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Thomas v. Tregre

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 10, 2019

TRAVIS THOMAS, Plaintiff - Appellant
MICHAEL TREGRE, Chief Law Enforcement Officer, St. John the Baptist Parish, Defendant-Appellee

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before JONES, HAYNES, and OLDHAM, Circuit Judges.


         Travis Thomas, a former deputy in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, appeals the district court's order granting summary judgment on his race discrimination and retaliation claims. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the district court's judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Thomas, an African-American man, worked as a deputy in the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office (the "Sheriff's Office") from July 1, 2012, to April 7, 2015. Sheriff Michael Tregre, also an African-American man, was at all relevant times the chief law enforcement officer of the parish.[1]

         While working in the narcotics division of the Sheriff's Office in February 2014, Thomas took part in an operation that led to the arrest of criminal suspect Darnell Randle. Thomas later informed Major Walter Chappel, then the commanding officer of the narcotics division, that blood found on the floor of the scene belonged to Randle. Thomas also told Chappel he saw fellow officer Justin Bordelon striking Randle. Another officer, Hardy Schexnayder, also reported that he saw Bordelon strike Randle. Bordelon denied using force to intentionally injure Randle. Schexnayder and Chappel are African-American. Bordelon is Caucasian.

         The internal affairs division of the Sheriff's Office opened an investigation into the Randle incident. Captain C.J. Destor, who is Caucasian, conducted the investigation. Both Chappel and an African-American detective named Jonathan Rivet corroborated Thomas and Schexnayder's testimony during the investigation, stating that they personally observed Bordelon use force against Randle. But Randle told Destor that Thomas and Schexnayder, not Bordelon, were the officers who beat him.

         Thomas, Schexnayder, and Bordelon all took polygraph tests during the investigation. The polygraph results indicated that Bordelon was truthful and Schexnayder was lying. Thomas's test results were inconclusive. Given the parties' numerous conflicting statements, Tregre did not find that any officer's version of events was decisive. He thus decided not to take any disciplinary action against any of the officers.

         Tregre asserts that about a year later, the local district attorney's office told him its attorneys were filing motions in limine to exclude evidence from the Randle investigation, including polygraph results, in cases involving Thomas and Schexnayder. Tregre believed this was an issue, so he attempted to transfer Thomas and Schexnayder in March 2015 to positions in the corrections department, which Tregre believed were less likely to result in arrests.[2] Tregre did not transfer Bordelon. Schexnayder accepted the transfer and became a courtroom deputy. Thomas decided to terminate his employment immediately rather than accept a transfer.

         In the meantime, Randle sued Tregre, Thomas, Schexnayder, and Bordelon, alleging excessive force. The case went to trial in December 2015. The jury found that neither Thomas nor Schexnayder was liable.

         After the jury verdict, Tregre reassigned Schexnayder to an enforcement position and gave him back pay. Thomas never applied to resume work at the Sheriff's Office. Instead, he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in August 2015. Thomas asserts that he later asked Tregre in person about reinstatement in January 2016. Thomas's attorneys also sent a settlement letter to Tregre in January 2016 requesting "re-instatement at the rank of Sergeant, with a recommendation that he be assigned to the U.S. Marshal Task Force," (2) back pay and benefits, and (3) costs and attorney fees. Tregre has not rehired Thomas.

         After going through the EEOC, Thomas filed suit against Tregre in district court, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. Both Thomas and Tregre moved for summary judgment. The district court denied Thomas's motion and granted Tregre's motion on April 12, 2018, concluding that Thomas had failed to establish a prima facie case of either race discrimination or retaliation. Thomas now appeals.

         II. ...

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