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Willis v. Arkansas State Police

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

August 13, 2018

MARK H. WILLIS PLAINTIFF
v.
ARKANSAS STATE POLICE DEFENDANT

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KRISTINE G. BAKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Mark H. Willis brings this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 2000-e (“Title VII”), alleging race discrimination. Defendant Arkansas State Police (“ASP”) filed a motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 16). Mr. Willis has not responded to the ASP's motion. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the ASP's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 16).

         I. Factual Background

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are taken from the ASP's statement of undisputed material facts (Dkt. No. 18). Mr. Willis has not responded to the ASP's statement of undisputed material facts. Pursuant to Rule 56.1 of the Local Rules of the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas, the Court deems admitted the ASP's statement of undisputed material facts.[1]

         Mr. Willis, an African-American, was hired as an employee of the ASP on September 5, 2014 (Dkt. No. 18, ¶¶ 1, 2). Mr. Willis worked as an ASP Trooper (Dkt. No. 18-11). Mr. Willis completed the ASP's training academy in December 2014 (Dkt. No. 18, ¶ 3).

         On December 8, 2014, Mr. Willis was transferred to Troop F in Warren, Arkansas (Id., ¶ 4). He attended the Troop F Field Training Program (Id.). Sergeant Alex Krneta-who is Caucasian-was the Field Training Supervisor (Id., ¶¶ 5, 7). Sergeant Krneta supervised Troopers in both Ouachita and Union Counties (Id., ¶ 6). Each Trooper is assigned to a single county, and Mr. Willis was assigned to Ouachita County (Id., ¶¶ 8, 9). Sergeant Krneta supervised Mr. Willis from December 2014 until his termination in February 2016 (Dkt. No. 18, ¶ 10).

         Upon his or her arrival at a Troop, a new Trooper participates in a Field Training Program (Id., ¶ 11). The standard program lasts for eight weeks; however, if remedial training is needed, the program will last up to 12 weeks (Id.). Mr. Willis' training lasted 12 weeks, in order to further assist him in the area of crash investigations (Id., ¶ 12).

         During the training program, the new recruit works alongside a more experienced officer for hands-on training (Id., ¶ 13). The Field Training Officer assists the new recruit in investigating incidents and accidents, gathering information, and preparing accurate documentation reflecting what occurred (Id., ¶ 14). When an incident or accident occurs, the Trooper, or other ASP law enforcement official involved, will prepare a report to document what has occurred (Dkt. No. 18, ¶ 15). The report must be as accurate as possible so that, if it is needed in the future, such as for insurance purposes or litigation, the parties can rely on the information stated in the report as being truthful and accurate (Id., ¶ 16). The Trooper is to enter all of the information into the computer in order to allow a written report to be generated (Id., ¶ 17).

         As Mr. Willis' supervisor, Sergeant Krneta reviewed Mr. Willis' incident and accident reports between December 2014 and February 2016 (Id., ¶ 18). Sergeant Krneta was Mr. Willis' immediate supervisor; however, from time to time, other sergeants would review Mr. Willis' incident and accident reports (Id., ¶ 19). Sergeant Gary Gambill and Sergeant Clayton Richardson also reviewed Mr. Willis' incident and accident reports during Mr. Willis' tenure with Troop F (Id., ¶ 20). Sergeant Krneta could also review the reports of other Troopers who were not under his direct supervision (Dkt. No. 18, ¶ 21).

         Part of Sergeant Krneta's job duties and responsibilities as sergeant was to review incident and accident reports submitted by the ASP Troopers under his supervision (Id., ¶ 22). Sergeant Krneta does not pick and choose which officers' reports to review; he reviews them all (Id.). If an error has been made, the report will be “rejected.” (Id., ¶ 23). Upon receipt of a “rejected” report, the Trooper is to make the necessary changes and then resubmit the report for approval (Id.).

         Sergeant Gambill was the first supervising sergeant to reject one of Mr. Willis' accident reports (Id., ¶ 24). On December 20, 2014, Sergeant Gambill rejected Mr. Willis' Report No. 52121470 (Dkt. No. 18, ¶ 25). Sergeant Gambill emailed the rejected report to Corporal Sequoyah Browning (Id.). That week, Corporal Browning was Mr. Willis' Field Training Officer, and Mr. Willis was shadowing Corporal Browning as on-the-job training (Id.). Sergeant Gambill sent the rejected report to Corporal Browning to review with Mr. Willis (Id.). Corporal Browning is African-American (Id., ¶ 26).

