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Cotton v. Beaumont Health

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

August 31, 2017




         Plaintiff Morris Cotton commenced this employment discrimination suit in this Court on June 16, 2016, asserting claims of race and age discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment against his employer, Defendant Beaumont Health (“Beaumont”), [1] and two individual executives employed by Beaumont, Defendants Kelly Smith and Sherry Huffman. In support of these claims, Plaintiff alleges that he was denied two promotions on account of his race or age, and that Defendants retaliated against him and created a hostile work environment after he filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) complaining of race and age discrimination. This Court's jurisdiction rests upon Plaintiff's assertion of claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         Through the present motion filed on April 28, 2017, Defendants now seek an award of summary judgment in their favor as to each of the claims asserted in Plaintiff's complaint. In support of this motion, Defendants first contend that Plaintiff's claims of race and age discrimination were not timely brought within the 300-day period of limitation governing these claims. Alternatively, Defendants maintain (i) that Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of race or age discrimination, and (ii) that the evidence produced by Plaintiff is insufficient as a matter of law to show that Defendants' stated reasons for denying Plaintiff the promotions at issue were a pretext for unlawful discrimination on account of Plaintiff's race or age. As for Plaintiff's claims of retaliation, Defendants argue (i) that the individual Defendants are not subject to liability under Title VII or the ADEA for any allegedly retaliatory conduct, (ii) that Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his claims of retaliation, and (iii) that Plaintiff has failed to establish one or more of the elements of a prima facie case of retaliation.

         Defendants' motion has been fully briefed by the parties, and on August 16, 2017, the Court heard oral argument on this motion. For the reasons stated more fully below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion in its entirety.

         I. FACTS

         In July of 2007, at the age of 49, Plaintiff Morris Cotton began his employment with Defendant Beaumont, working as the Director of Security at the Oakwood Hospital and Medical Center in Dearborn, Michigan (“Oakwood Dearborn”). Plaintiff has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a master's degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in technology, and he is board certified in homeland security and as a law enforcement administrator. Prior to his employment with Beaumont, Plaintiff worked as a security director at St. John's Hospital, a patrol officer at the Oakland County Sheriff's Department, and a law enforcement officer for the Highland Park Police Department, where he achieved the rank of lieutenant over a 25-year career.

         The parties agree that Plaintiff performed well as Oakwood Dearborn's Director of Security. He was chosen to attend leadership academies, and he received positive yearly performance appraisals. Throughout his career as a Beaumont employee, Plaintiff has received numerous awards and has been recognized for a number of achievements.

         A. Plaintiff's Application for the Position of Administrator, Support Operations

         The first instance of alleged discrimination identified in Plaintiff's complaint arose from his application in July of 2013 for the newly created position of Administrator, Support Operations. As stated in the job description for this position, the Administrator, Support Operations was expected to “oversee daily operational functions throughout” Oakwood Dearborn, including the activities of eight departments at the facility. (Defendants' Motion, Ex. 2, Job Description for Administrator, Support Operations.)

         Plaintiff was one of 63 individuals who applied for this position. He and twelve other applicants were “strongly considered” for the position, and he and four external candidates were interviewed. (Defendants' Motion, Ex. 3, Huffman Decl. at ¶¶ 4-5.) Following these interviews, James Benko (an Asian male, age 41) and Patricia Adams (an African-American female, age unknown) were selected as the final two candidates, and the position was offered to Mr. Benko. Although Mr. Benko accepted the position, Beaumont rescinded its offer when he failed to pass the required background check. Beaumont then contacted Ms. Adams to determine whether she was still interested in the position, but she informed Beaumont that she had accepted another position.

         According to Defendant Sherry Huffman, the vice president of human resources at Oakwood Dearborn, Beaumont's interview panel determined that none of the remaining candidates (including Plaintiff) was “sufficiently qualified for the position, ” so the posting for the position of Administrator, Support Operations was cancelled. (Id. at ¶ 12.) By letter dated October 7, 2013, Plaintiff was informed of this cancelled job posting. (See Defendants' Motion, Ex. 13, 10/7/2013 Letter.)

         B. Plaintiff's Application for the Position of Director, Support Operations

         The next instance of alleged discrimination identified in Plaintiff's complaint concerns his July 2014 application for the newly created position of Director, Support Operations. According to Ms. Huffman, this position was “more tailored to [Plaintiff's] background, ” because it entailed overseeing the daily functioning of five departments, rather than eight, and because three of these five departments were supervised by outside contractors, so that Plaintiff's “lack of experience in those areas was not a hindrance to his selection for this position.” (Huffman Decl. at ¶¶ 14-17.)

