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Baxter v. Spring Valley Hospital and Medical Center

United States District Court, D. Nevada

August 13, 2014

Pamela Baxter, Plaintiff,
Spring Valley Hospital and Medical Center, et al., Defendants.

Order Granting in Part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 36]

JENNIFER A. DORSEY, District Judge.

Pro se plaintiff Pamela Baxter was employed as a general surgical technician at Spring Valley Hospital and Medical Center from June 2, 2008, until she was terminated on September 21, 2010. Baxter alleges that Spring Valley failed to engage in a good-faith discussion with her regarding a reasonable accommodation for her then-recent diagnosis of a major depression disorder and post traumatic stress disorder; retaliated against her for filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC; and ultimately terminated her because she is black. Doc. 9. Baxter asserts claims for race-based and disability-based discrimination and retaliatory discharge under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and she prays for a host of remedies including reinstatement and damages. Id. at 4.

The hospital moves for summary judgment on all of Baxter's claims. Doc. 36. It contends that Baxter did not engage in the good-faith, interactive process for a disability accommodation; the ten-month gap between her EEOC filing and her termination fatally undermines her retaliation claim; and there is no proof that she was treated disparately due to her race. Docs. 36, 46. Baxter opposes the motion, disputing the hospital's version of the facts, attaching more than 100 pages of unauthenticated documents, and asking the court to find a genuine of issue of material fact and deny summary judgment. I find this motion appropriate for disposition without oral argument, [1] and I conclude that Spring Valley has demonstrated an absence of evidence to support Baxter's race-based discrimination claim, warranting summary judgment on that claim, but genuine issues of material fact preclude summary adjudication of her remaining claims.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[2] When considering the propriety of summary judgment, the court views all facts and draws all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[3] The nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, "[4] she "must produce specific evidence, through affidavits or admissible discovery material, to show that" there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact finder could find in his favor.[5] If reasonable minds could differ on the material facts at issue, summary judgment is not appropriate because the purpose of summary judgment is to avoid unnecessary trials when the facts are undisputed.[6]

B. Evidentiary-foundation Problems

Before I reach the merits of the parties' arguments, I must first address the sufficiency of their summary judgment papers. A party seeking to either support or refute the assertion that a fact is genuinely in dispute must do so with admissible evidence.[7] As the hospital points out in its reply, none of the approximately 120 pages of exhibits that Baxter submits with her opposition have been properly authenticated. Doc. 46 at 2. The hospital suggests that Baxter's failure to offer properly authenticated evidence is the natural consequence of her decision to conduct no discovery in this case. Id. Regardless of the reason for this deficiency, Spring Valley argues that the absence of authenticated evidence means there is no competent evidence to support Baxter's claims, and summary judgment is now required.

To authenticate a document, the proponent must offer "evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims.'"[8] As the summary judgment procedure is the pretrial functional equivalent of a directed-verdict motion, it requires consideration of the same caliber of evidence that would be admitted at trial;[9] thus, it is insufficient for a litigant to merely attach a document to a summary judgment motion or opposition without affirmatively demonstrating its authenticity. Documents may be authenticated two ways: (1) through the personal knowledge of a party who attests that the document is what it purports to be; or (2) any other manner permitted by Federal Rules of Evidence 901(b) (which provides ten methods of authentication) or 902 (identifying self-authenticating documents that "require no extrinsic evidence of authenticity in order to be admitted").[10] Documents authenticated through personal knowledge must be attached to an affidavit signed by a person with personal knowledge about the document (such as the drafter or signer of the document or the custodian of the document kept in the ordinary course of a business, depending on the type of document and its particular relevance), or properly authenticated deposition testimony in which the same information was elicited.[11]

Baxter has made no effort to authenticate her exhibits, and they do not appear to be selfauthenticating. Under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(e), "[i]f a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact... as required by Rule 56(c), the court may: (1) give an opportunity to properly support or address the fact; (2) consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion; (3) grant summary judgment if the motion and the supporting materials... show that the movant is entitled to it; or (4) issue any other appropriate order."[12]

In selecting among appropriate remedies, I cannot ignore the procedural history of this case. Plaintiff has failed to respond to written discovery, see Doc. 47, failed to appear at hearings, Docs. 48, 49, 52, and been sanctioned for "vexatiously increas[ing] the cost of this litigation in bad faith by failing to attend hearings designed to improve the progress of the case." Doc. 66. Despite her unrepresented status, Baxter still is required to follow all rules of this court.[13] Baxter's demonstrated history of conduct in this case suggests that allowing her additional time to cure the defects in her evidentiary submissions would not be fruitful and that the interests of both parties compel resolution of this motion as presently briefed.[14]

C. Merits of the Hospital's Motion

When evaluating a summary judgment motion in an employment discrimination action like this one, the court must employ the burden-shifting framework from McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green [15]:

The employee must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. If he does, the employer must articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged action. Finally, if the employer satisfies this burden, the employee must show that the reason is pretextual either directly by persuading the court that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the ...

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