United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
DERRICK J. KING, Plaintiff,
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF STATE INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI d/b/a UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI MEDICAL CENTER and HENK de WEERDT Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CARLTON W. REEVES, District Judge.
Before the Court is the Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Docket No. 61. The Plaintiff opposes the motion. Docket No. 64. The Defendants have filed a rebuttal brief, Docket No. 67, and the matter is ready for review. The motion is hereby granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiff Derrick King filed this case on July 1, 2011. Docket No. 1. He filed a second amended complaint on December 9, 2011. Docket No. 20. In his complaint, he invokes Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against the University of Mississippi Medical Center (hereinafter "UMMC") and claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 against UMMC's Chief Technology Officer, Henk de Weerdt (hereinafter "de Weerdt") individually. He filed suit against the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning (hereinafter "IHL"), UMMC, and de Weerdt and requests damages for claims arising from Plaintiff's allegations that he was not promoted and was eventually terminated from UMMC. Plaintiff alleges that de Weerdt is liable for race discrimination and retaliation for filing an EEOC charge in violation of 42 U.S.C § 1981, and for violating the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His amended complaints also allege that de Weerdt is liable for malicious interference with employment.
King was hired as a systems analyst in the department of pathology by UMMC in July 2008. Plaintiff is a black male. Plaintiff remained in his position until his employment at UMMC came to an end when UMMC implemented a reduction in force plan (hereinafter "RIF") in 2010.
A. Reduction in Force
Defendants have provided evidence indicating that, in 2009, Charlie Enicks, the new chief operating officer (COO) of UMMC, decided to consolidate the information technology (IT) department into one management group. Prior to the consolidation, UMMC had a central IT division and each department hired its own IT staff. Defs.' MSJ, Docket No. 62, at 2; de Weerdt Dep. at 21. The departments of medicine, pathology, pediatrics and cardiology each had its own IT staff who were not part of the central group. De Weerdt testified in his deposition that the structure created problems because each IT department had its own policies and standards and was not connected to the general direction of central IT. UMMC implemented a Reduction in Force Business Plan which consolidated all of the IT positions under the management of central IT; a total of twenty positions were eliminated. See RIF Business Plan, Docket No. 61, Ex. B. As a result of the RIF, four employees were unable to find positions and continue employment at the medical center. See de Weerdt Dep., Docket No. 61, Ex. A, at 55. Three of the employees were white, and one, the plaintiff, was black.
Before the reduction in force went into effect, Plaintiff applied for a position entitled Supervisor of Client Service Operations (hereinafter "Supervisor") on February 18, 2010. UMMC has submitted evidence that, originally, seven applicants applied for the position: three whites, two blacks, one Hispanic and one Asian. See EEO Summary, Docket No. 61, Ex. D. One white and one black applicant withdrew their applications from consideration. The Asian applicant was disqualified in a pre-screening process. The remaining four applicants - two whites, one Hispanic, and one black applicant (the Plaintiff) - were interviewed; the interview panel selected Russell Donald, a white male applicant, to fill the position.
Plaintiff testified that he heard rumors of a department restructuring around June 2010 and those rumors were confirmed when UMMC informed all affected employees of the reduction in force, which went into effect on June 17, 2010. That same day, King applied for six upper-level management positions. See Derrick King's application history, Docket No. 61, Ex. G. He also filed his Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, complaining of race discrimination. See EEOC Charge, Docket No. 61, Ex. H.
B. EEOC Charge
King filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on June 17, 2010. In the charge, he asserted that he had been discriminated based on his race having "been repeatedly denied promotions, and these promotions have been given to white males." Docket 64-12. He further explained that he did not "see any non-race-based reason for these denials of promotions." Id. Although his charge alluded to other positions, he focused particular attention on the position of Supervisor of Client Service Operations, which had been filled within the last 180 days by Donald, whom King claimed was less qualified than him. Id. He concluded the charge, with the following request: "I request the EEOC to investigate to determine whether I have been the victim of race discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." Id.
On June 18, 2010, King applied for another position. Docket No. 61, Ex. G. In his deposition, though, Plaintiff conceded that he is only suing based on the denial of the Supervisor of Client Services Operations position, and not based on the applications that he filed for other positions. King Dep., Docket No. 61, Ex. I, at 45-46.
