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Purohit v. City of Jackson

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

May 27, 2015



DANIEL P. JORDAN, III, District Judge.

This employment-discrimination action is before the Court on motion of the City of Jackson for summary judgment [40] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiff Girish R. Purohit has responded in opposition. The Court, having considered the submissions of the parties, along with the pertinent authorities, finds that Defendant's motion should be denied.

I. Facts and Procedural History

Plaintiff Girish R. Purohit, an Asian male, born in India, and over the age of 40, filed this action against his former employer, the City of Jackson, for discrimination and retaliation based on race, sex, national origin, alienage, and age under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (through § 1983), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Purohit began work with the City of Jackson in April 2009 as a Senior Planner in the Office of Housing and Community Development, working in the HOME program. Purohit Aff. [45-1] at 1. During most of his tenure, he reported to the manager of the HOME program, Leo Stevens. Id. Purohit's problems began on August 11, 2012, when Deputy Director Ivory Williams announced that Valerie Tucker, an African-American female under the age of 40, would be the new manager of the HOME program and become Purohit's supervisor. Id. Tucker previously served as the manager of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and had no experience with the HOME program while working for the City. Id. According to Purohit, he had run the HOME program for several years and previously expressed his interest in a management position to Stevens, if one became available. Id. at 2, 5. But the City never advertised the manager position it eventually gave to Tucker.

Purohit links his lack of promotion to an inability to attend specialized training relevant to the HOME program. Beginning in September 2012, he requested, and received approval from Stevens, to attend "HOME Certification Specialist-Administrative" training, which prepares participants to serve as managers of a HOME program. Id. at 2; Training Program List [45-4]. Instead, he was sent to "HOME Certified Specialist-Regulations" training, which prepares participants only for non-managerial positions. Purohit Aff. [45-1] at 2. Meanwhile, Tucker was purportedly allowed to attend the administrative-track training and obtain certification. Compl. [1] at 2. Purohit later learned that Tucker's completion of the administrative training and certification-training which he was allegedly denied-was cited as one of the reasons for placing her in the manager position. Purohit Aff. [45-1] at 3.[1]

In October 2012, Purohit filed an internal grievance, complaining of his exclusion from the administration training and from consideration for the manager position. First Grievance [45-6]. His supervisor, Stevens, agreed, stating "I agree with your desire to be able to attend HOME certification administrator training and to be considered for the proposed manager position." Id. (emphasis added).[2] In this grievance, Purohit expressed concern that he was being denied training and advancement opportunities based on his age, gender, and race. Second Grievance [45-7] at 4 (dated October 15, 2012). On November 1, 2012, Purohit filed another grievance, complaining that his first grievance had gone unanswered. Id. at 1.

According to Purohit, things went downhill after he filed the grievances. Beginning in November 2012, he claims Tucker and Williams began nitpicking him-including snatching his notepad from him during a meeting, reprimanding him for being five minutes late to a meeting when others were 15 minutes late, and falsely claiming that he slammed his notepad on the desk during training. Purohit Aff. [45-1] at 2, 3. Purohit also testified that Williams made the comment, "You foreigners have money to travel, " in response to a request for vacation leave, Purohit Dep. [40-2] at 9, a comment he perceived as a racial slight, id. Later, during the time Purohit was grieving his concerns, a message was allegedly delivered to Purohit on Williams's behalf in which Purohit was told, "You had better watch your body language and behavior before you don't have a job." Purohit Aff. [45-1] at 3.

On March 4, 2013, the City placed Purohit on administrative leave without pay, contending he had committed violations of the employee code of conduct. The following day, he filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. EEOC Charge [1-2]. He never returned to his job, and on July 18, 2013, the City formally terminated his employment.

Purohit challenged that decision and the resulting denial of unemployment benefits before the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES). Following an October 22, 2013 hearing, the administrative law judge found that the City had failed to show Purohit had been terminated for misconduct, noting the City "did not issue any formal written warning or advise the claimant that his job was in jeopardy" as required by its progressive disciplinary policy. Decision [45-15] at 2.

Finally, after receiving notice of his right to sue from the EEOC, Purohit filed this action seeking damages. In his Complaint, Purohit contends his non-selection for manager, suspension, and termination were based on his race, age, sex, national origin, and alienage, and in retaliation for complaining about discrimination. Compl. [1] at 4-6. The case is now before the Court on the City's motion for summary judgment as to all claims.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings" and "designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, "but only when... both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When ...

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