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Williams v. Beaumont Health System

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

August 26, 2019


          Mona K. Majzoub Magistrate Judge.


          Victoria A. Roberts United States District Judge.


         Teoka Williams-formerly a nurse at Beaumont's Dearborn hospital-reported to her supervisor, Crystal Kopriva, that she overheard her patient tell someone on the phone, “I do not want that black bitch taking care of me.” Another nurse overheard the remark. Kopriva spoke to the patient. Williams says she overheard the patient make a similar remark to Kopriva. Within moments, Kopriva reassigned Williams and replaced her with a white nurse.

         Williams says that, through this reassignment, Beaumont Health System (“Beaumont”) engaged in race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

         Beaumont seeks summary judgment; it says Williams fails to present sufficient evidence of both intentional discrimination and damages. Oral argument was heard on August 14, 2019.

         On this record, a reasonable jury could conclude that the “black bitch” comments, of which Kopriva was aware, constitute direct evidence of discrimination; a jury could find Kopriva's knowledge of the statements was contemporaneous with Williams' reassignment or causally related to the adverse action decision making process.

         The Court DENIES summary judgment.

         II. FACTS

         Williams was employed by Beaumont as a registered nurse. On November 1, 2017, Williams began her shift at 11:30 pm; she was responsible for caring for six patients during her shift, including the “Patient.” At approximately 4:48 am, Williams responded to the Patient's request for assistance. According to Williams, the Patient needed help going to the bathroom. Williams says the Patient lost her footing as she rose from her bed. Williams says that she “gently but quickly grabbed the Patient to prevent her from falling”; the Patient allegedly then told Williams not to touch her and requested a new nurse. The Patient also allegedly told Williams to get her supervisor, Crystal Kopriva.

         Williams says she left the Patient's room but overheard a phone call that the Patient began while she was still in the room. Williams says that, as she stood outside the Patient's room, she heard the Patient tell someone that she did not want that “black bitch” taking care of her. Williams says her co-worker, Shakina Kalonda, also heard the Patient's “black bitch” comment. After overhearing the Patient's statement, Williams went to find Kopriva; Williams told Kopriva about the “black bitch” comment. Kopriva admits as much.

         Williams says that Kopriva then spoke to the Patient; Williams says that-standing outside the Patient's room-she heard the Patient tell Kopriva that she did not want a black nurse. Williams says Shakina Kalonda heard this statement as well. Once Kopriva finished with the Patient, she and Williams had a conversation; Williams says that Kopriva told her that the Patient “didn't say anything bad about [her].” Nonetheless, Kopriva decided to remove Williams from caring for the Patient, assigning Olivia Moylan, a white woman, to the Patient instead. Moylan and Kopriva were then responsible for administering any medication that the Patient needed. Williams says Kopriva chose Moylan over another black nurse working on the floor that evening.

         Williams says her shift ended at 8:00 am on the morning of November 2; but she did not get off work until 8:30 am. Williams ran into Kelley Fildew, a Human Resources Representative, when leaving work; Williams told Fildew what happened with the Patient. Fildew told Williams to email her the relevant information. Williams emailed Fildew on November 3, stating, in relevant part, that the Patient said she didn't want a “black bitch” taking care of her, and that the Patient never gave Kopriva a reason “why she no-longer[sic] wanted me as her nurse.”

         After receiving Williams' email, Fildew contacted the Clinical Manager responsible for the Patient's unit, Toni Ward, and asked her to investigate the incident. Beaumont says that Ward talked to Kopriva twice and talked to Olivia Moylan. Beaumont also says that Ward met with the Patient, who told Ward that “she felt [Williams] had been a little rough with her when she was trying to get out of bed to go to the bathroom”; Beaumont says that “the Patient said nothing to Ward about having an issue with Plaintiff's race.” However, Williams contends that the Patient was never asked whether she made a request based on race, or whether she referred to Williams as a “black bitch.” [ECF No. 31, PageID.566].

         Williams and Fildew had already scheduled a meeting for reasons unrelated to the alleged race discrimination; Fildew informed Williams that they would discuss the alleged discrimination at that previously scheduled meeting.

         Williams met with Human Resources on November 8, 2017. Williams says that she was told “patients have the right to refuse care for whatever reason”; she says she was also told that “a patient requesting care based on race is no different from a Middle Eastern female patient requesting not to have a male as her nurse.” To that point, Williams alleges that “Fildew admitted nobody said patient requests based on race are not honored by Defendant.” It is undisputed that Beaumont does not have a policy on what to do when a patient requests care based on the race of the caregiver. [ECF No. 31-6, PageID.606].

         Additionally, Fildew's meeting notes-dated November 8, 2017-explicitly state that “Teoka stated that the patient in 881-bed #2 stated she didn't want her to be her nurse because she was black . . . Teoka stated as she left the room the patient stated she ‘didn't want a Black Bitch to be my RN.'” [ECF No. 31-11, PageID.631].

         Notably, Williams created a series of “progress notes” documenting her relevant interactions with the Patient. Williams' first relevant progress note was entered at 4:48 am on November 2; she noted, in pertinent part, that she attempted to help the Patient get to the bathroom and that the Patient yelled “I want a different nurse.” Williams also noted that she “requested charge nurse to speak with the pt. Per charge nurse, pt did not give a reason why she no longer wanted assigned nurse to continue caring for her.”

         Williams made another entry at 5:02 am. Here she said that she was “now removed from caring for patient by assistant manager. Advised not to enter room anymore.”

         Finally, at 5:35 am, Williams entered a note-apparently documenting an incident that occurred at 5:10 am-stating that “Pt can be heard from the hallway, ‘I do not want that black bitch taking care of me.'”

         Beaumont says that Williams' progress notes-when examined alongside her oral timeline of events-demonstrate an inconsistency that is insurmountable; it says she cannot provide reliable, consistent evidence that Beaumont had discriminatory intent when it reassigned her. Responding, Williams says that although the times of the progress notes are a “little off, ” they are an accurate representation of what happened that night; she ...

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