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Johnson v. Davita, Inc.

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

June 14, 2018




         On May 17, 2017, Plaintiff Michelle Johnson filed a complaint alleging that her former employer, Defendants DaVITA, Inc. and Renal Treatment Centers-Illinois, Inc. (collectively "DaVita"), fired her in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and Michigan's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act ("ELCRA"). On March 19, 2018, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The Court reviewed the briefs and finds that a hearing is unnecessary. For the reasons below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment.


         DaVita employed Plaintiff Michelle Johnson as an RN at its Southfield, MI dialysis center for two years. On July 22, 2016, DaVita terminated Johnson for job abandonment. ECF 22-4, PgID 224.

         Plaintiff's absences began after an incident on July 4, 2016. Johnson called Patient[1] and cancelled the patient's dialysis appointment because Patient was two hours late and the dialyzer had expired. Shortly after the phone call, Patient arrived at DaVita, but Johnson refused to treat Patient because of the dialyzer's expiration. Patient became upset, called Johnson a racist, used obscenities, and knocked against Johnson's shin with her motorized wheelchair ("Incident"). ECF 22-4, PgID 179-80. The physical contact "grazed [Johnson's] shin and left [a] mark" on her leg. Id. at 213; see also ECF 22-8, PgID 273. Patient called the police alleging that Johnson assaulted her. Johnson eventually filed her own police complaint alleging that Patient assaulted her. Johnson also contacted DaVita's personnel hotline and discussed the Incident with Doreen McInnes-Martin, DaVita's People Services Manager. The next day, July 5, Johnson worked at the facility.

         The Incident, however, prompted Johnson to ask DaVita to discontinue treatment of Patient. David Zagacki, DaVita's Facility Administrator, and Jeffrey Daniel, DaVita's Assistant Facility Administrator, sought a compromise by offering either (1) to move Patient to the other side of the building, (2) to suggest Patient visit a different facility, or (3) to adjust Johnson's schedule for days during which Patient would not receive dialysis treatment. Both parties agreed to a compromise. As DaVita understood the compromise, Johnson would work the Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday shift after the completion of her then-current schedule on July 24, 2016. Johnson expressed her hope for that compromise as well, stating "I have told [Daniel] for the next schedule to put me on [the other shift]." ECF 22-4, PgID 221. She hoped the placement would be temporary. Id. DaVita's communication with Johnson-and sometimes its lack of communication- caused her to suffer apparent confusion about her work schedule. Despite the confusion, however, Johnson acknowledged that she was scheduled to work several days when Patient would be in the building, but she "had to miss [work]" those days. Id.

         On July 18, 2016, Lakretia Hartfield, DaVita's Teammate Relations Manager, mailed Johnson a return-to-work letter with clear instructions to attend work on July 20. ECF 22-4, PgID 220. Johnson-confused about the instruction because of the scheduling compromise-texted and called Daniel requesting clarification. Daniel did not return Johnson's communications. And Johnson did not attend work.

         After Johnson's unexcused absences, [2] DaVita terminated Johnson's employment for job abandonment. Johnson contests the action because "DaVita basically discriminated against me because no one had my back. No. one . . . said [Patient] was wrong to me. No. one said anything." ECF 22-4, PgID 203. She further "alleges that she was terminated as a result of Patient making a completely false assertion of racism against her." ECF 24, PgID 322. In sum, according to Johnson, DaVita terminated her after failing to "conduct [an] adequate inquiry into Johnson's concerns, and instead considered race in their approach to these unique facts" by apparently accepting Patient's assertions, placating Patient, and firing Johnson. Id. at 325, 323.

         Notably, DaVita never otherwise disciplined or reprimanded Johnson for the Incident. ECF 22-4, PgID 185. Further, Zagacki challenged Patient's characterization of Johnson as a racist by saying that Johnson "care[d] for 90 percent African American patients and she does a good job and she's passionate about what she does." ECF 22-3, PgID 150. Both Zagacki and Daniel testified that they did not believe Johnson was a racist. Id.; ECF 22-6, PgID 251-52.

         Johnson claims that DaVita terminated her because she is white and brings her claims for reverse race discrimination under Title VII and the ELCRA.


         Summary judgment is proper if there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is material for purposes of summary judgment if its resolution would establish or refute an "essential element[] of a cause of action or defense asserted by the parties[.]" Kendall v. Hoover Co., 751 F.2d 171, 174 (6th Cir. 1984).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Stiles ex rel. D.S. v. Grainger Cty., Tenn., 819 F.3d 834, 848 (6th Cir. 2016). The Court must then determine "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). And although the Court may not make credibility judgments or weigh the evidence, Moran v. Al Basit LLC, 788 F.3d 201, 204 (6th Cir. 2015), a mere "scintilla" of evidence is ...

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