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Bailey v. Oakwood Healthcare, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 23, 2017



          Paul D. Borman, United States District Judge

         This is a workplace discrimination lawsuit filed by Plaintiff Michelle H. Bailey against Defendant Oakwood Healthcare, Inc., which employed Plaintiff as a human resources professional in 2013 and 2014. Plaintiff began working for Defendant in April 2013, went on maternity leave in December 2013, and returned in March 2014 only to be fired the same day. Plaintiff alleges that she suffered discrimination on the basis of her race, her pregnancy, and her age. She also claims that she was fired in retaliation for opposing acts of racial discrimination committed by her supervisor and her department as a whole.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. As discussed in detail below, Plaintiff has put forward enough evidence to raise genuine issues of material fact on some of her claims at the prima facie stage, but she cannot ultimately demonstrate that the reasons proffered by Defendant for her termination were pretextual. For that reason, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.


         A. Factual Background

         1. Plaintiffs Background and Hiring by Defendant

         Plaintiff is an African-American woman. (ECF No. 13, Am. Compl. ¶ 5; ECF No. 38, Def.'s Mot. Ex. 4, Deposition of Michelle Bailey 26:2-3.) She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Organizational Administration, as well as a Graduate Certificate in Human Resources, from Central Michigan University. (Bailey Dep. 165:18-166:2, 167:25-168:2, 168:18-169:18.) At all relevant times she was either 40 or 41 years old. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 17 at 2, Pg ID 838; Bailey Dep. 73:22-23.)

         For nearly 23 years prior to her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff worked for Beaumont Hospital (“Beaumont”).[1] (Bailey Dep. 91:9-11.) Plaintiff began at Beaumont as a transporter, and held a variety of positions during her tenure there until she accepted the position of “HR Administrative Special Support and Projects” in 2011. (Bailey Dep. 90:17-20, 91:12-13, 100:23-101:5.)

         Plaintiff submitted job applications to Defendant on two separate occasions while she worked for Beaumont: first for the position of Senior Compensation Professional in 2011, and then for the position of Senior Staffing Professional in 2013. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 3, 2013 Application; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 26, 2011 Application.) Plaintiff was invited to interview based on the 2013 application, and she interviewed with human resources manager Pandora Walker, among others. (ECF No. 41, Pl.'s Resp. Ex. D, Deposition of Pandora Walker at 224:21-225-2, 253:8-14.) Plaintiff testified that in at least one of the interviews, she told her interviewers that the work history dates on her application could be inaccurate, as she did not have all of the relevant records on hand when she filled it out. (Bailey Dep. 134:11-20.) Plaintiff also testified that she assumed that the background check that would be performed prior to her being hired by Defendant would catch any significant issues or discrepancies, including differences between her 2011 and 2013 applications. (Bailey Dep. 134:23-135:10.) Lastly, Plaintiff testified that no one raised an issue with her about any discrepancies between the resumes after the background check was conducted. (Bailey Dep. 181:11-14.)

         2. Plaintiff's Employment with Defendant: April 2013 to December 2013

         Plaintiff began working for Defendant as a Senior Staffing Professional on April 15, 2013. (Bailey Dep. 11:24-12:1; Walker Dep. 74:4-5.) The responsibilities of this position included recruitment and interviewing of prospective employees, evaluation of candidates for various positions, participation in job fairs and college recruitment efforts, and providing various forms of support to hiring managers as well as Defendant's Human Resources Director. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2, Senior Staffing Professional Job Description.) The group in which Plaintiff worked was responsible for approximately 5000 employees overall, within which there were, on average, 180 open positions at any given time. (Walker Dep. 78:14-81:15.)

         Pandora Walker was Plaintiff's direct superior, as well as the only employee in the department besides Plaintiff who engaged in recruiting. (Walker Dep. 35:7-17; Bailey Dep. 22:1-9, 183:13-14.) Walker, in turn, reported to Director of Human Resources David Squire, and she also reported to Human Resources Administrator Sherry Huffman. (Bailey Dep. 23:19-24, 24:5-14; Walker Dep. 21:1-9, 34:11-18.) Walker is African-American. (Walker Dep. 49:5-6.)

         Another employee in the department, Andrea Hale, held the position of Human Resources Representative, and worked just outside of Plaintiff's office. (Bailey Dep. 25:2-7, 69:16-18.) Hale is Caucasian, and Plaintiff testified that she was “very young” at the time relevant to this lawsuit.[2] (Bailey Dep. 71:25-72:3.)

