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Recent Summary Judgment Orders for the Northern District of Georgia

Posted by B&F Contributor | Apr 28, 2021 | 0 Comments

In this first feature below, you will find summaries of four recent employment-related reports and recommendations by magistrate judges in the Northern District of Georgia. For a copy of each order, click on the link at the end of the summary.

  • Giordano v. Adaptive Learning Center for Infants and Children, Inc.; District Judge Ross and Magistrate Judge Salinas; Disability discrimination and retaliation as well as breach of employment contract claims; Summary Judgment: Denied. 
  • Jordan-Philadelphia v. WellStar Atlanta Medical Center, Inc.; District Judge May and Magistrate Judge Walker; National origin discrimination and retaliation claims; Summary Judgment: Granted. 
  • Little v. Star Asia International, Inc.; District Judge Ray and Magistrate Judge Larkins; Racial and gender discrimination claims; Summary Judgment: Granted. 
  • Willingham v. City of Douglasville, GA, et al.; District Judge Cooper and Magistrate Judge Johnson; Race discrimination and retaliation claims; Summary Judgment: Denied. 

Case: Giordano v. Adaptive Learning Center for Infants and Children, Inc.

Magistrate Judge: Catherine M. Salinas

District Judge: Eleanor L. Ross

Claims & Outcomes: 

       1. Claim: ADA Disability Discrimination

           Outcome: Recommend Summary Judgment Denial

        2. Claim: ADA Retaliation

            Outcome: Recommend Summary Judgment Denial

         3. Claim: Breach of Employment Contract (Georgia state law)

             Outcome: Recommend Summary Judgment Denial

Summary:

Magistrate Judge Catherine M. Salinas recommended denial of summary judgment in this case involving an employee with seizure-like anxiety episodes. Employer Adaptive Learning had asked for summary judgment on Cecilia Giordano's claims of ADA disability discrimination, retaliation, and breach of the employment contract but failed to specifically challenge or analyze the specific claims in its motion. Instead, Adaptive focused on the issue of whether Giordano was terminated or resigned. Judge Salinas called the case a “classic dispute over a material fact . . . that only a jury can resolve” and denied summary judgment. In an unusual action in favor of the non-movant, Judge Salinas also deemed facts included in Giordano's Statement of Additional Material Facts as admitted when Adaptive failed to respond to them.

To read the full analysis, click here.

For a copy of the complete order, click here. 

Case: Jordan-Philadelphia v. WellStar Atlanta Medical Center, Inc.

Magistrate Judge: Linda T. Walker

District Judge: Leigh Martin May

Claims & Outcomes: 

    1. Claim: Title VII – National Origin Discrimination – Hostile Work Environment

        Outcome: Recommend Denial of Plaintiff's Summary Judgment Motion and Granting Defendant's Summary Judgment Motion

     2. Claim: Title VII – Retaliation – Hostile Work Environment

         Outcome: Recommend Denial of Plaintiff's Summary Judgment Motion and Granting Defendant's Summary Judgment Motion

Summary:

Plaintiff Desiree Jordan-Philadelphia alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her national origins and a retaliatory hostile work environment while employed by Defendant WellStar Atlanta Medical Center, Inc.  She also alleged the harassment resulted in her constructive discharge when it became so bad she was forced to resign.  Both Plaintiff and Defendant moved for summary judgment.

Magistrate Judge Linda T. Walker determined that Plaintiff was able to establish some of the elements of her hostile work environment claims - that she was a protected nationality (Guyanese), engaged in protected activity, and was subjected to unwelcome harassment.  However, Judge Walker concluded that the harassment was neither severe nor pervasive enough to create an actionable hostile work environment.  (Note: 7 days after this decision, the Eleventh Circuit held that the standard for retaliatory hostile work environment is “might have dissuaded a reasonable worker” rather than “severe or pervasive.”  Babb v. Sec'y, Dep't of Veterans Affairs (11th Cir. April 1, 2011).)  As to severity, Judge Walker determined that Jordan-Philadelphia alleged offensive comments and rude behavior but was not anything that went beyond the “ordinary tribulations of the workplace.”  As to pervasiveness, Judge Walker held that Plaintiff pointed to only three incidents in a three-year period, which she held was not pervasive enough, comparing this to other cases which had almost daily offensive behavior.  Finally, Judge Walker held that, if Plaintiff could not show a hostile work environment, she could not meet the even higher standard for proving constructive discharge.  Judge Walker recommended granting summary judgment against Plaintiff on all claims.

