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Atkins v. Southeast Community Health Systems

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 7, 2017




         Before 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 26, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Southeast. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff asserted that she began working as an administrative assistant for Southeast[1] 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).

         Plaintiff further alleges that she filed a second charge of discrimination sometime in early-to-mid 2009.[2] (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 the EEOC.

         On 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).

         On 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. 38).

         In the 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, the following:

[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 ¶ 36).[3]

         On 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).

         On 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."[4] (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).

         Additionally, 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).

         Finally, 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 ...

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