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Harville v. City of Houston

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

January 30, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [41]. Plaintiff responded and Defendant replied.

         Facts and Procedural History

         Mary Paula Harville, a sixty-year-old white female, was hired by the City of Houston in July 2005 as a deputy clerk. She was one of four deputy clerks employed by the City Clerk's Office. Harville worked alongside Barbara Buggs, Kathy Smith, Margaret Futral, and Shequala Jones. Even though the deputy clerks were mostly cross-trained, each had primary duties. Harville's primary duties were to collect ad valorem, privilege and school taxes, and handle accounts payable.

         In 2015, the City of Houston faced a funding shortfall. Futral, who was serving as the City Clerk at the time, told Harville that the City Board had decided to reduce the number of deputy clerks in the office from four to three. Futral wrote a letter to the Board, suggesting that the City merely cut clerk employees' hours in order to keep the office under budget. She advised the Board to terminate Shaquala Jones if the Board found it necessary to cut a position. Jones had recently been on maternity leave, and during that time, Futrual realized that Jones was not vital to the operations in the office. Furthermore, Futral felt that Jones was the least trained of the office staff, and that Harville was the most essential. Futral felt so strongly that she threatened to resign if the Board desired to terminate Harville. Futral suggested that the City promote Harville to replace her if the situation developed as such.

         However, the City terminated Harville along with four other city employees on September 15, 2015. The decision was unanimous. The Board minutes reflect that Alderman Uhiren considered Harville's work in tax collection to be “seasonal, ” which was the reason the Board determined Harville to be the best candidate for termination.

         On March 8, 2016, Futral resigned from her position. The City placed newspaper advertisements for the City Clerk position that ran in The Chickasaw Journal in March, May, August, and September of 2016. Harville applied for the position of City Clerk each time it was advertised, but the Board instructed the Mayor to interview for the position only after the fourth advertisement, coincidentally after Lisa Sanford applied for the first time. On November 10, 2016, the Board interviewed Harville and Lisa Sanford for the position. At the interview, one of the Aldermen asked Harville “how long did she think she would work.” Ultimately, the City hired Lisa Sanford to replace Futral as the new City Clerk.

         Harville brings claims of racial discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and Section 1981, and age discrimination under the ADEA. She alleges that the Board treated Shequala Jones more favorably, because she was younger and African American. Harville argues that the Board did not initially interview her in retaliation for her EEOC charge, filed on November 3, 2015, and that it acted discriminatory in neglecting to interview for the position until it had a desired candidate.

         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). 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

         Plaintiff alleges that the City of Houston participated in both race and age discrimination when it decided to terminate her instead of Shaquala Jones, a younger African American woman. Furthermore, she claims that the City retaliated against her after she filed her EEOC charge, because it refused to interview her for the City Clerk position until it had another, more preferable applicant.

         Plaintiff attempts to establish her Title VII, Section 1981, and ADEA discrimination claims with circumstantial evidence, and therefore seeks to navigate the familiar burden-shifting framework first set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Miller v. Raytheon Co., 716 F.3d 138, 144 (5th Cir. 2013) (ADEA); Nasti v. CIBA Specialty Chems. Corp., 492 F.3d 589, 593 (5th Cir. 2007) (race discrimination); Raggs v. Mississippi Power & Light Co., 278 F.3d 463, 468 (5th Cir. 2002) (“This Court considers claims of intentional discrimination, which include racial discrimination and retaliation claims based on Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, under the same rubric of analysis”). Under this framework, Plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination, after which the burden shifts to Defendant to produce a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for terminating her. Wallace v. Methodist Hosp. Sys., 271 F.3d 212, 219-20 (5th Cir. 2001). If the Defendant ...

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