King's system analyst position was eliminated during the RIF along with nineteen other positions. Having not been selected for any of the positions for which he applied, King's employment ended on August 19, 2010. The EEOC conducted its investigation and, at King's request, issued its Notice of Right to Sue on April 5, 2011. He timely filed the instant action.
The Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. Since the Court is considering matters outside the pleadings, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment. First Bank and Trust v. Employers Mut. Cas. Co., 3:08cv685-CWR-LRA, 2011 WL 4916428, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Oct. 17, 2011) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d)).
A. Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). Facts are "material" when they might affect the outcome of the case, and a "genuine issue" exists when the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party is "entitled to judgment as a matter of law" when the non-moving party fails to make an adequate showing on an essential element for which it has the burden of proof at trial. See Cleveland v. Policy Mgmt. Sys. Corp., 526 U.S. 795, 805-06 (1999) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). The Court will "view the evidence and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant, " Maddox v. Townsend & Sons, Inc., 639 F.3d 214, 216 (5th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted), but conclusory assertions are not competent summary judgment evidence. Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir. 1994).
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court will not weigh evidence or draw from the facts legitimate inferences for the movant. Strong v. Dept. of Army, 414 F.Supp.2d 625, 628 (S.D.Miss. 2005). Evaluating credibility and drawing factual inferences are functions reserved for the jury. Id. Particularly within the fact-sensitive realm of Title VII litigation, "[t]his Court is ever mindful that although a useful device, summary judgment must be employed cautiously because it is a final adjudication on the merits.'" Patton v. Hinds Cnty. Juvenile Detention Ctr. (Henley-Young), No. 3:10-CV-138, 2011 WL 2912897, at *3 (S.D.Miss. July 18, 2011) (quoting Jackson v. Cain, 865 F.2d 1235, 1241 (5th Cir. 1989)). See also Coleman, Sr. v. CMH Homes, Inc., No. 4:09cv168-CWR-KFB, 2011 WL 198130 (S.D.Miss. Jan. 20, 2011) ("[S]ummary judgment is an inappropriate tool for resolving claims of employment discrimination which involve nebulous questions of motivation and intent... and motivation and intent depend on complicated inferences from the evidence and are therefore peculiarly within the province of the factfinder.") (quoting Thornbrough v. Columbus Greenville R.R. Co., 760 F.2d 6333');"> 760 F.2d 6333, 640-41 (5th Cir. 1985), abrogated on other grounds, St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502 (1993)). Therefore, "[e]ven if the standards of Rule 56 are met, a court has discretion to deny a motion for summary judgment if it believes the better course would be to proceed to full trial." Firman v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 684 F.3d 533, 538 (5th Cir.2012) (citations and quotation marks omitted).
I. Claims Against UMMC
Plaintiff has filed suit against UMMC under Title VII, alleging race discrimination, on three grounds. First, he alleges that race discrimination influenced UMMC's failure to promote him to the Supervisor of Client Services Operations. He also alleges that his termination as a systems analyst resulted from race discrimination; and that he suffered retaliation for filing a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. We will address each issue in turn.
A. Race Discrimination Under Title VII
At the summary judgment stage, plaintiff need not present a prima facie case of discrimination, but must simply raise a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of a prima facie case. Thornbrough v. Columbus & Greenville R. Co., 760 F.2d 633, 641 n.8 (5th Cir. 1985). To establish a prima facie case for unlawful race discrimination for the failure to promote, a plaintiff must prove that: 1) he is a member of a protected class; 2) he applied and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants; 3) despite his qualifications, he was rejected; and 4) after his rejection, the position was filled by someone of a different race or remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants from persons of complainant's qualifications. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973); Haynes v. Pennzoil Co., 207 F.3d 296, 300 (5th Cir. 2000); Celestine v. Petroleos de Venezuella SA, 266 F.3d 343, 354-55 (5th Cir. 2001). A plaintiff must carry this initial burden by a preponderance of the evidence. Haynes, 207 F.3d at 300.
The Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiff is a member of a protected class, in that he is African American; that he applied for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants; that he was ultimately rejected; and that the position was filled by someone of a different race. As will be discussed more fully below, King was qualified for the position, but Defendants suggest that the position went to Donald for legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons in exercise ...