United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
LORETTA C. BIGGS, DISTRICT JUDGE.
appearing pro se, initiated this action in Guilford County
Superior Court on August 22, 2017, against her former
employer, RHA Health Services, Inc. (“RHA”),
alleging wrongful termination based on age discrimination in
violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
(“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 623, and disability
discrimination in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12112.
(ECF No. 1-2 at 1-6.) Defendant removed the case to this
Court on September 21, 2017, (ECF No. 1), and Plaintiff's
age discrimination claim was dismissed by Order of this Court
on July 27, 2018, (ECF No. 18). Before the Court are
Plaintiff's and Defendant's cross-motions for summary
judgment related to Plaintiff's sole remaining claim of
wrongful termination based on disability discrimination. (ECF
Nos. 22, 27.) For the reasons set forth below,
Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted
and Plaintiff's motion will be denied.
operates a network of group homes for people with
intellectual, physical, and developmental disabilities
throughout North Carolina and the Southeast. (ECF No. 23-1
¶ 2.) Plaintiff was hired by RHA on January 11, 2016 to
serve as a Qualified Professional (“QP”).
(Id. ¶ 4.) As a QP, Plaintiff was tasked with
ensuring the four group homes under her management
“complied with health department regulations, . . .
preparing the homes for compliance inspections, and ensuring
that the residents' basic needs, including clothing,
food, and transportation, were adequately provided.”
(Id. ¶¶ 4, 5.)
about March 1, 2016, while Plaintiff was still completing her
training, she was excused from work for a skin rash.
(Id. ¶ 6.) Although she was initially diagnosed
with scabies, Plaintiff was later diagnosed with chickenpox.
(ECF No. 23-12 at 7, 13.) She was admitted to Wake Forest
Baptist Medical Center for a total of twenty-two days, from
March 4-14 and March 17-29. (ECF Nos. 23-5, 23-7.) Upon her
discharge on March 29, 2016, her treating physician
instructed her to “remain out of work until evaluated
by her Primary Care Provider within the next 7 business
days.” (ECF No. 23-7.) On April 6, Plaintiff's
primary care physician instructed her to remain out of work
until April 18, 2016. (ECF No. 23-8; ECF No. 23-12 at 17.)
March and April, during the period when Plaintiff was
experiencing her health problems, she kept RHA informed about
her condition and potential return dates. (See ECF
No. 23-12 at 7, 10-11; ECF No. 23-1 ¶ 9; ECF No. 28-1 at
1.) During this time, Plaintiff was on “unprotected
medical leave” from RHA, because she was not eligible
for protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”). (ECF No. 23-1 ¶ 7; ECF No. 23- 4.)
Further, although Plaintiff's responsibilities were
generally being covered by one or two other QP's,
“the group homes Plaintiff had been hired to oversee
struggled throughout Plaintiff's month-long
absence.” (ECF No. 23-1 ¶ 8.) On April 5, after
one of the group homes Plaintiff was assigned failed a
“mock survey” by the RHA Quality Assurance team,
“RHA's HR department made the decision . . . that
it needed to fill Plaintiff's position.”
(Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) RHA terminated Plaintiff the
next day. (ECF No. 28-7.)
the parties now move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's
remaining claim of wrongful termination based on disability
discrimination. (ECF Nos. 22, 27.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that
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 dispute is “genuine” if the
evidence would permit a reasonable jury to find for the
nonmoving party, and “[a] fact is material if it might
affect the outcome” of the litigation. Jacobs v.
N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568 (4th
Cir. 2015). The role of the court is not “to weigh the
evidence and determine the truth of the matter” but
rather “to determine whether there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). When reviewing a motion for summary
judgment, the court must view the evidence and “resolve
all factual disputes and any competing, rational inferences
in the light most favorable” to the nonmoving party.
Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir.
2003) (quoting Wightman v. Springfield Terminal Ry.
Co., 100 F.3d 228, 230 (1st Cir. 1996)).
cases where the nonmovant will bear the burden of proof at
trial, the party seeking summary judgment bears the initial
burden of “pointing out to the district court . . .
that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving
party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the moving party carries this
burden, then the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to
point out “specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)
(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (emphasis omitted)). In so doing,
“the nonmoving party must rely on more than conclusory
allegations, mere speculation, the building of one inference
upon another, or the mere existence of a scintilla of
evidence.” Dash v. Mayweather, 731 F.3d 303,
311 (4th Cir. 2013). The nonmoving party must support its
assertions by “citing to particular parts of materials
in the record, ” or by “showing that the
materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a
genuine dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); see
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The judicial inquiry on
summary judgment “thus scrutinizes the plaintiff's
case to determine whether the plaintiff has proffered
sufficient proof, in the form of admissible evidence, that
could carry the burden of proof of his claim at trial.”
Mitchell v. Data Gen. Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1316 (4th
Cir. 1993). Where, as in this case, the Court has before it
cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court reviews each of
them separately to determine if either party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Rossignol, 316 F.3d at
discrimination may be proven through direct and indirect
evidence or through the McDonnell
Douglas burden-shifting framework.”
Jacobs, 780 F.3d at 572 (footnote added). Plaintiff
does not contend, nor does she appear to point to any direct
or indirect evidence of discrimination based on her
chickenpox. (See ECF No. 28.) Therefore, the Court
will examine Plaintiff's claim under the McDonnell
Douglas framework. See Evans v. Techs. Applications
& Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 959 (4th Cir. 1996)
(explaining that in the absence of direct evidence of
discrimination, for plaintiff “to prevail then it must
be by using the proof scheme established in McDonnell
the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, the
plaintiff has the initial burden of proving, by a
preponderance of the evidence, a prima facie case of
discrimination. Ennis v. Nat'l Ass'n of Bus.
& Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 58 (4th Cir. 1995).
If the plaintiff succeeds, “the burden shifts to the
defendant to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory
explanation which, if believed by the trier of fact, would
support a finding that unlawful discrimination was not the
cause of the employment action.” Id. Should
the defendant satisfy its burden of production, the plaintiff
has the final burden to persuade the factfinder that
“the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were
not its true reasons but were a pretext for
discrimination.” Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v.
Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981).
establish a prima facie case for wrongful termination based
on disability discrimination, a plaintiff must show
“(1) that she has a disability, (2) that she is a
‘qualified individual' for the employment in
question, and (3) that [her employer] discharged her (or took
other adverse employment action) because of her
disability.” Jacobs, 780 F.3d at 572
(alteration in original) (quoting EEOC v. Stowe-Pharr
Mills, Inc., 216 F.3d 373, 377 (4th Cir. 2000)). The
burden of establishing a prima ...