         Oakwood Dearborn received 37 applications for the position of Director, Support Operations, and Plaintiff and three other applicants were considered. Plaintiff was selected for the position and offered an annual salary of $109, 200, reflecting an eight percent increase over his current salary. (See Id. at ¶ 21.) In response, Plaintiff requested a salary increase of between $30, 000 and $35, 000, as well as eligibility for bonuses. (Id.; see also Defendants' Motion, Ex. 1, Plaintiff's Dep. at 73-74, 84.) In Defendants' view, however, Plaintiff's salary and bonus demands were more consistent with an administrator-level position than the position of director, and Oakwood Dearborn therefore declined to meet these demands. (See Huffman Decl. at ¶ 21.) In addition, Plaintiff was informed that as Director, Support Operations, he would still have to perform all of his existing duties as Director of Security, and that he would not be allowed to hire someone to fill his existing position. (See Plaintiff's Dep. at 84.) In light of what he was told, Plaintiff turned down the offer, and the position of Director, Support Operations was cancelled. (Id.; see also Huffman Decl. at ¶¶ 22-23.)

         C. Beaumont's Expansion of Its Contract with Non-Party Crothall Facilities Management

         In 2003, Defendant Oakwood Healthcare entered into an agreement with non-party Crothall Facilities Management, Inc. (“Crothall”) to provide plant operations and maintenance services at Oakwood's facilities. This contract was amended over the years to expand Crothall's role, including an amendment in February of 2015 after Defendant Oakwood joined with Defendant Beaumont Health Systems and other health care institutions to form Defendant Beaumont Health. In connection with this contract amendment, Chris Soop was promoted to the position of General Manager for Crothall, and he was assigned the responsibilities of “oversee[ing] the daily operations and strategic planning” for six departments at Oakwood Dearborn, including Security. (Defendants' Motion, Ex. 18, 2/11/2015 Smith Memo; see also Defendants' Motion, Ex. 17, Soop Decl. at ¶¶ 6-7.) According to Plaintiff's complaint, the General Manager position held by Mr. Soop following his promotion encompassed the “same duties” set forth in the job descriptions for the two positions previously sought by Plaintiff - i.e., Administrator, Support Operations and Director, Support Operations. (First Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 40- 41; see also Plaintiff's Dep. at 104-05.)[2]

         Plaintiff testified at his deposition that he learned of Mr. Soop's promotion and additional duties at a January 19, 2015 meeting with his supervisor, Matt Legault. (See Plaintiff's Dep. at 98, 101-02.) In particular, Plaintiff was told that he would no longer report to Mr. Legault, and that he instead would report directly to Mr. Soop in his new role as General Manager. (See Id. at 102, 104-05; see also First Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 40-41.) In addition, Defendant Kelly Smith, the division president of Oakwood Dearborn, issued a February 11, 2015 memo to the hospital's leadership team, including Plaintiff, announcing that Mr. Soop had accepted the position of General Manager and outlining his responsibilities in this position. (See Defendants' Motion, Ex. 18, 2/11/2015 Smith Memo.) Plaintiff testified that this position was not posted within Oakwood Dearborn, nor was he given an opportunity to apply for the position awarded to Mr. Soop. (See Plaintiff's Dep. at 105-06, 110-12.)

         D. Beaumont's Creation of the Position of System Director, Security

         After Defendants Beaumont Health Systems and Oakwood Healthcare, along with other health care institutions, affiliated in September of 2014 to form Defendant Beaumont Health, this newly formed entity “worked to achieve efficiencies resulting from the affiliation, including modifying staffing to eliminate duplicative positions among its approximately 35, 000 employees and, where possible, finding new positions for the employees displaced as a result of the reorganization.” (Defendants' Motion, Ex. 19, Woolsey Decl. at ¶ 6.) As part of this effort, Beaumont created the position of System Director, Security, with the “responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of . . . patients, visitors, staff, physicians and property” throughout Beaumont's eight acute care hospitals and other health care facilities. (Id. at ¶¶ 6-8.) Plaintiff was considered for this position, along with two other individuals, Michael Geldmacher and Christopher Hengstebeck, who served as the directors of security for Botsford Hospital and Beaumont Health System prior to the formation of Beaumont Health. (See Id. at ¶¶ 9, 17, 19.)

         On January 30, 2015, each of these three candidates met with an eight-member interview panel. (See Id. at ¶¶ 10-11.) At the conclusion of this process, Mr. Hengstebeck and Plaintiff were “identified as the preferred candidates, in that order, ” and Mr. Hengstebeck was awarded the position of System Director, Security. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-13.)[3]Plaintiff also was given a promotion, however, to the position of Deputy System Director, Security, and he received a ten percent salary increase. (Id. at ¶¶ 13, 15; see also Plaintiff's Dep. at 126-27.) Plaintiff testified that he was informed on February 17, 2015 of the decision to select Mr. Hengstebeck over him for the position of System Director, Security. (See Id. at 128.)

         E. Plaintiff's Filing of a Charge of ...

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