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Jefferies v. UNC Regional Physicians Pediatrics

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

August 14, 2019




         This is an employment discrimination action by Plaintiff Shannon Jefferies, proceeding pro se. Jefferies's sole remaining claim is one of retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”) because UNC Regional Physicians Pediatrics (“Regional”) terminated her employment. Before the court is Regional's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 22.) The motion is fully briefed and ready for decision. For the reasons discussed below, Regional's motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Viewed in the light most favorable to Jefferies as the nonmoving party, the facts reflect the following:

         Jefferies is a black woman who worked as a Certified Medical Assistant (“CMA”) at Regional from September 2014 to June 19, 2017. (Doc. 5-1 at 1.) During the summer of 2016, Cornerstone Healthcare (“Cornerstone”), Jefferies's former employer, merged with Regional, resulting in tension between the two staffs. (Doc. 23-1 at 2-3; Doc. 23-3 at 3.)

         Under the attendance policy at Regional, employees were disciplined after the occurrence of a specific No. of unscheduled absences and tardies, with each tardy counting as half an occurrence. (Doc. 23-1 at 3.) After three occurrences, employees received an oral reminder. (Id. at 18). After five occurrences, employees received a written reminder. (Id.) After six occurrences, employees received a final reminder. (Id.) And after seven occurrences, employees would be terminated. (Id.) In January 2017, Regional's Practice Manager, Eric Welch, who was Jefferies's immediate supervisor, gave all employees a “clean slate” with respect to attendance, meaning that each employee began 2017 with zero occurrences. (Doc. 23-1 at 4; Doc. 23-2 ¶ 6.)

         Between January and June 2017, Jefferies received several disciplinary actions from Welch. On March 20, 2017, Welch issued Jefferies an oral reminder based on three unscheduled absences, which Jefferies signed on March 21, 2017. (Doc. 23-1 ¶ 15; Doc. 25-7 at 2.) Jefferies later became suspicious that Welch was not equally enforcing the attendance policy against former Cornerstone employees and complained to Welch's supervisor, Becca Wohlgemuth. (Doc. 23-7 at 2.) During this time Allison Skeen, CMA, who is white, informed Jefferies that she had also received an oral reminder for attendance policy violations. (Doc. 23-4 at 29.)

         On May 11, 2017, Welch issued Jefferies a second oral reminder based on complaints from coworkers and a patient's mother. (Doc. 23-1 ¶ 16; Doc. 23-2 at 8.) The coworkers had complained that Jefferies had slammed down a clipboard at the registration desk and stated that “someone was ‘being a bitch.'” (Doc. 23-2 at 8-9.) On May 10, 2017, a patient's mother told an office manager that she had an exchange with Jefferies that was “very inappropriate” when Jefferies accused her of “[having] an attitude problem this morning” and Jefferies “was rude to her the rest of the visit and just made her feel uncomfortable.”[1] (Doc. 23-2 at 8-10; Doc. 25-12 at 4.) Welch signed the oral reminder on May 23, 2017, but Jefferies refused to sign and instead submitted two written rebuttals disputing the accuracy of these complaints.[2](Doc. 23-1 ¶¶ 16-17; Doc. 23-2 at 11-15.) Later that day, Jefferies emailed Welch and Wohlgemuth stating that she felt she was “being singled out” and “targeted” due to her race, ethnicity, internal complaints about the attendance policy, and past issues with Cornerstone staff. (Doc. 23-1 ¶ 19: Doc. 23-2 at 17; Doc 25-13 at 2.)

         On May 24, 2017, Jefferies was contacted by Paul Earring of Regional's Human Resources department in response to her May 23 email. (Doc. 25 at 9.)[3] On June 13, 2017, Jefferies requested and received permission for a scheduled tardy for the morning of June 19, 2017, due to a “family issue” involving her son. (Doc. 23-2 at 30.) During this scheduled tardy, Jefferies filed an EEOC charge stating that she was the only CMA being held to the attendance standards and that she had been discriminated against “due to [her] race (Black) and in retaliation for [her] complaint of being singled out due to my race in violation of Title VII.” (Doc. 25-18 at 2.)

         When Jefferies returned to the office on June 19, 2017, she was immediately terminated by Wohlgemuth. (Doc. 23-3 ¶ 22.) Wohlgemuth told Jefferies she was being terminated based on emails Wohlgemuth had received from other employees alleging that Jefferies violated company policy. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 15-18, 22; Doc. 25-18 at 5.) These emails described Jefferies rummaging through a coworker's drawer, retrieving personal information (including a coworker's disciplinary action), and sharing it with other employees in violation of both Regional's employee code of conduct and its confidentiality policy. (Doc. 23-3 ¶¶ 12, 15-17; Doc. 25-22 at 4; Doc. 23-1 at 14-15; Doc. 23-2 at 34.) There is no indication in the record that Wohlgemuth knew that Jefferies had filed an EEOC charge; to the contrary, Wohlgemuth states in her affidavit that she was not aware that Jefferies had filed or planned to file a charge with the EEOC at the time she made the decision to terminate Jefferies's employment. (Doc. 23-3 ¶ 25.)

         On June 20, 2017, Jefferies filed a second EEOC charge claiming she was terminated in retaliation for having filed the previous EEOC charge. (Doc. 25-18 at 5.)

         On March 5, 2018, Jefferies filed this lawsuit against Regional in the General Court of Justice, Guilford County, District Court Division-Small Claims court. (Doc. 1-1.) Regional timely removed the action to this court based on federal question jurisdiction. (Doc. 1.) Regional then moved to dismiss the complaint, and the court granted the motion as to all claims against Welch and all claims against Regional except for Jefferies's retaliation claim now before the court. (Doc. 7; Doc. 11.) The court issued Jefferies a Roseboro letter, [4] notifying her of her obligation to respond, her ability to file evidence in support of her claim, and the consequence of likely judgment in favor of the Defendant for failure to do so. (Doc. 24.) Jefferies has filed a response with multiple attachments. (Doc. 25.) The motion is therefore ready for decision.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate where evidence in the record “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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323- 25 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In a motion for summary judgment the moving party satisfies its burden by showing an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Id. at 325.

         In analyzing a summary judgment motion, the court “tak[es] the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Henry v. Purnell,652 F.3d 524, 531 (4th Cir. 2011) (en banc). In other words, the nonmoving “party is entitled ‘to have the credibility of his evidence as forecast assumed, his version of all that is in dispute accepted, [and] all internal conflicts in it resolved favorably to him.'” Miller v. Leathers,913 F.2d 1085, 1087 (4th Cir. 1990) (en banc) (brackets in original) (quoting Charbonnages de France v. Smith,597 F.2d 406, 414 (4th Cir. 1979)). If, applying this standard, the court “find[s] that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for ...

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