United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
William E. Smith Chief Judge
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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.”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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
September 16, 2016, Mr. Solola filed an Amended
Complaintin 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 ...