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Wallace v. Roane County Ems-Ambulance Service

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

August 9, 2019

RHONDA R. WALLACE, Plaintiff,
v.
ROANE COUNTY EMS-AMBULANCE SERVICE, an agency of ROANE COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

         This 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].

         Now 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The 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 noted.[1]

         Plaintiff began working for Defendant again in 2013 as a part-time paramedic. [Doc. 27-2 at 3].[2] 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.].

         On 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].[3] 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].

         On 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].[4] 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.].

         At 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].

         In any 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].

         Plaintiff 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.].

         Later 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. [Id.].

         Prior 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. [Id.].

         After 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].

         Plaintiff 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 incident. [Id.].

         Fisher 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.].

         Further, 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.].

         Finally, 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.” [Id.].

         II. ...


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