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Potts v. Saint Luke'S South Hospital, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 30, 2017

RANDY POTTS, Plaintiff,
v.
SAINT LUKE'S SOUTH HOSPITAL, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. THOMAS MARTEN, JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Randy Potts worked as a housekeeper at Saint Luke's South Hospital (“SLS”) from 2004 until September 22, 2014, when SLS terminated his employment. The termination came after plaintiff had a heated argument with a supervisor. Plaintiff filed this suit claiming that SLS discriminated against him on account of race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The matter is now before the court on SLS's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth herein, defendant's motion is granted.

         I. Uncontroverted Facts.

         Plaintiff is an African-American male. SLS hired him on June 21, 2004, as a housekeeper, the position he had until his termination. Plaintiff was responsible for cleaning patient rooms, floors, and general cleaning in public areas. He worked the evening shift for most of his tenure, including at his termination.

         Housekeepers at SLS work in the Environmental Services Department (“EVS”). Beginning in July 2014 the Manager of EVS was Dwight Hawkins, who reported to System Director of Hospitality John McReynolds. All housekeepers reported directly to Hawkins.

         EVS had supervisors on both the day and evening shifts. Michael Geraldi, who is Caucasian, moved from daytime supervisor to evening supervisor shortly before plaintiff's termination. Plaintiff thought Geraldi was mean; he called Geraldi “the drill sergeant.” Geraldi was a former military person who, according to plaintiff, spoke to people in a very demanding way, “like ‘you better or else.'” Geraldi would sometimes yell down the hallway at employees things such as, “Get back to work, what are you doing in this area.” He frequently asked employees, “What are you doing, where are you going?” Plaintiff testified Geraldi sometimes told him to “get your ass back to work” and said plaintiff “had one foot out the door.” Plaintiff felt Geraldi picked on him and was always asking him “What are you doing?”

         Plaintiff contends Geraldi had a racial animus, as shown by: on one occasion, Geraldi allegedly said he did not like fat women and “especially fat black women;” on approximately seven occasions Geraldi said, “Potts, you've got one foot out the door;” on five occasions Geraldi said to plaintiff “You better watch your back;” and on three occasions Geraldi said to plaintiff “Get your ass back to work.” Geraldi would pick up a rag and wave it in plaintiff's face, asking “What's this?” When plaintiff said it was a rag, Geraldi would ask what it was used for. When plaintiff would respond, “for cleaning, ” Geraldi would say, “Well, how come you're not using it?”

         One day Geraldi saw plaintiff and another employee talking in the hallway and asked “What are you doing?” Plaintiff said he was talking. Geraldi said, “You don't need to be talking, you need to be working.” When plaintiff left, Geraldi told the other employee “don't ever talk to him again.”

         Before September 16, 2014, plaintiff never told SLS of any of the alleged comments of Geraldi and never complained to SLS about him. Plaintiff was aware of his obligation under SLS's policies to report any harassment or discrimination.

         The last Friday that plaintiff worked, Geraldi saw plaintiff in a hallway and asked him what he was doing. Plaintiff said he was walking to where he needed to go to work. After plaintiff went down to his area Geraldi showed up and “was on me all day for no apparent reason.” Every time plaintiff “didn't have anything in my hand or he didn't see me moving, working, [Geraldi] had a problem with that.” Plaintiff testified that Saturday was the same way and it got worse on Sunday. Plaintiff said to himself at that point that the next time Geraldi bothered him, he was going to report him or “just let him know to leave me alone.”

         On September 16, 2014, Geraldi hollered down a hallway toward plaintiff, “Are you ready for a lockdown?” Prior to this, there had been some joking between Geraldi and plaintiff about Geraldi being like a prison warden. When plaintiff replied, “What did you say?” Geraldi repeated his question. For plaintiff this was “the last straw.” Plaintiff responded by letting go of his cleaning tools and rushing down the hallway toward Geraldi until he was only about an inch from Geraldi's face. Plaintiff was quite angry and was shouting. He told Geraldi “I'm tired of your stuff” and “I don't like your style.” He had his hand up, pointing or otherwise gesturing at Geraldi, although plaintiff did not make physical contact. Plaintiff concedes he “may have been moving his hands” but denies that he gestured in a threatening way.

         Supervisor Dwight Hawkins witnessed the incident and pulled the two men into his office. Hawkins asked what was going on, and plaintiff said Geraldi needed to “stay off his back.” Geraldi made a comment about plaintiff leaving the room or the building “with a toe tag, ” which plaintiff interpreted as a threat. Hawkins told the men to calm down and sent them back to work.

         When plaintiff arrived the next day, Human Resources interviewed him. After the interview, he was suspended pending an investigation. Geraldi was also interviewed. Geraldi told Human Resources that during the altercation, plaintiff said he had “punched out people before and will punch him out.” Human Resources also interviewed Hawkins, who reported that plaintiff said he had “punched out CEOs before and didn't have a problem with hitting [Geraldi].” Plaintiff denies he made such a statement to Geraldi.

         SLS's Rules of Conduct set out examples of behaviors that may result in immediate discipline up to and including discharge. The examples include: fighting, causing a fight, or striking anyone on Health System property; use of profane, threatening, or abusive language towards others; scuffling, throwing objects, or ...


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