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Fletcher v. U.S. Renal Care Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

March 1, 2017

U.S. RENAL CARE, INC., Defendant.


          SUSAN J. DLOTT United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 22). Plaintiff Steven Fletcher brings this reverse-race discrimination and retaliation case against his former employer, Defendant U.S. Renal Care, Inc. U.S. Renal Care contends that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because, among other deficiencies, Fletcher was not subjected to an adverse employment action. For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts Underlying Fletcher's Claims

         1. Fletcher's Early Employment History with U.S. Renal Care

         U.S. Renal Care operates outpatient dialysis clinics for patients with renal disease. (Nelson Dec., Doc. 22-2 at PageID 209.) It employs nurses and technicians to care for patients. (Id.) Dialysis nurses provide initial assessments of patients, take and document doctor orders, distribute medicine, address problems during patient treatment, assure water checks, and tend to emergent situations. (Id.; Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 61.) Dialysis clinics are regulated, and they are required to maintain certain nurse staffing levels at all times. (Nelson Dec., Doc. 22-2 at PageID 210.)

         Steven Fletcher is a Caucasian registered nurse (“RN”) who obtained his associates degree in nursing in 2012. (Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 51, 88.) Fletcher was hired by U.S. Renal Care in approximately March 2013 as a float nurse for its dialysis clinics in the Mount Healthy, Kenwood, Norwood, and Eastgate areas near Cincinnati, Ohio. (Id. at PageID 61; Fletcher Dec., Doc. 26-1 at PageID 315.) Fletcher reported in September 2013 that his manager, Daphne Jones, was deducting time for a lunch break from his pay even though he was working through lunch. (Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 65; Foley Dec., Doc. 22-1 at PageID 206.) Andrea Foley, a regional human resources (“H.R.”) manager for U.S. Renal Care, investigated the issue. Foley, a Caucasian, determined that U.S. Renal Care owed Fletcher unpaid wages in the amount of $4, 500 for the lunch time work and for a float nurse differential pay award. (Foley Dep., Doc. 26-2 at PageID 321; Fletcher Dec., Doc. 26-1 at PageID 315.)

         Fletcher transferred out of the float position to an RN position at Defendant's Norwood clinic in late September or early October 2013. (Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 72; Doc. 21-1 at PageID 141.) In December 2013, he transferred at his request to an RN position at the Kenwood clinic working the second shift for 40 hours per week. (Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 73; Foley Dec., Doc. 22-1 at PageID 206.)

         The next month, in January 2014, the Kenwood clinic was cited during a state audit for “several conditions related to patient care and compliance with state regulations.” (Foley Dec., Doc. 22-1 at PageID 206.) U.S. Renal Care hired Devon Nelson in February 2014 to become the new facility administrator for the Kenwood facility. (Nelson Dec., Doc. 22-2 at PageID 209.) She took over the position and became Fletcher's supervisor in May 2014 following a period of training at the Kenwood facility. (Id.) It was her first supervisory position. (Id.) She was instructed to ensure that the Kenwood clinic complied with state regulations and U.S. Renal Care policies. (Foley Dec., Doc. 22-1 at PageID 206.) Nelson, as the facility administrator, reported to Sabon Shelton, a regional manager. (Nelson Dep., Doc. 26-3 at PageID 328.) Nelson and Shelton are both African-American. (Fletcher Dec., Doc. 26-1 at PageID 315.)

         Prior to Nelson taking over as the facility administrator, Mattie Hibbs, the acting facility administrator at the Kenwood clinic, completed Nelson's first annual performance review dated April 17, 2014. (Doc. 21-2 at PageID 155-57.) Hibbs rated Fletcher as “Meets Expectations” in all performance categories. (Id.) However, she noted that he needed to improve in the areas of responding to problems in a timely manner, calling physicians about issues in a timely manner and more frequently, making better judgments, and better documenting water checks. (Id.) Fletcher documented his disagreement with some of the comments made in the performance review. (Id.) He also talked to Shelton, the regional manager, about the review. (Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 94.) Fletcher testified that Shelton responded that “we'd go over it, he'd fix it, take care of it, and he never did.” (Id.)

         2. More Problems Develop in the Employment Relationship

         In May 2014, Nelson, then Fletcher's supervisor, determined that Fletcher needed more training. (Nelson Dec., Doc. 22-2 at PageID 211.) She asked Fletcher to take a charge nurse class. (Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 81.) Fletcher responded that he had already taken the class. (Id.) He testified that Nelson told him that the class was not mandatory. Fletcher did not take the class. (Id.) On May 20, 2014, Nelson spoke to human resources about disciplining Fletcher for refusing to take the training, but Foley, the H.R. manager, convinced her to wait. (Nelson Dec., Doc. 22-2 at PageID 209-10; Foley Dec., Doc. 22-1 at PageID 207.) Foley counseled Nelson to try to obtain Fletcher's compliance before disciplining him. (Foley Dec., Doc. 22-1 at PageID 207.)

