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Clinton v. Mississippi Department of Public Safety

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

April 23, 2018

PETER T. CLINTON PLAINTIFF
v.
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY d/b/a MISSISSIPPI HIGHWAY PATROL DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          CARLTON W. REEVES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This cause is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the defendant, Mississippi Department of Public Safety (“MDPS”). Docket No. 27. Peter Clinton (“Clinton”) filed this action alleging race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Docket No. 1, at 1. MDPS contends that no genuine dispute of material fact exists about MDPS's liability under Title VII for either race discrimination or retaliation. The Court disagrees. The motion, therefore, is denied.

         I. Facts and Procedure

         Clinton was employed with MDPS from May of 1994 to November of 2015. Docket No. 31-1, at 10. Originally hired as a State Trooper under the Mississippi Highway Patrol branch (“MHP”), [1] Clinton moved up the ranks to Master Sergeant of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (“MBI”) in August of 2006, to Lieutenant in 2013, see Docket No. 31-4, and to Captain of the Northern Region of MBI in December of 2014 after attaining the highest test score in the state. Docket No. 31-1, at 11; Docket No. 31-2, at 12; Docket No. 31-2, at 156.

         In August of 2015, MBI Lieutenant Charles Hale[2] contacted Clinton about a voter fraud complaint he received stemming from a primary election for justice court judge in Tunica County, Mississippi. Docket No. 27-1, at 13-14. Clinton directed him to proceed with the investigation, but because Hale had never conducted such an investigation and was preparing to go on military leave, Hale asked for Clinton's assistance as he knew that Clinton worked on a voter fraud investigation in Tunica County for MBI in 2007. Id. at 14. After his conversation with Hale, Clinton spoke with Louise Linzy, one of the candidates, to discuss the voter fraud allegations in detail. Id. at 28.

         On August 31, 2015, Clinton met with Major Jimmy Jordan (“Jordan”)-Clinton's direct supervisor-and Lt. Colonel Larry Waggoner (“Waggoner”).[3] Id. at 33. During the meeting, Jordan asked Clinton to cease the investigation and hand the case over to the attorney general's office. Id. at 34. He believed Clinton should have ceased the investigation because MBI had not investigated many voter fraud cases in the past, and at that time, MBI's resources would have been better used investigating murders and other major crimes. Id. Clinton complied with Jordan's request. Id.

         Sometime in early September of 2015, Clinton went on military leave, at which point he received a phone call from Mildred Conley (“Conley”), Chair of the Tunica County Democratic Executive Committee (“DEC”), requesting Clinton's appearance at an upcoming hearing on the election dispute in Tunica County Circuit Court. Id. at 43. Once Clinton informed Conley that he would not be able to attend the hearing because he was on military leave, Conley asked Clinton to turn over any notes he had from the investigation in order to prepare for the hearing. Id.

         Clinton provided his notes to the parties and their counsel. Barbara Tuchel (“Tuchel”), the editor of a local blog “Transparency in Tunica” obtained a copy of the information and then contacted Clinton for permission to post the investigative report on her site. Docket No. 31-1, at 111-12; Docket No. 31-3, at 184. Clinton responded that he did not have the authority to tell her whether she could post the report if she obtained it through legal means, but he asked her to exclude any confidential information such as social security numbers and addresses. Docket No. 31-1, at 113; Docket No. 31-2, at 128-29. The parties dispute whether Clinton actually gave consent, but Tuchel posted a summary of the investigative report on her site. Docket No. 31-1, at 111-12; Docket No. 31-12; Docket No. 31-3, at 184.

         In October of 2015, Jordan received a call from Ms. Tisha Burnett (a friend of Jacqueline Dishmon-Boykins, one of the candidates for Tunica County Justice Court Judge), wherein Ms. Burnett claimed Clinton was biased in conducting the investigation. Docket No. 31-2, at 48. Jordan forwarded the inquiry to Clinton and asked him to follow up with Ms. Burnett. Docket No. 31-1, at 63; Docket No. 31-2, at 28. After Clinton followed up with Ms. Burnett, he reported a summary of his conversation to Jordan, to which Jordan responded “Good report.” Docket No. 31-14.

         Less than a week later, Boykins filed a complaint against Clinton with the attorney general's office alleging bias in conducting the investigation. Docket No. 31-1, at 61-62. Having informed Clinton that he did not violate any departmental policies, Jordan asked Clinton to respond to the allegations in writing. Docket No. 31-2, at 133-34. After Clinton responded denying the allegations, the attorney general's office forwarded the complaint to MBI. Docket No. 31-15. Waggoner also assured Clinton that he did not violate any departmental policies. Docket No. 31-2, at 136.

