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Brown v. The Blood Center

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

March 15, 2018


         APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2015-07008, DIVISION "0" Honorable Paulette R. Irons, Judge



          Court composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Dennis R. Bagneris, Sr., Pro Tempore

          Dennis R. Bagneris, Sr., Pro Tempore Judge

         Plaintiff, Shameka A. Brown, appeals a judgment of the district court granting a motion for summary judgment in favor of defendant, The Blood Center (TBC), and dismissing all claims asserted by Ms. Brown against TBC. For reasons that follow, we affirm.


         On July 22, 2015, Shameka Brown filed a lawsuit seeking damages for unlawful termination from her job as a supervisor of a mobile blood center operated by defendant, TBC. Ms. Brown makes claims for damages pursuant to the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law embodied in La. R.S. 23:301 et seq., and the Louisiana Pregnancy Discrimination Act set forth in La. R.S. 23:341 et seq. TBC answered the petition and asserted several affirmative defenses including the inability of plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under either the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Act or the Louisiana Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

         In the petition Ms. Brown asserts that on August 9, 2014, she became ill at work due to a difficult pregnancy and vomited and urinated on herself. The petition alleges that, because of this incident, she was terminated for abandonment of her job before her next shift despite the fact that a medical emergency required her to leave work temporarily to shower and change her clothes.

         The parties conducted discovery, after which TBC filed a motion for summary judgment on September 23, 2016. The trial court denied that motion, but allowed TBC to re-urge the motion after the taking of a deposition of a TBC representative regarding the work rule allegedly violated by Ms. Brown.

         On February 8, 2017, TBC filed a second motion for summary judgment. After a hearing on the motion, the trial court rendered judgment on May 4, 2017, granting the summary judgment and dismissing all of Ms. Brown's claims against TBC with prejudice. Ms. Brown filed a timely appeal from that judgment.


         Shameka Brown is a whole blood apheresis technician who held the title of mobile supervisor with TBC since 2010. On August 9, 2014, Ms. Brown was the supervisor on duty at the Slidell blood donation center. At that time she was about seven months pregnant with her first child. Due to the difficult pregnancy, Ms. Brown suddenly became ill with nausea and dizziness, causing her to vomit and urinate on herself. Ms. Brown left the blood center and went home to shower and change. She called her supervisor about two hours later to explain what happened and why she left her job without permission. After that conversation, Ms. Brown returned to work and completed the remainder of her shift.

         A few days later Ms. Brown was terminated for abandoning her assigned duty as the scheduled supervisor without appropriate notification in violation of company policy. This policy is incorporated in the company manual introduced into the record. The manual specifically states that employment at TBC is at-will and that leaving a work station without permission while on duty is cause for immediate dismissal.

         In her deposition, Ms. Brown admitted she left her post without notifying her supervisor. She also admitted she knew that behavior was grounds for immediate termination. Ms. Brown testified that she was embarrassed by the incident and could not continue working in her soiled clothing. Ms. Brown told a co-worker she was leaving, but did not notify her immediate supervisor about the incident until about two hours after she left her job. In the interim, the TBC facility was without supervision.

         The report supporting the decision to terminate Ms. Brown's employment shows that Jerry Himel, the marketing manager, went to the Slidell donor center at about 2:30 p.m. He found two fire trucks outside and five donors waiting to give blood. The "bleeding area" was empty. When Mr. Himel questioned staff, he learned that the supervisor, Shemeka Brown, left about 1:00 p.m. due to an illness. Mr. Himel notified Antonio White, Ms. Brown's immediate supervisor, of the problem. It was about this time that Ms. Brown called Mr. White to tell him she left her post. After speaking with Mr. White, Ms. Brown returned to her job at about 3:00 p.m. Ms. Brown did not dispute any of these facts; although she did state that she told a co-worker she was leaving, but not her supervisor.

         Antonio White, Ms. Brown's immediate supervisor, testified that he learned of her absence when he got a phone call from another employee who told him the blood center was busy and there was no supervisor on duty. Mr. White later received a call from Ms. Brown, who told him she left her post because she wasn't feeling well. She also stated she knew the blood center was busy, but she could not return because she was not wearing her uniform. At that time, Ms. Brown did not provide any details of her illness.


         "After an opportunity for adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[1] A motion for summary judgment should be granted when there is no genuine issue of fact remaining to be decided for all or part of the relief sought by a litigant.[2] In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, appellate courts review the evidence de novo using the same standard applicable to the trial court.[3] This standard of review requires this Court to consider evidence presented in the record, and to make an independent determination that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[4] Generally, the burden of proof rests with the mover. However, "if the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the issue that is before the court on the motion for summary judgment, the mover's burden on the motion does not require him to negate all essential elements of the adverse party's claim, action, or defense, but rather to point out to the court the absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party's claim, action, or defense." [5]

         Claimant makes two claims in her action against TBC for wrongful termination from her employment. She asserts she was discriminated against because of a disability and/or a pregnancy-related condition.

         Our Louisiana law follows the Americans with Disabilities Act, set forth in 42 USC § 12101, et seq.[6] Accordingly, we are guided by federal jurisprudence interpreting discrimination cases and our review of Ms. Brown's claims will follow the analysis set forth under federal law.[7] The requirements for a discrimination claim were articulated in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green[8]. Under the McDonnell Douglas test, a plaintiff is required to show that: (1) she was a member of a protected class, (2) she was qualified for the position she lost, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) that others similarly situated were more favorably treated.[9]

         La. R.S. 23:323A provides that, "(n)o otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, on the basis of a disability, be subjected to discrimination in employment." "To defeat a motion for summary judgment against an employment disability claim, the claimant must establish a prima facie case that: (1) he has a disability, as defined by the statute, (2) he is qualified for the job, and (3) an adverse employment decision was made solely because of the disability."[ ...

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