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Howard v. Mississippi State University

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

April 23, 2015

MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY; AMY TUCK, In Her Official and Individual Capacity; and GEORGE DAVIS, In His Official and Individual Capacity, Defendants.


MICHAEL P. MILLS, District Judge.

Before the court are defendant Mississippi State University's ("MSU") and defendants Amy Tuck's ("Tuck") and George Davis' ("Davis") motions for summary judgment [44], [46]. Plaintiff, Marvell Howard, has responded, and defendants have replied. Having considered the memoranda and relevant law, the court is prepared to rule.

Plaintiff Marvell Howard claims that MSU and two of its employees, Amy Tuck and George Davis, discriminated against him on the basis of race in violation of 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. More specifically, Mr. Howard claims that MSU 1) improperly classified him as "non-exempt" for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"); 2) paid him "only slightly more" than an employee who reported to him, when other skilled craft supervisors at MSU made substantially more than the employees under their supervision; 3) paid other skilled craft supervisors more than him; 4) gave another employee a raise as compensation for taking on extra duties in 2009, but did not give him a raise for temporarily taking on some of those duties; and finally 5) treated Howard differently in responding to pay concerns than a similarly situated white employee.


Mr. Howard, who is African-American, began working at MSU in 1991 as a building maintenance repairer. In 1997, he was promoted to Assistant Building Maintenance Supervisor. In 2005, Mr. Howard was promoted to the position of Zone Maintenance Leader. On January 1, 2009, following a Facilities Management services reorganization, Mr. Howard was reassigned to a newly created position of Carpentry Supervisor, where he was and is generally responsible for oversight of the carpenters within the group and for training, assisting, and assigning tasks to the other carpenters.

MSU's Facilities Management services' reorganization in 2008 and 2009 transitioned the university from a "zone maintenance" concept to a functional support model. Under the zone maintenance concept, MSU was divided into different zones, overseen by a zone leader, with each zone assigned a set of skilled craft employees, e.g., a painter, an electrician, an HVAC worker, a carpenter, and custodial workers. Each zone was responsible for several buildings.

Under the new functional support model, instead of having multiple zones, MSU grouped workers according to their roles. For example, all the carpenters were grouped together and would provide carpentry services across the campus.

Along with this reorganization of the Facilities Management service, MSU also created a new salary structure for Facilities Management. This new salary structure assigned rates of pay to the positions within Facilities Management based upon MSU's Human Resources department's determination of the market demand for employees of each type that would apply to all persons holding the job regardless of years in service or other criteria. As a result of this restructuring, some employees would receive raises and others would see their compensation decrease. However, MSU decided that no employee's pay would be reduced as a part of the new compensation structure, so MSU allowed those employees whose pay would have decreased to keep their existing, pre-restructuring, rate of pay.

After these structural changes, in addition to Mr. Howard being reassigned to the newly created position of Carpentry supervisor, Mr. Howard's coworker and previous supervisor, Roger Johnston, who is white, was assigned the newly created position of Building Services supervisor. Mr. Howard supervised the Carpentry group, which fell under the Work Management division supervised by David Canterbury. The Work Management Supervisor (Mr. Canterbury) and Building Services Supervisor (Mr. Johnston) both oversaw multiple divisions and reported to George Davis, the Associate Director of Facilities.

Under these new positions, Mr. Howard's pay increased from $39, 775.00 to $48, 610.00 and Mr. Johnston's pay increased from $50, 164.00 to $56, 337.00. On October 19, 2009, Mr. Johnston complained to Human Resources about pay inequity between his pay and the Electrical and Plumbing supervisors. In his emailed complaint, Mr. Johnston stated that since the restructure, he was supervising "three different shops (Building Maintenance Interior, Upholstery, and Key Shop)" and he had "more employees to supervise than the Electrical and Plumbing Shops combined." Human Resources responded that they could not review his pay until "proper approval has been given from the VP." Mr. Johnston then submitted a written request for reevaluation of his pay grade to the vice president. Mr. Johnston's pay was then increased from $56, 337.00 to $65, 000.

In September of 2012, Mr. Howard complained to MSU's Human Resources department, under a new Chief Human Resources Officer than when Johnston complained, about pay inequities between his pay and that of other skilled craft supervisors. He also complained that the difference between his salary as a supervisor and the master level employee beneath him was less than the difference between other skilled craft supervisors and the master level employees beneath them. On September 28, 2012 in response to Mr. Howard's email, Judy Spencer, the director of Human Resources, explained that:

You have stated some facts below based on your own research and have made some assumptions. You also compare positions that appear to be the same from your viewpoint, but actually require different knowledge, skill, and ability (example: comparing yours and other positions with an Electrical Supervisor) and are substantially different. You have also made some assumptions about additional compensation for additional duties. These are your assumptions and do not exactly match our records... I am not sure what your expectations are at this point or what you mean by providing a remedy of the situation soon. If you will clarify this request, I will make sure you get an answer.

Dkt. 44, Exhibit 24, Email Communications.

Mr. Howard did not follow up with Ms. Spencer. Instead, on October 4, 2012, Mr. Howard filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that his "salary and terms and conditions of employment are substantially different from those of other skilled craft supervisors who have the same or similar duties and responsibilities." Dkt. 44, Ex. 16, Charge of Discrimination. Mr. Howard advanced three complaints. First, he complained that he should have been classified as an "exempt" employee rather than a non-exempt employee for FLSA purposes. Second, he complained that he did not receive an explanation "why [he is] not an exempt employee and why [his] salary is substantially lower than the salaries of the other skilled craft supervisors." Id. Finally, he complained that his "salary is only slightly more ...

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