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Mills v. City of Shreveport

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

September 17, 2019

DEBORAH MILLS
v.
CITY OF SHREVEPORT

          KAREN L. HAYES, MAG. JUDGE

          RULING

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Deborah Mills (“Mills”) brought this employment discrimination action against her current employer, the City of Shreveport (“the City”). Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Hostile Work Environment Claims (“Motion for Summary Judgment”) [Doc. No. 34] filed by the City. Mills opposes the motion. [Doc. No. 36]. The City filed a Reply [Doc. No. 37].

         For reasons assigned below, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY [1" name= "FN1" id="FN1">1]

         Mills is employed by the City as a Captain with the Shreveport Fire Department (“SFD”). She serves as an EMS Supervisor.

         On December 10, 2015, the SFD received a call requesting assistance for a patient experiencing cardiorespiratory distress.

         The crew of Fire Engine-8 responded to the call and found the patient face down in a bathtub, bleeding from her mouth and nose. The patient had no pulse and had stopped breathing. The firefighters began CPR in an attempt to restore the patient's pulse and inserted a “King LT” airway device, which is a laryngeal tube that allows for mechanical ventilation.

         An SFD ambulance unit, “Sprint-8, ” arrived at the scene as the crew of Fire Engine-8 continued to provide emergency care. Mills, acting in her capacity as EMS Supervisor, also responded to the scene separately in her department vehicle (Unit C-82).

         Mills contacted the physician at the Willis-Knighton North emergency room and requested that the physician authorize the administration of nitroglycerin as the patient was not responding to the other treatment. According to firefighters, a pulse was detected.

         The City contends that Mills had obtained authorization to administer nitroglycerin sublingually, but that when the patient's mouth could not be accessed, she ordered responders to rub the nitroglycerin into the patient's chest. It is not within protocol to administer sublingual nitroglycerin topically to the chest. [Doc. No. 20, Exh. A, pp. 30-31; Exh. A-6]. The responders did not follow Mills' alleged instructions. In support of these allegations, the City provided copies of complaints received about the incident. [Doc. No. 20, Exh. A-4 & A-5].

         Mills denies these allegations, however. She further contends that, during this same incident, a male firefighter suggested nitroglycerin be sprayed down the patient's throat, which is not protocol. She further contends that another male firefighter suggested field termination of treatment without talking to the family or EMS supervisor, also contrary to protocol. Neither of these firefighters was a supervisor, nor did either of the suggested actions take place.

         Mills was advised on January 8, 2016, that an internal affairs investigation had been initiated. On January 12, 2016, the investigation was assigned to Fire Investigator Chris Robinson (“Robinson”). From January 12, 2016, to February 8, 2016, Robinson conducted eyewitness interviews. According to Robinson, all firefighters who were witnesses to the event said that Mills issued the command to apply the sublingual nitroglycerin topically. On January 26, 2016, Robinson interviewed Mills, who denied issuing the command.

         On February 8, 2016. Robinson issued an investigation report to Chief Wolverton, finding that Mills had given treatment orders in violation of departmental rules and regulations.

         On February 23, 2016, four physicians who serve as EMS medical directors and under whose licenses the EMS personnel provide emergency services wrote a letter to Chief Wolverton expressing concerns about Mills' alleged conduct. Mills contends that the letters were generated at the request of Chief Wolverton and based on false information provided to the physicians by Chief Wolverton.

         On March 4, 2016, Chief Wolverton was advised that Mills had requested copies of any variances or complaints on her that had gone to the Quality Review Board. Mills' request was denied at that time, and later that day she was advised that the Pre-Disciplinary Conference had been set for March 7, 2016. Mills responded that she was on vacation, and her counsel was not available on March 7, 2016, but Chief Wolverton insisted that the Pre-Disciplinary Conference go forward on that date. The Pre-Disciplinary Conference was held on March 7, 2016, and Mills was informed of the evidence supporting the alleged violation of department rules and regulations. While she was permitted to respond, she did not have her counsel present.

         On March 21, 2016, Mills made a confidential complaint to Human Resources about Chief Wolverton; Firefighters David White, Jeff Cameron, Daniel Buckingham; Engineers Evan Bayton, Jason Matthews, and Chris Elmore; Fire Captains Bobby Roberts and Todd Olague; and Dr. Avery Callahan, alleging harassment on the basis of sex and race. She alleged that the complaint against her was not proper because it was anonymous and procedures were not followed. She further alleged that she and another female captain had been the subject of “great opposition and resistance from the beginning.” [Doc. No. 20, Exh. B]. She indicated that “work is a hostile work environment.” Id.

         On May 5, 2016, Mills met with Chief Wolverton and received a remediation plan. She was placed on paid suspension from practicing as a paramedic until she completed remediation training between May 9 and 30, 2016. She was further placed on probation for one year. Because of the City's actions, Mills contends that she suffered a loss of pay from her lack of ability to practice as a paramedic while off duty.

         On May 6, 2016, Mills filed an appeal of Chief Wolverton's decision, and a Civil Service Board Hearing was scheduled for September 7, 2016.

         On May 8, 2016, Mills filed a supplementary request with the Civil Service Board that it “investigate the suspension of [her] paramedic privileges, ” as well as “the practices and acts of . . . Chief . . . Wolverton and Captain Todd Olague.” [Doc. No. 20, Exh. E]. She detailed the alleged actions against her and asserted that she had been subjected to discrimination because she is “black and female, ” retaliation for the harassment complaint she made, and that “[t]his is becoming more and more a hostile work environment.” Id.

         On May 23, 2016, prior the Civil Service Board Hearing, Mills completed remediation training, but she remained on probation.

         On September 7, 2016, a Civil Service Board Hearing was held.

         After her counsel had conducted a lengthy cross examination of Chief Wolverton (the first witness at the hearing), the City offered to resolve the matter by granting Mills all of her requests with the exception of attorney's fees. As part of the agreement, Mills was removed from probation effective immediately; Chief Wolverton would issue a new Variance Policy requiring all complaints regarding patient care issues be filed in writing through the procedures set forth in the policy, prohibiting employees from filing complaints anonymously or making verbal complaints to the Medical Director, and subjecting employees to discipline if they do so; the City agreed to pay for a mediator to meet with Mills and Dr. Callahan to address any lingering issues; and Chief Wolverton would discuss the anonymous complaint with Dr. Callahan to investigate and determine how she received it. [Doc. No. 25-5, Exh. 27]. Mills continued her duties as EMS supervisor in the same capacity, for the same pay, as before the investigation. The Civil Service Board awarded Mills $1, 000 in attorney's fees to be paid by SFD, over SFD's objection. Id.

         SFD appealed the attorney's fee ruling to the Louisiana First Judicial District Court, which affirmed the award.

         On October 3, 2016, Mills filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging harassment, discrimination, and retaliation on the basis of sex and race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and La. Rev. Stat. 23:332, et seq., for the time period of January through August 2016. There is no “box” for hostile work ...


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