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Gilleylen v. City of Tupelo

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

September 13, 2017




         This matter is presently before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [52]. Plaintiff responded, and Defendant Replied.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Tiffany Gilleylen has been a police officer with the Tupelo Police Department since 1999. In 2005, Gilleylen transferred from patrol officer to the position of school resource officer (SRO), but moved back to patrol after she was promoted to corporal. Gilleylen's record is not spotless; she has received at least two counseling sessions, has been suspended and has been placed on probation at least once. However, she maintains that she was a dedicated officer who has an excellent record, considering the amount of time that she has been employed by the Tupelo Police Department.

         In February 2015, Gilleylen interviewed for the Sergeant's position. A panel consisting of the four patrol lieutenants conducted the interviews of seven candidates. Each of the lieutenants on the interview panel scored each applicant in ten areas, and they gave their interview sheets to the moderator, Captain Tim Clouse, who totaled each score sheet. Purportedly, the applicant with the highest average score was nominated to the Chief of Police, Bart Aguirre for hire. While Chief Aguirre had full authority to reject the interview panel rankings, the uncontradicted testimony is that in each instance during his tenure as TPD chief he has accepted the rankings of the interview panel and awarded the promotion to the highest ranked candidate.

         The practice of the Tupelo Police Department is to retain interview scores for one year. The Department then fills open spots on a rolling basis according to the applicants' interview scores on file. Furthermore, three out of the four panel members testified that they only considered interview performance in their calculations, and not their previous knowledge or experience with the candidates in making their choices. In the February interview, Plaintiff ranked third of seven, with Lee Miller being ranked first and Clay Hassel being ranked second. Therefore, Miller was placed in the immediately available position.

         In June of 2015, new interviews were conducted in order to fill an open position as school resource officer sergeant, but again, Gilleylen did not rank first and was not given the position. The interview panel ranked Jon Bramble as the highest applicant, and he was promoted. In September 2015, the second ranked officer from the February interviews, Clay Hassell, filled the next patrol sergeant position.

         Plaintiff alleges that both Miller and Hassell's records indicated that they were far less qualified for the position of sergeant. For example, Miller was purportedly involved in some unreported verbal incident involving an African American Municipal Court Judge two weeks before the interviews. Other previous supervisors testified that it was difficult to provide Miller with criticism, and that he had issues with documentation and poor attitude. Furthermore, Clay Hassell had been demoted just before receiving the corporal position, and had a history of tardiness, purportedly.

         Gilleylen filed her original EEOC charge on July 6, 2015 alleging that TPD had discriminated against her because she is an African American female. However, she was promoted to the patrol sergeant position in October, 2015. Gilleylen argues that this promotion was merely in response to her EEOC charge, and that TPD was attempting to hide its discriminatory motive. TPD counters that the promotion was due, as she was the third ranking officer, and this was the third available position for patrol sergeant. Gilleylen believes that she was not promoted because of a discriminatory policy allowing interviewers to conduct subjective interviews, which results in the inability for black police officers to become promoted. Furthermore, she alleges that though she was more qualified, other white men were given the promotions unfairly even though they were very recently reprimanded for disciplinary infractions.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         The moving party “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, 106 S.Ct. 2548. 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when ... both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). When such contradictory facts exist, the Court may “not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments are not an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1997); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

         Analysis and Discussion

         To succeed on a claim for racial discrimination under Title VII or Section 1981, a plaintiff may show a prima facie case either through direct evidence of discriminatory motive, or circumstantial evidence under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Larry v. White, 929 F.2d 206, 209 (5th Cir. 1991) (plaintiff must prove racially discriminatory purpose of act to demonstrate Section 1981 or Section 1983 violation), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 1051, 113 S.Ct. 1946, 123 L.Ed.2d 651 (1993); see also Lee v. Conecuh Cty. Bd. of Ed., 634 F.2d 959, 961- 62 (5th Cir. 1981); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). If a plaintiff establishes a presumption of discrimination by establishing a prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Reeves, 530 U.S. at 142, 120 S.Ct. 2097; Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254-56, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). The burden ...

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