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Collier v. Dallas County Hospital District

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

June 6, 2019




         In this employment discrimination action in which plaintiff alleges claims for race discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (“TCHRA”), [1] Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 21.001, et seq. (West 2015), Defendant Dallas County Hospital District d/b/a Parkland Health & Hospital System (“Parkland”) moves for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the court grants Parkland's motion and dismisses this action by judgment filed today.


         Plaintiff Robert Collier (“Collier”), who is African American, was employed at Parkland Memorial Hospital[2] as an Operating Room Aide (“ORA”) from January 5, 2009 through July 12, 2016.[3] As an ORA, Collier was subject to Parkland's Time and Attendance Corrective Action Guidelines (“Attendance Guidelines”), which address employee violations of its Standards of Attendance Policy (“Attendance Policy”). Under the Attendance Guidelines, an employee incurs a preset number of points for each unscheduled absence, unapproved absence, incomplete shift, or tardiness. The Attendance Guidelines also prescribe the type of corrective action to be taken-verbal warning, written warning, final warning, and termination-based on the amount of points the employee has incurred during the previous rolling 12-month period. During his employment, Collier was also subject to Parkland's Corrective Action Policy, which governs the discipline of employees for substantive work violations unrelated to absences, such as violations of Parkland policies and procedures and/or poor work performance. Like the Attendance Guidelines, the Corrective Action Policy provides recommended guidelines for progressive discipline-verbal warning, written warning, final warning, and termination-based on the violation at issue.

         During 2013 and 2014, Collier applied for six different department promotions through Parkland's job posting and for two different positions outside of the department.[4]Although three of the positions for which Collier applied were ultimately canceled, Collier's applications for the remaining five positions were all denied, allegedly on the basis that Collier was ineligible for a promotion or reassignment under Parkland's Reclassification Procedure[5] because he had received a written or final warning during the 12 months preceding each of his applications.[6]

         Collier contends that, during roughly this same time period, he complained about Parkland's discriminatory practices “multiple times.” P. Br. 5. For example, on July 26, 2013 Collier submitted a complaint to Parkland's 1-800 hotline because he believed he was not being treated the same as his Caucasian coworkers, he was “having issues” with Operating Room Director Richard Stetzel (“Stetzel”), and he believed that Stetzel was treating African American employees differently from Hispanic and Caucasian employees. Id.

         On August 25, 2014 Collier received a written warning after he allegedly failed to follow the procedure for radio usage and failed to notify his supervisor when leaving the department. The Corrective Action Report states, inter alia:

[o]n this day he was observed by management to be socializing on another floor and not available to perform his duties. Mr. Collier was called multiple times on the walkie-talkie and on the [Operating Room (“OR”)] overhead paging system to come to the OR office. He did not respond via radio, nor did he come to the office when requested.

D. App. 132.

         On July 9, 2015 Collier filed an internal complaint alleging that African American employees were not given the same opportunities to earn higher pay or be promoted. Collier complained that he and two other African American employees, Otha Davis (“Davis”) and Curtis Amison (“Amison”), had applied for promotions but were not selected, and that less experienced non-African American employees had been promoted instead.[7]

         On August 24, 2015 Collier received a final warning for allegedly failing to follow the procedure for radio usage by not responding to multiple calls on the radio from his supervisor[8] and for exhibiting inappropriate behavior by punching an OR wall “numerous times in frustration.”[9] D. App. 138. Collier was advised that “[c]ontinued noncompliance regarding adherence of [Parkland] and/or departmental policies may result in additional corrective action, not to exclude termination.” Id.

         On November 3, 2015 Collier called Parkland's employee hotline to reiterate that he had been “having issues” with Stetzel, and to report that he was “now on the final warning and he believe[d] that [Stetzel] [was] trying to create an issue to cost [Collier]'s job.” P. Br. 5. Collier contends that, on May 2, 2016, he “called the hotline yet again because of Defendant's discriminatory conduct. He complained about [ORA Supervisor Jose Reyes (“Reyes”)], and that the department was unprofessional.” Id.

         On June 30, 2016 an altercation between Collier and Reyes resulted in Collier's being removed from the Parkland premises and ultimately terminated. According to Collier, he and Reyes had a disagreement, and Reyes pushed a bed into Collier. When Collier complained about Reyes's conduct and about where he was assigned to work, Reyes told Collier to present his complaint to Stetzel or go home. Collier then punched a wall in anger. He contends that while he was looking for Stetzel, the police were called “[b]ecause [Collier] was making different kind of comments about how frustrated he was with management.” P. App. 66.

