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Rivera v. Boston Mountain Rural Health Center, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

July 30, 2015

MARTA L. RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
BOSTON MOUNTAIN RURAL HEALTH CENTER, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, District Judge.

Now pending before the Court is Defendant Boston Mountain Rural Health Center, lnc.'s ("Boston Mountain") Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 16) and supporting documents. Plaintiff Marta L. Rivera filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. 22), and thereafter, Boston Mountain filed a Reply (Doc. 23). For the reasons explained herein, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Rivera, a female of Guatemalan national origin, was hired on an at-will basis on or around January 5, 2010, to serve as a lab technician at Boston Mountain's Green Forest, Arkansas clinic. While at Green Forest, Rivera worked in the lab the majority of the time, but also translated for patients, checked patients into the clinic, answered phones as needed, and helped out in other departments. She worked eight hours per day.

Because the Green Forest clinic needed to hire a licensed nurse to perform certain duties, Boston Mountain determined that Rivera's lab technician position must be eliminated. Rather than fire Rivera, her supervisors offered her a transfer to the Huntsville, Arkansas clinic as a clinical assistant/interpreter. The Huntsville clinic is approximately 35-40 miles away from the Green Forest clinic. Rivera accepted the new position. She did not receive reimbursement for the added gas and mileage she incurred due to the new commute to Huntsville, but she did receive an hourly pay increase. She performed fewer lab duties at Green Forest and instead spent more time at the front desk and interpreting/translating. She eventually resigned her position voluntarily in favor of accepting a job closer to her home.

This lawsuit alleges discrimination and retaliation on the basis of sex and national origin pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, Rivera avers that Boston Mountain allowed her co-worker atthe Green Forest clinic, a radiologic technologist named Bobby Hill, to engage in comments and behavior that discriminated against her. According to Rivera, Boston Mountain transferred her to its Huntsville location in retaliation for Rivera reporting the discrimination.

Rivera eventually brought her discrimination and retaliation claims before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and, after exhausting her administrative remedies, filed suit in this Court on June 2, 2014.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

When a motion for summary judgment is filed, the court must "grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). When no direct evidence of discrimination exists, Title VII claims are analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Elmahdi v. Marriott Hotel Servs., Inc., 339 F.3d 645, 656 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-03 (1973)); Guimaraes v. SuperValu, Inc., 674 F.3d 962, 973-974 (8th Cir. 2012). Under the burden-shifting framework, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination and/or retaliation. Guimaraes, 674 F.3d at 973. If the plaintiff makes her prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the defendant to offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the actions. Id. If the defendant meets this burden, it is up to the plaintiff to produce evidence that the defendant's "proffered nondiscriminatory justifications are mere pretext for intentional discrimination." Id. (quoting Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1046 (8th Cir. 2011)).

III. DISCUSSION

In order for Rivera to state a prima facie case of discrimination, she must establish the following elements: (1) that she is a member of a protected class; (2) that she was qualified for her job; (3) that she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) that these circumstances as a whole give rise to an inference of discrimination. Guimaraes, 674 F.3d at 973-74. The prima facie case for retaliation is similar in that Rivera must present evidence: (1) that she engaged in protected activity under Title VII; (2) that she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) a causal connection exists between the protected activity and the adverse action. Thompson v. Bi-State Dev. Agency, 463 F.3d 821, 826 (8th Cir. 2006).

In considering Rivera's prima facie case for both her claims, it appears she is clearly a member of two protected classes due to the fact that she is female and of Guatemalan origin. Her employer also concedes she was qualified to do her job at both the Green Forest clinic and the Huntsville clinic. Nevertheless, Rivera's prima facie case stalls in its tracks at the next step in the inquiry: establishing the existence of an adverse employment action. This Rivera cannot do.

The Eighth Circuit has held that an adverse employment action is "a tangible change in working conditions that produces a material employment disadvantage." Wedow v. City of Kansas City, Mo., 442 F.3d 661, 671 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Sallis v. Univ. of Minn., 408 F.3d 470, 476 (8th Cir. 2005)). Such a disadvantage might include "[t]ermination, cuts in pay or benefits, and changes that affect an employee's future career prospects, as well as circumstances amounting to a constructive discharge." Clegg v. Ark. Dep't of Corr., 496 F.3d 922, 926 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "Minor changes in duties or working conditions, even unpalatable or unwelcome ones, which cause no materially significant disadvantage, do not rise to the level of an adverse employment action." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Not every employment action, even if viewed by the employee as negative, will rise to the level of an adverse action pursuant to Title VII. Instead, an employee mustsuffer "some personal loss or harm with respect to a term, condition, or privilege of employment." Hoffman v. Rubin, 193 F.3d 959, 964 (8th Cir. 1999).

Turning to the facts in the case at bar, Rivera does not contend that she was fired or demoted, or that she received a decrease in pay as a result of complaining of discrimination. Instead, she argues she suffered an adverse employment action as a result of her transfer from the Green Forest clinic to a sister clinic in Huntsville approximately 35-40 miles away-despite the fact that she received the same benefits, worked the same number of hours, and was paid at a higher rate. Rivera claims she suffered a material employment disadvantage as a result of the increased costs she incurred in commuting to the new clinic, and she asserts that her job duties materially changed following the ...


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