         Mr. Willis shadowed approximately four different Field Training Officers during his 12 weeks of training with Troop F (Id., ¶ 27). Once a report is “rejected, ” the Trooper is to correct the errors and resubmit it for approval (Dkt. No. 18, ¶ 28). Troopers do not receive a reprimand or reduction in pay for a rejected report (Id., ¶ 29). The goal is to have a final report that is true and accurate and that can be relied on at a later date if needed (Id.).

         Sergeant Krneta rejected one of Mr. Willis' reports-Report No. 52021506-on February 4, 2015, for errors contained in the report (Id., ¶ 30). Sergeant Krneta emailed a copy of the report to Billy Walker, Mr. Willis' Field Training Officer at that time (Id., ¶ 30). The purpose of returning the February 4, 2015, report to Mr. Walker was so that he could review the report with Mr. Willis, and together they could make the necessary changes (Id., ¶ 31). Mr. Walker is African-American (Dkt. No. 18, ¶ 32). Because the Field Training Program is a learning experience for the new recruits, neither Mr. Walker nor Mr. Willis was reprimanded in any way for the “rejection” of the February 4, 2015, report (Id., ¶¶ 33, 34).

         On March 28, 2015, Sergeant Gambill rejected Mr. Willis' Report No. 52031523 (Id., ¶ 35). Sergeant Gambill emailed the rejected report to Mr. Willis, identifying eight different areas to correct (Id.). On April 11, 2015, Sergeant Krneta rejected Mr. Willis' Report No. 52041524 (Id., ¶ 36). The report was rejected due to errors contained in the report (Id.). Sergeant Krneta emailed Mr. Willis that day and attached a copy of the changes that needed to be made to the report (Id.). Sergeant Krneta asked Mr. Willis to have the report re-submitted for approval by the end of his shift (Id.). Changes to reports are expected to be re-submitted the same day the rejection is received, if the Trooper is working the day a rejection is sent (Id., ¶ 37). If the Trooper happens to be off when the report is rejected, then changes should be made as soon as the Trooper returns to work from his or her days off (Id.). This is true for every Trooper, not just Mr. Willis (Id.).

         On April 13, 2015, Sergeant Gambill received Mr. Willis' revised report No. 52041524 (Id., ¶ 38). Sergeant Gambill rejected the report due to errors that remained in the report (Id.). On April 23, 2015, Sergeant Krneta met with Mr. Willis at the Camden Police Department for approximately one hour to discuss Report No. 52041524 (Id., ¶ 39). They reviewed the applicable errors on the Collision Report (Id.). They then carefully went over all of the necessary corrections that needed to be made (Id.). At the conclusion of the meeting, Mr. Willis acknowledged every aspect that had been discussed and assured Sergeant Krneta that his future performance in this area would improve (Id.).

         On April 30, 2015, Sergeant Krneta received a Fatal Accident Report Form-ASP-25- from Mr. Willis ((Id., ¶ 40). After reviewing the form, Sergeant Krneta noticed a number of significant errors (Id.). Sergeant Krneta contacted Mr. Willis by phone and explained the errors to him (Id.). Thereafter, Sergeant Krneta carefully went over all of the necessary corrections that needed to be made to the form (Id.). Sergeant Krneta's efforts were to assist Mr. Willis in understanding the errors that he had made and to teach him how to complete the report correctly the next time (Id.).

         On May 1, 2015, Sergeant Krneta again met with Mr. Willis at the Camden Police Department to assist him in preparing Collision Report No. 52041533FM (Fatality Report) (Id., ¶ 41). During the meeting, Sergeant Krneta reviewed the applicable errors on the Collision Report with Mr. Willis (Id.). Thereafter, they carefully went over all of the necessary corrections that needed to be made (Id.). During the meeting, Mr. Willis appeared to be confused regarding a number of aspects concerning crash scene mapping and diagraming (Id.). After approximately 2.5 hours of training, it was evident to Sergeant Krneta that Mr. Willis was having difficulties grasping the fundamentals of investigating a collision, despite his reassurances to Sergeant Krneta that he understood the material they had reviewed (Id.). On May 5, 2015, Captain Charles Hubbard, the Troop F Commander, asked Sergeant Krneta to outline the areas of deficiencies for Mr. Willis (Id., ¶ 42).

