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Johnson v. Oakdale Nursing Facility

August 7, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Leon Holmes United States District Judge


Joann Johnson brings this Title VII suit pro se against her employer MDM Corporation d/b/a Oakdale Nursing Home, incorrectly named as "Oakdale Nursing Facility," alleging retaliation and race discrimination. Johnson alleges that she was fired in retaliation for bringing a lawsuit against Oakdale to recover vacation pay in 1996. Johnson also alleges that Oakdale discriminated against her on the basis of race when she was fired. Oakdale now moves for summary judgment. For the following reasons, that motion is granted.


A court should enter summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A genuine issue exists only if there is sufficient evidence to allow a jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2511. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all inferences in his favor, mindful that summary judgment seldom should be granted in discrimination cases where claims are often based on inferences. Peterson v. Scott County, 406 F.3d 515, 520 (8th Cir. 2005); Bassett v. City of Minneapolis, 211 F.3d 1097, 1099 (8th Cir. 2000) (collecting cases). But see Bainbridge v. Loffredo Gardens, Inc., 378 F.3d 756, 762 (8th Cir. 2004) (Arnold, J., dissenting).


The pertinent facts in this case are undisputed.*fn1 Johnson was employed by Oakdale as a nurse in its nursing facility on two separate occasions. Her first term of employment lasted eight or nine years and ended in 1996 when she was terminated. At that time, Leonard Wiggins owned Oakdale and was involved in its administration. Shortly after termination, Johnson brought suit against Oakdale and Wiggins in small claims court to recover vacation pay. Johnson lost that suit.

Wiggins retired from Oakdale in 2002. Although still the owner of Oakdale, Wiggins did not participate in its day-to-day administration after his retirement. In October of 2005, Johnson again applied for a position at Oakdale. After an interview with Jackie Fletcher, the director of nursing at Oakdale, Johnson was hired on October 12, 2005. Wiggins did not know that Johnson had been hired. Johnson never saw or spoke to Wiggins during her second term working for Oakdale.

After a few days of orientation, Johnson was placed in the position of charge nurse. As charge nurse, Johnson was responsible for dispensing medications to the residents at Oakdale. Medications were kept in a locked medicine cart. The narcotic medications were "double-locked,"

i.e. they were kept in a locked container that was kept inside the locked medicine cart. Johnson had the key to the narcotics box.

On October 17, 2005, Johnson was given a written "Medication Error Report" after it was discovered at the end of Johnson's shift that the narcotics count for liquid morphine prescribed for one Oakdale resident was short by 2.5 cubic centimeters, or approximately half a teaspoon. The report recorded the reason for the shortage as Johnson's pouring the morphine into a small plastic cup before dispensing it to the resident rather than drawing it into a syringe, a more accurate way to measure dosage.

On October 18, 2005, Johnson received a second medication error report. Next to the heading "Explanation/reason medication error was made" was written "[n]urse deficient [with] med pass procedure [and] order processing. Nurse giving multiple prn [and] scheduled controls [without] using good nursing judgment." Johnson had given an Oakdale resident medication that had been discontinued by the resident's physician. As a result of this error, the resident's level of consciousness decreased, she had difficulty breathing, and her physician had to be notified.

After the second medication error in two days, Fletcher terminated Johnson on October 18, 2005. Wiggins did not know that Johnson was terminated, nor did he have any input in her being disciplined. Johnson filed this suit on December 20, 2005, after being issued a right-to-sue letter by the EEOC on December 2, 2005.


Johnson brings two claims against Oakdale: first, she alleges that Wiggins harbored a grudge against her bringing a small-claims lawsuit against him ten years ago and that Oakdale fired her in retaliation for bringing that lawsuit; second, she alleges that she was terminated because of her race. Both claims fail because Oakdale has offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Johnson, and Johnson has not produced any evidence to show the reason is pretext for retaliation or unlawful discrimination. Regardless of whether an employee can make out a prima facie claim for retaliatory termination under Title VII, an employee bears the burden of showing that any legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason proffered by the employer for her termination is a mere pretext for a retaliatory motive. Wallace v. Sparks Health Sys., 415 F.3d 853, 860 (8th Cir. 2005). Similarly, if an employer can, by a preponderance of the evidence, produce a legitimate, ...

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