Federal Court in Georgia Grants Summary Judgment to University and Counseling Center Director in Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit

It is rare that both sides of a Georgia employment discrimination lawsuit agree on the facts leading up to the case. Very often, the employee believes that he or she was unlawfully fired, not promoted, demoted, etc. based on his or her age, gender, race, or disability, while the employer insists that the adverse employment action was based on other, legally acceptable reasons. The issue then becomes whether a termination or other adverse employment decision was based on “legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons” or whether the decision was based on factors (such as age or face) that, under state and federal law, should not be part of the decision process in the workplace. When these two sides conflict, either the trial court will grant summary judgment to one party based on the other side’s inability to produce sufficient evidence to prove that there are genuine issues of material fact regarding one or more claims, or the case will proceed to a jury trial.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a counselor who filed suit against the defendants, a state university’s board of regents and the director of the university’s counseling center, asserting that she had been the victim of unlawful discrimination. More specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants discriminated against her when they forced her to resign from her employment after she developed multiple health problems following a stroke-like incident in 2015, rather than be terminated.

In her complaint, filed after receiving a notice of the right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the plaintiff sought legal redress for disability discrimination, retaliation, and failure to accommodate under the Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. She also sought relief under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 for the defendants’ alleged violation of her First Amendment rights. The plaintiff’s First Amendment claims were brought against the director in her individual capacity, but all of her other claims were against the university and the director in her official capacity.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking judgment as a matter of law as to the plaintiff’s “forced resignation” claim.

The Court’s Decision

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Savannah Division, granted summary judgment to the defendants. In so holding, the court noted that, in 2015, the plaintiff’s charts had been found non-compliant, and the director had expressed numerous concerns, including lack of clinical documentation, failure to use established documentation standards, and continuing insubordination. Overall, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to establish a prima facie case of either discrimination or retaliation in light of the defendants’ legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for the adverse employment decisions that were directed at the plaintiff.

With regard to the plaintiff’s First Amendment claim, the court found that the speech in question was not protected under the First Amendment and that the director was entitled to qualified immunity insomuch as the plaintiff had failed to make out a violation of a constitutional right. In so holding, the court again noted that the defendants had offered a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the plaintiff’s termination and that the plaintiff had failed to rebut this evidence.

Speak with an Employment Discrimination Attorney in Atlanta

It is important to talk to an attorney about asserting your legal rights if you believe that your employer has wrongfully discriminated against you or retaliated against you for engaging in protected conduct in the workplace. At Parks, Chesin & Walbert, our team of established Atlanta employment discrimination attorneys handle many different types of employment litigation matters, including those arising from retaliation. To schedule a consultation about your case, call us ow at 877-986-5529.