United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
ORDER AND OPINION
Plaintiff Adeline Yon (“Yon” or “Plaintiff”) filed this action against her former employer, Defendant The Regional Medical Center (“TRMC” or “Defendant”), alleging that she was subjected to race discrimination, retaliation, and a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17. (ECF No. 1.) Yon also asserts state law claims for breach of contract and breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act. (Id.)
This matter is before the court on TRMC’s Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (ECF No. 36.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.), the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West for pretrial handling. On February 10, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she recommended that the court grant TRMC’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to all of Yon’s claims. (ECF No. 52.) Yon filed Objections to the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation, which are presently before the court. (ECF No. 53.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation and GRANTS TRMC’s Motion for Summary Judgment.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO PENDING MOTION
The facts as viewed in the light most favorable to Yon are discussed in the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 52.) The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge’s factual summation is comprehensive and accurate and incorporates it by reference. The court will only reference herein facts pertinent to the analysis of Yon’s claims.
TRMC is a full service hospital in Orangeburg, South Carolina. (ECF No. 36-2 at 1 ¶ 2.) Home Care (“HC”) is one of the services TRMC provides. (Id.) HC provides in-home healthcare services for certain patients for the purpose of increasing the convenience and reducing “the cost of health care by delivering certain types of health care in the patient’s home.” (Id.) HC is located near TRMC in a small retail office complex. (Id.)
HC’s primary workforce is made up of “‘clinical’ staff, which includes registered nurses, therapists, and a social worker.” (Id. at ¶ 4.) Clinical staff members go into the field to treat patients in their homes. (Id.) Clinical staff members “perform a wide variety of services, including giving injections and other medications, administering blood pressure and other tests, treating wounds, and providing other medical, therapeutic, and social work services which may be needed by patients recovering from illness or injury.” (Id.) The clinical care staff is supervised by a patient care coordinator, who is responsible for scheduling appointments and making sure treatment plans are being adequately staffed and followed. (Id. at ¶ 3.) Wendy Dantzler (“Dantzler”) was the patient care coordinator from 2006 until July 2012. (Id.) Jill Hopkins began working as the patient care coordinator on October 1, 2012. (Id.)
Yon began her employment with HC on May 3, 1999 as a salaried social worker. (ECF No. 38-8 at 37:1-6 & 113:13-15.) As a social worker, Yon’s job responsibilities included, but were not limited to, providing “Home Health/Hospice social work services to include family assessments and psychosocial interventions to assist with development of a multidisciplinary care plan . . . [and providing] support for patients and families through coordination of community resources.” (ECF No. 36-4 at 5.)
In November 2012, David Hill (“Hill”) began work as the director of HC at TRMC. (ECF No. 36-2 at 1 ¶ 1.) Hill reports to the vice president of patient services for TRMC, Julia Yawn (“Yawn”). (Id. at ¶ 3.) In December 2012, Yawn and the chief financial officer of TRMC, Cheryl Mason, asked Hill to look for ways to reduce expenses. (Id. at 3 ¶ 9.) In considering how to reduce expenses, Hill focused on staff mileage reimbursement because in a former position he had managed to reduce expenses through auditing the mileage of clinical staff by comparing the reported mileage to the mileage total as calculated by MapQuest. (Id.)
In mid-January 2013, Hill began the process of checking employee mileage using MapQuest as a tool to gauge the accuracy of the mileage reported. An administrative assistant, Eryn Radewitz, assisted Hill with this project and Radewitz was tasked with selecting one clinical staff member from each discipline at random for the initial review. (Id. at 4 ¶ 10.) Hill personally reviewed all of Radewitz’s work, including routes and calculations. (Id.) According to Hill, “[t]he results of the review revealed a pattern of falsification by Yon.” (Id. at ¶ 11.) More specifically, Yon’s mileage requests were consistently over the MapQuest figures by significant amounts. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-12.)
On or about January 24, 2013, Hill conducted a meeting with the HC staff. (Id. at 3 ¶ 8.) During the meeting, Hill discussed a $400, 000.00 “write-off” from the HC budget. (Id.) He explained that the amount was written off by the hospital “because it represented uncollected bad debts or charges disallowed by providers.” (Id.) “These charges had been accumulating for several years and the hospital felt that they needed to be written off.” (Id.)
