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Wright v. Yazoo City Police Department

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division

April 30, 2014

SONYA WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
YAZOO CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [45].

I. BACKGROUND

This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff was an officer in the Yazoo City Police Department. Over the course of three and a half years, she was disciplined at least six times. She was finally terminated after an altercation in the police station with the mother of her son's child. She claims that Defendants terminated her because of her sex. She asserted a Title VII discrimination claim, plus state-law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract. Defendants - Yazoo City, its Assistant Chief of Police, and members of its Board of Aldermen - filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [45], which is ripe for review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 56 provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if 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 also Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). "Where the burden of production at trial ultimately rests on the nonmovant, the movant must merely demonstrate an absence of evidentiary support in the record for the nonmovant's case." Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). The nonmovant "must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. (punctuation omitted). "An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action." Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. "An issue is genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Cuadra, 626 F.3d at 812.

The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, "the court must view the facts and the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, "[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Title VII Discrimination

Plaintiff claims that Defendants terminated her because of her sex, but she has no direct evidence of discriminatory intent. The Court analyzes discrimination claims based on circumstantial evidence under the burden-shifting framework established by McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Turner v. Kan. City S. Ry. Co., 675 F.3d 887, 892 (5th Cir. 2012).

In the first step of the analysis, the plaintiff must "establish a prima facie case that the defendant made an employment decision that was motivated by a protected factor." Id. The burden "is not onerous, " and it is "necessarily a flexible standard that must be adapted to the factual circumstances of the case." Id. (citing Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981)). In "work-rule violation cases" like this one, a plaintiff can carry her prima facie burden in two ways. Id. at 892-93. First. she can demonstrate that she did not "violate the rule" or commit the infraction for which she was terminated. Id. Alternatively, she can show that employees who were not members of her protected class but committed "similar acts were not punished similarly." Id. at 893.

In the second stage of the analysis, the "burden of production shifts to the employer to provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the action." Haire v. Bd. of Supervisors of La. State Univ., 719 F.3d 356, 362-63 (5th Cir. 2013). "The employer's burden is one of production, not persuasion, and does not involve a credibility assessment." Black v. Pan Am Labs., LLC, 646 F.3d 254, 259 (5th Cir. 2011).

Finally, in the third stage of the analysis, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff, who "must put forward evidence rebutting each of the nondiscriminatory reasons" articulated by the defendant. Haire, 719 F.3d at 363. She "may establish pretext by showing that a discriminatory motive more likely motivated her employer's decision, such as through evidence of disparate treatment, or that her employer's explanation is unworthy of credence." Id.

Both the first ( prima facie ) and third (pretext) stages of the analysis arguably require the same showing from Plaintiff: that Defendant's reason for firing her was false, or that she was treated differently than similarly situated men. Compare Turner, 675 F.3d at 892-93 (plaintiff can make prima facie showing by either demonstrating either that she did not commit the rule violation for which she was terminated, or by showing that similarly situated employees of different class were not terminated), with Haire, 719 F.3d at 363 (plaintiff can meet pretext burden with evidence of disparate treatment or that her employer's proffered ...


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