         Plaintiff testified that Walker “often” referred to Hale in conversations with Plaintiff as a “young whippersnapper.”[3] (Bailey Dep. 79:24-80:1.) In Plaintiff's words, Walker told her “several times that Andrea interviewed for my job, that she wanted my job, and that she was a potential replacement.” (Bailey Dep. 70:3-11.) In her own deposition testimony, Walker denied having said that Plaintiff would be replaced by Hale, that Hale should work in a position similar to Plaintiff's, or that Plaintiff would be fired so that Hale could take her job. (Walker Dep. 368:1-21.) Plaintiff testified that at some point during the summer of 2013, she began to make complaints to Walker regarding Walker's interacting with African-American employees differently than she did with Caucasian employees, and also regarding what Plaintiff perceived to be discriminatory hiring policies employed by the human resources department. (Bailey Dep. 12:7-17:9.)

         Plaintiff and Walker met on August 15, 2013. (Walker Dep. 134:19-23, 141:14-25.) At that meeting, they discussed the performance review that been made for Plaintiff after the end of her 60-day probationary employment period.[4] (Walker Dep. 118:2-12; Pl.'s Resp. Ex. F, EEOC Position Paper at 3, Pg ID 1171; Pl.'s Resp. Ex. J, Performance Review.) It was at this meeting that Plaintiff announced her pregnancy. (Bailey Dep. 73:9-17; Walker Dep. 118:2-12.) At the same meeting, Walker observed that Plaintiff had been coming in late to work, and agreed to adjust Plaintiff's start time from 8:00 AM to 8:30 AM. (Bailey Dep. 75:23-76:10, 77:6-8; Walker Dep. 121:17-24.)

         Plaintiff asserts that after she announced her pregnancy, Walker began to make offensive remarks on the topic. Specifically, Plaintiff testified that Walker told her that she was too old to be having a baby, and that because of this, there would be greater risks of pregnancy complications or that her child would have Down syndrome. (Bailey Dep. 22:24-23:4.) Plaintiff further testified that on several occasions, Walker characterized Plaintiff as having “pregnancy brain” after Plaintiff made a minor mistake. (Bailey Dep. 73:9-74:20.) Plaintiff testified that she complained about these remarks to Walker directly. (Bailey Dep. 23:5-6, 74:21-25.) Plaintiff also testified that after she announced her pregnancy, her workload began to increase substantially, though she also testified that she did not know how much her workload increased compared to that of Walker, whom she acknowledged was the only other employee in her department that was engaged in recruiting. (Bailey Dep. 18:10-16; 22:1-17.)

         At some point thereafter, Walker rejected an African-American candidate that Plaintiff had submitted to her for an open dietary position because he lacked an associate's degree. Plaintiff pointed out to Walker that the position as advertised only required a degree “or equivalent experience.” Walker later identified Plaintiff's recommendation of this candidate as one of Plaintiff's mistakes that was discovered when she was away on maternity leave. (Bailey Dep. 83:6-84:6.)

         In September 2013, Plaintiff's start time was changed from 8:30 AM back to 8:00 AM. (Bailey Dep. 76:22-77:8.) The parties agree on this, but dispute whether it was Plaintiff's decision. (Bailey Dep. 76:19-77:5; Walker Dep. 127:9-128:12.)

         Plaintiff also testified that she was denied the opportunity to work from home, while one or more other employees-including at least one Caucasian employee, as well as Walker herself-were allowed to do so. Specifically, Plaintiff testified that she called in one day and informed Walker that she would need to work at home that day because her son was sick. The next day, Walker approached Plaintiff and informed her that she should not in fact have been working from home, since defendant did not have a work-from-home policy. Plaintiff testified that Walker herself “often” worked from home, and that she had heard from two other employees (including Hale) that a Human Resources representative, who was Caucasian and who worked in a different department, had been allowed to work from home “[f]or a long period” while she was pregnant. Plaintiff did not recall this employee's name. (Bailey Dep. 18:3-21:25.) Plaintiff testified that she was not aware of any policy of Defendant's that allowed employees to work from home on a regular basis. (Bailey Dep. 41:4-9.) Walker testified that employees in the Human Resources Department were not allowed to work from home, that Walker herself had used paid leave whenever she was out of the office, and that besides the incident described above involving Plaintiff's son, Plaintiff never made a request to work from home. (Walker Dep. 386:21-387:21.)

