United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Eastern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
LEON HOLMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Green, a black female, was the Chief of Police for the City
of Hughes, Arkansas. Grady Collum, a white male, was the
mayor. Collum demoted, then terminated Green. Thomas
Campbell, Irene Combs, Malcolm Curne, Rudolph Robinson, Jon
Tate, and Jesse White served on the city council at the time.
Green alleges that Collum and the city council members
discriminated against her due to her race and sex. Based on
those allegations, she has asserted claims for a violation of
equal protection pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The defendants have filed a
motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56. For the following reasons, the motion is
should grant summary judgment if the evidence demonstrates
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden
of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute for trial.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106
S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the moving party
meets that burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with
specific facts that establish a genuine dispute of material
fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89
L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Torgerson v. City of Rochester,
643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). A genuine
dispute of material fact exists only if the evidence is
sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in
favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91
L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The Court must view the evidence in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party and must give
that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can
be drawn from the record. Pedersen v. Bio-Med.
Applications of Minn., 775 F.3d 1049, 1053 (8th Cir.
2015). If the nonmoving party fails to present evidence
sufficient to establish an essential element of a claim on
which that party bears the burden of proof, then the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
following facts are undisputed. Green started working for the
Hughes Police Department as a part-time patrol officer in
February 2013. She was working full-time as a patrol officer
by May 2013. Green was promoted to assistant police chief on
November 26. She accepted the position of interim police
chief on June 2, 2014. Green graduated from the police
academy on December 2 and became the police chief on December
17. The parties agree that Green's responsibilities as
chief included patrolling the streets of Hughes, writing
reports and citations, appearing in court, making arrests,
supervising officers, scheduling and covering shifts as
needed, handling employee and citizen complaints, performing
disciplinary actions, maintaining personnel files, helping
the mayor make personnel decisions, familiarizing herself
with the court, and developing a relationship with the county
was elected mayor and took office on January 1, 2015. Collum
is a medical doctor. Prior to his becoming mayor, the only
direct interaction Collum had with Green was in the
patient-doctor context. Once Collum became mayor, he met with
Green on occasion to give her certain directives about the
scheduling of shifts, the care of equipment, the hiring of
certified personnel, the importance of being courteous and
reasonable when dealing with citizens, and the avoidance of
situations requiring the use of firearms. In early 2016,
Collum ran an advertisement in two local publications,
advertising that Hughes was accepting applications for police
chief through February 20. On February 25, Collum wrote Green
a letter to inform her that the Hughes Police Department was
to be disbanded, effectively eliminating the position of
police chief. Green continued working and the county sheriff
provided her a schedule, which changed her work hours. Green
was terminated March 9. Green asked Collum to involve the
city council in an attempt to appeal her termination, but
Green remained terminated.
have held that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment confers on an individual a right to be free of race
and sex discrimination in public employment. Henley v.
Brown, 686 F.3d 634, 642 (8th Cir. 2012); Tipler v.
Douglas Cnty. Neb., 482 F.3d 1023, 1027 (8th Cir. 2007).
Such a claim may be asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Brown, 686 F.3d at 642-43. The Eighth Circuit
“has held that a § 1983 claim based on alleged
violation of equal protection in the employment context is
analyzed in the same way as a Title VII claim of sex, race,
or religious discrimination.” Mummelthie v. City of
Mason City, Ia., 873 F.Supp. 1293, 1333 (N.D. Iowa 1995)
aff'd 78 F.3d 589 (8th Cir. 1996). Likewise, the
elements of a Title VII employment discrimination claim and a
section 1981 claim in the employment context are identical
inasmuch as section 1981 prohibits discrimination in the
making and enforcement of private contracts. See Gregory
v. Dillard's, Inc., 565 F.3d 464, 469 (8th Cir.
2009); Kim v. Nash Finch Co., 123 F.3d 1046, 1056,
1060 (8th Cir.1997). Therefore, to avoid summary judgment on
her employment discrimination claims, Green must either
produce direct evidence of discrimination or generate a
genuine dispute of material fact for trial under the
burden-shifting framework established in McDonnell
Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05, 93 S.Ct.
1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Floyd-Gimon v. Univ. of Ark.
for Med. Sci., 716 F.3d 1141, 1149 (8th Cir. 2013).
argues that she has submitted direct evidence of race and sex
discrimination. “Direct evidence is evidence that
establishes ‘a specific link between the discriminatory
animus and the challenged decision, sufficient to support a
finding by a reasonable fact finder that an illegitimate
criterion actually motivated the employer's
decision.'” Twymon v. Wells Fargo &
Co., 462 F.3d 925, 933 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Putman v. Unity Health Sys., 348 F.3d 732, 735 (8th
Cir. 2003)). “‘[D]irect' refers to the casual
strength of the proof, not whether it is
‘circumstantial' evidence.” Torgerson v.
City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1043 (8th Cir. 2011).
Direct evidence may include remarks by a decisionmaker, but
does not include “stray remarks in the workplace,
statements by nondecisionmakers, or statements by
decisionmakers unrelated to the decisional process
itself.” Doucette v. Morrison Cnty., Minn.,
763 F.3d 978, 986 (8th Cir. 2014).
direct evidence, Green first cites two comments made by Collum,
which she argues indicate his intent to discriminate against
her based on race: (1) he stated that a black police officer
should “go back to the fields” and (2) in a
public board meeting he stated to audience members asking
questions that “you people are interrupting my
meeting.” Document #30 at 12. Collum denies making
the comments, but the Court must view the evidence in a light
most favorable to Green and avoid making credibility
determinations, which are reserved for the jury. Assuming
Collum made the comments, they do not “clearly point[ ]
to the presence of an illegal motive” behind
Green's termination. Griffith v. City of Des
Moines, 387 F.3d 733, 736 (8th Cir. 2004).
“go back to the fields” comment is not
race-neutral. Greens says Collum made the comment to her in
the spring of 2015 during a conversation the two were having
about sending an officer named Robert Thomas to the police
academy. Collum directed Green to do what she wanted in
regards to his continued employment but stated that Thomas
was not going to the academy. Document #30-1 at 40.
“Not all comments that may reflect a discriminatory
attitude are sufficiently related to the adverse employment
action in question” to permit the fact finder to infer
that the discriminatory attitude was more likely than not a
motivating factor in the employer's decision. Walton
v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 167 F.3d 423, 426 (8th Cir.
1999). See also Saulsberry v. St. Mary's Univ. of
Minn., 318 F.3d 862, 867-68 (8th Cir. 2003) (stating
that an “isolated, stray comment unrelated to the
decisional process” is not direct evidence of
discrimination, even if the comment is made by a
decisionmaker). Collum's comment about Thomas is not
connected to Green's termination; it is a stray comment,
despite the fact that it was made by a decisionmaker.
Twymon, 462 F.3d at 934.
“you people are interrupting my meeting” comment
is race-neutral on its face, as well as in its context.
See Twymon, 462 F.3d at 934 (“Facially
race-neutral statements, without more, do not demonstrate
racial animus on the part of the speaker.”). In
Doucette v. Morrison Cnty. Minn., the employee's
supervisor commented in a staff meeting that older people
should not be in law enforcement. 763 F.3d at 986. The
supervisor's audience was composed solely of older women.
Id. The Eighth Circuit held that the comment was
gender-neutral, but that even if it was not, the employee
failed to demonstrate that the remark, “while made by a
decision-maker, was connected to the ...