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Joseph v. Lincare, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

October 22, 2019

JEFFREY JOSEPH, Plaintiff,
v.
LINCARE, INC., et al., Defendants

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT, LINCARE, INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          LANCE E. WALKER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Jeffrey Joseph, filed this action against Defendants Lincare, Inc., Family Practice On The River d/b/a Kennebunk Walk-In Clinic, Inc., and Patrick Butcher, claiming Defendants intentionally discriminated against him on the basis of his race. Mr. Joseph brings claims for damages suffered as a result of the alleged discrimination under federal and state law.

         Now pending is Defendant Lincare, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 46). Defendant seeks judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's discrimination claims because it argues it did not treat Plaintiff differently because of his race. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT FACTS

         The summary judgment facts are drawn from the parties' stipulations, if any, and from their statements of material facts submitted in accordance with Local Rule 56. The Court will adopt a statement of fact if it is admitted by the opposing party and is material to the dispute. If a statement is denied or qualified by the opposing party, or if an evidentiary objection is raised concerning the record evidence cited in support of a statement, the Court will review those portions of the summary judgment record cited by the parties, and will accept, for summary judgment purposes, the factual assertion that is most favorable to the party opposing the entry of summary judgment, provided that the record material cited in support of the assertion is of evidentiary quality and is capable of supporting the party's assertion, either directly or through reasonable inference. D. Me. Loc. R. 56; Boudreau v. Lussier, 901 F.3d 65, 69 (1st Cir. 2018).

         This case arises out of an employment dispute between the Plaintiff, Jeffrey Joseph and his former employer, Lincare, Inc., surrounding Lincare's decision to fire Mr. Joseph on March 27, 2017. Mr. Joseph alleges that in so doing Lincare deprived him of his rights to equal racial treatment under federal and state law.[1]

         Lincare is a Florida-based corporation that supplies respiratory therapy products and services to patients in the home. Defendant Lincare's Statement of Material Facts (“DSMF”) DSMF ¶ 2. Lincare works with physicians and medical offices throughout Maine and across the country-called referral sources-to identify and service patients who will benefit from Lincare's products and services. DSMF ¶ 2. Mr. Joseph worked for Lincare as a sales representative at the company's Falmouth, Maine location from January 18, 2017 until his termination on March 27, 2017. DSMF ¶ 7. Mr. Joseph's duties included selling medical equipment, building relationships with referral sources, resolving complaints, and obtaining documentation from clients. DSMF ¶ 8.

         On March 23, 2017, Mr. Joseph made a sales call to Defendant Family Practice on the River d/b/a “Kennebunk Walk in Clinic” (“KWIC” or “the Clinic”). Lincare had asked Mr. Joseph to go to the Clinic to pick up a “certificate of medical necessity” for one of its patients, and to get a signature from the Clinic for insurance purposes. DSMF ¶ 10. When he arrived, Mr. Joseph first sought the certificate of medical necessity at the Clinic's front desk. DSMF ¶ 12. Shortly thereafter, Defendant Patrick Butcher, the Clinic's manager, entered the room and informed Mr. Joseph that the Clinic's doctor did not want to speak with him, and that the Clinic had no interest in working with Lincare. DSMF ¶¶ 11, 13. Mr. Joseph asked if he could set up a meeting with the doctor, but Mr. Butcher insisted that they were no longer interested in using Lincare and the doctor did not want to meet. DSMF ¶¶ 14-15. Mr. Butcher then told Mr. Joseph to leave the clinic. DSMF ¶ 16.

         After leaving, Mr. Joseph called his manager, Dennis Lizotte, to tell him about the sales call. DSMF ¶ 17. Mr. Joseph recounted that he felt Mr. Butcher had disrespected him, discriminated against him based on his color, that the Clinic would not sign the certificate of medical necessity, and that the interaction left Mr. Joseph so nervous and scared that he wanted to file a complaint with the police department. DSMF ¶ 19, PSAMF ¶ 6. That same day, Mr. Joseph went to the Kennebunk Police Department to fill out a police report about the incident. DSMF ¶ 20.

