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Dantzler v. Acts Retirement Life Communities, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 23, 2017

VERNELL DANTZLER, Plaintiff,
v.
ACTS RETIREMENT LIFE COMMUNITIES, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          Schiller, J.

         ACTS Retirement Life Communities, Inc. (“ACTS”) fired Vernell Dantzler following an altercation between Dantzler and a co-worker. Dantzler sued her former employer, ACTS Retirement Life Communities, alleging that she was fired because of her age and her religion. ACTS has filed a motion for summary judgment. Additionally, ACTS has filed a motion for sanctions, arguing that Dantzler's claims are frivolous. As the record does not support Dantzler's legal claims, the Court will grant the motion for summary judgment. However, the Court will deny the motion for sanctions.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Dantzler is a 54-year old woman and a practicing Muslim. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Supp. of Its Mot. for Summ. J. [Def.'s Undisputed Facts] ¶ 4.) Dantzler has been a practicing Muslim since 1994. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. A [Dantzler Dep.] at 7-8.) Dantzler was one of several Muslims who worked at ACTS's Spring House Estates facility, where she worked with dementia patients. (Def.'s Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 6-7, 11.) She began working as a certified nurse assistant at ACTS in 1994, and later became a restorative aide. (Id. ¶ 5.) As a certified nurse assistant, Dantzler would, among other duties, bathe, feed, and put patients to bed. (Dantzler Dep. at 11). As a restorative aide, she was responsible for helping patients walk and assisting them with feeding. (Id. at 15.)

         In 2013 and 2014, Maureen Stanton, the Director of Nursing, supervised Dantzler. (Def.'s Undisputed Facts ¶ 16.) Maureen Vigna, the Assistant Director of Nursing, also supervised Dantzler, as well as conducted Dantzler's annual performance evaluations. (Id. ¶ 17.) Donna Thompson, the Administrator, was Stanton and Vigna's boss prior to 2013. (Id. ¶ 18.) Holly Slade was the Director of Spring House Estates until her promotion in mid-2013. (Id. ¶ 19.) Thompson was promoted to Slade's job after Slade was promoted. (Id. ¶ 20.) Thompson was the Director at the time that Dantzler was fired. (Id. ¶ 23.) When ACTS promoted Thompson to Director, Brian Levesque became the Administrator at Spring House Estates. (Id. ¶ 21.)

         According to Dantzler, the troubles began after Levesque's promotion. (See Dantzler Dep. at 67 (“I never felt that I was harassed the whole 19 years I was there until Brian came.”).) During her deposition, Dantzler reported three incidents involving Levesque that led her to believe that he was harassing her. First, shortly after Dantzler's father died, she tried to bring some pastries from the funeral to work so that the baked goods would not go to waste. (Id. at 68.) Levesque scolded Dantzler for pulling up to the building and not clocking in. (Id. at 70-71.) The second incident occurred when Dantzler was giving a resident a bath. The resident had a rolling walker with a seat, and after the bath, Dantzler pushed the resident, seated, on the rolling chair, to his room. (Id. at 73-74.) Levesque saw this and told Dantzler that she could not push the resident to his room. (Id. at 74-75.) She continued to push the resident. (Id. at 74-75.) Dantzler was not formally disciplined for her conduct, but Levesque reiterated that he did not want Dantzler pushing the resident in the rolling walker. (Id. at 76.) Additionally, Vigna required the nurses to sign a paper and acknowledge that residents should not be pushed in rolling chairs. (Id. at 79.) The third incident of harassment to which Dantzler testified was requiring her to clock out if she left the building to pray. (Id. at 81-84.)

         The incident that led to Dantzler's firing occurred on June 4, 2014, when co-worker Alicia Hollinger entered the break room where Dantzler was doing paperwork. (Id. at 113.) Dantzler greeted Hollinger and asked her if she had money for a birthday club that some of the ACTS employees participated in. (Id.) Hollinger responded that she did not have the money. (Id. at 115.) Dantzler next saw Hollinger in the dining room and said, “Alicia, you know, what's the problem? You got your money like?” (Id. at 120.) Hollinger retorted, “Didn't the fuck I say I don't have my money?” (Id.) The two continued jawing at each other in the dining room. (Id. at 120-21.) Dantzler then proceeded to Vigna's office, and Hollinger followed. (Id. at 121.) Dantzler reported to Vigna that she and Hollinger had a heated verbal altercation, and Vigna went to get Levesque. (Id. at 121-22.) Rather than stay in Vigna's office as directed, however, the two women followed Vigna into Levesque's office and continued to call each other names and curse at each other. (Id. at 122.) Dantzler told Hollinger to “[m]eet me outside . . . We can just do whatever we've got to do outside.” (Id. at 123.) Both Dantzler and Hollinger were suspended and sent home.

         Dantzler testified that Levesque informed her that human resources had decided to fire her. (Id. at 124.) Hollinger was also fired. (Id.) Dantzler testified that her last day of work at ACTS was June 14, 2014, although an ACTS memo signed by Levesque and Vigna states that Dantzler and Hollinger were fired over the telephone on June 5, 2014 (Dantzler Dep. at 23; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. D [Memo].)

         ACTS had a “zero tolerance policy” regarding workplace violence: “Any employee who engages in any threatening behavior or acts of violence; who uses any obscene, abusive, or threatening language or gestures will be subject to progressive discipline up to and including termination.” (Id. ¶ 31.)

         ACTS fired Dantzler and Hollinger for violations of the workplace violence policy. (Def.'s Undisputed Facts ¶ 71.) ACTS replaced Dantzler with Hyacinth Wedderburn, a non-Muslim who is older than Dantzler. (Id. ¶¶ 77-78.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). When the movant does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, it may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

         Thereafter, the nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if it provides evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable finder of fact to find in its favor at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In reviewing the record, a court “must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor.” Prowel v. Wise Bus. Forms, Inc., 579 F.3d 285, 286 (3d Cir. 2009). The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in considering motions for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); see also Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002).

         III. ...


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