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Thomas v. Mississippi Department of Health

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

March 6, 2018

LAVETA THOMAS PLAINTIFF
v.
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH DEFENDANT

          ORDER DENYING SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          HENRY T. WINGATE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before this court is the motion of the Defendant, Mississippi Department of Health, for Summary Judgment [doc. no. 29]. The Plaintiff, Laveta Thomas, opposes the motion and has filed a response in opposition. [doc. no 31]. This litigation is an employment discrimination case brought by Plaintiff under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, [1] (hereafter “Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (hereafter “ADEA”).[2] Defendant, at this appropriate pleading stage, contends this litigation, now beyond discovery, should proceed no longer, and under the rubric of Rule 56, Fed. R. Civ. Proc. must be dismissed in its entirety. This court disagrees and explains below.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Laveta Thomas (“hereafter “Thomas”) is an African American female over the age of forty, who has been employed with the Mississippi Department of Health (hereafter “MDH”) as a Division Director since December of 2008. In 2015, she was employed in the Office of Emergency Planning and Response (hereafter “OEPR”) within the Department of Health. While there, Thomas applied for two positions with the agency in 2015 - Bureau Director I and Bureau Director II. She was not interviewed for the Bureau Director I position. She was interviewed for the Bureau Director II position. She was not selected for either position.

         Thomas contends that Robert Boxx (hereafter “Boxx”), a white male who is younger than Plaintiff, was selected for the Bureau Director II position and that Charles Minninger (hereafter “Minninger”), also a white male, whose age was not specified, was selected for the Bureau Director I position. On September 8, 2015, Thomas filed a grievance with the State Personnel Board, claiming: (1) that those in charge of the selection process had discriminated against her in the promotion process because of her race, sex and age; (2) that a distinct pattern of discrimination in hiring and promotion practices exists within the OEPR; (3) that the discriminatory pattern includes subjective hiring nuances and the practice of hiring Caucasian friends and family; and (4) that no African-American person or minority race employee now serves, or has ever served, in a position of power within the Department.

         In response to Thomas' grievance, MDH says that neither Boxx nor Minninger was permanently placed in his respective new position, and that MDH plans to start anew the process of filling the positions. This alleged planned course of action, says Thomas, is simply a discriminatory maneuver designed to circumvent the discriminatory practice, which birthed this development.

         What is clear here is that Boxx and Minninger functioned in their respective interim roles for several months while awaiting the new selection process. They received a level of pay above their former salaries, but did not receive the full pay increases they would have received had they been permanently promoted.

         Boxx's new interim duties included supervising Thomas, who steadfastly maintained that Boxx's qualifications for the position were inferior to hers. This alignment, says Thomas, was awkward and posed a constant reminder of the discriminatory outcome.

         The grievance procedure triggered by Thomas manifested progressive levels. In its third level response to her grievance, [3] MDH stated in a memo to Thomas, that the selection processes for the two disputed positions would be voided and that MDH would restart the selection process from scratch. A memo from Kathy Burk, Director of Health Services, stated, “the allegation that you were not selected for the position solely due to racial, color, sex and age discrimination cannot be substantiated”. Burk Memorandum. [doc. no. 28-1 p. 2]. The relief Thomas sought of promotion and additional compensation was, therefore, denied; however, the memo added the following: “… there is anecdotal information to suggest that the processes used in these selections have the appearance of having been skewed to favor the candidates with preexisting personal relations with the OEPR Director.”

         Upon receipt of the letter, Thomas sent an email to Kathy Burk asking for clarification as to what was being done in response to Thomas' grievance. Burk responded, in part, as follows: “No candidates from the first selection process are being appointed to the Bureau Director I and Bureau Director II positions. The entire previous selection process will be voided and the hiring process for filling those positions will start from scratch.”

         The positions were announced and the interview process began anew. Thomas did not apply for either of the two positions in this second round. The openings again were filled with two white males. One of those white males was one of the same persons who had been selected in the first selection process, namely Charles Minninger. Deposition of Laveta Thomas [doc. no. 28-2 p. 87].

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         After filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and receiving the requisite “right to sue” letter, [4] Thomas filed her Complaint on July 14, 2016, in this federal court. She invokes subject matter jurisdiction under Title 28 § 1331, federal question jurisdiction.[5] She alleges race and sex discrimination as condemned by Title VII, and age discrimination in violation of the ADEA.

         She was denied an interview for the Bureau Director I position, Thomas claims, with no reason being given. She asserts that all five candidates selected for interviews were white. Thomas also argues that Charles ...


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