United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
RHONDA R. WALLACE, Plaintiff,
ROANE COUNTY EMS-AMBULANCE SERVICE, an agency of ROANE COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and
the consent of the parties, for all further proceedings,
including entry of judgment [Doc. 15].
before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary [Doc.
27]. Plaintiff filed a Response [Doc. 45] in opposition to
the Motion, and Defendant filed a Reply [Doc. 47]. The Court
also granted the parties leave to file supplemental briefs
[Docs. 51, 52]. The Motion is now ripe for adjudication.
Accordingly, for the reasons further explained below, the
Court finds Defendant's Motion [Doc. 27]
well taken, and it is GRANTED.
Complaint in the instant matter alleges that Defendant
discriminated against Plaintiff based on her sex, and
therefore, violated Title VII. The following facts are taken
from the parties' briefs, unless otherwise
began working for Defendant again in 2013 as a part-time
paramedic. [Doc. 27-2 at 3]. Plaintiff became a full-time
paramedic for Defendant in May 2014. [Id. at 7]. In
October 2014, Tim Suter (“Director Suter”) became
the Ambulance Director. [Doc. 27-4 at 2]. During the relevant
time period, paramedics and EMTs rotated their schedules,
working a 24-hour shift and then taking 48 hours off before
working the next shift. [Id. at 3]. There are four
ambulance trucks, which are referred to as Medics 1, 2, 3,
and 4, and each ambulance truck is staffed with a paramedic
and an EMT. [Id.]. Pursuant to a Roane County
ordinance, Defendant is required, at a minimum, to maintain
on all emergency responses a paramedic and an EMT.
[Id.]. EMTs and paramedics report to the shift
captain. [Id. at 4]. The four ambulance trucks are
stationed at different locations. [Id.].
January 23, 2016, Plaintiff wrote a grievance about an
incident with an EMT, Michael Danner. [Doc. 45-9]. The
grievance stated that on January 21, 2016, Danner asked
Plaintiff why she was complaining to the shift captain about
“them” not cleaning the building. [Id.].
Plaintiff told Danner that she was supposed to report to the
shift captain. [Id.]. Danner jumped up from the
couch, flipped it over, and began yelling at Plaintiff.
[Id.]. Plaintiff wrote that she felt threatened and
scared by Danner's behavior. [Id.]. As a result
of the grievance, Plaintiff testified that she met with
Director Suter. [Doc. 27-2 at 21]. Plaintiff testified that
Director Suter stated, “I don't want you around
Danner, don't work with him, don't look his way,
don't have no contact with him whatsoever; and if this
happens again, you get in your car and you leave.”
[Id.]. Director Suter testified as follows:
Okay. She had a personality conflict with Mike Danner. They
didn't get along; I knew that. So the way our shifts are
set up, if you and I are scheduled on an ambulance as regular
full-time partners, every third day you and I show up at the
same place, work for 24 hours together, and then go home.
That's your regular partner.
Now, if you and I are partners and you call in sick, I may be
assigned a different person to work with for that day for
that 24-hour period. When all of -all of the stuff happened
between Ms. Wallace and Mr. Danner, I told both of them, I
will not assign you as regular partners meaning I won't
assign you to the same shift where you work for 24 hours
together every third day for an extended period of time. But
I made the stipulation. There may be an occasion when you are
asked to run calls together. Is that ok? And they both had
told me, I can do that. We're professionals.
[Doc. 45-5 at 33-34].
December 5, 2016, Plaintiff was at Station House 4 to begin
her shift, which began at 6:45 a.m. [Doc. 27-4 at 5].
Paramedic Jarred Barnett and EMT Danner were also at Station
House 4, and their shift ended at 7:00 a.m. [Id. at
6-7]. Plaintiff was to relieve paramedic Barnett
from his shift, and EMT Pat Murphy was supposed to relieve
EMT Danner from his shift. [Id.]. Director Suter
explained that once a relief shows up, the other person may
leave after the “swap.” [Id. at 5]. He
explained that prior to leaving, the paramedic gives the
oncoming paramedic the narcotic keys, reports whether there
are any mechanical issues, road closures, and any other
information that is pertinent. [Id.].
approximately 7:00 a.m., a call came in regarding a patient
having a seizure. [Doc. 45-12]. Plaintiff's EMT partner,
Murphy, had not arrived when the call came in. [Doc. 45-3 at
11]. When the call came in, Plaintiff was with paramedic
Barnett signing over the narcotics. [Id. at 15].
Plaintiff claims that she was prohibited from making any runs
until that process is complete and that Barnett was still on
duty when the call came in. [Doc. 45-1 at ¶ 7]. Director
Suter explained that Barnett was relieved by Plaintiff. [Doc.
27-4 at 9]. Director Suter explained, “At that point[,
] the paramedic has made their transition. Mr. Barnett was
not obligated to stay there - nor was he obligated to run any
more calls for the shift.” [Id. at 10].
event, according to Plaintiff's deposition testimony, she
told Barnett that he would have to be dispatched, but Barnett
stated that he could not go because his mother-in-law was
having surgery. [Doc. 45-3 at 15]. Barnett said that he would
call the shift captain, John Fisher. [Id.]. Barnett
told Plaintiff that Fisher would take care of it.
[Id. at 15-16]. Plaintiff assumed Fisher took the
call as the paramedic. [Id. at 16-17].
stated that she became concerned because she did not hear
Medic 1 respond to the call. [Id. at 18]. Plaintiff
testified that she called Fisher, who told her to “suck
it up and run the call.” [Id.]. Plaintiff
replied, “Fish, you know that I can't run that call
with Danner, ” and she requested that Barnett go with
her. [Id. at 18-19]. Plaintiff further testified
that Barnett could not go because his mother-in-law was
having surgery. [Id. at 19]. Plaintiff testified,
“I refused to run the call with Danner, yes. I would
run the call with anybody else.” [Id.].
