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Austin v. Long

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 23, 2015

Gary V. Austin, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Fletcher Long, in his individual and official capacity as Prosecuting Attorney for the First Judicial District for the State of Arkansas, Defendant - Appellant

Submitted January 14, 2015

Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Helena.

For Gary V. Austin, Plaintiff - Appellee: Austin Porter Jr., Attorney, Little Rock, AR.

For Fletcher Long, in his individual and official capacity as Prosecuting Attorney for the First Judicial District for the State of Arkansas, Defendant - Appellant: Nga Mahfouz, Assistant Attorney General, Attorney General's Office, Little Rock, AR.

Before LOKEN, MURPHY, and MELLOY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 523

MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

Gary Austin brought this employment discrimination suit under 42 U.S.C. § § 1981 and 1983 against Fletcher Long, the head prosecutor for an Arkansas judicial district. Austin is an African American who alleges that Long fired him because of his race. Long moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the undisputed summary judgment[1] record gave rise to disputes of material fact over whether Long's stated reasons for firing Austin were a pretext for racial discrimination. Long appeals, and we affirm.

Long is the elected head prosecutor for the first judicial district of Arkansas. He supervises deputy prosecutors who represent the state in each of the district's six counties. In January 2006, Long hired Austin as the second deputy prosecutor for Phillips County. The prosecutor Long had previously hired for that position was African American, as was the prosecutor Long eventually hired to replace Austin. As a deputy Austin handled misdemeanor cases and assisted with felony cases for Long and Todd Murray, the county's senior deputy prosecutor.

The undisputed record establishes that Austin and Murray disagreed over how they should allocate the county funds they received to cover their operation expenses. The county provided both prosecutors with a monthly check for expenses. Long and Murray agreed that Austin should contribute his expense check to Murray, who would then pay the office expenses. Austin failed to contribute any operating expenses for four separate months, however, even after Long expressly told him to follow Murray's directions regarding the funds.

According to Long, Murray reported several other problems with Austin's job performance, all of which Austin disputes. Long asserts that Murray and other court personnel had trouble contacting Austin during business hours, that Austin deviated from office policy on felony bond reduction orders and expungement orders, and that Austin incurred extraordinary expenses without prior approval. In addition, an Arkansas judge was said to have reportedly contacted Long to ask why Austin had failed to appear in court.

Austin contends that Long never provided him with a formal evaluation outlining any of these problems in either oral or written form. Austin had met with Long in August 2011, and Long reportedly asked him about the problems Murray had identified. After Austin offered no explanation, Long fired him. Austin contends that Long never explained to him why he was fired.

Austin filed an employment discrimination action against Long under 42 U.S.C. § § 1981 and 1983, seeking money damages and reinstatement. He alleges that Long fired him because of his race and treated him more harshly than two similarly situated white prosecutors. One of those prosecutors had been convicted of ...


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