On January 29, 2013, Hill asked Yon about her mileage discrepancies. (Id. at 5 ¶ 13.) Yon refused to specifically discuss the mileage, but generally observed that she was a social worker and had to drive long distances. (Id.) Thereafter, Hill met with the director of staffing and retention, Kim Westbury (“Westbury”), and recommended terminating Yon’s employment for falsifying mileage “unless she was able to explain the discrepancies.” (Id. at ¶ 14.)
On the afternoon of January 29, 2013, Hill and Westbury met with Yon. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Hill explained to Yon the differences between her reported mileage and the mileage as calculated by MapQuest. (Id.) Hill showed Yon that her mileage calculations “were consistently higher for every entry and that the difference was significant.” (ECF No. 36-5 at 2 ¶ 6.) Without addressing the substance of the allegations, Yon said that she was being singled out. (Id. at ¶ 7.) Hill and Westbury responded that “the mileage of other employees had been audited also” and “other employees had been terminated in the past for misrepresenting Hospital documents.” (Id.) Eventually, Yon proceeded to depart the meeting by standing up, holding her hands over her head, saying “Thank the Lord, I am free, ” and hugging Hill and Westbury. (Id. at 15-16; ECF No. 38-8 at 77:24-78:10.) On January 29, 2013, Yon was terminated “due to falsifying mileage reports.” (ECF No. 38-30 at 2.)
On January 30, 2013, Yon filed a grievance (ECF No. 36-14) with TRMC pursuant to its grievance and administrative review procedures. (ECF No. 36-4 at 85-93.) In her grievance, Yon alleged the following particulars:
I was unfairly terminated by the interim director, David Hill without a valid reason. On January 29, 2013, I was contacted by phone and asked to meet with him and Kim Westbury at the Human Resource office. At this time, I was told by David that when he compared my mileage to the nurses I did not add up. Prior to this meeting, I have never been asked about my mileage and this has never been addressed as a problem in my fourteen years of dedicated services to TRMC.
I am the only social worker in the home care office and I cover a very broad and rural territory. I’ve never relied on Google maps or GPS systems in finding my patients. I have always relied upon the directions provided by staff and/or the patient and they are sometimes subject to corrections or changes. It would be unfair to say that my mileage doesn’t add up to the nurses because we don’t see the same patients in the same order and oftentimes not from the same starting point.
Further, I not only make home visits to patients homes I also coordinate community resources and that entails me going to various community based sites to obtain information and resources for patients that I serve largely because they are unable to do so on their own. I have a very high rate of success with the patients that I serve largely due to this fact. I don’t simply make home visits for assessment purposes only, there is a great deal of follow up and case management that is a required component to medical social services and home health. We have to serve our home and the communities in which they live and that is the nature of my work especially within rural and impoverished towns within our service areas.
Additionally, I am concerned that this termination came as an immediate and improper personnel action since the issue was never addressed with me as a concern. However, during our January 24, 2013 staff meeting was the first time mileage was addressed to the team emphasizing that we need to watch our mileage, (see staff meeting attached). He never held a meeting with me on a one-on-one basis concerning my mileage. I do recall David coming to me and stated on the morning of January 29, 2013 in an unprofessional manner that he was talking about me in the meeting. Then, around 4:15 p.m. he had me to meet with him and Kim Westbury. I didn’t have a clue I was being terminated. They also demanded that I turn in all items that belonged to TRMC. I couldn’t because I didn’t have everything with me at the time. They had security to call me and asked for the belongings. I spoke with a gentleman by the name of Ira with security and informed him that I would bring all the items the next day, and he agreed that this would be just fine. I was not asked about my mileage logs and there were never any visits identified at any point that were being questioned prior to this meeting. This was overwhelming and surprising to me in which the situation was handled. I didn’t know what to do. I just hugged both of them and thanked God for releasing me from this unfair treatment.