         On May 6, 2015, Sergeant Richardson arrived at the scene of a motor vehicle collision being investigated by Mr. Willis (Id.). Mr. Willis was having difficulties mapping the crash scene (Id.). As a result, Sergeant Richardson had to remain on scene and guide Mr. Willis on how to obtain properly crash scene measurements (Id., ¶ 43). Sergeant Richardson is African-American (Id., ¶ 44).

         On May 8, 2015, Sergeant Krneta prepared a memorandum to Captain Hubbard (Id., ¶ 45). In it, Sergeant Krneta documented eight areas related to investigations that Mr. Willis needed to improve (Id.). Sergeant Krneta recommended that Mr. Willis attend remedial training in the areas of Collision Investigation and Collision Report preparation (Id.). Specifically, Sergeant Krneta recommended Corporal Jeff Hust, a Field Training Officer, be assigned to assist Mr. Willis in his investigations and report preparations (Id.). Sergeant Krneta explained, in detail, the events that had transpired over the preceding two weeks regarding Mr. Willis' perceived difficulties in creating accurate reports (Id.). Sergeant Krneta recommended the remedial training begin on May 12, 2015, and conclude on June 5, 2015 (Id.).

         On May 9, 2015, Mr. Willis submitted Collision Report No. 52051535 (Id., ¶ 46). In spite of Sergeant Richardson's assistance, the report was submitted with various date element errors, narrative errors, and crash scene mapping and diagramming errors (Id.).

         On May 12, 2015, Sergeant Krneta met with Captain Hubbard to discuss Mr. Willis (Id., ¶ 47). After a lengthy discussion, they agreed on Mr. Willis' deficiencies surrounding Collision Investigation and Collision Report preparation (Id.). Captain Hubbard approved the Corrective Action Plan (Id.). The goal of the Corrective Action Plan was to help Mr. Willis succeed (Id., ¶ 48).

         On May 29, 2015, Sergeant Krneta received a memorandum from Corporal Hust (Id., ¶ 49). Corporal Hust indicated that, during his training with Mr. Willis, he felt that Mr. Willis had made progress in the area of obtaining measurements and diagramming the accidents, as well as progress in how to obtain and record information in an efficient and logical manner (Id.). Corporal Hust also indicated that the areas in which he felt Mr. Willis was weakest were the narration of the events of the crash, as well as the narration required to produce a diagram that is easily followed (Id.). Corporal Hust recommended Mr. Willis receive extensive training in the area of writing (Id.). Mr. Willis was released to work on his own again on May 30, 2015 (Id., ¶ 50).

         In May 2015, Sergeant Krneta found two of Mr. Willis' reports contained grammatical and vocabulary errors; however, Sergeant Krneta could see some improvement with the diagrams Mr. Willis was drawing (Id., ¶ 51). Sergeant Krneta was hopeful that Mr. Willis' work product would continue to improve (Id.). On June 2, 2015, Sergeant Krneta met with Mr. Willis, Captain Hubbard, and Lieutenant Charles Watson at Troop F Headquarters (Id., ¶ 52). They discussed Mr. Willis' prior deficiencies and the training that had taken place (Id.). Captain Hubbard asked Mr. Willis how he was feeling after training, and Mr. Willis said he was feeling more confident (Id.). Captain Hubbard asked Mr. Willis to let those at the meeting know if Mr. Willis had any suggestions on how they could better help him (Id.). Mr. Willis never offered any suggestions (Id., ¶ 53). At the conclusion of the meeting, Captain Hubbard recommended that Mr. Willis return to Little Rock and attend classes in crash investigation and report writing with the Troop School (Id., ¶ 54).

         On June 8, 2015, Sergeant Krneta rejected Mr. Willis' Report No. 70061559 due to errors contained in the report (Id., ¶ 55). On June 22, 2015, Sergeant Krneta rejected Mr. Willis' Report No. 52061540 due to errors contained in the report (Id., ¶ 56). Sergeant Krneta sent him the documents needed in order to make the necessary corrections (Id.). On June 24, 2015, Sergeant ...


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