         On October 27th, Clinton met with Jordan to discuss an ongoing investigation about a shooting on a college campus. Docket No. 31-1, at 134-35. During the meeting, a heated exchange ensued as Clinton complained about what he believed to be discriminatory conduct by Jordan. Id. at 134-36. More specifically, Clinton complained about Jordan's decision to remove Tim Douglas, a white officer, from Clinton's chain of command shortly after Clinton was promoted to Captain. Docket No. 31-19, at 2. That decision was the result of discrimination, Clinton claims. Clinton also mentioned a complaint he received from Phillip Patrick (“Patrick”), [4]an African-American subordinate officer, stating that Jordan instructed him to use all of his paid time off from work, even though he had 284 hours remaining. Docket No. 31-1, at 136. Clinton informed Jordan that he intended to file a discrimination complaint. Id.

         On October 28th, Clinton e-mailed Jordan requesting that he send him a complaint form. Docket No. 31-17. Clinton also e-mailed Colonel Donnell Berry (“Berry”)[5] requesting a meeting to discuss his complaints about Jordan. Docket No. 31-1, at 140-41; Docket No. 31-28. Later that day, MDPS's Internal Affairs (“IA”) initiated an investigation on the complaint that Boykins had filed against Clinton. Clinton met with several IA investigators the next day. Docket No. 31-3, at 21; Docket No. 31-21. Three days later, on November 1st, Clinton e-mailed Berry a formal complaint against Jordan, alleging race discrimination. Docket No. 31-18.

         On November 6th, Waggoner filed charges against Clinton for breach of departmental policies, including, inter alia, [6] insubordination, “engaging in prohibited activity”, and “breach of Department security or confidentiality.” Docket No. 31-3, at 26; Docket No. 31-23. Clinton appeared before the Performance Review Board (“PRB”) on November 24th. Docket No. 31-24.

         The PRB concluded that the charges for insubordination and “engaging in prohibited political activity” were unfounded, Docket No. 27-14, at 3-4, but concluded that Clinton violated MDPS's policy requiring officers to obtain permission from a superior before undertaking an investigation that was not a part of their regular duties. Id. at 3. The PRB did not make a determination on the “breach of Department security or confidentiality” charge. That same day, Berry sent a termination letter to Clinton, effective immediately. Docket No. 31-26.

         Clinton later filed an appeal with the Employee Appeals Board (“EAB”). Docket No. 31-25. Conducting the hearings over the course of two days (April 20, 2016 and June 21, 2016), the EAB upheld the PRB's decision. Docket No. 31-2, at 1; Docket No. 31-3, at 1; Docket No. 27-3, at 25.

         Clinton then filed a “Charge of Discrimination” with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on December 18, 2015, alleging race discrimination and retaliation. Docket No. 1-2. The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue letter on August 15, 2016. Docket No. 1-3.

         Clinton timely filed the instant lawsuit in this Court on February 10, 2017, based on his belief that Jordan, who is white, resented Clinton, an African American, and discriminated against him because of his race. Id. Furthermore, Clinton claims he was terminated because he complained about race discrimination. Id. In support of his contention, Clinton offers the following as evidence:

• Following the retirement of Maj or Jim Miller, before promoting Clinton to Captain, Jordan promoted Tim Douglas, a less qualified white male of lower rank, to Interim Captain of MBI's Northern Division. Docket No. 31-2, at 11-12. Clinton, who was Master Sergeant of MBI at the time and would have been eligible for Captain, believes Douglas's promotion was a political favor by Jordan to satisfy a debt owed to Douglas and several white MDPS officers for “their roles in protecting Jordan during a cheating scandal.” Docket No. 1, at 2-3.
• Jordan removed Douglas from under Clinton's chain of command shortly after Clinton was promoted to Captain, which Clinton contends was a result of ongoing race discrimination by Jordan. Docket No. 31-19, at 2.
• MDPS initiated its IA investigation the same day Clinton told Jordan he planned to file a race discrimination complaint. Docket No. 31-3, at 21; Docket No. 31-21. Until his termination, in his twenty-one years with MDPS, Clinton had never been the subject of any other internal disciplinary action. Docket No. 31-1, at 100; Docket No. 2; Docket No. 31-3, at 11.
• Apparently, eighteen other officers - only two of whom are African American - who had previously been investigated for breach of department security or confidentiality received no punishment for their conduct. Docket No. 1-2, at 2. Clinton claims the charges against those officers arising from the cheating scandal were far more severe. In fact, the charges resulted from allegations that the officers obtained copies of promotion examinations prior to the exams. Id.
• Clinton was terminated and replaced by Kenneth Bailey, a white officer. Docket No. 1, at 3; ...

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