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Gray v. Gutherz

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

September 5, 2017

JUAN GRAY PLAINTIFF
v.
CHRISTY GUTHERZ, IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          DANIEL P. JORDAN III, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendants moved to dismiss certain claims in this employment-discrimination case. Because the Title VII claim against the individual defendant, the § 1983 claim against the state agency, and the right-of-association claim against all Defendants are not legally viable, partial dismissal is warranted. I. Facts and Procedural History Juan Gray, an African-American, worked as a probation officer for the Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”), while simultaneously serving as the police chief of the City of Gloster, Mississippi. At MDOC, he encountered two supervisors: his first-level supervisor Priscilla Tenner (who is African American) and Tenner's supervisor, Defendant Christine Gutherz (who is Caucasian).

         According to Gray, Tenner had complained in the past of Gutherz's discriminatory treatment of African Americans. He claims MDOC employees told him to distance himself from Tenner, because of this history. Gray refused and thinks Defendants consequently denied him permission to drive his service vehicle to and from Gloster. He similarly suggests this prohibition was racially motivated because MDOC allowed Caucasian probation officers to use their service vehicles to travel between agencies.

         Gray also says Defendants discriminated against him on account of his race by later telling him he could not serve as Gloster's police chief, while allowing at least five Caucasian employees to hold outside employment. Then, after four months of employment, Defendants terminated Gray, purportedly because two offenders “absconded on his watch.” Compl. [1] at 4. But Gray says the Caucasian officer responsible for putting the electronic monitoring devices on those offenders was retained.

         Aggrieved, Gray filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and this lawsuit, alleging claims of race discrimination under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He also advances a count entitled “First Amendment Right of Association, ” challenging the alleged retaliation for associating with Tenner. Id. at 5.

         In their motion, Defendants seek dismissal of the Title VII claim against Gutherz, the § 1983 claim against MDOC, and the right-of-association claim against all Defendants. Plaintiff did not respond in opposition, and the time to do so has passed. The Court finds Defendants' motion should be granted.

         II. Legal Standard

         In considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the “court accepts ‘all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'” Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999) (per curiam)). But “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555 (citations and footnote omitted).

         III. Analysis

         A. Title VII

         Defendants say that Gray's Title VII claim against Gutherz in her individual capacity must be dismissed because only an employer is subject to liability. See Ackel v. Nat'l Commc'ns, Inc., 339 F.3d 376, 382 n.1 (5th Cir. 2003) (“Individuals are not liable under Title VII in either their individual or official capacities.”); Smith v. Amedisys, Inc., 298 F.3d 434, 448 (5th Cir. 2002) (same). Defendants are correct; the Title VII claim against Gutherz is dismissed.

         B. Section 1983

         Defendants next point out that the Eleventh Amendment bars Gray's § 1983 claim against MDOC. See Williams v. Miss. Dep't of Corr., No. 3:12-CV-259-CWR-FKB, 2012 WL 2052101, at *1 (S.D.Miss. June 6, 2012) (dismissing § 1983 claims against MDOC based on the Eleventh Amendment); see also Aguilar v. Tex. Dep't of Criminal Justice, 160 F.3d 1052, 1054 (5th Cir. 1998) (“The Eleventh Amendment bars claims ...


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