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Faircloth v. Bowers

February 20, 2007

RHONDA FAIRCLOTH PLAINTIFF
v.
SHERIFF KEITH BOWERS, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF INDEPENDENCE COUNTY, ARKANSAS; AND JIM STARZY, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Leon Holmes United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

This is an employment discrimination case. Rhonda Faircloth*fn1 brought claims against her supervisors, Keith Bowers, individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Independence County, Arkansas, and Jim Starzy, in his individual capacity. Faircloth alleges gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.) and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993 (ARK. CODE ANN. § 16-123-107); retaliation under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act (ARK. CODE ANN. § 16-123-108); and equal protection violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, this motion is denied.

A court should grant summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis of its motion and identifying the portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986); Group Health Plan, Inc. v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 344 F.3d 753, 763 (8th Cir. 2003). When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), "the nonmoving party must come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed. 2d 538 (1986) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e)). The nonmoving party sustains this burden by showing that "there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. at 2511. When a nonmoving party cannot make an adequate showing on a necessary element of the case on which that party bears the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2552. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Boerner v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 260 F.3d 837, 841 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Rabushka ex rel. U.S. v. Crane Co., 122 F.3d 559, 562 (8th Cir. 1997)). If the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party, summary judgment should be denied. Derickson v. Fidelity Life Ass'n, 77 F.3d 263, 264 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510).

The Eighth Circuit has said "that 'summary judgment seldom should be granted in discrimination cases where inferences are often the basis of the claim.'" Duncan v. Delta Consol. Indus., Inc., 371 F.3d 1020, 1024 (8th Cir. 2004) (quoting Breeding v. Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., 164 F.3d 1151, 1156 (8th Cir. 1999)); see also Bassett v. City of Minneapolis, 211 F.3d 1097, 1099 (8th Cir. 2000). But see Bainbridge v. Loffredo Gardens, Inc., 378 F.3d 756, 762 (8th Cir. 2004) (Arnold, J., dissenting).

I.

Faircloth began working for the Independence County Sheriff's Office in 1993 as a Jail Matron.*fn2 She was promoted in 1996 to Sergeant, and again in 2001 to the position of Jail Administrator. As Jail Administrator, Faircloth was in charge of the county's adult detention center.

On February 4, 2005, Sheriff Keith Bowers received a memorandum from Independence County Judge Bill Hicks regarding the 2005 budget requests. This memorandum stated that the county was expecting to have some budget cuts and that the county department heads should reduce their budget requests by 8.8%. A few days later, Bowers issued a memorandum to his employees notifying them of the budget cuts and stating that Bowers had no choice but to reduce personnel.

Soon after that, Faircloth was demoted to the position of Assistant Administrator. This demotion resulted in a $5,000 reduction in Faircloth's annual salary. Bowers and Faircloth both testified that Faircloth had no performance problems in her position as Jail Administrator and that she had received no disciplinary actions. The defendants assert that Faircloth was demoted due to the budget cuts.

Tori Walls, a female employee who had been the Assistant Administrator, was demoted to the position of Jail Matron. Walls's demotion resulted in a salary reduction of about $7,000. Bowers testified that Walls did a good job, but had "some attitude and some unhappiness towards [Bowers] and the county in general" after her demotion and salary cut. Walls never received any disciplinary actions, however, for her job performance.

Bowers testified that after Faircloth's demotion, Bowers considered making Lieutenant Curtis Goodrich, who was then in charge of patrol for the Sheriff's Office, the new Jail Administrator. Goodrich would not have been required to take a pay cut. Bowers stated that he did not know whether Goodrich had any jail experience. Bowers further testified, however, that Goodrich voluntarily retired and thus never became the Jail Administrator.

Bowers then decided to place Captain Bill Lindsey in charge of the jail. Bowers testified that he did not know if Lindsey had ever run a jail, but that Lindsey had experience with most phases of law enforcement and was familiar with the jail. Lindsey assumed the administrative duties at the jail in addition to his duties as a Captain with the Sheriff's Office. Lindsey did not receive a raise for performing these additional duties. Bowers did not know how much time Lindsey spent at the jail after he was placed in charge of it but testified that Faircloth performed the majority of the duties of running the jail. The record is unclear as to the length of time that Lindsey served as Jail Administrator, but the parties agree that after a short period of time Bowers determined that the work load was too much for Lindsey to handle.