Ultimately, Fisher ran the call. [Id.].
that morning, Fisher texted Plaintiff to go home and he was
sending a truck to Station 4 to relieve her. [Id. at
20]. Plaintiff responded that she did not refuse to run the
call; she refused to run the call with Danner.
[Id.]. She also told Fisher that he did not have the
authority to send her home. [Id.]. Plaintiff then
got into an ambulance truck to take it to Station 1.
[Id.]. Plaintiff claims that it is standard practice
for the oncoming crew to take the ambulance truck to the main
station to turn over the paperwork for the crew that had just
been relieved and to get supplies. [Doc. 45-1 at ¶ 8].
Plaintiff testified during her deposition that she took the
ambulance truck to get supplies and to talk to Director
Suter. [Doc. 45-3 at 21]. Fisher directed Plaintiff to take
the ambulance truck back to Station 4 because another
paramedic was coming in to relieve Plaintiff. [Id.].
Plaintiff took the truck back to Station 4 and later returned
to Station 1 to discuss the matter with Director Suter.
to Plaintiff discussing the matter with Director Suter,
Fisher called Director Suter at approximately 8:13 a.m. [Doc.
27-4 at 18]. Fisher told Director Suter what had occurred
with Plaintiff. [Id.]. Specifically, Fisher reported
that Plaintiff said that she did not have a partner to run
the call. [Id. at 10]. Fisher told Director Suter
that he instructed Plaintiff to run the call with Danner, and
Plaintiff refused to run the call. [Id.]. After the
telephone call with Fisher, Director Suter discussed the
matter with Mayor Woody prior to a staff meeting.
[Id. at 18]. Director Suter testified that he and
Mayor Woody are the only people who have the ability to
terminate an employee. [Id.]. Director Suter
testified that while field captains cannot terminate an
employee, they are permitted to send employees home.
[Id.]. Director Suter stated that Mayor Woody agreed
that Plaintiff's actions were a terminable offense.
the staff meeting, Director Suter went back to his office at
Station 1. [Id. at 19]. Fisher was already there and
again told Director Suter what had occurred. [Id.].
Director Suter stated that Plaintiff also walked into his
office and began “defending herself.”
[Id.]. Director Suter stated that he had not decided
to terminate Plaintiff until he had heard her version of the
events. [Id. at 20].
testified that when she arrived at Station 1, she met with
Director Suter and explained that she did not refuse to take
the call, but instead, she refused to run the call with
Danner because Director Suter previously told her not to work
with Danner. [Doc. 45-3 at 21-22]. Plaintiff further
testified that Director Suter stated, “Well, we're
all grownups here” and asked where Danner was during
the incident. [Id. at 22]. Plaintiff stated that
Danner was asleep and that she was not his keeper and was not
going to wake him up. [Id.]. Director Suter told
Plaintiff that her services were no longer needed and that
she would be lucky if she did not lose her license over the
wrote an incident report that is dated December 5, 2016, and
largely comports with the above facts. [Doc. 45-10].
Specifically, in his incident report, Fisher stated that
Barnett called him to report that Medic 4 had received an
emergency call but Plaintiff's partner had not arrived
yet. [Id.]. Fisher reported that Barnett was leaving
because a family member was having surgery and Barnett was
off duty. [Id.]. Fisher asked if Danner was there,
and Barnett responded that Danner was still there.
[Id.] Fisher told Barnett to send Plaintiff and
Danner on the call. [Id.]. Fisher stated that within
a minute, Plaintiff called him, stating, “Hey Fish, can
you get another unit to run this call? I don't have a
partner?” [Id.]. Plaintiff stated that she
could not work with Danner, and Fisher responded,
“Rhonda, right now I am getting supplies for the units
and Medic 3 just got back. That call is far away from our
area and close to you, please take it.” [Id.].
Plaintiff refused to take the call with Danner, and Fisher
stated, “Rhonda, can you not suck it up for one call
and work with Danner?” [Id.]. Plaintiff told
Fisher to find someone else, so Fisher took the call.
[Id.]. After arriving to the hospital, Fisher texted
Plaintiff that he was relieving her from duty because she
refused to take an emergency call in the area.
[Id.]. Plaintiff responded that she did not refuse
to take a call and that Fisher did not have the authority to
send her home. [Id.].
the incident report states that Fisher called the Medic 3
crew and ordered them to go to the Medic 4 station.
[Id.]. Fisher then heard Plaintiff on the dispatch
stating that she was “en route to midtown.”
[Id.]. Fisher told Medic 3 to stand down because
Medic 4 was heading to midtown and not complying with orders.
[Id.]. Fisher saw Plaintiff at the front of the
ambulance station, and Plaintiff advised him that he did not
have the authority to send her home and that she wanted to
meet with Director Suter. [Id.]. Fisher ordered her
to take her ambulance truck back to Medic 4 station and
advised her that she could return in her personal vehicle.
[Id.]. Plaintiff stated, “No, since we are out
of service[, ] we will just sit here.” [Id.].
Fisher ordered EMT Murphy to take the truck back to Medic 4
station, and EMT Murphy complied. [Id.].
Director Suter completed a Separation Notice [Doc. 27-1 at 1]
on December 9, 2016, explaining that “during paramedic
Wallace's shift, dispatch assigned her ambulance to an
emergency call. Paramedic Wallace refused to respond.”