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Panyagor v. Kindred Nursing Centers Limited Partnership

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

March 14, 2018




         I. Introduction

         This case is before the court on defendant Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation - Bashford's (hereinafter “Kindred”) motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 35. Plaintiff Abraham Panyagor responded. ECF No. 43. Kindred subsequently replied. ECF No. 44. For the reasons set forth below, Kindred's motion will be granted.

         II. Factual Background

         This case arises from Panyagor's termination from Kindred on August 10, 2015. ECF No. 43-2, p. 1. Panyagor began working at Kindred as a certified nursing assistant (“CNA”) on June 2, 2014. ECF No. 35-3, p. 1. In approximately March 2015, Panyagor began having difficulties working with two of his colleagues, Serena James and Betris Sohn. ECF No. 35-2, p. 8. Panyagor alleges that after he received recognition as ‘Employee of the Month, ' James and Sohn began to bully him. Id. He claims that on at least one occasion, James used racial epithets when speaking to him, referring to him as a “Black African” and stating that she was going to “send [him] back to Africa.” Id. Panyagor claims that he reported this incident to Kindred's Executive Director of Nursing, Adam Mather. Id. at 12. According to Panyagor, Mather resolved the issue by reassigning Panyagor and James to different units. Id. at 19. Mather disputes this, stating that Panyagor never complained of racial discrimination or harassment, and that his reason for separating the two employees was that both stated that they were having difficulties working together. ECF No. 35-4, p. 2.

         Panyagor also alleges that he witnessed James abuse a patient when they were working together. ECF No. 35-2, p. 6. He states that he also reported this incident to Mather, and that James was suspended from her job for two days as a result. Id. at 26. Again, Mather disputes this fact.[1]

         On June 14, 2015, James called Kindred's employee hotline and complained that Panyagor was sexually harassing her. ECF No. 43-2, p. 1. She stated that “Panyagor, [a CNA], [was] creating an uncomfortable work environment for her . . . [by] making sexual comments toward her during work hours . . . [and] mak[ing] degrading comments towards the female [CNAs].” Id. On June 18, 2015, Kindred's Director of Nursing, Bobbie Shanks, was informed of James' complaint. ECF No. 43-2, p. 1. The following day, Shanks sent an email to Kindred's District Director of Human Resources, Stacey Baker, and Mather regarding James' complaint. ECF No. 35-9, p. 7. This email stated that she had attempted to contact Panyagor, but he was not at work that day. Id. It further stated that she would attempt to contact him again the following Monday. Id.

         Kindred's employee records show that Panyagor took paid time off from June 15, 2015 to June 20, 2015. ECF No. 43-3, p. 1. Then, on July 2, 2015, Panyagor submitted a disability certificate from his doctor stating that he needed an additional twenty-eight days off work to undergo physical therapy for a back injury. ECF No. 35-10, p. 1. According to Panyagor, Kindred gave him this time off work without issue. ECF No. 35-2, p. 13.

         On July 27, 2015, Baker realized that Panyagor was not listed in the company's system as taking a leave of absence, although he had been off work for several weeks. ECF No. 35-9, p. 9. She emailed Mather and Shanks about this issue, and also inquired as to whether Shanks had followed up with Panyagor regarding the sexual harassment allegation. Id. Shanks informed her that Panyagor was still off work and that she had not yet interviewed him. Id. As the District Director of Human Resources, Baker chose to resume the investigation into the sexual harassment allegation herself. Id. at 3.

         Baker spoke to several individuals during the course of her investigation. Baker interviewed Sohn, who corroborated James' allegation that Panyagor sexually harassed her. ECF No. 35-9, p. 11. Sohn stated that on one occasion, she witnessed Panyagor walk up to James and “st[and] between her legs.” Id. Baker then interviewed James, who confirmed her original allegation and acknowledged the incident that Sohn had described. Id. at 12. She also stated that another Kindred employee, Anne Baldwin, had been sexually harassed by Panyagor. Id. Baker then contacted Anne Baldwin, who stated that Panyagor was “extremely flirtatious” with all women at Kindred, and “had asked for her number and she told him no.” Id. She stated that he then “found her on Facebook and sent her a text.” Id. At that point, “she deleted him off of Facebook and blocked his number.” Id. Baker also interviewed Panyagor while Panyagor was still off work. Id. at 11. Panyagor denied James' sexual harassment allegations, and stated that he had previously reported James for patient abuse and that she and Sohn were now ganging up on him. Id.

         On August 4, 2015, Panyagor returned to work. ECF No. 35-9, p. 5. Although he returned to his position as a CNA, he was suspended that day pending the completion of the sexual harassment investigation. Id. On August 6, 2015, Baker spoke with Kindred's Divisional Vice President of Human Resources, Jane Matthews, about the interviews she had conducted. Id. Baker recommended to Matthews that Panyagor be terminated, and Matthews agreed. Id. Then, on August 10, 2015, Baker met with Mather. Id. Mather reviewed Baker's investigation notes, and ultimately agreed with her that Panyagor should be terminated. Id. Mather and Baker met with Panyagor that day and terminated him on the basis of sexual harassment. Id.; ECF No. 43-2, p. 1.

         On June 2, 2016, Panyagor filed suit against Kindred, alleging discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (“KCRA”), retaliation in violation of Title VII, the KCRA, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and FMLA interference. ECF No. 1. According to Panyagor, Kindred terminated him for reporting discrimination, or alternatively, for taking FMLA leave. Kindred now moves for summary judgment.

         III. Legal Standard

         The trial court shall grant summary judgment in a case “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). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of “demonstrating that [there is] no genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the moving party satisfies this burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “point to evidence demonstrating that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial.” Id. at 323 (emphasis added).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). However, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). There must actually be “evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmoving] party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

         IV. Discussion

         Kindred asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment on all of Panyagor's claims. Panyagor concedes that his claims for discrimination under the ADA, Title VII, and the KCRA fail as a matter of law. However, he maintains that his claims for retaliation under Title VII, the KCRA, and the FMLA, and his claim for interference under the FMLA must survive summary judgment because they contain issues of material fact. These arguments will be considered in further detail below.

         A. Claims for Retaliation Under Title VII and the KCRA

         Kindred argues that Panyagor's claims for retaliation under Title VII and the KCRA fail as a matter of law. Kindred claims that Panyagor fails to establish a prima facie case of retaliation, and alternatively, that he fails to demonstrate that the reason given for his termination was pretext. Panyagor, by contrast, argues that he has established a prima facie case for retaliation and ...

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