Bowers then decided to make Jim Starzy, who had been the Juvenile Jail Administrator, the new Administrator for both the adult and juvenile detention centers. Starzy is certified to operate both adult and juvenile detention centers. Faircloth is certified to operate adult detention centers, but she is not certified to run juvenile facilities and is not knowledgeable about the specific rules and regulations affecting such facilities.

In April 2005, Starzy took over as the Administrator for both facilities and received an annual salary increase of $10,000. When asked how this arrangement would save the county money, Bowers admitted that Starzy's salary increase consumed almost all of the savings achieved by cutting Faircloth's and Walls's salaries. Bowers stated, however, that Starzy "had a lot of success with managing the juvenile and keeping the budget in line and saving money," so Bowers "was anticipating and hoping that the budget savings would offset whatever [the county was] paying him at the time." Bowers did not remember whether Starzy had a specific plan to control the jail's budget.

Faircloth and Lindsey both testified that Lindsey suggested to Faircloth that she file a gender discrimination lawsuit. Lindsey testified, however, that he meant that Faircloth should sue the Quorum Court of Independence County, as he believed that they had wanted a male in the Jail Administrator position. Faircloth filed a charge of gender discrimination with the EEOC.*fn3

Faircloth testified that since she filed her EEOC charge, Starzy has treated her unfavorably in several respects. Faircloth alleges that the day after Starzy received her EEOC complaint he issued a disciplinary citation to her without cause, but a few days later denied that his actions were disciplinary in nature. Faircloth also testified that since she filed the EEOC complaint Starzy has repeatedly called her into his office, questioned her about the lawsuit, and told her that she "would be better off to just drop it." During one of these incidents Starzy allegedly told her that he heard about a book called "Fired" and that "he thought of [Faircloth] when he heard that because it was stories about people who had been fired."

During the year after Starzy was promoted he hired a Nurse at the jail and created a new Facility Sergeant position. Starzy hired males for both positions. Bowers, Starzy, and Faircloth all testified that the Facility Sergeant, Rick Shepard, performs essentially the same duties that Walls had performed when she was Assistant Administrator. Walls applied for the Sergeant position after her demotion to Matron, but Starzy hired Shepard instead. Starzy acknowledged that Walls had experience performing the job, but testified that he hired Shepard because Shepard possessed superior computer skills. Faircloth and Starzy both testified that Starzy then gave Faircloth's office to Shepard and moved Faircloth into a shared office space with Starzy's secretary. During his deposition, Starzy was asked, "[D]id you ever tell [jail employee] Tonya Templin that you needed a male in the position that Rick Shepard got?" Starzy replied, "I don't remember. I asked Tonya if she could work with a male nurse."

The Facility Sergeant position cost the county an additional $25,000 for Shepard's salary. Bowers acknowledged in his deposition that this additional expense was implemented after the budget cuts, but he testified that Starzy had saved enough money through his management of the jail's budget to cover the expense. Bowers also testified in an affidavit that the total spending for the county jail was lower in 2005 and 2006 than it was in 2004. He attributed the savings to Starzy.

In May 2006, Starzy issued a memorandum that stated:

Effective immediately, all jail guards need to follow the chain of command. Day to day questions, incidents, problems, time off request and overtime requests, etc. need to go through Sgt. Rick Shepard. When Sgt. Shepard is not available, or in an emergency situation, you can go the ast. administrator, Rhonda [Faircloth]. However, as the jail administrator, I always have an open door policy for the jail staff.

Attached is a copy of the chain of command here at the jail.

The "copy of the chain of command" that Starzy referred to was an organizational chart depicting the titles of various personnel inside boxes. The boxes were connected by a series of solid and dotted lines. On this chart, the box for the Assistant Jail Administrator position is drawn below the boxes for the Secretary*fn4 and the Food Service Manager. Starzy and Faircloth both testified that the Secretary and the Food Service Manager had previously reported to Faircloth.

Later that month, Starzy told Faircloth "that there was a Spanish class coming up and to get a couple of people in that class." Faircloth stated that she asked Starzy to send Walls and her to the class, but "[h]e said that would be useless." When Faircloth asked Starzy what he meant by "useless," he said "he ...


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