         Plaintiff testified about several other incidents in which she complained to Walker about what she believed to be racially discriminatory conduct committed by Walker in her capacity as a human resources manager. Plaintiffs testimony regarding these incidents can be summarized as follows:

         . Michael

In or around October 2013, Plaintiff became aware of the interview of an applicant named “Michael, ” which was held by a manager of a different department (after the Human Resources department had screened the applicant). The interview was attended not only by the manager but also by another employee of the same department. This was contrary to normal practice. According to a second hiring manager who was not present at the interview, the other employee who was at the interview said that the applicant had given an inappropriate response to a question. The applicant denied to Plaintiff that he had made this response. Plaintiff raised the issue with Walker, who had discretion to recommend a private interview for the applicant, but Walker did not think this was necessary. (Bailey Dep. 44:14-51:3, 188:17-189:8.)

         . Ms. Poole.

In or around October 2013, Walker remarked to Plaintiff that an African-American female applicant named Poole was wearing “men's clothes, ” and that because she was wearing sunglasses she looked like a drug user. (Bailey Dep. 189:14-190:9.) After Ms. Poole's background check came back positive with a criminal history, Ms. Poole explained that she had been unaware that the flagged incidents were on her record, and therefore did not knowingly falsify her resume. She also wrote a letter to Walker detailing the situation, and submitted letters from her mother and her pastor. Despite having an “in-depth discussion” at some point with Ms. Poole, Walker was unpersuaded. (Bailey Dep. 202:20-203:11) Plaintiff protested that this was unfair and that Caucasian applicants had been given the chance to explain apparent falsifications in their resumes. (Bailey Dep. 26:17-30:2.) Walker nevertheless rescinded Ms. Poole's job offer, a decision which Plaintiff opposed. (Bailey Dep. 36:15-17, 60:24-61:5; see also Bailey Dep. 14:6-17:1, 32:10-36:14, 56:3-57:17, 60:23-61:5, 189:9-192:5, 194:20-195:23.)

         . Ms. Bentley.

In or around October 2013, an African-American female applicant named Bentley was hired as a Dietary Assistant. After seeing Ms. Bentley's photograph, Walker stated that Huffman wished to know who had hired her, and remarked that “we don't hire people who look like this.” (Bailey Dep. 35:15-24.) Walker directed Hale to run a background check, which returned a past conviction for “open intoxicants.” (Bailey Dep. 13:8-14:1, 191:23-192:1.) Ms. Bentley explained that she had forgotten about the conviction and it had never turned up in employment background screenings before. (Bailey Dep. 59:18-60:2.) (Plaintiff characterized the conviction at different times in her deposition testimony as 20 years old and 30 years old. (Bailey Dep. 13:11-23, 57:18-22.)) After Plaintiff related Ms. Bentley's response to Walker, Walker directed Plaintiff to rescind her job offer. (Bailey Dep. 36:7-14.) Plaintiff made her opposition to this decision clear to Walker, as well as her opinion that the decision was discriminatory, and initially refused to carry out the order for several days before acquiescing. (Bailey Dep. 59:18-62:7; see also Bailey Dep. 33:24-34:5, 191:23-194:19.)

         . Unidentified Nursing Assistant

In or around November 2013, Plaintiff became aware of a discrepancy in treatment between two new employees-one African-American and one Caucasian-who had been hired around the same time. The African-American new hire, a nursing assistant, was not permitted by Walker to attend her orientation program until she produced her professional certification documents, which Plaintiff had confirmed with the applicant's school had been sent by mail. By contrast, the Caucasian applicant hired for a lab support position was allowed to attend his orientation immediately, despite a delay in the verification of his high school diploma. Plaintiff pointed out this discrepancy and suggested that it was discriminatory, but Walker ignored the question and took no action. (Bailey Dep. 53:15-56:2, 184:23-188:16.)

         For her part, Walker testified that at no point during Plaintiff's employment did she tell Plaintiff to rescind a job offer, since that was not something that Walker had the authority to do. (Walker Dep. 374:22-375:2.) Walker also testified that she and Plaintiff never discussed the topic of race (Walker Dep. 217:2-4), and that at no point did she ever make remarks regarding Plaintiff's age-in general or as it related to Plaintiff's pregnancy (Walker Dep. 117: 2-9, 118:13-16).

         3. Plaintiff's Leave Period and Termination: December 2013 to March 2014

         On December 4, Walker called Plaintiff into her office and confronted her about what Walker stated were continuing punctuality issues on Plaintiff's part. Frustrated at this, at least in part because she felt it was unfair given her advanced pregnancy, Plaintiff moved up a doctor's appointment that had originally been scheduled for the following week to the next day. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. 13, 12/4/13 EMail at 3, Pg ID 827.) The day of that appointment, December 5, was the day that Plaintiff began her maternity leave. (Bailey Dep. 76:22-77:3; Walker Dep. 74:2-10.) Plaintiff first provided Defendant with a note from her doctor stating that she needed two weeks off due to “pregnancy complications.” ...

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