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Donna Marie King v. Sisters of St. Francis Health Services

May 11, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber


Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment in this racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. For the reasons stated herein, the motion is granted.


In December of 2005, Defendant Janet Tokarczyk ("Tokarczyk"), as Director of Case Management for Defendant Sisters of St. Francis Health Services, Inc. ("St. James" Hospital) interviewed and hired Plaintiff Donna Marie King ("King"), a nurse, for the position of Case Manager at St. James. Tokarczyk, who is white, became the supervisor of King, who is African American. Thus began what was to become an extremely rocky relationship between King and a number of co-workers (both black and white) and supervisors at St. James.

The record documents problems beginning shortly after King's hire, but the parties' statements of material fact stick to the following events.

On March 10, 2008, King's co-worker Sue Griffin ("Griffin"), an African-American social worker, complained in an e-mail to Tokarczyk about King's "disruptive and inappropriate behavior," alleging that King inappropriately tried to act as her supervisor and made "demeaning and belittling comments and gestures toward me." She felt "harassed by her aggressive and confrontational behavior." Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. C; ECF 39-3, PageID Nos. 235-238.

On March 12, 2008, King's co-worker Shauntel Bond ("Bond"), also African-American, complained in writing to superiors about several incidents involving King. The first was a heated March 7, 2008 argument between King and Griffin that was "causing a disturbance on the unit." Bond reported that the two had had similar heated exchanges on several occasions and that she had notified supervisors of each occasion. The memo also detailed a March 10, 2008 disagreement between Bond and King, and that Bond felt King "is aggressive and can't get along with anyone on the unit." It detailed another disagreement between Bond and King on March 11, 2008 that required another employee, "Jan," (presumably either Case Manager Jan Berry or Janet Tokarczyk) to intervene between the two. When "Jan" intervened, Bond complained to "Jan" that King "had run ins with physicians, staff and myself on several occasions." Finally, the e-mail recounted a past "difficult time" King gave Bond when Bond asked her to remove her personal belongings from a break room and cabinets in the case management office. Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. D; ECF No. 39-4, PageID Nos. 243-244. King attributes the problems with Bond to jealousy over a male doctor's attention toward King instead of Bond.

On March 13, 2008, King's co-worker Nancy Honeycutt ("Honeycutt") reported in an e-mail to Tokarczyk that Honeycutt had received a complaint from an employee, Angela Bell ("Bell"), about King. Honeycutt reported that Bell, after King put her belongings in the staff lounge, mentioned to King that Bond had just removed stray items from the lounge in preparation for an inspection, and Bell suggested King do the same with her personal items. Bell reported that King replied, "I'd like to see that Mother Fu[ck]er [Bond] touch my stuff." (King denies she said that.) Bell also reported that King later screamed down the hall at Bell in regards to the incident. Id. Honeycutt, in the same e-mail, told Tokarczyk that King's co-workers had mentioned "Donna's unprofessionalism and her mistreatment of staff on a number of occasions." Id.

Sometime in early 2008, Tokarczyk met with King and the Vice President of Human Resources over King's behavior. King was suspended for two days; she does not feel the suspension was racial discrimination.

Also some time in 2008, King says, Honeycutt told her of a racially tinged comment made by another employee, Debra Hagemaster ("Hagemaster"), about 3-South (the unit on which King worked) becoming "ghetto." King says she interpreted the comment to be a reference to the fact that three African Americans were now working on 3-South. She said she told Tokarczyk of the comment in 2008, shortly after Hagemaster reportedly made it, but that Tokarczyk made no response. Tokarczyk says King never mentioned it.

On November 19, 2008, Griffin again e-mailed Tokarczyk to complain about King's "continuous inappropriate and confrontational behavior." Griffin reported that not only hadn't things improved, but King "is now becoming more aggressive to the point that it is threatening." Specifically, she reported King stormed in and loudly confronted her for not taking her phone call. "I am concerned about the overall well being and safety of this environment. What will she do next?" Griffin wrote. Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. C.; ECF 39-3, PageID Nos. 239-240. King says Griffin lied about her.