         After talking with his supervisor, Mr. Joseph called the Clinic to try to speak with Mr. Butcher again. DSMF ¶ 20. On the call, Mr. Joseph described Mr. Butcher's behavior as “disrespectful, ” and Mr. Butcher, in turn, described feeling threatened when Mr. Joseph said “I will be back, you don't know who I am.” DSMF ¶¶ 21-22. After a brief conversation, Mr. Butcher hung up on Mr. Joseph. DSMF ¶ 23. Mr. Joseph called the Clinic back multiple times that day, but did not speak with Mr. Butcher again. Id.

         Mr. Butcher then called Mr. Lizotte to complain about Mr. Joseph's behavior. DSMF ¶ 26. Mr. Butcher described Mr. Joseph by his physical appearance including height, race, and accent because he did not know Mr. Joseph's name. Id. Mr. Lizotte provided Mr. Joseph's name on the call. DSMF ¶ 27. Mr. Butcher then described how Mr. Joseph had bothered him and his staff during the sales call and asked that Mr. Joseph be terminated immediately. DSMF ¶ 28. Mr. Lizotte rejected this demand; he explained that he would not fire an employee over the phone and that he needed to have a chance to talk to Mr. Joseph again after things had settled down. DSMF ¶ 29.

         Mr. Butcher sent a follow-up letter to Lincare's CEO, CFO, President, and four Directors describing the March 23 incident with Mr. Joseph. DSMF ¶ 30. In his letter, Mr. Butcher described Mr. Joseph as “about 6 feet 4 inches, mid 30's African American with what seem [sic] to be a Jamaican accent, ” recounted that Plaintiff called him repeatedly, saying “[o]h I'll be back-you don't know who I am, ” and that he was contemplating filing a complaint for criminal trespass. DSMF ¶¶ 30-33, Plaintiff's Opposing Statement of Material Facts (“POSMF”) ¶ 33. Mr. Butcher gave a deadline of March 31, 2017 to respond to his letter, and in the absence of a “mutually agreeable settlement, ” he threatened to take “legal action, contact the media, etc.” POSMF ¶ 30.

         Several days later, Mr. Lizotte's manager at Lincare, Tarrah Filo-Loos, called the Clinic and apologized to Mr. Butcher for what had happened on March 23. DSMF ¶¶ 34-35. After receiving the apology, Mr. Butcher testified that he felt satisfied the situation was resolved. DSMF ¶ 35. On the following Monday, March 27, Ms. Filo-Loos called Mr. Lizotte to discuss what had happened at the Clinic. DSMF ¶ 37. On this call, Ms. Filo-Loos asked why Mr. Lizotte did not fire Mr. Joseph right away after the incident. DSMF ¶ 38. Mr. Lizotte responded that from what he had been told, the encounter seemed out of character and he was not worried about future problems with Mr. Joseph. DSMF ¶ 39.

         During this conversation, however, Mr. Lizotte learned about Mr. Joseph's multiple calls to the Clinic on March 23rd, and the two agreed to terminate Mr. Joseph's employment. DSMF ¶ 40.[2] The record reflects Lincare had two overlapping reasons to fire Mr. Joseph: because he “did not know when it was time to leave an office, ” and because he called the Clinic repeatedly in an unprofessional manner. See DSMF ¶¶ 42-43, POSMF ¶¶ 42-43.[3] Because Mr. Joseph was still within his ninety-day trial period with Lincare, company policy did not require progressive steps of discipline, and termination could be immediate. DSMF ¶¶ 47, 49. In line with this policy, Mr. Lizotte informed Mr. Joseph of the termination that same day, and gave Mr. Joseph an opportunity to describe his version of the March 23 incident at the Clinic. DSMF ¶ 45. Mr. Joseph did not speak to anyone higher up at Lincare about his termination, or to anyone in the company's ...


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