         Parkland offers a different version of the events of June 30, 2016. According to Parkland, Reyes had assigned Collier to work in OR Pod D, but Collier refused to do so. After a brief verbal altercation, Collier and Reyes went to OR Unit Manager Nuray Kuloglu's (“Kuloglu's”) office. Kuloglu reported that Collier was visibly upset during the meeting and told her that he was not going to work in Pod D because he wanted to work in Pod B instead. Kuloglu told Collier that he needed to work in his assigned area. Later that same morning, Reyes observed Collier talking to another ORA in Pod A. Reyes told Collier that he needed to return to Pod D and help the staff turn over an operating room. According to Parkland, Collier yelled at Reyes; stated that Reyes was not his “f-ing daddy”; yelled “[y]ou're gonna get it. You've got something coming”; and began to walk aggressively toward Reyes with his fists closed. D. Br. 7. Parkland maintains that Director of PeriOperative Surgery Radiology Nursing Margie Caramucci overheard Collier and Reyes and brought them into her office where she explained that Collier needed to follow Reyes's assignment. After the verbal altercation with Collier, Reyes returned to Kuloglu's office and reported the incident. Together, they called the Parkland Police Department, which issued Collier a citation for assault and escorted him off of the property, instructing him not to return until further instructed.

         After Collier was escorted off the Parkland premises, Employee Relations Advisor CaSaundra Henderson (“Henderson”) and Employee Relations Director Arthur Ferrell (“Ferrell”) were informed about the altercation between Reyes and Collier. They investigated the incident, reviewed all of the statements they received, and met with Stetzel and Interim Vice President Brandon Bennett (“Bennett”) to determine the appropriate course of action. They determined that Collier had failed to follow his supervisor's directive to work in Pod D and had failed to follow the instruction of two additional leaders, thereby impacting patient care. Because Collier had previously been counseled and received a written warning and final warning, Ferrell and Henderson concluded that Collier's insubordination warranted termination, consistent with Parkland's Corrective Action Policy, and recommended that Collier be terminated. Bennett and Stetzel approved the recommendation, and Collier's employment with Parkland was terminated on July 12, 2016.

         On January 20, 2016 Collier filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) a Charge of Discrimination alleging race and color discrimination and retaliation. After exhausting his administrative remedies and receiving a right to sue letter, Collier brought the instant lawsuit against Parkland, alleging claims for race discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation, in violation of Title VII and the TCHRA.[10] Parkland now moves for summary judgment, and Collier opposes the motion.


         When a party moves for summary judgment on claims on which the opposing party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party can meet its summary judgment obligation by pointing the court to the absence of admissible evidence to support the nonmovant's claims. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party does so, the nonmovant must go beyond his pleadings and designate specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. See Id. at 324; Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (per curiam). An issue is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmovant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The nonmovant's failure to produce proof as to any essential element of a claim renders all other facts immaterial. See TruGreen Landcare, L.L.C. v. Scott, 512 F.Supp.2d 613, 623 (N.D. Tex. 2007) (Fitzwater, J.). Summary judgment is mandatory if the nonmovant fails to meet this burden. Little, 37 F.3d at 1076.

         For claims or defenses on which the moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, to be entitled to summary judgment the movant “must establish ‘beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense.'” Bank One, Tex., N.A. v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 878 F.Supp. 943, 962 (N.D. Tex. 1995) (Fitzwater, J.) (quoting Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986)). This means that the movant must demonstrate that there are no genuine and material fact disputes and that it is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. See Martin v. Alamo Cmty. Coll. Dist., 353 F.3d 409, 412 (5th Cir. 2003). “The court has noted that the ‘beyond peradventure' standard is ‘heavy.'” Carolina Cas. Ins. Co. v. Sowell, 603 F.Supp.2d 914, 923-24 (N.D. Tex. 2009) (Fitzwater, C.J.) (quoting Cont'l Cas. Co. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 2007 WL 2403656, at *10 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 23, 2007) (Fitzwater, J.)).


         Collier alleges that Parkland discriminated against him on the basis of race, in violation of Title VII and the TCHRA. Under Title VII, [11] it is unlawful for an employer “to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U .S.C. § 2000e-2. Because Collier relies on circumstantial evidence to support his discrimination claims, they are properly analyzed under the familiar McDonnell Douglas[12] burden-shifting framework. Smith v. City of St. Martinville, 575 Fed.Appx. 435, 438 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam).