At approximately the same time as the November 2008 Griffin e-mail, the hospital's new Vice President of Human Resources, Janet Slaven-Allen ("Slaven-Allen") held a meeting with King and Tokarczyk and noted King had a history of attendance problems.

King does not dispute she had attendance problems and was suspended more than once for it. King does not know if the attendance suspension "was racism or if that was just being unfair." Pl.s' Resp. to Defs.' Statement of Material Facts 10. King admits that Slaven-Allen warned her in that meeting that if "anything else" happened, she'd be fired.

At that same meeting, King reported to Slaven-Allen that co-worker Glen Rach ("Rach"), a staff nurse, had called her a "black bitch" two years before. Tokarczyk testified this was the first she had heard of this complaint, but King maintains she told Tokarczyk of the incident when it occurred, and Tokarczyk did not investigate, saying that it would be a he-said, she-said matter. King admits Rach apologized to her for the comment sometime after he made it and prior to King reporting it to Slaven-Allen.

Both Plaintiff and Defendants agree that Slaven-Allen instructed Tokarczyk to investigate the incident, even though it was two years old. Tokarczyk did, and Rach denied making the "black bitch" comment, although he admitted he had gotten into a screaming match with King at the time and apologized to her shortly after the argument for raising his voice.

King's friend, Debra Wigfall ("Wigfall"), testified she witnessed Rach's apology and that Rach later confided to Wigfall that he had called King a "black bitch." Rach denies this. Rach also testified he once saw King standing over Griffin, screaming at her about job performance with her fist clenched. King denies this.

King admits having difficulties, at unspecified times, with co-worker Jan Berry ("Berry"), requiring Tokarczyk to hold a meeting with the two so that they could work better together. King further admits having difficulties with another co-worker, Debra Hagemaster, which also required Tokarczyk to bring the two together for a meeting.

On March 3, 2010, King arrived late to a department staff meeting. She was late because she stopped at the cafeteria for cabbage and had to wait for bacon to be prepared to go with her cabbage. She eventually gave up on the bacon and proceeded to the meeting, arriving with a cup of water in one hand and the bowl of cabbage in the other. Her hands full, she knocked on the windowless door where the meeting was taking place. A co-worker, Caryn Muirhead ("Muirhead"), opened the door, swinging it inward. King contends Muirhead, upon seeing her, pushed the door back upon her, causing King's water to spill on her arm. Muirhead said she merely opened the door and was unaware that water spilled on King. King's friend, Wigfall, who was present and witnessed the incident, says she is uncertain if Muirhead pushed the door toward King or just let go of it, activating its self-closing mechanism.

King complained to Tokarczyk, who was also at the meeting but did not witness the incident. Tokarczyk called King the next day and asked King to document the incident. Tokarczyk also gathered information from Wigfall, Muirhead and another meeting attendee, Linda Armellino.

On March 5, 2010, King sent Tokarczyk an e-mail titled "assault," copying King's home e-mail. The e-mail complained of the door incident and of another incident where Jan Berry "angrily shoved [a] chart at me." Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. D; ECF 39-4, PageID No. 246.

Around this same time, two hospital employees (Griffin and Mary Dunn) complained to Tokarczyk that King was working at another hospital and calling off of work at St. James to do so. King admits these employees made such complaints, and that Griffin even provided Tokarczyk a document listing King as an employee of Metro South Hospital. Tokarczyk brought this information to SlavenAllen's attention.

On approximately March 10, 2010, Tokarczyk, Slaven-Allen and King had a meeting. They discussed the results of Tokarczyk's investigation of the March 3, 2010 door incident. At the same meeting, Slaven-Allen asked King point-blank if she was working somewhere else. King admits she lied and told Slaven-Allen she was not working elsewhere, when in fact she was. Slaven-Allen and King agree that Slaven-Allen told King at the meeting that the "assault" e-mail was a serious charge and that Slaven-Allen felt as if King was setting the stage for an EEOC complaint.

King claims she told Slaven-Allen and Tokarczyk at the March 10, 2010 meeting that her treatment at St. James was about "black versus white, and white is always right at St. James." King claims Slaven-Allen told King she didn't like it when people played the "race card" and that the hospital was going to go "on ...

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