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Afolabi v. Lifespan Corp.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

May 23, 2019

MOJISOLA AFOLABI, ELEANOR KILLI, DAVID ONASILE, Plaintiffs,
v.
LIFESPAN CORPORATION and RHODE ISLAND HOSPITAL, Defendants,

          ORDER

          John J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff David Onasile. ECF No. 59. The parties have filed extensive oppositions and replies. ECF Nos. 72, 77. The Court heard arguments on the motions. When the Court denied Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment as to co-Plaintiffs Mojisola Afolabi and Eleanor Killi (ECF No. 81), the Court held under advisement the Motion for Summary Judgment as to Mr. Onasile and now issues its ruling. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff David Onasile. ECF No. 59.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         David Onasile is a Nigerian man who immigrated to the United States in 1988. Since 2003, he had been a mental health worker at Rhode Island Hospital.[2] During early times of his employment, Mr. Onasile received written evaluations that noted "a No. of interpersonal encoxinters with staff that... required mediation to foster harmony in his working relationships with others." ECF No. 60 at 49. The hospital disciplined him "one or two times." ECF No. 72-2 at 34. His supervisors again cautioned him about his interactions with patients and co-workers in later years. See Id. at 54-61. His personal interactions with staff and patients improved over time.

         Mr. Onasile asserts that his work conditions began to change in February 2013. Joan Salhany, a white woman, became Director of Psychiatric Nursing at Rhode Island Hospital. As Director of Psychiatric Nursing, Ms. Salhany supervised the clinical and assistant clinical managers. Within two months of her appointment, at a staff meeting, Ms. Salhany told the employees of African descent[3] that it was hospital policy that they could not speak their native language in either the patient areas or staff areas. ECF No. 72-6 at 18, 20. Staff complained to their union representative aboxit this policy they believed was discriminatory. ECF No. 72-4 at 140-141.

         About four months later, Mr. Onasile was working with a group of patients when another hospital employee Aliss Collins[4] came into the room. The parties' accounts of what happened next differ. Mr. Onasile claims that Ms. Collins interrupted him and asked him for the patient menus. ECF No. 72-3 at 36-37. Mr. Onasile told her that he was busy and needed to finish what he was doing before he could retrieve the menus for her. Ms. Collins abruptly snatched the menus from his hands. Id.

         Ms. Collins claims that when she picked up the menus from the table, Mr. Onasile scratched her trying to take them back. ECF No. 60 at 112. Michelle Domenico, a Registered Nurse on the Unit, saw the incident between Mr. Onasile and Ms. Collins. Id. at 185. Ms. Domenico said that she saw Ms. Collins "approach [Mr. Onasile] and then [Mr. Onasile] swung his arm toward [Ms.] Collins and then she jumped back immediately and said, 'don't hit me.'" Id.

         Mr. Onasile met with hospital personnel and his union representative to discuss the incident. Mr. Onasile at first denied that he ever scratched or hit Collins. Id. at 183. Because Ms. Salhany saw the scratches on Ms. Collins' arm and all the witnesses informed her that Mr. Onasile had scratched Ms. Collins, Ms. Salhany believed that Mr. Onasile scratched Ms. Collins and was lying about the incident. Id. The hospital made the decision to fire Mr. Onasile for scratching Ms. Collins and then claiming that he had not done it. ECF No. 72-3 at 47.[5]

         The hospital fired Mr. Onasile for violating, among other things, the Workplace Violence Policy and the Disruptive Behavior Policy. See ECF No. 60 at 192-93. The Workplace Violence Policy states that all employees are prohibited from "[p]hysically touching another person in an intimidating, malicious, or sexually harassing manner [, ]" Id. at 193. Likewise, the Disruptive Behavior Policy precludes employees from engaging in "inappropriate physical contact with another individual or contact that is threatening or intimidating[.]" Id., at 199. Each policy included discipline "up to and including termination of employment." Id. at 1951199.

         The parties then held an arbitration about Mr. Onasile's termination. Id. at 109-18. The Arbitrator found that Ms. Collins "was not shown to have any reason whatsoever to manufacture the story and an injury (however minor the injury) in connection with Mr. Onasile." Id. at 115. And "both Ms. Akanji and Ms. Salhany testified that they saw the scratches on Ms. Collins's arm." Id. at 115-16. The Arbitrator concluded that Mr. Onasile's version of the events that nothing at all happened between him and Ms. Collins was not credible and noted that Mr. Onasile's "complete failure to acknowledge even a modicum of responsibility both during the Hospital's investigation and continuing through arbitration demonstrated such a bleak lack of self-awareness and skewing of reality that it is impossible to label as unreasonable the Hospital's decision to end his employment." Id. at 118. The arbitrator upheld Rhode Island Hospital's firing of Mr. Onasile.

         Mr. Onasile, along with four other former employees of African descent from this Unit at Rhode Island Hospital, filed this lawsuit charging discriminatory treatment under Title VII, the Fair Employment Practices Act, and the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act. The Defendants moved to dismiss. ECF No. 59. Mr. Onasile objected (ECF No, 72) and the Defendants replied. ECF No. 77. The Court heard arguments. The Court denied Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment as to Mr. Onasile's co-workers (ECF No. 81) but held under advisement the Motion for Summary Judgment as to Mr. Onasile.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings, discovery, and affidavits, show 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. To determine whether summary judgment is suitable, the court analyzes the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Cadle Co. v. Hayes, 116 F.3d 957, 959 (1st Cir. 1997).

         The burden falls first on the movant to assert an absence of genuine issue of material fact that needs resolution at trial. See Nat'l Amusements, Inc. v. Town of Dedham,43 F.3d 731, 735 (1st Cir. 1995) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). The burden then shifts to the nonmovant who must oppose the motion by presenting facts to show a genuine issue of material fact remains. Id., A factual issue is genuine if it "may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A fact is material if it holds the power to "sway the outcome of the litigation under applicable law." Nat'l Amusements, 43 F.3d at 735. The nonmovant must rely on more than "effusive rhetoric and optimistic surmise" to prove a genuine issue of material fact. Cadle, 116 F.3d at 960. Instead, the evidence relied on by the nonmovant "must have substance in the sense that it ...


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