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Rhodes v. Central Arkansas Rehabilitation Associates L.P.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

September 11, 2017




         Plaintiff Robin Rhodes (“Rhodes”), who is black, brings this employment discrimination action against her former employer, Central Arkansas Rehabilitation Associates, L.P., doing business as St. Vincent Rehabilitation Hospital (“SVR”). Rhodes charges that SVR terminated her employment because of her race and gender and in retaliation for complaining about racial and sexual harassment. Before the Court is SVR'S motion for summary judgment [ECF Nos. 15, 16, 17], Rhodes's response in opposition [ECF Nos. 20, 21, 22], and SVR's reply [ECF No. 26]. After careful consideration, and for reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). As a prerequisite to summary judgment, a moving party must demonstrate “an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must “do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

         The non-moving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials of his pleading but must come forward with ‘specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 587. “[A] genuine issue of material fact exists if: (1) there is a dispute of fact; (2) the disputed fact is material to the outcome of the case; and (3) the dispute is genuine, that is, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party.” RSBI Aerospace, Inc. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 49 F.3d 399, 401 (8th Cir. 1995).

         II. Background

         The following facts are undisputed and taken largely from the parties' statements of undisputed material facts.[1] In October 2014, SVR hired Rhodes to work as a rehabilitation nursing technician (“RNT”). Rhodes's job duties included tasks related to patient care, such as taking vital signs, assisting patients to the bathroom, and transferring patients from a wheelchair to a bed, or to a toilet.

         On November 23, 2014, a patient complained that Rhodes was rude to him when he requested assistance going to the bathroom. A nursing supervisor named Nathan Haley (“Haley”) counseled Rhodes about the patient's complaint and proper patient care and then assigned another RNT to care for the patient. In an email message to SVR's Chief Nursing Officer (“CNO”), Shannon Moreno-Cook, Haley opined that he did not think the incident warranted a write up but that he “wanted it on the record [that] Robin was educated [about] our . . . expectations.”[2]

         In February 2015, Vanessa Barnett (“Barnett”) assumed the position of CNO, which gave her supervisory authority over Rhodes. In deposition, Barnett recalled that on March 12, 2015, she counseled Rhodes regarding complaints submitted by two patients, who claimed that Rhodes had mistreated them. Barnett acknowledges that she did not document a March 12, 2015 meeting with Rhodes, [3] and Rhodes denies that the aforementioned patient complaints and counseling meeting occurred. Rhodes does however acknowledge that on a date she does not recall, Barnett talked to her about a patient who had complained that Rhodes rushed her in getting dressed.

         On April 6, 2015, Rhodes called Barnett and complained about the conduct of a white, male nurse named Michael Davis (“Davis”), who was working for a staffing agency that had assigned him SVR. Rhodes told Barnett that Davis had slapped her buttocks with a clipboard, and when he noticed that Rhodes had been eating milk duds, Davis stated, “Oh, I see you like chocolate balls in your mouth.”[4] Pursuant to Barnett's instructions, Rhodes recorded her complaint in writing and delivered it to Barnett and the human resource director, Jeanne Roon (“Roon”).[5] On Roon's advice, Barnett called the staffing agency that employed Davis and instructed that Davis should not return to SVR.

         On April 9, 2015, Barnett received an email message titled “Robin Rhodes” from SVR nursing supervisor Jamie Clark (“Clark”).[6] Clark's message stated that an RN named Kelli reported that she found a crying patient, who said that Rhodes had been rough with her. According to Clark's message, Kelli also stated that Rhodes had neglected her job duties and had quarreled with a coworker. Clark told Barnett that she met with Rhodes about Kelli's report and that Rhodes denied that she had mistreated a patient and opined that Kelli was young, dumb, and gossiped too much.

         By letter dated April 15, 2015, RN Tracie Brown, an staffing agency nurse assigned to work at SVR, wrote Barnett the following letter:

At 2130 [patient] complained to me about Robin when I came into her room to give her medication. Her night shirt was under her breast and the sheets were all off her and pulled below her feet. She had Attends [diapers] on that [were] very large and not closed. She was so upset that even before I could fully enter her opened door[, ] she begged and pleaded saying, “Please help me. Please, I would rather lay here all night in pee than to put my call light on again and call Robin. Well look at me. Look how she left me. My diaper is all in shambles.” She said Robin was very rude and bossy to her. She then told me after asking my name that if I said anything she would deny it. I told her that I had to report what she said. I went and got Jamie RN and explained what was said. [Patient] denied it to Jamie saying just agree not to say anything and come see her at the end of the shift. “Maybe she was just having a bad day.” Patient said she didn't want to get [anyone] fired.

         On April 16, 2015, Barnett gave Rhodes written notice that she was on probationary status for a period not to exceed 90 days and that unsatisfactory progress during the probationary period could result in her termination.[7] The written notice set forth the reasons for Rhodes's probation as follows:

Patient complaint received reporting Robin was rude to her when she asked [for] assistance turning in bed due to discomfort. Patient reports [that] Robin stated[, ] “I just turned you over five minutes ago.” Two patient complaints were received previously regarding Robin being rude to patients[, ] and she and I spoke about this in a private meeting.[8]

         Under the heading “Corrective Action Plan, ” the notice reads: “Robin will be courteous to patients when caring for them and ...

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