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Meeks v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

April 8, 2015

SHARON L. MEEKS, Plaintiff,
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant.

ORDER

SUSAN WEBBER WRIGHT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sharon L. Meeks ("Meeks") brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, against her former employer, the Arkansas Department of Human Services ("DHS"). Meeks, who is black, charges that DHS failed to promote her and terminated her employment based on her race. Before the Court is DHS's motion for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 19, 20, 27), Meeks's response in opposition (ECF Nos. 33, 34, 35), and DHS's reply (ECF No. 36). After careful consideration, and for reasons that follow, summary judgment is granted in favor of DHS, and this action is dismissed with prejudice.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when "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). As a prerequisite to summary judgment, a moving party must demonstrate "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must "do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

The non-moving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials of his pleading but must come forward with specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 587. "[A] genuine issue of material fact exists if: (1) there is a dispute of fact; (2) the disputed fact is material to the outcome of the case; and (3) the dispute is genuine, that is, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party." RSBI Aerospace, Inc. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 49 F.3d 399, 401 (8th Cir. 1995).

II. Background

The following facts are undisputed and taken largely from the parties' statements of undisputed material facts.[1] In February 2010, DHS hired Meeks to work as an investigator for the DHS Adult Protective Services Division ("APS"). Meeks was assigned three APS clients, who resided at the Conway Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center (the "Center"), and these clients were later reassigned to DHS employee Janice Woods ("Woods").[2] During Woods's first visit to the Center on June 20, 2013, the admissions coordinator, Myrt Beene ("Beene"), told Woods that she had received an inappropriate phone call at work from Meeks. Beene told Woods that during the phone call, Meeks made moaning sounds and told Beene that her boyfriend was not "treating her right, " she was "dying for sex, " and she had purchased a sex toy. Beene recalled that she was so disgusted by the content of the call that she hung up and that shortly thereafter, her phone rang again. Beene told Woods that she asked another Center employee, Jennifer Garrett ("Garrett"), to answer the second call. Garrett told Woods that she answered the second call and that Meeks repeated the sexual remarks that she uttered during her first call to Beene.

Woods informed her supervisor, Perry Ross ("Ross"), about the complaints she had received about Meeks's alleged phone calls. Pursuant to Ross's instructions, Woods told an APS custody manager, Patricia Robins ("Robins"), about the complaints. Robins then consulted the APS director, Douglas Walker ("Walker"), who instructed Robins to obtain written statements from Center employees regarding Meeks's alleged phone calls. Subsequently, Walker and Wally Henderson, another supervisor in Meeks's chain of command, received written statements.

On August 28, 2013, Meeks's direct supervisor and Walker met with Meeks and informed her of an ongoing investigation into allegations that she made sexually explicit phone calls to two Center employees. Meeks denied that she made the calls, and she stated that she was married and did not have a boyfriend. On September 5, 2013, DHS terminated Meeks's employment for the stated reason that she violated DHS's policy against sexual harassment.

Meeks submitted an internal grievance regarding her termination. On October 9, 2013, DHS conducted an internal fact-finding conference, during which Meeks and others testified, and the decision to terminate her employment was upheld. Meeks appealed the termination decision to the State Grievance Panel.

On October 21, 2013, while Meeks's appeal to the State Grievance Panel was pending, she filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), her allegations stating as follows:

I was employed in Feb 2010 and worked most recently as an investigator. I was discharged on or about 9/5/2013. I was told I was discharged due to sexual harassment allegations. I believe I was discharged because of my race (black) in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.[3]

In a decision dated January 30, 2013, the State Grievance Panel reversed DHS's decision to terminate Meeks, and it ordered DHS to return Meeks to her position, or a similar position, and to pay her lost wages and benefits. The panel's decision concludes:

The Agency was limited in the scope of its investigation with time and other factors outside its control. While we cannot absolutely state that Mrs. Meeks did not make the call, we do conclude ...

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