United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
GWENDOLYN A. ATKINS
SOUTHEAST COMMUNITY HEALTH SYSTEMS
RULING AND ORDER
A. JACKSON, CHIEF JUDGE.
the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 82) filed
by Southeast Community Health Systems ("Southeast")
seeking dismissal of Gwendolyn A. Atkin's
("Plaintiff') claims against it pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56. Plaintiff
filed a memorandum in opposition to Southeast's motion.
(Doc. 91-2). The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331, 1343(4), and 42 U.S.C. § 2000-e(5).
For reasons stated below, Southeast's motion is GRANTED.
January 26, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against
Southeast. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff asserted that she began
working as an administrative assistant for
Southeast beginning on or about July 22, 1996, and
was initially fired on March 14, 2008. Specifically,
Plaintiff was dismissed from her job by Linda Beauvais,
Southeast's Executive Director at the time, for using the
company's 340B Drug Program-an assistance program through
which Southeast paid for medications at a discounted rate for
patients who go to a particular pharmacy-for her personal
prescriptions although she had insurance coverage. (Doc. 82-3
at p. 119). At the time of Plaintiffs termination, Ms.
Beauvais was under the mistaken impression that Southeast
employees were precluded from receiving prescriptions under
the 340B Drug Program. (See id.). Following her
discharge in March of 2008, Plaintiff filed an EEOC Charge of
Discrimination, after which senior officials at Southeast
became aware of Plaintiffs wrongful discharge and reinstated
her. (See Doc. 38 at ¶ 11). Plaintiff further alleges
that upon her reinstatement, she withdrew the pending EEOC
Complaint. (Id. at ¶ 12).
further alleges that she filed a second charge of
discrimination sometime in early-to-mid 2009. (See
Doc. 38 at ¶ 15). Plaintiff was fired again on May 20,
2010, for "providing medication to patients without
sound documentation for issuance and clearance by a medical
provider, " and for "[w]orking outside the scope of
assigned duties and responsibilities." (Id. at
¶ 19; Doc. 82-3 at p. 123). Plaintiffs termination
followed an internal investigation in which Southeast alleges
it discovered that Plaintiff abused her access to and
knowledge of the clinic's Prescription Assistance Program
("PAP"), a program through which drug companies
supply medication free of charge to qualifying patients who
meet income criteria. (Doc. 82-1 at pp. 1 - 2). Based on
these assertions, Plaintiff claims that Southeast violated
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by retaliating
against her for having filed a charge of discrimination with
December 14, 2011, Plaintiff filed a motion to stay and
administratively close this matter pending the resolution of
a state criminal proceeding that was initiated against her on
April 11, 2011, in the 21st Judicial District Court, Parish
of St. Helena Parish, State of Louisiana, Docket Number
18950. (Doc. 16). In support of the motion, Plaintiff
indicated that "in response to a motion for
discovery" in the criminal proceeding, she learned that
"on or about May 21, 2010, Dr. Joseph Freeman, who was
at the time the Medical Director of [Southeast] ... in an
undated written statement under oath declared that
plaintiff... was prescribing medications particularly for
erectile dysfunction to many patients including family
members." (Doc. 16-1 at p. 3) (emphasis removed).
Plaintiff attached a copy of the affidavit to her motion to
stay. (Doc. 16-4).
February 3, 2012, the United States Magistrate Judge granted
the motion, and stayed the proceeding until the pending
criminal charges against Plaintiff had been resolved. (Doc.
23). On October 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a motion to reopen
the case on the basis that the criminal proceedings against
her had terminated in her favor, (Doc. 26), which the
Magistrate Judge granted on November 17, 2014, (Doc. 27).
Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file her First Amended
Complaint on March 19, 2015. (Doc. 34). On April 15, 2015,
the Magistrate Judge granted Plaintiffs unopposed motion for
leave to amend, (Doc. 37), and Plaintiffs First Amended
Complaint was entered into the record that same day. (Doc.
First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff included new allegations
related to her arrest and the criminal charges and
proceedings brought against her. (Doc. 38 at ¶¶
22-32). Plaintiff asserts that Dr. Freeman and Ms. Senegal
signed affidavits accusing her of improperly prescribing
erectile dysfunction medication to patients, including family
members, (Id. at ¶ 33), and this led to the
criminal charges instituted against her, (Id. at
¶ 32). Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that the
affidavit signed by Dr. Freeman states, in pertinent part,
[Plaintiff] was prescribing medications particularly for
erectile dysfunction to many patients including family
members. Some people were prescribed as many as three
prescriptions for erectile dysfunction at the same time. This
appears to have been going on for some time.
(Id. at ¶ 33). Plaintiff further asserts that
this allegation was made solely for the purpose of
discrediting her and defeating her EEOC charge of
discrimination, which allegedly cost Plaintiff her job,
caused her to be charged with a crime, and caused her to be
discredited in the community. (Id. at ¶
August 21, 2015, Dr. Joseph Freeman filed a Motion to Dismiss
(Doc. 56), arguing, inter alia, that Plaintiffs
malicious prosecution and defamation claims brought against
him should be dismissed on the grounds that they were subject
to the one-year prescriptive period provided by Louisiana
Civil Code article 2492. (Doc. 56-1 at pp. 3-4). The Court
granted Dr. Freeman's motion, dismissing Plaintiffs
malicious prosecution and defamation claims against him as
having prescribed before Plaintiff included them in her First
Amended Complaint. (See Doc. 68).
October 31, 2016, Southeast filed the instant Motion for
Summary Judgment. (Doc. 82). In its motion, Southeast argues
that Plaintiff is unable to establish a prima facie
case for unlawful retaliation under Title VII. Specifically,
Southeast asserts that Plaintiff offers no evidence of a
causal connection between her filing an EEOC Charge and
termination of her employment. (Doc. 82-1 at p. 11).
Southeast suggests that the extended period of time between
Plaintiff filing her second EEOC Charge and her
termination-around 10 months-indicates that "the two
events are entirely unrelated." (Id.).
Southeast also avers that its response to prior complaints
filed by Plaintiff demonstrates that there was no animosity
or retaliatory intent on its part; "in fact, "
Southeast argues, "they demonstrate the opposite - that
SCHS listened and responded to Ms. Atkins' complaints of
discrimination." (Doc. 82-1 at pp. 11 - 12). Southeast
further argues that there is no evidence that there was any
discussion of Ms. Atkins' pending EEOC Charge by
Southeast employees then conducting the investigation."
(Doc. 82-1 at p. 12).
Southeast argues that it asserted a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Plaintiffs
employment, namely, the "overwhelming indications that
she submitted prescriptions to the PAP without appropriately
documented prescriptions and provider approvals, almost
always for Viagra, a high value drug, and almost always on
behalf of friends and family members." (Doc. 82-1 at p.
12). Southeast suggests that Plaintiff cannot prove that
Southeast's stated reason is actually a pretext for
unlawful discrimination. That is, Southeast asserts that
"[a]side from [Plaintiffs] claims of verbal
authorization, Ms. Atkins offers no justification whatsoever
for her actions, and no evidence at all in rebuttal of
SCHS's legitimate discriminatory reason for her
termination." (Doc. 82-1 at pp. 11-12).
Southeast argues that the Court should dismiss Plaintiffs
malicious prosecution and defamation claims against it for
the same reasons the Court dismissed identical claims against
Dr. Freeman, namely, because the claims had prescribed by the
time Plaintiff filed ...