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Duran v. Metro Treatment of Colorado, L.P.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 17, 2019

ZACH DURAN, Plaintiff,
METRO TREATMENT OF COLORADO, L.P., d/b/a Grand Junction Treatment Center, and COLONIAL MANAGEMENT GROUP, L.P., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 38]. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Zach Duran is a Mexican citizen and permanent resident of the United States. Docket No. 47 at 11, ¶ 36.[2] Plaintiff is of Native American descent. Id. at 1, ¶ 1. Defendants Metro Treatment of Colorado, L.P. (“Metro”) and Colonial Management Group, L.P. (“Colonial”) own and operate a drug treatment center in Mesa County, Colorado known as the Grand Junction Treatment Center (“GJTC”). Docket No. 19 at 2, ¶¶ 10-15. On September 1, 2014, defendants hired plaintiff Zach Duran as the Program Director at GJTC. Docket No. 38 at 2, ¶ 1. At the time he was hired, plaintiff met all the advertised qualifications for the Program Director position. Docket No. 47 at 11, ¶ 38. Beginning in approximately September 2015, plaintiff's direct supervisor was Jessica Ellis (“Ellis”). Docket No. 38 at 3, ¶ 2.

         On September 19, 2016, Ellis called GJTC in an attempt to speak with plaintiff. Id., ¶ 3. GJTC staff informed Ellis that plaintiff was not at work. Id. Plaintiff had told staff the previous week that he would be going out of town and would not be at work on the 19th. Id., ¶ 4.[3] Plaintiff did not tell Ellis before his absence that he would miss work on the 19th and did not arrange coverage for the clinic with Ellis in his absence. Id., ¶ 5.[4] Plaintiff missed work on both the 19th and 20th and returned to work on the 21st. Id., ¶ 8. In his role as Program Director, plaintiff was expected to notify Ellis that he was going to be absent and coordinate with her to cover the clinic. Id. at 4, ¶ 9. At the time, defendants had an “Attendance and Tardiness” policy, which stated that “[e]mployees absent for any reason must notify their supervisor” and that “[a]bsence without notification . . . may result in disciplinary action, including dismissal.” Id., ¶ 13.[5] Ellis planned to issue plaintiff a written warning for absence without prior notification or authorization. Id. at 5, ¶ 16. However, Frances Bolden, defendants' Regional Vice President for the Alabama and Western Region, and Debbie Porte, defendants' Senior HR Manager, determined that termination of plaintiff's employment was the appropriate sanction. Id., ¶ 17.[6] Defendants terminated plaintiff on September 27, 2016. Docket No. 19 at 5, ¶ 45. After plaintiff's discharge, defendants hired a white male as GJTC's program director. Docket No. 47 at 12, ¶ 42.

         On January 13, 2017, plaintiff filed a charge against defendants with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Docket No. 19 at 2, ¶ 20. On December 7, 2017, plainitff received a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC. Id., ¶ 21. On March 7, 2018, plaintiff filed this lawsuit. Docket No. 1. In the operative complaint, plaintiff asserts two claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., alleging that plaintiff was unlawfully terminated on the basis of his (1) race and (2) national origin. Docket No. 19. On January 14, 2019, defendants moved for summary judgment on both claims. Docket No. 38.


         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 when the “movant shows 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(a); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986). A disputed fact is “material” if under the relevant substantive law it is essential to proper disposition of the claim. Wright v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001). Only disputes over material facts can create a genuine issue for trial and preclude summary judgment. Faustin v. City & Cty. of Denver, 423 F.3d 1192, 1198 (10th Cir. 2005). An issue is “genuine” if the evidence is such that it might lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Allen v. Muskogee, 119 F.3d 837, 839 (10th Cir. 1997).

