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Heaggans v. Arkansas State Highway

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

July 6, 2017




         Raynard Heaggans commenced this employment discrimination action against the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department alleging race discrimination claims under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Heaggans works in the Environmental division of the Department and says that he was passed over for six different promotions because he is black. The Department has filed a motion for summary judgment. Document #16. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.


         A court 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. Id.


         The following facts are undisputed. The Department is the state agency responsible for the maintenance, repair, and safety of Arkansas highways. It is divided into several divisions. Heaggans works in the Environmental division, which is responsible for compliance with environmental laws, regulations, and policies throughout the planning, construction, and operation of roadways and other infrastructure. The Environmental division is further divided into six sections: Assessments, Cultural Resources, Geographic Information Systems, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), Public Involvement, and Special Studies. These sections evaluate potential impacts on, among other things, endangered species, hazardous waste, water quality, and wetlands. Heaggans has worked at the Department since 2005, starting in the Human Resources division. He worked part-time or seasonally from 2005 through 2010. Heaggans graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in May 2010 with a bachelors degree in environmental science. In February 2011, Heaggans became a full-time employee in the Environmental division and was shortly thereafter promoted to Environmental Field Technician II upon the recommendation of his then-direct supervisor and now-Environmental division head, John Fleming.

         Fleming asked Heaggans if he wanted to be placed on the “job list” to gain experience performing the duties of an environmental analyst, and Heaggans said that he did. Each section of the Environmental division has environmental analysts. The job list organizes the duties associated with upcoming construction projects and to whom those duties are assigned. Duties assigned to Heaggans pursuant to the job list included securing wetlands permits and visiting job sites.[1] At the same time, Heaggans performed his field tech duties. A field tech's official duties include assisting the division with the collection of information for environmental and mitigation documents.[2]Heaggans also attended a week-long training session about wetlands, for which he received a certification. He performed his duties adequately and received positive feedback from Fleming, as recently as May 2014. Document #16-1 at 20.

         Since his promotion in February 2011, Heaggans has sought and has been denied six other promotions to positions in three different sections within the Environmental division: (1) Environmental Analyst 1 (Special Studies), February 2012; (2) Environmental Analyst 1 (NPDES), March 2012; (3) Beautification Coordinator 1, July 2012; (4) Environmental Analyst 1 (NPDES), September 2012; (5) Environmental Analyst 1 (Special Studies), December 2013; and (6) Environmental Analyst 1 (Special Studies), July 2014. The Department hired white individuals to fill each position.


         Under Title VII, before filing a lawsuit in federal court, aggrieved individuals must “(1) timely file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC setting forth the facts and nature of the charge and (2) receive notice of the right to sue.” Williams v. Little Rock Mun. Water Works, 21 F.3d 218, 222 (8th Cir. 1994) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b), (c), (e)). A claim for employment discrimination is barred if the plaintiff fails to file such a charge. See Kline v. City of Kansas City, Fire Dept., 175 F.3d 660, 664 (8th Cir. 1999). Thus, to assert a claim for failure to promote in violation of Title VII, a plaintiff must first exhaust his administrative remedies. Williams, 21 F.3d at 222. “Exhaustion of administrative remedies is central to Title VII's statutory scheme because it provides the EEOC the first opportunity to investigate discriminatory practices and enables it to perform its roles of obtaining voluntary compliance and promoting conciliatory efforts.” Id.

         Heaggans filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on September 17, 2014. Document #1 at 12. He checked the box for discrimination based on race and explained that in February 2014, [3] he applied for an environmental analyst position, was interviewed, and was not selected. Id. Then, in June 2014, he applied for an environmental analyst position and did not even receive an interview. Id. Heaggans stated: “I believe I was not promoted because of my race, black, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.” Id. He also stated that the discrimination took place at the earliest on February 1, 2014 and at the latest on June 9, 2014. Id. Heaggans only identified two failures to promote; he did not identify as a basis for his charge the failures that he now alleges occurred in February, March, July, and September 2012. Therefore, any claims based on those occasions are barred because Heaggans failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See Robinson v. Am. Red Cross, 753 F.3d 749, 757 (8th Cir. 2014); Ross v. City of Independence, Mo., 76 F. App'x 108, 109 (8th Cir. 2003) (“Each decision not to promote [plaintiff] was a discrete event.”) (citing Dorsey v. Pinnacle Auto. Co., 278 F.3d 830, 838 (8th Cir. 2002)).

         Title VII's enforcement provisions also require that a charge be filed with the EEOC within 180 days after the alleged unlawful employment action occurred. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). “[E]ach [discrete discriminatory act] starts a new clock for purposes of filing charges related to that act, and an employee must file charges within 180 or 300 days (whichever is applicable) of a discrete discriminatory action.” Tademe v. Saint Cloud State Univ., 328 F.3d 982, 987-88 (8th Cir. 2003). Again, Heaggans alleges that in February 2014, he applied for an environmental analyst position and was not selected because of his race. Document #1 at 12. The Department actually filled the position in December 2013. Document #16-5 at 22. But either way, more than 180 days passed between the alleged unlawful employment action and the charge. Because Heaggans failed to file a charge with the EEOC within 180 days after he was passed over for the 2013 promotion, any claim based on that action is time-barred. In fact, each of the claims that Heaggans failed to properly exhaust also fall outside the 180-day window. The only failure to promote actionable under Title VII is the July 2014 selection of Benjamin Thesing to fill the position of Environmental Analyst 1 (Special Studies) instead of Heaggans.


         Though 42 U.S.C. 1983 provides a federal cause of action, this Court looks to Arkansas law to determine the applicable statute of limitations. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 1094, 166 L.Ed.2d 973 (2007). The statute of limitations for personal injury actions applies, which is three years. Miller v. Norris, 247 F.3d 736, 739 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Ark. Code Ann. ยง 16-56-105(3)). Heaggans commenced this action on July 1, 2015. Document #1. Therefore, any claim based on a failure to promote prior to July 1, 2012 is time-barred. The failures Heaggans alleges occurred in February 2012 and March 2012 are not actionable. The failures to promote actionable under section 1983 are the July 2012 selection of Sam Sawyer to fill the position of Beautification Coordinator 1, the September 2012 selection of Lindsay Zweifel to fill the position of Environmental Analyst 1 ...

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