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Jackson v. Woodward Hills Joint Venture

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

June 11, 2018

Joanne Jackson, Plaintiff,
Woodward Hills Joint Venture, et al., Defendants.

          Anthony P. Patti U.S. Magistrate Judge


          Arthur J. Tarnow Senior United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [39] filed on December 15, 2017. Plaintiff did not file a response to Defendants' Motion. On May 7, 2018, the Court held a hearing on the Motion at which it gave the parties the opportunity to submit additional briefing. Plaintiff filed an untimely Affidavit [51] in lieu of a brief. Defendants filed a Reply [54] on May 29, 2018. For the reasons stated below, and incorporating the reasons stated on the record, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [39] and DISMISSES the case.

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff Joanne Jackson is a 61-year-old African American woman who began working for Defendant Woodward Hills Joint Venture (“Woodward Hills”)[1] as a Licensed Practical Nurse (“LPN”) in September 2000. Woodward Hills is a nursing center in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan that provides specialized, full-time care to its residents.

         An employee, who is alleged to have violated a Woodward Hills policy, is issued a Corrective Action Record (“CAR”) that describes the incident. The CAR, which the employee is asked to sign, acknowledges that the employee has discussed the record of her conduct with her supervisor and that lack of improvement may result in termination. Before terminating an employee for misconduct, Woodward Hills typically issues four disciplinary warnings.

         In September 2013, Woodward Hills hired Defendant Elizabeth McClellan as its Director of Nursing (“DON”). As the DON, McClellan became Jackson's supervisor. McClellan wanted to “start anew with the employees and judge their work based on her own observations.” McClellan Decl. Ex. 3, ¶ 8.

         Prior to 2013, Jackson, like other LPNs at Woodward Hills, had been disciplined several times for misconduct. Pl. Dep. 58:24-25, July 26, 2017.

         On December 30, 2014, an incident occurred in which three nurses, at least two of whom were white, attempted to assist a patient who was in pain and having difficulty on the toilet. Jackson, apparently troubled with the nurses' treatment plan, testified that she told the nurses that they “should be ashamed” and that it was “scary” that they did know what they were doing. Pl. Dep. 110:7-15. Jackson also stated that she discussed the incident with McClellan. Id. at 109:15; Pl. Decl., ¶ 10.

         After interviewing the three other nurses - Ashley, Raylene, and Nicole - on December 31, 2014, McClellan determined that Jackson had disrespected her co-workers by commenting negatively about their performance in front of others, including patients and their families. McClellan Decl., ¶ 13. On January 5, 2015, McClellan took her first disciplinary action against Jackson for rude or uncivil behavior regarding her conduct on December 30, 2014. Jackson signed the CAR, acknowledging her receipt of the written warning, but noting that she “gave her co-workers respect” and was “sorry that they took it the wrong way.” Ex. 8.

         On July 7, 2015, Jackson received a second disciplinary write-up for insubordination and/or refusal to follow the instructions of her immediate supervisor, Lindsay Phillips. Notes attached to the CAR indicate that Jackson raised concerns about Phillips' favoritism for white employees over black employees. Jackson refused to sign the CAR acknowledging that she discussed the record of her conduct with Phillips. Ex. 9.

         Jackson testified that sometime in July 2015, other employees told her that Woodward Hills was trying to “clean house” to “get[] rid of all the old nurses” and was falsifying disciplinary documents to that end. Pl. Dep. 55:23; 56:5-10. Jackson stated that, in August 2015, she complained to McClellan about discriminatory treatment. Pl. Decl., ¶¶ 13.

         On December 1, 2015, Jackson received a third disciplinary write-up for rude or uncivil behavior. The CAR provides in pertinent part:

After reviewing your personnel file, there are numerous examples of inappropriate actions and words said to your residents. We need you to be more professional, compassionate and meet your resident's needs in a timely manner. We need to see you learning from these corrective actions and not letting these situations happen again.

         Again, Jackson refused to sign the CAR. Ex. 10.

         On December 10, 2015, Jackson filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against Woodward Hills alleging that, since August 2015, she had received several write-ups from the DON and had been recently assigned a schedule change without notice. Jackson indicated that she believed she had been subjected to discriminatory disciplinary actions based on her race and age. Ex. 12. Jackson testified that she “[n]ever had a problem, for 16 years, so that gave [her] a good indication” that Woodward Hills was harassing her. Pl. Dep. 199:12-14.

         On December 22, 2015, Jackson received a fourth, and final, disciplinary warning for carelessness in performance, misrepresentation to the facility, falsifying resident records, and interfering with the work performance of other staff. Again, Jackson refused to sign the CAR. Ex. 13. The final warning required that she complete eLearning Modules within two weeks or face possible termination. Jackson testified that she knew she had to complete the eLearning Modules within two weeks, but still failed to do so. Pl. Dep. 317:19-23; 332:1-3.

         On January 25, 2016, Jackson was suspended. The events that preceded her suspension are disputed. Jackson testified that at the start of her shift on that date, she “complained to [the] midnight supervisor to take [her] off the set” and asked to not work the set. Pl. Dep. 279:11-14; 280:8-9. Jackson's shift supervisor, Teddy, called McClellan about ...

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