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Pree v. Washington County Board of Supervisors

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

January 23, 2018

BRENDA PREE PLAINTIFF
v.
THE WASHINGTON COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, JESSE AMOS, PAUL WATSON, JR., and MIKE GORDON DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SHARION AYCOCK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Brenda Pree originally filed this case in the Circuit Court of Washington County, Mississippi. The Defendants removed the case to this Court on June 15, 2016. In her Amended Complaint [4-7], Pree alleges various claims against the Washington County Board of Supervisors, as well as claims against County Supervisors Jesse Amos, Paul Watson Jr., and Mike Gordon in their official and individual capacities. Finding the individual defendants entitled to the protection of qualified immunity, the Court dismissed the Plaintiff's equal protection claim against them. See Order [34].[1] At this time, the Plaintiff has three remaining claims, all against the Board: one Title VII claim, one Equal Protection claim, and one due process claim based on the Mississippi Constitution. Now before the Court is the Board's Motion for Summary Judgment [45] requesting dismissal of all the Plaintiff's remaining claims. The issues are fully briefed and ripe for review. See Response [48]; Reply [51].[2]

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The Washington County Planning Director/Grant Writer resigned in 2014, and the County Administrator was hospitalized multiple times for health issues during that same time. The County Board of Supervisors recognized the need for additional personnel to supplement and substitute for the current County Administrator, and to do grant writing and administration. On November 4, 2014, the Board of Supervisors authorized a call for applications for the position of Assistant County Administrator/Human Resources Director. Subsequently, the Board approved Vicki Uppal to serve temporarily as a volunteer grant writer/administrator for the County for a period of three months. The Chancery Clerk issued an official Notice of Intent and subsequently published an advertisement for the Assistant County Administrator position. On December 1, 2014, the Board approved a salary for the position, and reviewed and added duties, including grant writing, to the proposed job description. At that time, the Board also changed the job title to Assistant County Administrator/Grants Coordinator.

         By the deadline of December 12, 2014, the Board received some thirty-six applications. In February of 2015, four out of five of the Supervisors submitted their top choices from the pool of applicants.[3] From these choices, the Board selected four top candidates for interviews. Both Uppal and the Plaintiff were on the list of top candidates. After completing interviews, the Board voted unanimously to appoint Uppal as Assistant County Administrator/Grants Coordinator. The County Administrator continued to have health issues and eventually resigned effective June 30, 2015. On July 20, 2015, the Board appointed Uppal as County Administrator. The Board did not advertise or consider other applicants for County Administrator.

         According to the Plaintiff, several members of the Board conspired to manipulate the application and appointment process for the County Administrator position. Also according to the Plaintiff, the Board wanted a white person in the position instead of the Plaintiff, who is African-American, even though the Plaintiff was more qualified. The Plaintiff alleges that the Board appointed Uppal to the temporary grant writing position even though she had no experience. Then, the Plaintiff alleges, the Board members added grant-writing qualifications to the Assistant County Administrator job description to make Uppal appear more qualified.

         As noted above, the Plaintiff asserted three claims against the Board, one Title VII claim, one Equal Protection claim, and one due process claim based on the Mississippi Constitution. The Board filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [48] requesting dismissal of all the Plaintiff's remaining claims. The Board argues that the Plaintiff has not brought forth any evidence of discriminatory intent or motivation, and that it selected Uppal for the job simply because she was more qualified. The Plaintiff responds by arguing that she was substantially better qualified than Uppal, and that the Board pre-selected Uppal for the position because she is white.

         Standard of Review

         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).

         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). 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).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.” Celotex, 477 U.S. 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).

         This Court has no duty to “sift through the record in search of evidence to support” the nonmovant's opposition to summary judgment. Edwards v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 841 F.3d 360, 363 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Skotak v. Tenneco Resins, Inc., 953 F.2d 909, 915 n.7 (5th Cir. 1992)).

         Race Discrimination and Equal Protection

         The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. Amend. XIV. “[T]o state a claim of racial discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause, the Plaintiff ‘must allege and prove that she received treatment different from that received by similarly situated individuals and that the unequal treatment stemmed from a discriminatory intent.'” Gaalla v. Brown, 460 F. App'x 469, 479 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Priester v. Lowndes Cnty., 354 F.3d 414, 424 (5th Cir. 2004); Taylor v. Johnson, 257 F.3d 470, 473 (5th Cir. 2001) (per curiam)). In the end, “proof of racially discriminatory intent or purpose is required to show a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.” Coleman v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 113 F.3d 528, 533 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 265, 97 S.Ct. 555, 50 L.Ed.2d 450 (1977)).

         The Court will analyze the Plaintiff's Equal Protection and Title VII claims together, because the “inquiry into intentional discrimination in public employment is essentially the same for individual actions brought under [42 U.S.C. §§] 1981 and 1983, and Title VII.” McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); Lauderdale v. Texas Dep't of Criminal Justice, Institutional Div., 512 F.3d 157, 166 (5th Cir. 2007); Wallace v. Tex. Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996). To succeed on a claim for intentional discrimination under these statutory schemes, the Plaintiff must first prove a prima facie case of discrimination either through direct evidence of discriminatory ...


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