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Fields v. Cardinal Health

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

September 6, 2017



          David J. Hale, Judge United States District Court

         Eric Lamar Fields, Jr., was fired from his job at Cardinal Health after a two-day absence from work. When he requested the time off, Fields told Cardinal Health that he would be taking his partner to medical appointments on those days, and his request was approved on that basis. Cardinal Health now maintains that Fields used the time for vacation instead and that he was fired for falsifying the reason underlying his leave request. Fields, however, claims that he was terminated because of his race and gender. He sued Cardinal Health and its employee who fired him, Michael Shaw. (Docket No. 1-2) Cardinal Health filed a motion to dismiss on judicial-estoppel grounds, arguing that Fields improperly failed to disclose his discrimination claims when he sought bankruptcy protection in April 2016. (D.N. 18) It has since moved for summary judgment. (D.N. 29) Because Fields has not demonstrated a genuine dispute of material fact as to any of his remaining claims, the motion for summary judgment will be granted.


         Fields began working as a customer-service representative at Cardinal Health's call center in 2006. (D.N. 28-1, PageID # 296) He requested, and was granted, several days of leave from work in connection with his partner's January 2014 gastric-bypass surgery. (D.N. 29-3, PageID # 496-97) At issue in this lawsuit are Thursday, April 3, and Friday, April 4, 2014, for which Fields was granted leave to take his partner to appointments with a surgeon and a nutritionist. Fields had originally requested vacation for the entire week of March 31, 2014, but the request was denied as to April 3 and 4 because a number of other employees were already scheduled for vacation on those days. (D.N. 29-2, PageID # 491) His vacation request was approved for March 31 through April 2. (Id.)

         After Fields returned to work, one of his coworkers reported seeing a Facebook post that indicated he had actually been vacationing in Florida on April 3 and 4.[1] (Id., PageID # 491-92) When confronted on April 8 by Defendant Michael Shaw, a Cardinal Health human-resources manager, Fields said he could get doctors' notes to verify the appointments. (Id., PageID # 492) Pursuant to Cardinal Health's attendance policy, Fields was given two days to provide the notes. (Id.) However, he did not provide any documentation until April 14, when he offered a note from Norton Healthcare in support of the April 3 absence. (D.N. 29-3, PageID # 498) He told Emily Bock, a member of Cardinal Health's leave-management team, that the April 4 appointment was with Dr. Ahmed, a general practitioner. (Id.; see id., PageID # 496) Fields had requested leave on April 4 for an appointment with a nutritionist, not with Dr. Ahmed. (Id., PageID # 498)

         On April 22, Bock and Shaw spoke with Fields, who still had not provided a doctor's note for the April 4 appointment. (Id.) Bock offered to help by contacting Dr. Ahmed's office; Fields did not object to that suggestion. (Id.; see D.N. 28-1, PageID # 323-24) Dr. Ahmed's office informed Bock that Fields's partner did not have an appointment on April 4, 2014, and was not seen on that date. (D.N. 29-3, PageID # 499) Bock and Shaw again confronted Fields, who explained that “sometimes he just drops [his partner] off to get a prescription and he might not have had an actual appointment and that was why the doctor's office had no record of it.” (D.N. 29-2, PageID # 492) Shaw placed Fields on suspension. (Id., PageID # 493; D.N. 28-1, PageID # 324-25) On April 29, he called Fields to terminate Fields's employment. (D.N. 29-2, PageID # 493; D.N. 28-1, PageID # 326)

         Prior to his termination, Fields never told Shaw, Bock, his supervisor Paula Harris, or anyone else at Cardinal Health that he felt he was being targeted on the basis of his race or gender. (D.N. 28-1, PageID # 319) He did “vent a little bit” about the leave situation to Jessica, an administrative assistant in human resources whom he considered a friend, but he assured her that he did not want to make a discrimination complaint.[2] (Id., PageID # 321; see id., PageID # 319-21) He does not know whether Jessica shared what he told her with anyone else at Cardinal Health. (Id., PageID # 321)

         Fields sued Shaw and Cardinal Health in Hardin Circuit Court, alleging racial discrimination, discrimination based on familial status, and gender discrimination under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act; retaliation under the KCRA and the Family and Medical Leave Act; promissory estoppel; and negligent hiring, supervision, or retention. (D.N. 1-2) The case was removed to this Court. (D.N. 1) The Court dismissed the claims of discrimination based on familial status (Count II), promissory estoppel (Count IV), and negligent hiring, retention, or supervision (Count V) after Fields conceded that dismissal of those claims was appropriate. (D.N. 16; see D.N. 15) In his response to the motion for summary judgment, Fields further concedes that his FMLA retaliation claim (Count VI) is unsupported by the evidence. (See D.N.32, PageID # 529) Thus, the Court's analysis will be limited to the claims of race and gender discrimination (Counts I and III) and retaliation (Counts VI and VII).


         Summary judgment is required when the moving party shows, using evidence in the record, “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 56(c)(1). For purposes of summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Loyd v. Saint Joseph Mercy Oakland, 766 F.3d 580, 588 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). However, the Court “need consider only the cited materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3); see Shreve v. Franklin Cty., Ohio, 743 F.3d 126, 136 (6th Cir. 2014). If the nonmoving party “fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), ” the fact may be treated as undisputed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2)-(3). To survive a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must establish a genuine issue of material fact with respect to each element of each of his claims. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986) (noting that “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial”).

         A. Race and Reverse Gender Discrimination

         In his complaint, Fields alleged that white customer-service representatives at Cardinal Health were treated more favorably than black customer-service representatives. (D.N. 1-2, PageID # 17-19) Specifically, he alleged that (1) Harris, his immediate supervisor, “worked around attendance and disciplinary policies” so as to prevent white employees “from accruing any ‘occurrences' for unexcused absences”; (2) “Caucasian employees were almost always selected over minorities to attend seminars, vendor fairs, [and] company lunches” and to “participate in special projects”; (3) white employees “were allowed to use their personal phones on [sic] while at work to resolve personal issues with no consequences”; and (4) “Caucasian employees faced no issues from Defendant Shaw, or others at Defendant Cardinal, when requesting to use FMLA leave[] or other forms of time[]off.” (Id., Page ID # 18 ¶ 83) Fields further claimed that Cardinal “steadily (and intentionally) reduced the number of African-Americans working at its call center” during his eight years there; that “only African-American (and other minority) supervisors and employees would be terminated” when reductions in force occurred; and that only 20 of the 500 employees working at the call center when Fields was terminated were minorities. (Id., PageID # 19)

         As to his gender-discrimination claim, Fields alleged that women received more favorable treatment at Cardinal Health than men did. (Id., PageID # 20-22) He asserted that “females accounted for approximately eighty-seven percent . . . of the 500 employees working at Defendant Cardinal's call center, and held the greater majority of supervisor positions.” (Id., PageID # 21 ¶ 102) He then cited the same examples of allegedly preferential treatment as in his race-discrimination claim. (Compare Id. ¶ 105 with id., PageID # 18 ¶ 83)

         Claims of race and gender discrimination (or in this case, reverse gender discrimination) under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act are analyzed using the same burden-shifting framework applicable to federal discrimination claims. White v. Duke Energy Ky., Inc., 603 F. App'x 442, 450 (6th Cir. 2015); see also Meads v. Lexington-Fayette Urban Cty. Gov't, No. 15-5310, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 23776, at *13 (6th Cir. Jan. 20, 2016). Thus, Fields must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination; Cardinal Health must then articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for his termination; ...

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