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Brown v. State, Dept. of Mental Health and Addiction Services

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 30, 2018



          Donna F. Martinez United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Georgia Brown, brings this action against her employer, the State of Connecticut, Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (“DMHAS” or “defendant”), alleging racial discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. She alleges that DMHAS discriminated against her on the basis of her race when it disciplined her by suspending her without pay for five days as a result of alleged patient abuse. Pending before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. #29.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.[1]

         I. Factual Background

         The following facts, drawn from the parties' Local Rule 56(a) statements, are undisputed.[2]

         The plaintiff, who is African-American, was hired by DMHAS in October 2007 as a Mental Health Assistant 1 ("MHA-1"). She remained an MHA-1 at all times relevant to this case. DMHAS' Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement of Facts, Doc. #29-2 (“DMHAS' SOF”) ¶ 1, Plaintiff's Local Rule 56(a)(2) Statement of Facts, Doc. #30-1 (“Pl.'s SOF”) ¶ A.1.)

         On December 25, 2012, plaintiff and Anita Suker (“Suker”), another MHA-1 who is white, were assigned to provide direct care to RM, a patient in defendant's General Psychology Division. They were to bathe RM and put him to bed. That evening, RM complained to Suker that plaintiff had treated him roughly during his transfer into bed, causing him unnecessary pain. (DMHAS' SOF ¶¶ 2, 3; Pl's SOF ¶¶ A.2, A.3.) RM complained only about plaintiff; he did not allege that Suker had hurt him. Suker reported RM's abuse complaint to DMHAS supervision that evening, as she was obligated to do. (DMHAS' SOF ¶¶ 4, 5; Pl's SOF ¶¶ A.4, A.5.)

         DMHAS investigated RM's allegations of abusive conduct by plaintiff. Based on its investigation, DMHAS concluded that plaintiff had been physically abusive and unnecessarily rough with RM, and suspended plaintiff without pay for five days. (DMHAS' SOF ¶¶ 6, 7; Pl's SOF ¶¶ A.6, A.7.)

         Through her union grievance process, plaintiff exercised her right to appeal her disciplinary suspension, and eventually submitted the matter for binding arbitration. (DMHAS' SOF ¶ 8; Pl's SOF, ¶ A.8.) The arbitrator found that plaintiff's testimony regarding the RM abuse allegation was inconsistent among plaintiff's own various versions, and that her testimony was not credible. (DMHAS' SOF ¶ 10, Pl's SOF ¶ A.10.) She concluded that plaintiff "was inappropriately rough in her handling of [RM] on December 25, 2012, and [DMHAS] had just cause to issue her discipline." (DMHAS' SOF ¶ 9; Pl's SOF, ¶ A.9.)

         The arbitrator made the following findings of fact:

On February 27, 2013, following an investigation, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) issued a five-day disciplinary suspension to Georgia Brown, a Mental Health Assistant 1 at Connecticut Valley Hospital. The Department alleged that Ms. Brown had violated DMHAS General Work Rule #19, which states:
Physical violence, verbal abuse, inappropriate or indecent conduct and behavior that endangers the safety and welfare of persons or property is prohibited.

According to the disciplinary letter [dated February 27, 2013]:

Credible evidence was obtained that substantiates that you were physically abusive and handled the patient in an unnecessarily rough manner when removing his pants, causing him pain. This was found to be abusive and employee misconduct.

         The incident at issue occurred on the evening of December 25, 2012. Coworkers Georg[ia] Brown and Anita Suker were tasked with preparing patient [RM] for bed. [RM]'s primary language is Spanish, though he is said to understand and speak English to a limited extent. Ms. Brown does not speak Spanish, but studied it for three years and understands/speaks some words. There is no dispute that [RM] is able to make his immediate needs known to staff members. There are Spanish-speaking staff members available as the need arises to communicate more fully with [RM].

         [RM] is a bilateral amputee, confined to a wheel chair. He has serious skin issues of which all staff are aware. His buttocks are particularly painful due to the breakdown of his skin in that area. Undressing [RM] and transferring him from his wheel chair to his bed is a two-person operation, involving a hydraulic ["Hoyer"] hoist. Because of [RM]'s skin condition, his pants are removed after he is hoisted in the air out of his chair so that the clothing does not chafe his skin. He has a catheter.

         On the evening of December 25, [2012, RM] became upset and complained loudly of pain while he was being prepared for bed [by Brown and Suker]. There are conflicting versions by Ms. Brown and Ms. Suker of what transpired as [RM] was being undressed but it is undisputed that Brown and Suker had words with each other while in the process of undressing [RM] and that immediately after getting [RM] settled in his bed, Suker reported to a nurse that Brown had handled [RM] inappropriately. The complaint was immediately brought to the attention of Head Nurse Beverly Lanoie, who summoned a Spanish-speaking Assistant to hear what was vexing [RM]. [RM, ] tearful and still upset, reported that Brown had been rough with him while undressing him, pulling his pants out from under his buttocks while he was still seated, causing him significant pain, and that Brown had been rude and cursed him in Spanish. The matter was then raised to Supervising Nurse Kim Michalsky.

         A thorough investigation was conducted, including interviews of all participants and potential witnesses. On the evening of the event, Ms. Brown was questioned by and gave a sworn statement to DMHAS Public Safety [Police] Officers. On January 23, 2013, she was interviewed by Kathy Winkeler, Principal HR Specialist in DMHAS Labor Relations and she provided a written statement.

         At the end of the investigation, DMHAS concluded that the descriptions of the event given independently by [RM] and Ms. Suker were credible and that Ms. Brown's version, which conflicted in key respects with [RM]'s and Suker's, could not be credited. DMHAS noted that Brown had been counseled previously for being rude and disrespectful, and that she had received a disciplinary warning in 2012 for not helping a patient in a wheelchair after a nurse had asked her for help. Accordingly, DMHAS imposed the five-day suspension that is at issue here.

         (DMHAS' SOF ¶ 13; Pl's SOF, ¶ A.13.)

         Defendant ordinarily suspends any MHA-1 for a substantiated instance of patient abuse. The arbitrator found that, "[t]here was no dispute in this matter that if it is found that [plaintiff] is guilty as charged [of patient abuse], the [five day suspension] penalty imposed was appropriate." (DMHAS' SOF ¶¶ 14, 15; Pl's SOF, ¶¶ A.14, A.15.)

         Plaintiff knows of no other DMHAS employees who were proven to have abused a patient, not merely accused, but did not receive a disciplinary suspension. (DMHAS' SOF ¶ 11; Pl's SOF, ¶ A.11.) Plaintiff has no direct evidence that any DMHAS employee discriminated against her because of her race ...

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