United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
SHARION AYCOCK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment . Plaintiff filed his response ,
alleging that Defendant Nettleton discriminated and
retaliated against Plaintiff in violation of Title VII.
Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants Heard and Taylor,
in their individual capacity, have violated Plaintiffs First
Amendment rights. Finally, Plaintiff advances a claim of
denial of equal protection based on his race in violation of
the Fourteenth Amendment against Defendant Taylor, also in
his individual capacity. Defendants have jointly replied,
asserting defenses including qualified immunity .
and Procedural Background
recommendation by Police Chief A.D. Heard, Frederick
Washington was hired as a full time police officer for the
City of Nettleton in July 2013. Washington was promoted as
the City's Assistant Chief that September, again upon
recommendation by Chief Heard. Defendants allege that this
appointment was for a probationary period.
November of that year, Washington complained to Chief Heard
regarding an officer named Phillip Smith. Washington reported
that Officer Smith, who is white, was missing his shifts
without notice or excuse. Washington raised concerns
regarding Officer Smith's fitness for duty based on
concerns that he was not dependable.
who is black, believes that in retaliation for this report,
Officer Smith began spreading rumors to the Sheriff and
others about Washington's prior employment. Among other
things, Officer Smith allegedly said that Washington had a
sexual affair with a white parolee while he was employed by
the MDOC in Pontotoc, Mississippi.
response to the rumors, The Mayor of Nettleton, Jimmy Taylor,
investigated the allegations. He first called Lee County
Sheriff Johnson, who had no information. Sheriff Jim Johnson,
however, referred Mayor Taylor to Pontotoc County Sheriff
Mask. Sheriff Mask was also unable to confirm, but he said
that the other Pontotoc officers had teased Washington
regarding his inability to "get sex, " and they
joked that he would only be able to do so with his female
parolees. However, Sheriff Mask did not have information
regarding any specific occurrences involving any specific
this investigation proved fruitless, in talking with Chief
Heard, Mayor Taylor referred to Washington as Sheriff
Johnson's "boy, " allegedly because Sheriff
Johnson was unable to report specific negative information
regarding Washington's supposed affair. Chief Heard told
Washington about this, and that Mayor Taylor was frustrated
by the lack of negative information. Chief Heard also told
Washington that Sheriff Johnson wanted Washington fired for
"messing with a white girl."
to Defendants, Chief Heard met with Mayor Taylor and
Nettleton's City Clerk, Dana Burcham, on November 22,
2013, and the three discussed firing Washington. During the
meeting, Mayor Taylor and Burcham told Chief Heard that other
officers feared Washington. They had heard that Washington
was discussing his work problems with certain citizens of
Nettleton, and that Washington planned to hire a lawyer.
Chief Heard allegedly told Washington about this conversation
the next day, and he advised him to keep his "mouth
shut" in the future. However, on November 26, Washington
delivered a letter addressed to Mayor Taylor, with copies
given to Chief Heard and Burcham. The letter alleged that the
accusations of "messing with a white girl" and
calling Washington the Sherriff s "boy" were
racially discriminatory, and it asked Mayor Taylor to cease
violating Washington's federally protected rights.
that day, Washington was forced to end his shift early, and
that afternoon, a special meeting of the City of Nettleton
Board of Aldermen was called. At the meeting, Chief Heard
recommended to the Board of Aldermen that Washington be
fired. There is disagreement regarding the reasons given for
the termination in the meeting. Mayor Taylor alleges that
Chief Heard cited "poor performance, " while Chief
Heard says that he recommended that Washington be fired for
"undermining his position." Burcham merely
remembers that Chief Heard simply stated that he recommended
that Washington be terminated and then the Board voted,
without a full discussion of the reasons. However, within the
meeting Minutes, the reason recorded for termination was
"Fred Washington was a probationary employee." The
day after the Board meeting, Washington was informed of his
termination. When he returned his equipment to the police
station, he noticed that Officer Smith was working his shift.
Washington believes that Mayor Taylor had led a charge to
terminate Washington, but that the decision was ultimately
made in retaliation for the letter he wrote regarding the
allegations of racism, violations of rights and the unfair
treatment he received in comparison with Officer Smith.
he was fired, Washington filed for unemployment benefits with
the Mississippi Department of Employment Security
("MDES"). In response to the filing, Burcham
submitted a form stating that "[e]mployee was fired as a
probationary employee." The MDES awarded benefits, and
the City of Nettleton appealed the decision. A hearing was
held, wherein Burcham testified that Washington was a
probationary hire, and that he had been fired based upon
Chief Heard's recommendation. However, Burcham also
testified that though Washington "could not perform job
duties, " he had not violated policy and did not commit
misconduct. Washington testified that he was never given a
reason for his firing, and he was never told to appear before
the Board. The decision to award benefits was upheld because
the "employer admitted the claimant did not commit
filed his charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on May 5, 2015.
After the EEOC issued its Dismissal and Notice of Rights, Mr.
Washington made a Freedom of Information Act
("FOIA") request for the EEOC investigative file.
Upon receipt of the investigative file, Washington saw,
allegedly for the first time, four write-ups used by the
Defendant Nettleton to justify firing him. Subsequent to
receiving a right to sue letter, Washington filed the
complaint in this case.
names as Defendants the City of Nettleton, along with Mayor
Taylor and Chief Heard, in their individual capacities only.
As against the City, Washington advances two claims: race
discrimination and retaliation, both in violation of Title
VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-l to 2000e-17. With respect
to Mayor Taylor, Washington advances a claim for denial of
equal protection based on his race in violation of the
Fourteenth Amendment. As to both Mayor Taylor and Chief
Heard, Washington advances a claim for retaliation in
violation of the First Amendment.