift when most residents are sleeping [Id. at p. 7].[1] Elmcroft asserts, and plaintiff does not dispute, that it is critically important for each of the third shift Resident Assistants to be able to lift or transfer residents in case of emergency [Id. at p. 7-8].

         In May 2015, Kay Adkins, the Executive Director of Elmcroft's Kingsport facility, met with the third shift Resident Assistants, including plaintiff, to discuss their concerns [Doc. 31-1 at pp. 7-8]. Ms. Adkins testified that the third shift Resident Assistants expressed a desire for a supervisor on their shift and plaintiff expressed an interest in that role [Id.]. Plaintiff testified that a few weeks after this conversation, on May 28, 2015, Ms. Adkins came in during the third shift and told plaintiff she was going to get the promotion to supervisor and a raise [Doc. 22-1 at p. 11]. Plaintiff claims she signed a form stating her pay would increase to $9.75 per hour [Id.]. Plaintiff claimed that she became the night shift supervisor, but she never received the promised pay raise [Id. at pp. 11-12]. Elmcroft's - and Ms. Adkins' - position is that no third shift supervisory position was created, plaintiff was not promoted, plaintiff was not given a raise, and no paperwork was prepared [Doc. 31-1 at p. 16]. Plaintiff claims she did not question the fact that she did not immediately receive the pay increase “[b]ecause I knew that it would take time for it to go through” [Doc. 22-1 at p. 13].

         On June 28, 2015, plaintiff injured her left knee while assisting a resident [Doc. 22-1 at p. 13]. Plaintiff's physician diagnosed her with a “left knee sprain” and released her to return to work on June 29, 2015 with light duty restrictions [Id. at pp. 13, 72]. These restrictions remained in place until September 15, 2015 [Id. at p. 73]. Because of her light duty restrictions, plaintiff could not perform the third shift Resident Assistant duties, such as lifting residents, and she was moved to the second shift [Id. at pp. 13-14, 44].

         On August 16, 2015, plaintiff asked Ms. Adkins why she had never received the promised pay raise to $9.75 per hour [Id. at p. 13]. According to plaintiff, Ms. Adkins responded with three reasons: “workman's comp had kicked it out, ” plaintiff “could not perform the job, ” and “she had an issue with me telling somebody that I had got a raise” [Id.]. Plaintiff met with Ms. Adkins and Sarah Absher, the Resident Services Director, the next day, August 17, 2017, to discuss the pay increase and they advised her that they had hired someone for her third shift position because she could not perform the work [Id. at pp. 16, 18].[2] Plaintiff admittedly made secret recordings of one or more of these conversations with Ms. Adkins and Ms. Absher [Doc. 22-1 at p. 15]. Around August 25, 2015, someone placed a DVD containing these recordings under Ms. Adkins' door, but plaintiff claims she did not do it [Id. at pp. 15, 17, 46]. Sheryl Klein, Elmcroft's Regional Director of Operations for Tennessee, contacted plaintiff to discuss the recordings and plaintiff's concerns about her pay, but plaintiff refused to discuss her concerns [Doc. 31-1 at ¶ 4].

         On August 26, 2105, plaintiff submitted an Intake Questionnaire to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging race discrimination and retaliation [Doc. 22-1 at pp. 18, 74-76]. She submitted a signed Charge of Discrimination on September 3, 2015, alleging race and disability discrimination and retaliation [Id. at pp. 24, 78].[3]

         On September 13, 2015, Ms. Klein again contacted plaintiff by phone to set up a meeting to discuss plaintiff's concerns but plaintiff declined because she did not feel comfortable doing so [Id. at p. 25].[4] Plaintiff also claims that Ms. Klein asked if plaintiff had an attorney and she declined to discuss that too [Id. at p. 29]. Ms. Klein states that she called plaintiff because plaintiff “continued to complain to other employees about that matter” and that plaintiff refused to speak with her “upon advice of her attorney” [Doc. 31-3 at ¶ 7].

         A few days later, on September 15, 2015, Ms. Klein and Ms. Adkins asked plaintiff to meet with them to discuss the issues with her pay [Doc. 22-1 at p. 29]. Plaintiff again refused, stating that she “just didn't feel comfortable talking about it” [Id.]. Plaintiff also refused to identify her attorney and at that point plaintiff was suspended [Id. at pp. 29- 30]. According to Ms. Klein, “she was told by her attorney not to discuss the matter with anyone at Elmcroft” and she “was not comfortable giving me her attorney's name” [Doc. 31-3 at ¶ 8]. Ms. Klein placed plaintiff on administrative leave “because she had been causing disruption among other employees and I needed additional time to investigate the matter” [Id. at ¶ 9]. Ms. Klein told plaintiff to “have her attorney contact me if they had any questions or wanted to discuss the matter” [Id.]. Plaintiff purportedly “mentioned an individual's name who she claimed represented her, but when we looked into it the person was not an attorney and may have been her boyfriend” [Id.].

         At the time, plaintiff did not have an attorney to identify so “I knew I wasn't going to come back because there was no attorney to tell” [Doc. 22-1 at p. 30]. The following day, September 16, 2015, plaintiff resigned her position at Elmcroft [Id.].

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is proper “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 moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issues of material fact exist. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Moore v. Philip Morris Cos., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir. 1993). All facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Burchett v. Kiefer, 310 F.3d 937, 942 (6th Cir. 2002). “Once the moving party presents evidence sufficient to support a motion under Rule 56, the nonmoving party is not entitled to a trial merely on the basis of allegations.” Curtis Through Curtis v. Universal Match Corp., 778 F.Supp. 1421, 1423 (E.D. Tenn. 1991) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. 317). To establish a genuine issue as to the existence of a particular element, the non-moving party must point to evidence in the record upon which a reasonable finder of fact could find in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The genuine issue must also be material; that is, it must involve facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id.

         The Court's function at the point of summary judgment is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper question for the factfinder. Id. at 250. The Court does not weigh the evidence or determine the truth of the matter. Id. at 249. Nor does the Court search the record “to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact.” Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479- 80 (6th Cir. 1989). Thus, “the inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for a trial-whether, in other words, there are any genuine ...

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