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Easley v. Lowndes County

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

August 15, 2019




         Plaintiff, Charles D. Easley, Jr., filed his Complaint [1] on July 18, 2018, alleging that Lowndes County, Mississippi violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act when the County did not hire him as a part-time public defender because of his age. Easley was 65 years old at the time he applied for the position. Presently before the Court is Lowndes County's Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [10]. Briefing is complete and the issues are ripe for review.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The Circuit Judge of Lowndes County sought candidates to fill five part-time public defender positions to serve the citizens of Lowndes County, Mississippi. Easley submitted his application for consideration. At that time, Easley was 65 years of age. Although multiple candidates applied and were selected, Easley focuses on Colleen Hudson. Easley paints a stark difference between the amount of experience between himself and Ms. Hudson. He claims that Hudson was unqualified for the position because she had no trial experience. At the time, Hudson was 27 years of age and was a practicing attorney in Mississippi. Easley avers that at the time he applied, he had 35 years of experience in practice, and had served as a Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court.

         After reviewing the applications, the Senior Circuit Judge of Lowndes County recommended Hudson for the position, subject to approval by the Board of Supervisors. The relevant minutes from the Board of Supervisor's meeting reflected this recommendation. On December 7, 2015, the three Circuit Judges in Lowndes County entered a collective order officially appointing five part-time public defenders, including Hudson. Easley did not receive an appointment.

         Easley alleges that the County discriminated against him based on his age when the County failed to offer him a position as a part-time public defender. On June 23, 2015, Easley filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC citing a violation of the ADEA. He received a notice of his right to sue on April 24, 2018. Easley later filed this suit in federal court claiming the County intentionally discriminated against him because of his age in violation of the ADEA. Now before the Court is the County's Motion to Dismiss or in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [10].[2] The Court notes that the instant Motion was filed very early in the case, and as such, no discovery has yet been conducted.

         Standard of Review

         In its Motion [10], the County alternatively requests dismissal, summary judgment, judgment on the pleadings, or a more definite statement. Both parties submitted documents outside the pleadings intended to support their arguments. Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides: “when matters outside the pleadings are presented and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Pursuant to Rule 12(d), the Court will treat the instant Motion as a request for 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) (en banc). 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).

         Analysis and Discussion

         As described above, Easley filed this case alleging that the County discriminated against him because of his age. “A primary purpose of the ADEA is to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in employment.” 29 U.S.C. § 621(b). “To accomplish this purpose, the ADEA prohibits certain practices by employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations.” 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)-(c). Under the ADEA, “it shall be unlawful for an employer . . . to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to [their] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age.” 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1).

         In order to succeed in an age discrimination case, the Plaintiff must first show that the defendant is an “employer” within the meaning of the ADEA. See 29 U.S.C. § 630. “If an entity is not an employer, employment agency, or labor organization, it is not subject to the prohibitions of the ADEA against age discrimination in employment.” Coleman v. New Orleans and Baton Rouge S.S. Pilots' Ass'n, 437 F.3d 471, 478 (5th Cir. 2006). The County argues in its Motion [10] that it is not Easley's “employer” as contemplated by the ADEA. “Determining whether the defendant is an ‘employer' within the meaning of . . . the ADEA involves a two-step process: the defendant must fall within the statutory definition, and there must be an employment relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant.” Deal v. State Farm County Mut. Ins. Co. of Texas, 5 F.3d 117, n. 2 (5th Cir. 1993); see also Fields v. Hallsville Indep. Sch. Dist., 906 F.2d 1017, 1019 (5th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 1026, 111 S.Ct. 676, 112 L.Ed.2d 668 (1991).

         The primary issue that the Court must address here is whether an employment relationship exists between Easley and Lowndes County. The County argues that it merely handles payroll for the position and there is no employment relationship. Easley argues that the County Board of Supervisors is involved in the creation of the office, approval of candidates, approval of salary and ...

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