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Roy v. Correct Care Solutions, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 30, 2018

TARA J. ROY, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECT CARE SOLUTIONS, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JON D. LEVY U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Tara J. Roy has filed suit against her former employer, Correct Care Solutions, LLC (“CCS”), and the Maine Department of Corrections (“MDOC”), with whom CCS contracted to provide healthcare services to inmates at the Maine State Prison in Warren, Maine. She also sues Rodney Bouffard, the prison's Warden, and Troy Ross, the Deputy Warden, in their individual capacities (collectively, the “Defendants”). She alleges that she was subject to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, as well as unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e, et seq. (2018), and the Maine Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), 5 M.R.S.A. § 4551, et seq. (2017). Roy also asserts constitutional claims against Defendants Bouffard and Ross. All of the Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the claims against them (ECF Nos. 57 and 63). For the reasons that follow, I grant the Defendants' motions.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Except where otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed.

         On August 13, 2012, Roy began working as a Licensed Practical Nurse employed by CCS at the prison; CCS had a contract with the MDOC, under which it provided healthcare services to inmates. Roy's job description included a requirement that she maintain a security clearance. Roy worked in the prison medical clinic, a part of the medical facility along with the infirmary, and was directly supervised by two CCS employees. Two Corrections Officers employed by the MDOC are assigned to the medical facility to provide safety and security.

         On February 5, 2013, Roy reported to her supervisors that MDOC Corrections Officer Snow had made inappropriate comments to her, including disparaging comments about her being blonde and female, and had made inappropriate and unwanted physical contact with her. Roy considered Snow's conduct sexual harassment. The MDOC investigated Roy's complaint and found insufficient evidence to support Roy's allegations, but Snow was reassigned out of the medical clinic and thereafter did not work directly with Roy. Roy does not claim that Snow made any further inappropriate comments or physical contact after he was reassigned out of the clinic.

         In April or May 2014, Roy became the sick call nurse in the medical clinic. Around that time, Officer Turner, one of the Corrections Officers often assigned to the medical clinic, made comments about women to Roy such as “why do we have females when . . . men do everything, ” and that a woman's “job is to be at home.” ECF No. 40 at 37. Roy told Turner that these comments were offensive, but Turner continued to make them. Turner also, at times, ignored her, including her requests to bring sick inmates to the clinic. On June 20, 2014, Roy filed an incident report that Turner had acted unprofessionally. ECF No. 35-16. Starting in June or July 2014, Roy made frequent oral complaints to her supervisors that Turner was absent from his post. Roy sent additional emails to her supervisor on July 24 and July 31, 2014, complaining that Turner had left the clinic unattended. Roy further complained to her supervisors that Turner, in response to her complaints against him, had retaliated by working slowly and being uncooperative.

         Also starting in June or July 2014, Roy complained to her supervisors that Corrections Officers had asked her to share confidential inmate medical information. Roy made similar complaints on August 1 and August 4, 2014. On July 16, 2014, Roy emailed her supervisor to report that various officers were no longer speaking to her or would yell at her because she wouldn't disclose inmate medical information. On July 17, 2014, Roy sent another email reporting similar behavior.

         On August 4, 2014, Roy emailed her supervisor to report that Corrections Officer Parrow had told her to “stop being a bitch” in response to her informing him of what she believed to be correct workplace protocol. Roy filed an incident report on August 26, 2014, reporting that Parrow called her a “bitch” a second time. Roy and Parrow had been romantically involved but that relationship had ended. On at least one occasion, Parrow, in explicit terms, propositioned Roy to become sexually involved again, but Roy rejected the advance. Roy reported to her supervisor that Parrow was angry with her because she spurned his advance, and that she believed that Parrow had called her a “bitch” for the same reason.

         Between July and September 2014, several Corrections Officers filed at least five reports complaining of unprofessional conduct by Roy, including one by Snow on September 18, 2014, that alleged that Roy had yelled at him. Roy alleges-though the Defendants dispute-that these reports were either false or exaggerated, and were filed in retaliation against her earlier complaints about sexual harassment, safety concerns, and officers seeking confidential medical information. Roy does not identify which of the alleged retaliatory reports were sexual harassment, and which were not.

