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Boland v. Mississippi Department of Public Safety

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

March 12, 2019




         BEFORE THE COURT is the [28] Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Mississippi Department of Public Safety (“DPS”). Plaintiff Mary L. M. Boland, who goes by “Nicki, ” claims she suffered discrimination based on her race and sex, in violation of Title VII, and she suffered pay discrimination, in violation of the Equal Pay Act. The present Motion argues that Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie claim of race discrimination or pay discrimination, and that Plaintiff has otherwise failed to meet her burden of production so as to avoid summary judgment on any of her claims. The parties have fully briefed the Motion. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record, and relevant law, the Court finds that material questions of fact remain as to all of Plaintiff's claims. Summary judgment is thus inappropriate, and Defendant's [28] Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Nicki Boland filed her Complaint on October 6, 2017, naming DPS the sole defendant. She subsequently amended her allegations through a First Amended Complaint. Boland, who is Caucasian and female, was hired by DPS as an attorney in DPS's general counsel office in October of 2015. Her title was “Attorney, Senior” and she began with a salary of $75, 000. In this role, Boland worked three days per week at Public Service Planning (“PSP”) and two days per week at the Criminal Information Center (“CIC”). She reported to Captain Donald McCain, the director of PSP, and Captain Lamond Wilson, the director of CIC. After Captain McCain retired in April or May of 2016, Boland reported directly to DPS Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz until Ray Sims became director of PSP[1] - and therefore Boland's direct supervisor - around August 2016.

         Boland says that Sims demonstrated that he wanted only black persons working at PSP. Boland testified that Sims talked abusively to the white women working under him and, within months of becoming the interim director of PSP, the top two persons in the department - both of whom were white females - were terminated. Five white females working under Sims were terminated in the first seven months of Sims's tenure as PSP director. Additionally, Boland says she was paid considerably less than male attorneys working in the same capacity at DPS. Boland was terminated on April 21, 2017 and, she says, replaced by a white male, Jay Eads.[2] Marshall Fisher - who had replaced Santa Cruz as commissioner of DPS on February 1, 2017 following Santa Cruz's retirement - was the final decisionmaker and made the decision to fire Boland. However, Boland asserts that Sims's animus towards white women is attributable to the termination decision because Fisher relied on Sims's recommendation and conducted no independent review of his own.

         On November 15, 2018, DPS filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. DPS argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on all of Boland's claims because (1) she cannot establish a prima facie claim of race discrimination; (2) she cannot overcome the numerous legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons proffered for her termination to create a fact issue as to her claim of sex discrimination; and (3) she cannot establish a prima facie disparate pay claim because she has not identified nearly identical male comparators. Boland challenges the manner in which DPS has framed the issues and contends that summary judgment is inappropriate because material issues of fact remain as to all claims.


         a. Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). “[T]he nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc).

         “A genuine dispute of material fact means that ‘evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Royal v. CCC & R Tres Arboles, L.L.C., 736 F.3d 396, 400 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). If the evidence presented by the nonmovant “‘is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative,' summary judgment is appropriate.” Cutting Underwater Techs. USA, Inc. v. ENI U.S. Operating Co., 671 F.3d 512, 516 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the Court views the evidence and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. RSR Corp. v. Int'l Ins. Co., 612 F.3d 851, 857 (5th Cir. 2010).

         b. Discrimination Under Title VII

         Title VII provides that it is “an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race [or] sex . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Plaintiff does not purport to have direct evidence of discrimination, thus the framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973), and its progeny applies, “and the plaintiff must prove discrimination by circumstantial evidence.” Herster v. Bd. Of Supervisors of La. State Univ., 887 F.3d 177, 184 (5th Cir. 2018). To make out a prima facie case of discrimination under this framework, Boland must demonstrate that (1) she is a member of a protected group, (2) she was qualified for the position at issue, (3) she was subject to an adverse employment action, and (4) she was replaced by someone outside her protected group or was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees outside of her protected group under nearly identical circumstances. Lee v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co., 574 F.3d 253, 259 (5th Cir. 2009); McCoy v. City of Shreveport, 492 F.3d 551, 556 (5th Cir. 2007).[3]

         If the plaintiff meets her burden of making a prima facie case, the defendant must then rebut this showing by producing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. If the defendant meets its burden, the presumption of discrimination disappears, and the issue becomes discrimination vel non. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 142 (2000). The plaintiff can still establish disparate treatment by showing that the defendant's explanation for the employment action is a pretext for discrimination. Id. at 143. In other words, the plaintiff can meet her burden by showing that “the employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of credence.” Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 256 (1981). Still, the “ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff.” Id. at 253.

         Because employment discrimination claims “involve nebulous questions of motivation and intent, ” summary judgment is generally an inappropriate tool for resolving these cases. Thornbrough v. Columbus & Greenville R.R. Co., 760 F.2d 633, 640-41 (5th Cir. 1985) (citations omitted). However, if the plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case, or if defendant presents strong evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions, and the plaintiff is unable to counter with additional evidence of pretext, summary judgment may ...

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