         On May 30, 2014, Nelson told Fletcher that he could no longer wear black jeans to work. (Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 96, 98.) Her instruction was consistent with U.S. Renal Care's written policy which called for employees to wear “[a]ppropriate work attire” and stated that “[j]eans are not acceptable attire in patient care areas.” (Doc. 22-2 at PageID 214.) Fletcher testified that their interaction was cordial and that he did not respond to Nelson. (Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 99.) Nelson, conversely, stated that Fletcher “became belligerent” and used “inappropriate and abusive” language. (Nelson Dec., Doc. 22-2 at PageID 211.)

         Fletcher called Shelton about the issue. (Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 99.) He testified that Shelton told him that he could continue to wear jeans and that the matter would be addressed at a nurses' meeting set for June 17, 2014. (Id. at PageID 96, 99.) The next week, Fletcher also called Foley to complain about being “singled out” by Nelson for wearing jeans. (Id.) Fletcher continued to wear jeans at work. (Id. at PageID 96.) He does not remember other nurses wearing jeans to work, but he does remember other nurses wearing sweatpants or t-shirts to work. (Id. at PageID 97.) He was told by two white nurses that they were instructed to not wear t-shirts, and they complied. Jacob, a black nurse who wore sweatpants, told Fletcher that he was never instructed not to wear sweatpants. (Id.)[1]

         On June 3, 2014, Fletcher complained about Nelson in an email to Foley. He alleged that Nelson “has chosen to single out and harass only the Caucasian personal [sic].” (Doc. 21-2 at PageID 183.) He also alleged that Nelson threatened to write him up about wearing jeans. (Id.)

         Foley responded in an email dated June 5, 2014 that Fletcher should confirm with Shelton “if it has been determined that the entire clinic is to only wear scrubs or if jeans and other apparel is allowed.” (Id. at PageID 184-85.) She stated that he should not be singled out and that “[i]f it is determined that your clinic is to wear scrubs only, that will go for everyone.” (Id.) She also stated that “I am unaware that Devon [Nelson] was targeting Caucasians and this is the first time I have heard this.” (Id.) She stated that Fletcher should provide her with details about discriminatory actions so she could address them. (Id.)

         Fletcher replied that day to Foley with additional complaints that Nelson demonstrated racism, threatened to write up him and other Caucasian employees, and caused one employee to leave employment with U.S. Renal Care. (Id. at PageID 184.)

         In an email dated June 6, 2014, Nelson provided Shelton with copies of patient charting notes dated June 4, 2014 which she described as including doctor's orders written down by Fletcher on the wrong patient's chart. (Nelson Dep., Doc. 37 at PageID 524; Doc. 37-1 at PageID 9.) Nelson testified that she discussed the June 4, 2014 charting problem with Fletcher around the time of the incident. (Nelson Dep., Doc. 37 at PageID 525.) Fletcher testified that Nelson was mistaken and that he did not make a charting error. (Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 77.)

         Another conflict between Fletcher and Nelson arose on June 9, 2014, when Fletcher left work for an emergency dental appointment. (Fletcher Dep., Doc. 21 at PageID 90-91.) Fletcher did not request permission to leave work prior to the start of his shift despite knowing he had requested an emergency appointment with a dentist. (Id.) He knew Nelson was in the building, and he assumed she could help the clinic meet the required nursing staff level while he was gone. (Id.) Fletcher told Nelson about the appointment as he was leaving work. He testified that she responded, “I am not authorizing it, but do what you need to do.” (Id.) He was not asked to provide a medical excuse from the dentist, nor did he provide such documentation. (Id.)

         Fletcher sent Foley another email on June 10, 2014 complaining about Nelson. (Doc. 21-2 at PageID 187.) He stated that “the work environment at our facility under the guidance of Devon [Nelson] has become more hostile.” (Id.)

         In the second week of June 2014, Nelson informed Scott Sasserson, the U.S. Renal Care chief operating officer, who was in Cincinnati for other reasons, about patient charting errors by Fletcher. (Nelson Dec., Doc. 22-2 at PageID 212.) The errors included failing to document the name of the doctor issuing a medical order and putting th patient note on the wrong patient's chart. (Id. at PageID 211-12, 215-16.) Sasserson, who is Caucasian, forwarded his email communications with Nelson about the patient charting errors to Foley on June 10, 2014. (Id. at PageID 212; Foley Dep., Doc. 26-2 at PageID 322.) Nelson had not discussed her concerns about Fletcher's charting notes with Foley prior to June 10, 2014. (Foley Dep., Doc. 26-2 at PageID 322.)

         C. Decision to Discipline Fletcher and Fletcher's Resignation

         Foley investigated Fletcher for performance issues. (Foley Dec., Doc. 22-1 at PageID 208.) She asked Joanne Zimmerman, the vice president of clinical services, to review Fletcher's charting notes about doctor orders as part of the investigation. Zimmerman, who is Caucasian, determined that Fletcher's written orders were “lacking, ” which raised patient safety concerns. (Id.) Foley, along with Shelton, the regional director, and Sasserson, the chief operating officer, made the decision to discipline Fletcher. (Id. at PageID 207; Nelson Dec., Doc. 22-2 at PageID 212.) ...

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