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Solola v. Prospect Chartercare RWMC, LLC

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

March 27, 2019

TAIWO SOLOLA, Plaintiff,
v.
PROSPECT CHARTERCARE RWMC, LLC, d/b/a Roger Williams Medical Center; PROSPECT CHARTERCARE RWMC, LLC; and PROSPECT CHARTERCARE, LLC, Defendants,
v.
SODEXO OPERATIONS, LLC. Third Party Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          William E. Smith Chief Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Prospect CharterCARE's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 52) and Third Party Defendant Sodexo Operations, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 51). Plaintiff has objected to both (ECF Nos. 56 and 57, respectively). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS both Defendants' motions.[1]

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, Taiwo Solola, is a sixty-six-year-old African American man who speaks with a strong Nigerian accent and who characterizes himself as a “modest man who is less capable of winning arguments or defending himself verbally, than most.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 22, 24. He obtained a Bachelor of Science in Hotel, Restaurant & Institutional Management from Johnson & Wales University in 1985 and worked as a cook at Roger Williams Medical Center (“RWMC”) for twelve years, from February 9, 2002, until November 24, 2014. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. Although he acknowledges that he occasionally received written disciplinary warnings while employed at RWMC, he maintains that he “was frequently recognized by his peers and superiors as a person who consistently went above and beyond the normal call of duty” and received several job performance evaluations stating that he “[e]xceed[ed] [e]xpectations.” Id. ¶¶ 12-13, 18.

         Prospect CharterCARE (“PCC”), d/b/a Roger Williams Medical Center, is a Rhode Island corporation that provides inpatient and outpatient healthcare services to the public. Id. ¶ 3. Sodexo Operations, LLC managed and operated the food and nutrition services for PCC and employed several of the managers at RWMC whose actions are at issue in this case, namely: Richard Giuntoli, the General Manager of RWMC's dietary department; and Steven Finegan, the Executive Chef at RWMC. Sodexo's Statement of Undisputed Facts (“SSUF”) ¶¶ 4-5, ECF No. 51; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16-17.

         Giuntoli and Finegan began working as Solola's supervisors in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Solola alleges that Finegan was a poor manager who frequently failed to order a sufficient quantity of food and claims he occasionally reported this issue to Giuntoli, who was Finegan's superior. Id. ¶¶ 37-38; PCC's Statement of Undisputed Facts (“PCCSUF”) ¶ 22, ECF No. 53. According to Solola, Finegan and Giuntoli retaliated against him for making these reports by treating him less favorably than white employees and by talking down to him. Id. ¶¶ 20, 25-26, 39-40.

         The series of events leading to Solola's termination began in the fall of 2014. On September 30, 2014, Mr. Solola was involved in a verbal altercation with a white employee, Michael Carmone.[2]Id. ¶¶ 66-69; PCCSUF Ex. Q, ECF No. 53-17. The Human Resources Site Administrator, Renee Iezzi, investigated the situation, taking statements from Carmone, Solola, and several witnesses. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 50; PCCSUF Ex. D, Iezzi Dep. 25:6-23, ECF No. 53-4. Based on that investigation, RWMC issued both employees a “[f]inal [w]arning” on October 1, 2014, which Solola understood to mean that he could be immediately terminated for future performance issues. PCCSUF Ex. Q; Ex. M, ECF No. 53-13; Ex. C, Solola Dep. 119:14-15, ECF No. 53-3 (“Q: What did you understand final warning to mean? A: Anything that happened after that is discharge.”).

         Thereafter, on two occasions in November of 2014, Solola failed to make the correct meals. On November 17, Solola failed to make the cranberry sauce to be served with patients' turkey dinners. PCCSUF ¶ 49; see also Am. Compl. ¶ 70. On November 19, Solola failed to make the correct number of salads. PCCSUF ¶ 50; see also Am. Compl. ¶ 70. While it is disputed whether Solola failed to make five salads or twenty salads, all witnesses to the incident (including Solola himself) agree that he did not make the correct number of salads on November 19; the only real dispute goes to why he did not do so. See Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Obj. to PCC's Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Mem.”) Ex. 2, Crawshaw Aff. ¶ 7, ECF No. 56-3.

         Also on November 19, the shift lead, Jamie Hayes, reported the missing food to Finegan and Giuntoli who proceeded to inform Iezzi about the situation. Pl.'s Mem. 13-14; PCCSUF ¶¶ 51-55. Iezzi interviewed Solola as part of her investigation into the incident and Solola defended himself by explaining that he had not made the correct number of salads because Finegan had failed to order enough food. Pl.'s Mem. 15-18. Solola was suspended from work on November 20, 2014; the next day, he sent Iezzi a letter explaining that the real reason he had failed to make the salads was because he had received a phone call about his sister's failing health and that that news had adversely affected his workplace performance. Id. at 15-16. However, Solola has since claimed that he wrote that statement in Finegan's presence and at his instruction and now avers that his sister's health had nothing to do with the salad incident. Id. at 16 n.23; see also Solola Dep. 139:7-140:20.

         On November 25, 2014, PCC terminated Solola, citing the following reasons: he was on a final written warning, he had twice failed to make the correct meals, and he had failed to wear his work uniform “on occasions in November 2014.” PCCSUF ¶¶ 70-73. Giuntoli and Iezzi met with Solola in person to inform him that he was being terminated. Id. ¶ 74. Solola reiterated his defense that Finegan had not ordered enough food for the kitchen and the missing salads and cranberry sauce were therefore not his fault. Pl.'s Mem. 17-18, 21, 24. At the conclusion of the meeting, Solola refused to sign the discharge notice and agreed to write his own statement instead. Pl.'s Mem. 19, 23.

         In that statement, dated November 30, 2014, Solola claimed that the allegations against him were “false and inaccurate” because Finegan had failed to order sufficient food for the kitchen and, therefore, Solola should not have been blamed for the missing salads. PCCSUF Ex. T, ECF No. 53-20. On January 15, 2015, he submitted a supplemental statement in which he again argued that the allegations about missing salads were “false and inaccurate” because they were really caused by Finegan's poor ordering skills; he also claimed that Giuntoli had warned him not to say anything about Finegan's mismanagement during the termination meeting. Id. Ex. U.Sometime thereafter, Solola also called Iezzi to verbally explain that the missing salads were not his fault. Solola Dep. 239:3-241:13.

         On April 29, 2015, Solola filed a Charge of Discrimination at the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights (“RICHR”), naming PCC, Giuntoli, and Finegan as respondents. Am. Compl. ¶ 55. All three jointly responded to that Charge on September 16, 2015, asserting that Solola's termination was based on “significant documentation detailing deficiencies in Solola's performance” in addition to the fact that he failed to make the requisite amount of food on November 17 and 19, 2014, after receiving a final written warning in September of 2014. Id. ¶¶ 56-70. The response also included various exhibits documenting Solola's workplace misconduct between 2003 and 2014.[3] Pl.'s Obj. to PCC's Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 1 (“Resp. to RICHR Charge”), ECF No. 56-2; see also PCCSUF, Exs. F-Q, ECF Nos. 53-6-53-17.

         On September 16, 2016, Mr. Solola filed an Amended Complaint[4]in this Court alleging that he was the victim of racial discrimination. Specifically, he alleges that he was “denied the privileges, benefits and entitlements of his employment because of the color of his skin, ” that he was “treated more harshly, more disparately and in a manner less favorably than his white employee counterparts, ” and that Defendants “create[ed] a hostile environment for Plaintiff to work in based on racial discrimination ...


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