         On September 12, 2014, Roy filed an incident report complaining that a Corrections Officer had commented to another officer that they needed “to get [Roy] off her ass and moving, ” which Roy believed to be sexual harassment. ECF No. 49-28. On September 23, 2014, Roy filed an incident report arising out of a Facebook conversation with a different Corrections Officer. In that conversation, the Corrections Officer stated that another officer was trying to get her fired for filing complaints against Turner and was spreading rumors that she had slept with “everyone in the prison.” ECF No. 35-20 at 2. During the Facebook conversation, the officer asked to call Roy and she declined. Several days later, still on Facebook, the officer messaged Roy that she should try to smile, and later wrote: “I UN FRIEND YOU Tired of attitude. . . .” Id. at 4. Roy believed this behavior was sexual harassment and retaliation for her not speaking with him on the phone.

         On September 26, 2014, Roy was working in the medical facility along with at least one other nurse. There were two Corrections Officers on duty: Officer King in the clinic and Officer Snodgrass in the infirmary. At approximately 10:00 a.m., King responded to an incident alert and left the clinic. After King left, Roy and another nurse called Snodgrass three times to come to the clinic where there were three inmates present, but Snodgrass appeared to be sleeping and was barely responsive to their calls. Surveillance footage shows that a different officer arrived at the clinic thirty seconds after King left in response to the alert and that Snodgrass eventually came to the clinic approximately six minutes after the alert. At least one of those officers is seen on camera for all but, at most, one minute and 49 seconds of the fifteen minutes following King's departure (though Defendants contend there was a Corrections Officer present for all but the first 30 seconds after King left). Roy reported to the prison Captain that she had been left unsupervised in the clinic without a Corrections Officer present. Roy told the Captain that the Corrections Officer on duty in the clinic responded to an incident call, leaving prisoners unattended, and that the officer on duty in the infirmary did not arrive to cover the clinic for fifteen minutes. The Captain told Roy that she needed to file an incident report, but she refused, stating that her supervisor had told her that Deputy Warden Ross did not want her to write any more reports. The Defendants dispute that Ross told Roy to stop filing complaints and assert that Ross only wanted Roy's complaints to be better substantiated. ECF No. 43 at 26. Ultimately, the other nurse present at the time of the incident filed an incident report, indicating that there was no officer present in the clinic for roughly fifteen minutes.

         Later on September 26, 2014, Roy's supervisors met with Ross, the prison Captain, and an MDOC human resources representative, among others, to discuss incident reports filed by Roy that had resulted in investigations. At this meeting, Ross expressed frustration that Roy was involved in so many investigations and stated that he wanted to revoke Roy's security clearance (stating that he wanted to “gate-close” her). CCS subsequently decided that Roy should be suspended to allow the situation to cool and to protect Roy from further allegations and complaints. On October 2, 2014, Bouffard emailed CCS that Roy's security clearance was being revoked because she misrepresented the truth and failed to follow the prison Captain's directive to file an incident report. Bouffard's decision was based on information reported to him by Ross. This decision was based, according to Bouffard, on the conclusion that Roy had alleged that the clinic was unsupervised for a period of fifteen minutes when, in fact, it had been at most less than two minutes, as well as her refusal to write an incident report.

         On October 2, 2014, Roy's supervisor recommended that Roy be terminated by CCS because the MDOC had revoked her security clearance, which was a requirement for the job. CCS terminated Roy's employment that day. On or about May 26, 2015, Roy submitted a complaint to the Maine Human Rights Commission.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Ahmed v. Johnson, 752 F.3d 490, 495 (1st Cir. 2014). “A genuine issue is one that can be resolved in favor of either party and a material fact is one which has the potential of affecting the outcome of the case.” Gerald v. Univ. of P.R., 707 F.3d 7, 16 (1st Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court, in determining whether the movant has met its burden, views the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, giving that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Brooks v. AIG SunAmerica Life Assurance Co., 480 F.3d 579, 586 (1st Cir. 2007). If a party fails to address another party's assertion of fact, the court may “grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3); see also Jaroma v. Massey, 873 F.2d 17, 19-20 (1st Cir. 1989).