(ECF No. 36-14 at 2-3.) Yon’s grievance was first heard by Yawn. (ECF No. 36-2 at 5 ¶ 17.) In investigating Yon’s grievance, Yawn requested further audits of Yon’s mileage. (Id.) Hill discovered additional discrepancies. (Id. at 6 ¶ 18.) Yon met with Yawn regarding her grievance on February 7, 2013. (ECF No. 38-8 at 81:14-82:16.) Following her meeting with Yon, Yawn confirmed Yon’s termination on February 12, 2013.
Yon then followed the next step of TRMC’s grievance procedure and met with the chief executive officer of TRMC, Thomas Dandridge, on March 19, 2013. (ECF No. 38-18 at 12:7- 10.) Dandridge upheld Yon’s termination. (Id. at 26:20-22.)
After Yon was terminated, TRMC replaced her position with Loretta Green a part-time social worker who was called in on an as-needed basis. (ECF No. 36-1 at 14 (citing ECF No. 36-8 at 3:13-17).) Loretta Green is an African-American female. (Id.) Green held the position for several months. (Id.) Upon Green’s departure, Cathy Thompson, who is also an African-American female, took over the vacant position. (ECF No. 38-17 at 63:4-7.)
During her employment at HC, Yon alleged that she suffered through many instances of discriminatory and/or retaliatory conduct. Yon summarized these incidents as follows:
Ms. Yon’s supervisor, from 2006 until 2012, was Wendy Dantzler (WF), the Personal Care Coordinator. On or about October 2012, Ms. Yon was informed, by former employee Charlotte Shuler, that Ms. Dantzler instructed Ms. Shuler to find issues with Ms. Yon’s job performance, despite the fact that Ms. Yon performed her job duties (as shown in her 2011 job evaluation) without incident. (Ex. 2: Plaintiff’s Complaint) (Ex. 3: Plaintiff’s 2011 Job Evaluation).
(ECF No. 38 at 2-3.) . . .
Ms. Dantzler continued to promote a racially hostile work environment when she gave Ms. Yon’s office space to Tracy Stillinger (WF) and placed Ms. Yon in a small workspace among the other nurses. Ms. Dantzler’s reasoning for removing Ms. Yon from her office was that, “she [Tracy Stillinger] worked in the office on the computer all day and had to have access to other documents while she was working. Adeline did not need an office. If she was doing her job properly, she was on the road most of the day.” (Ex. 6 Excerpt of Wendy Dantzler’s Affidavit). However, Ms. Dantzler, in her Affidavit, stated that Ms. Yon seldom talked to patients in her office, she does not state that Ms. Yon never talked to patients in her office. Ms. Dantzler also admitted that Ms. Yon would use her office space for conferences.
(Id. at 5.) . . .
Ms. Yon’s job description, from The Regional Medical Center, did not include express supervisory authority, however, she had implied supervisory authority. Further, Social Workers, with Home Care, are given the authority to supervise, as shown in the Medical Social Services document. Ms. Dantzler’s actions toward Ms. Yon were crafted in order to take away the implied supervisory authority, of Ms. Yon, though Ms. Yon had continuously performed her job duties without incident.
(Id. at 9.) . . .
Ms. Yon was the only Social Worker employed at The Regional Medical Center, however this did not exclude the possibility that the Defendant could have referred patients to social workers outside of Home Care. The nurses, before Ms. Dantzler changed the protocol, directly referred patients to Ms. Yon. This was the normal protocol throughout Ms. Yon’s employment until Ms. Dantzler decided (without good cause) to have the nurses refer the patients to her (Ms. Dantzler) instead of Ms. Yon.
(Id.) . . .
“Plaintiff, on or about June 2012, overheard her Caucasian counterpart, Donna McAlhany (McAlhany), who worked in Medicaid and Medicare Billing, tell another Caucasian counterpart, that she was going to, ‘get rid of these black trouble makers in the office.’ Plaintiff, to her disbelief, also hears McAlhany state to a Caucasian counterpart that, ‘blacks get too many free things, such as cell phones and food stamps.’” (Ex. 2 Plaintiff’s Complaint ¶ 12).
(Id. at 12.) . . .
Ms. Yon, and several of her colleagues, took their concerns, over the racially hostile work environment to the Chief ...