         As modified, the McDonnell Douglas framework consists of three stages. First, Collier must establish a prima facie case of discrimination, which “creates a presumption that [Parkland] unlawfully discriminated against [him].” Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254 (1981). To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas framework, Collier must show that

(1) he is a member of a protected class, (2) he was qualified for the position at issue, (3) he was the subject of an adverse employment action, and (4) he was treated less favorably . . . than were other similarly situated employees who were not members of the protected class, under nearly identical circumstances.

Lee v. Kan. City S. Ry. Co., 574 F.3d 253, 259 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Abarca v. Metro. Transit Auth., 404 F.3d 938, 941 (5th Cir. 2005) (per curiam)).

         Second, if Collier establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to Parkland to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employment action taken against him. See St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506-07 (1993). Parkland's burden is one of production, not proof, and involves no credibility assessments. See, e.g., West v. Nabors Drilling USA, Inc., 330 F.3d 379, 385 (5th Cir. 2003).

         Third, if Parkland meets its production burden, Collier may prove intentional discrimination by proceeding under one of two alternatives: the pretext alternative or the mixed-motives alternative. See Rachid v. Jack in the Box, Inc., 376 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir. 2004) (age discrimination case); see also Vaughn v. Woodforest Bank, 665 F.3d 632, 636 (5th Cir. 2011) (Title VII race discrimination case). Under the pretext alternative, Collier must “offer sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact . . . that [Parkland's] reason is not true, but is instead a pretext for discrimination [.]” Rachid, 376 F.3d at 312 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Under the mixed-motives alternative, he must offer sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact “that [Parkland's] reason, while true, is only one of the reasons for its conduct, and another motivating factor is [Collier's] protected characteristic[.]” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         “Although intermediate evidentiary burdens shift back and forth under this framework, ‘[t]he ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff.'” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 143 (2000) (alteration in original) (quoting Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253).


         The court begins with Collier's claim that Parkland discriminated against him, in violation of Title VII and the TCHRA, when it failed to promote him to the various positions for which he applied between August 29, 2013 and October 30, 2014.


         Parkland moves for summary judgment, contending, inter alia, that Collier failed to timely exhaust his administrative remedies as to this claim. “It is well settled that courts may not entertain claims brought under Title VII as to which an aggrieved party has not first exhausted his administrative remedies by filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.” Kretchmer v. Eveden, Inc., 2009 WL 854719, at *3 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 31, 2009) (Fitzwater, C.J.) (citing Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378-79 (5th Cir. 2002); Bernard v. ATC VanCom, 2005 WL 139110, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 20, 2005) (Fitzwater, J.)), aff'd, 374 Fed.Appx. 493 (5th Cir. 2010). In states such as Texas, which provide a state administrative mechanism to address claims of employment discrimination, a Title VII plaintiff must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC within 300 days after learning of the conduct alleged. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1); Griffin v. City of Dallas, 26 F.3d 610, 612 (5th Cir. 1994). A complaint under the TCHRA “must be filed not later than the 180th day after the date the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 21.202(a).[13]

         It is undisputed that Collier filed his Charge of Discrimination on January 20, 2016. Accordingly, to the extent Collier's failure to promote claim under Title VII is based on discrete acts that occurred prior to March 26, 2015, and to the extent his failure to promote claim under the TCHRA is based on discrete acts that occurred prior to July 24, 2015, Collier did not properly exhaust his administrative remedies.

         Parkland has adduced undisputed evidence that the only positions for which Collier applied during his employment are the following: ORA III position, on August 29, 2013; ORA II position, on September 10, 2013; Radiology Unit Aide position, on October 7, 2013; ORA II position, on December 3, 2013; Asset Management Technician I position, on January 10, 2014; ORA III position, on January 21, 2014; ORA II position, on July 3, 2014; and ORA III position, on October 30, 2014. Parkland moves for summary judgment on the ground that Collier had concluded that he had been passed over for promotions prior to March 26, 2015, and that because his failure-to-promote claims are based on discrete events that occurred outside the 300-day statutory window (for Title VII) and 180-day statutory window (for the TCHRA), Collier's failure-to-promote claims must be dismissed as time-barred.

         In his response, Collier neither contends nor produces evidence that he was denied a promotion within 180 or 300 days of his filing his Charge of Discrimination. Instead, Collier posits that

[a]s all of the discrimination that Plaintiff suffered from was “cumulative” and part of a pattern and practice of discrimination, all of Plaintiff's claims are timely. Plaintiff has alleged several acts of discrimination as part of Defendant's pattern and practice within the statutory window. Plaintiff was subjected to racial graffiti within the statutory window, and he was ...

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