         III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

         I address, in turn, (A) the MDOC's argument that it is entitled to summary judgment on all claims against it because non-employers cannot be held liable under the MHRA and it was not Roy's employer; (B) Roy's claims for sexual harassment and hostile work environment against CCS; (C) Roy's claims for unlawful retaliation against CCS; and (D) Roy's constitutional claims against Bouffard and Ross.

         A. MDOC Liability

         Roy's Complaint alleges one count against the MDOC (Count III) under § 4633 of the MHRA for coercing CCS to terminate her employment, interfering with her rights, preventing CCS from complying with the MHRA, and retaliating against her. The MDOC argues, relying on the Maine Law Court's holding in Fuhrmann v. Staples Office Superstore East, Inc., 58 A.3d 1083 (Me. 2012), and its progeny, that claims for employment discrimination pursuant to the MHRA can only be brought against an “employer.” Id. at 1097-98. Because it is undisputed that Roy was employed by CCS and not by the MDOC, and there are no allegations that CCS and the MDOC are joint employers, the MDOC argues that judgment should be entered in its favor. Roy argues that Fuhrmann applies only to employment claims brought under § 4572 of the MHRA, [1] and not to claims for retaliation under § 4633 of the MHRA.[2]

         In Fuhrmann, the plaintiff sued her former employer and four supervisors alleging whistleblower discrimination pursuant to § 4572 (“Unlawful Employment Discrimination”), which explicitly prohibits employment discrimination by “any employer.” 5 M.R.S.A. § 4572(1)(A); 58 A.3d at 1086-87. The Law Court concluded that in light of the underlying purposes of the MHRA and the Maine Whistleblower Protection Act (“MWPA”) (for which the MHRA provides a private right of action), and in the context of the statutory scheme as a whole, the definitions of “employer” under both the MHRA and the MWPA, “are meant to hold the principal/employer liable for acts of its agents/employees.” Fuhrmann, 58 A.3d at 1097. Consequently, the Law Court ruled that individual supervisors cannot be held liable for employment discrimination under the MHRA, as that would undermine the legislative intent to “hold the ultimate employer accountable for rectifying discrimination. . . .” Id.

         Roy argues that Fuhrmann is inapplicable because it only concerned § 4572, and her claims are brought under § 4633 (“Prohibition against Retaliation and Coercion”), which does not prohibit employment discrimination or contain the term “employer, ” but instead prohibits conduct by a “person.” 5 M.R.S.A. § 4633(1), (2). This reasoning, however, contradicts Fuhrmann's central rationale-that the MHRA intends to hold employers liable for employment discrimination-by framing what is essentially an unlawful employment discrimination claim as a § 4633 retaliation claim. This argument has previously been rejected in three published decisions. See Enos v. Orthopedic & Spine Physical Therapy of L/A, Inc., No. cv-13-176, 2014 Me. Super. LEXIS 225 (Me. Super. Nov. 18, 2014) (applying holding in Fuhrmann to dismiss whistleblower retaliation claim against individual supervisor brought under § 4633); Charette v. St. John Valley Soil & Water Cons. Dist., 1:17-cv-35-GZS, 2017 WL 2683951 (D. Me. June 20, 2017) (same); U.S. ex rel. Worthy v. E. Me. Healthcare Sys., 2:14-cv-00184-JAW, 2017 WL 211609 (D. Me. Jan. 18, 2017) (applying holding in Fuhrmann to dismiss retaliation claim against non-employer, third-party entity brought under § 4633).

         In Worthy, the plaintiff, a former employee of a hospital, brought a § 4633 retaliation claim against a company that had contracted with the hospital to provide billing services. Worthy, 2017 WL 211609 at *3, 32. Like Roy, the plaintiff argued that § 4633 of the MHRA does not limit its scope to employers and instead prohibits any “person” from interfering with protected rights. Id. at *32. The Court applied Fuhrmann and dismissed the claims against the non-employer company that had contracted with the hospital, explaining:

[T]he Maine Law Court concluded [in Fuhrmann] that only an employer can be liable for employment discrimination under the MHRA. Although the Fuhrmann case dealt with individual supervisor liability, the basic premise applies with equal force to this case. Only an employer can be liable under the MHRA for retaliation for whistle-blowing activity. To hold otherwise would mean that even ...

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