         Where “the moving party does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, it may satisfy its burden at the summary judgment stage by identifying a lack of evidence for the nonmovant on an essential element of the nonmovant's claim.” Bausman v. Interstate Brands Corp., 252 F.3d 1111, 1115 (10th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998)). “Once the moving party meets this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate a genuine issue for trial on a material matter.” Concrete Works of Colo., Inc. v. City & Cty. of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1518 (10th Cir. 1994). The nonmoving party may not rest solely on the allegations in the pleadings, but instead must designate “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). “To avoid summary judgment, the nonmovant must establish, at a minimum, an inference of the presence of each element essential to the case.” Bausman, 252 F.3d at 1115. When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Objections to Discovery Orders

         Plaintiff has filed an Objection to Magistrate's Orders on Discovery [Docket No. 51], objecting to two discovery orders entered by Magistrate Judge Gordon P. Gallagher. Following the close of discovery, plaintiff alleged that defendants committed two discovery violations during Ellis's deposition. First, plaintiff argued that “[d]efense counsel improperly directed [E]llis not to answer four questions on the grounds of relevance.” Docket No. 40-1 at 2. The questions related to whether any GJTC patients had died from a methadone overdose after plaintiff's termination and whether any lawsuits alleging medical negligence had been filed against defendants after plaintiff's termination. Id. Second, plaintiff argued that defense counsel engaged in abusive conduct by making numerous interruptions and objections and that defendants' corporate representative engaged in abusive conduct during Ellis's deposition by “sp[eaking] sarcastically to the [p]laintiff in mocking Spanish and [laughing] derisively in his face.” Id. at 4. As a remedy for both alleged discovery violations, plaintiff requested that the Court order Ellis to sit for a second deposition and order defendants to pay fees and costs of both depositions. Id. at 3-4. Magistrate Judge Gallagher held hearings on the two disputes on January 28, 2019 and February 1, 2019. Docket Nos. 40, 49. Magistrate Judge Gallagher denied plaintiff's request, holding that (1) discovery on the topic of medical negligence was not relevant pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26, and (2) defendants' deposition conduct did not violate a statute or court rule. Id.

         When reviewing magistrate judge orders on non-dispositive matters, “[t]he district judge in the case must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.” Fed R. Civ. P. 72(a). On review of the record, the Court finds no clear error in Magistrate Judge Gallagher's rulings. As to the first ruling, “[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Magistrate Judge Gallagher ruled that plaintiff's questions, which aimed to discover possible medical negligence by defendants, were not relevant to plaintiff's claims, which allege that he was illegally terminated on the basis of his race or national origin. Contrary to plaintiff's objection, which cites a since-amended version of Fed.R.Civ.P. 26, Magistrate Judge Gallagher applied the correct legal standard in reaching this conclusion. See Docket No. 51 at 2; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 advisory committee's note to the 2015 amendments (noting that the phrase “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” has been deleted because it “has been used by some, incorrectly, to define the scope of discovery”).

         As to the second ruling, plaintiff argues that the magistrate judge failed to “account for or apply” Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(d)(2) and D.C.COLO.LCivR 30.3. However, the magistrate judge's order states that “the Court is [n]ot ordering/allowing a new deposition of [Ellis] as [p]laintiff urges is due him because of an alleged violation of statute or court rule.” Docket No. 49 at 1. Thus, the record reflects that the magistrate judge took into consideration Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(d)(2) and D.C.COLO.LCivR 30.3 in reaching his ruling. The remainder of plaintiff's objection is essentially an argument that the magistrate judge came to the wrong conclusion. See Docket No. 51 at 4, ¶ 15 (arguing that a statement made by the magistrate judge was “contrary to the evidence before it”). The record reflects that the magistrate judge reviewed the deposition transcript, accepted two exhibits offered by plaintiff, and heard argument from both parties in a hearing that lasted nearly an hour. Docket No. 49. Upon review of the record, the Court sees no reason to disturb the magistrate judge's conclusion. See Fish v. Kobach, 267 F.Supp.3d 1297, 1301 (D. Kan. 2017) (“The clearly erroneous standard [for reviewing a decision of a magistrate judge] requires that the reviewing court affirm unless it on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.”). The Court thus concludes that neither order was “clearly erroneous or contrary to law” and overrules plaintiff's Objection to Magistrate's Orders on Discovery [Docket No. 51].

         B. Title VII ...

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