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Watson v. Heartland Health Laboratories, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 25, 2015

Chavonya Watson, Plaintiff - Appellant
Heartland Health Laboratories, Inc., Defendant - Appellee, Michelle Gaunt, Defendant

Submitted February 10, 2015.

Page 857

Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Kansas City.

For Chavonya Watson, Plaintiff - Appellant: Mark Alan Buchanan, Kansas City, MO; Ryan M. Paulus, Hollingshead & Paulus, Kansas City, MO.

For Heartland Health Laboratories, Inc., Michelle Gaunt, Defendant - Appellees: James A. Durbin, Swanson & Midgley, Kansas City, MO.

Before LOKEN, SMITH, and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.


Page 858

SMITH, Circuit Judge.

Chavonya Watson appeals the district court's[1] grant of summary judgment in favor of her former employer, Heartland Health Laboratories, Inc. (" Heartland" ), on her claims of hostile work environment, constructive discharge, and retaliation under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). We affirm.

I. Background

Heartland provides laboratory services, including blood work, to facilities that provide long-term healthcare. Watson, an African-American woman, began working for Heartland as a route phlebotomist on June 18, 2012. As a route phlebotomist, Watson's workday included traveling to several facilities, drawing blood and collecting urine or stool samples from those facilities' patients, and returning to the Heartland lab for a few hours to process the samples that had been collected that day. As a new employee, Watson was subject to a 90-day probationary period.

Watson's route included Plaza Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (" Plaza Manor" ). According to her testimony, Watson spent " [a] couple hours" at this facility each day. Watson worked on both the second and the third floors at Plaza Manor. Watson was assigned to draw blood from Charles Ramsey, a third-floor patient.

On September 10, 2012, Ramsey physically accosted Watson. While Watson was attempting to draw Ramsey's blood, he began touching Watson on the inside of her thigh and moved his hand upward. Watson told Ramsey to stop and brushed his hand away several times. When Ramsey touched her " crotch area," Watson took a different strategy and knelt down to draw Ramsey's blood. At this point, Ramsey " started putting his hand up the side of [Watson] because [her] crotch was no longer in his reach." After she stopped attempting to draw his blood because of the continued touching, Ramsey " grabbed the back of [Watson's] neck to try to kiss [her]." Watson left Ramsey's room and reported the incident to her employer.

Watson called her phlebotomist team lead, Michelle Gaunt. Gaunt testified that she relayed the information to the phlebotomy supervisor, Tina Akers. Watson testified that she was able to finish the rest of her workday. By 12:24 p.m. that same day, Gaunt entered an alert in Heartland's file on Ramsey stating " [s]end male only to draw." Watson conceded that " Heartland . . . took prompt action to make sure [she] never provided medical services for . . . Ramsey after [she] made the complaint." Further, the record reflects that Heartland's Sales Manager, David Clay, contacted Plaza Manor's Assistant Director of Nursing, Wayne Herring, to address the incident that same day, to which Herring communicated " that he would take care of the situation." Upon returning to the lab at the end of her workday, Watson testified that she asked Gaunt and another team lead, Trisha Davis, if she " could possibly . . . transfer [Plaza Manor] or trade [Plaza Manor]" so that it would no longer be a part of her daily route. Watson testified that both team leads responded affirmatively. Watson testified that when she requested a route change from Akers,

Page 859

however, Akers told her " no, that [Watson] was hired to do that route and if [she] didn't do that route then [she] wouldn't have a job." Watson continued to go to Plaza Manor as a part of her route.

Watson no longer had to provide services to Ramsey and risk further physical contact while working at Plaza Manor; however, Ramsey still managed to verbally assault Watson on several occasions. On September 11, 2012, while Watson was walking past Ramsey in a hallway, Ramsey called her " just a bunch of b[*****]s and n[****]r b[*****]s." According to Watson, this contact lasted only " [s]econds." Watson testified that she reported this incident to Gaunt when she returned to the lab later that day.

The second incident happened a few days later when Ramsey saw Watson leaving the elevator. Ramsey declared " that they were going to put him out." Watson also confirmed that this incident lasted " [j]ust a couple of seconds." Watson understood Ramsey's statement to mean that Plaza Manor was going to remove Ramsey from the facility, but she was never notified specifically when this would happen. The third incident was similar to the second. When Watson was leaving the elevator, Ramsey was again walking by and said to another patient that " [t]his b[***]h is getting me put out." Watson notified ...

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