To read the full analysis, click here. 

For a copy of the complete order, click here. 

Case: Little v. Star Asia International, Inc.

Magistrate Judge: John K. Larkins, III

District Judge: William M. Ray, II

Claims & Outcomes: 

       1. Claim: Section 1981 Discrimination

          Outcome: Recommend Summary Judgment Granted

       2. Claim: Title VII Discrimination – Race 

           Outcome: Recommend Summary Judgment Granted

       3. Claim: Title VII Discrimination – Gender 

           Outcome: Recommend Summary Judgment Granted

Summary:

Defendant Star Asia International, Inc. hired Plaintiff Nelson Little, an African-American male, in July 2018.  In August 2018, Star Asia's President told Little that the CEO “would have preferred a white woman in this position, but I'm overriding that because I like you.”  In October 2018, the CEO seemed to confirm that, telling little “I would never have hired you, but seeing that [the President] hired you, I have to deal with it now.”  The President and the COO found Little had work performance issues and rated him as “Needs Improvement” in a 2018-2019 performance review.  Then, in December 2019, Plaintiff shared an email with confidential information to the entire workforce.  The next day, the President and CEO decided to fire Little, with the President telling him it was because he was not a “cultural fit.”  Plaintiff filed suit, alleging race and gender discrimination.

Star Asia moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims.  Magistrate Judge John K. Larkins, III held that the “cultural fit” remark was too indirect to constitute direct evidence of discrimination and the CEO's August 2018 statement about preferring white women in Plaintiff's role was too far removed from the December 2019 termination to be direct evidence.  Judge Larkins further held that Plaintiff had not shown that his white female predecessors were sufficiently similarly situated to show discrimination because they had not engaged in the same “basic conduct or misconduct.”  In addition, Judge Larkins concluded that Little had not shown Star Asia's justification for firing him - job performance - was pretext for discrimination.  Little's only evidence against that justification was the claim that the CEO's August 2018 comments showed his true motive was discrimination, and those comments were, again, too far removed from the termination.  Judge Larkins, therefore, recommended granting summary judgment on all claims in favor of Defendant.

To read the full analysis, click here.

For a copy of the complete order, click here.

Case: Willingham v. City of Douglasville, GA, et al.

Magistrate Judge: Walter E. Johnson

District Judge: Clarence Cooper

Claims & Outcomes: 

      1. Claim: 42 U.S.C. § 1983 – race discrimination and retaliation

          Outcome: Recommend Summary Judgment Denial

      2. Claim: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – race discrimination and retaliation

          Outcome: Recommend Summary Judgment Denial

      3. Claim: 42 U.S.C. § 1981 – race discrimination and retaliation

          Outcome: Recommend Summary Judgment Denial

Summary: When white male Bobby Willingham was demoted with reduced pay and then denied other jobs within the City of Douglasville's Department of Parks and Recreation following a series of alleged discriminatory and retaliatory acts by his supervisors, he filed suit. In one instance, which occurred shortly before the pay reduction, Willingham alleged he overheard the director of Parks and Recreation note on the phone that he was going to “get rid of that white boy, hopefully soon.” In another instance, a supervisor allegedly suggested that Willingham transfer to a “mostly white” department. Magistrate Judge Walter E. Johnson found that the comments were not direct evidence of racial discrimination but were circumstantial evidence of discriminatory motives and were sufficient to raise a jury issue that the City's justifications for the demotion were pretext for race discrimination. In regard to the retaliatory claims, the judge stated they met all required elements and noted a reasonable jury could find that Willingham's supervisors retaliated against him based on his repeated complaints of discrimination. Judge Johnson also found that the City of Douglasville could be liable under § 1983, and recommended denial of summary judgment on all claims.

To read the full analysis, click here.

For a copy of the complete order, click here.

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