United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
OPINION AND ORDER
LEON HOLMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Williams-Raynor is a black female who previously worked for
the Arkansas Department of Health. She was working as a
probationary employee for the Department when she was
terminated on May 19, 2016. Department employees Abby Holt,
Lynda Lehing, and Susan Wiley were involved in the firing
decision. Williams-Raynor alleges that the Department fired
her in retaliation for protected activity and because of her
race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42
U.S.C. § 2000e. She alleges Holt, Lehing, and Wiley
racially discriminated against her in violation of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She has sued them in
their official capacities for prospective relief and in their
individual capacities for monetary relief. The defendants
have moved for summary judgment.
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.
worked for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, a
state employer, from 1988 through 2016. On January 31, 2016,
she began working for the Arkansas Department of Health as a
Health Program Specialist III. Document #32 at
¶¶1-2. Williams-Raynor's position at the
Department included supervisory duties. Id. ¶2.
Theressia Mitchell was section chief in the Department when
Williams-Raynor was hired and supervised Williams-Raynor
until March 1, 2016, when Mitchell retired. Id.
¶¶3-4. Lynda Lehing, who worked as branch chief in
the Department, took on Mitchell's duties until April 11,
2016, at which time Abby Holt was hired as section chief.
Id. ¶¶4-5. Susan Wiley served as the
branch administrator and supervised Lehing. Document #30-4 at
32. In other words, the chain of command in the Department
was as follows: Williams-Raynor reported to Holt; Holt
reported to Lehing; and Lehing reported to Wiley.
April 7, 2016, Williams-Raynor evaluated a black employee who
was under her direct supervision and had been placed on a
performance improvement plan. Document #30-1 at 21. On May 9,
2016, Lehing, Holt, and Williams-Raynor met with the employee
to review Williams-Raynor's evaluation of the employee.
Document #32 at ¶10. The meeting was cut short, however,
when Williams-Raynor stated, in the midst of the meeting,
that she needed to revise and recalculate her evaluation
report of the employee. Document #30-1 at 71. Williams-Raynor
does not dispute that her report contained errors. Document
#38 at 5, 17. She exchanged emails with Lehing and Holt
following the meeting concerning her revisions and
recalculations. Document #30-2 at 37-39. Lehing and Holt
asked John Guire, the quality assurance coordinator in the
Department, to review the employee's performance, but
after learning that the employee had filed a sexual
harassment grievance against Guire, Lehing and Holt hired a
third party contractor to review the employee. Document #38
17, 2016, Williams-Raynor requested to meet with Holt, and a
meeting took place that afternoon. Document #38 at 14. Lehing
also attended the meeting. Id. On the morning of May
17, 2016, before the meeting took place, Holt and Lehing met
with a Department employee in human resources to review a
counseling statement regarding issues with Williams-Raynor
that Holt had prepared. Id. at 18; Document #30-4 at
35. The counseling statement noted Holt's concerns over
Williams-Raynor's supervision of and communication with
Department staff. Document #36-13. Holt and Lehing believed
they had grounds to terminate Williams-Raynor. Document #30-4
at 36. At the afternoon meeting, Williams-Raynor raised
concerns she had regarding disparate treatment of employees
under her supervision and regarding her supervisory role.
Document #36-7 at 6-7. Williams-Raynor testified that she did
not tell Holt and Lehing that she thought the employees were
being treated differently because of their race. Document
#30-1 at 86, 93-94. The EEOC investigator also noted in the
intake interview summary that Williams-Raynor
“admit[ted] that she made no mention of racial animus
or discrimination during the meeting.” Document #36-18.
18, 2016, Williams-Raynor directed the staff under her
supervision to have no communications with Guire without
first obtaining her approval. Document #38 at 22-24. She sent
an email to Holt notifying Holt of this action. Document
#36-15. Holt testified that this directive from
Williams-Raynor violated the Department's practices, and
she began preparing an additional counseling statement
addressing the violation. Document #30-4 at 35-37; Document
#38 at 24. On May 19, 2016, Wiley terminated Williams-Raynor
without providing her with the counseling statements Holt and
Lehing had prepared. Document #38 at 19, 38. Williams-Raynor
says that Department policy required probationary employees
to be provided with a counseling statement before being
terminated. Id. at 19.
Williams-Raynor offers no direct evidence of unlawful
retaliation or discrimination, each of Williams-Raynor's
claims are analyzed under the well-known McDonnell
Douglas burden-shifting framework. See Chism v.
Curtner, 619 F.3d 979, 983 n.3 (8th Cir. 2010),
overruled on other grounds by Torgerson v. City of
Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031 (8th Cir. 2011) (noting that
the court “analyze[s] Title VII, § 1981, and
§ 1983 claims under the same framework”). Under
this framework, she must first establish a prima facie case
of retaliation and intentional discrimination. See
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04,
93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824-25, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973).
argues that the Department fired her in retaliation for her
protected activity at the May 17 meeting she had with Holt
and Lehing. Specifically, she alleges that she was fired
because she complained to Holt and Lehing that black
employees were being treated less favorably than white
employees in violation of Title VII makes it unlawful for an
employer to discriminate, for example by retaliation, against
its employees for opposing any unlawful employment practice.
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). A prima facie case of
retaliation requires a plaintiff to show: (1) she engaged in
protected activity, (2) she suffered an adverse employment
action, and (3) her protected activity was a but-for cause of
the adverse employment action. Shirrell v. St. Francis
Med. Ctr., 793 F.3d 881, 888 (8th Cir. 2015).
defendants contend that Williams-Raynor has not shown that
she engaged in protected activity, and even if she did, the
defendants say that Williams-Raynor cannot show the requisite
causal connection between the activity and the termination.
There is no evidence in the record that Williams-Raynor
complained of race discrimination at the May 17 meeting or
that her comments at that meeting were the but-for cause of
the Department's decision to terminate her. Instead the
record shows that the Department's decision to fire
Williams-Raynor was motivated by her performance. Holt and
Lehing drafted a counseling statement concerning issues with
Williams-Raynor's performance and met with human
resources to discuss her termination before the May 17
meeting at which Williams-Raynor claims to have engaged in
protected activity. Williams-Raynor does not dispute this
sequence. Additional issues following the meeting reinforced
the Department's decision to terminate her.
Williams-Raynor has not established a prima facie case of
racial discrimination claims against Holt, Lehing, and Wiley
also fail. A prima facie case of racial discrimination
requires a showing that: (1) the plaintiff was a member of a
protected class; (2) she was meeting the employer's
legitimate j ob expectations; (3) she suffered an adverse
employment action; and (4) there are facts that give rise to
an inference of unlawful discrimination. See Burton v.
Arkansas Sec'y of State, 737 F.3d 1219, 1229 (8th
Cir. 2013). Williams-Raynor concedes that she made mistakes
in her evaluation report and also concedes that she violated
Department practices in directing her staff as she did
regarding communications with Guire. These incidents, along
with the counseling statement prepared before the May 17
meeting, constitute evidence that Williams-Raynor was not
meeting the Department's legitimate expectations.
Williams-Raynor argues that the Department's failure to
provide her with a counseling statement before termination,
an alleged violation of Department policy, is evidence of
unlawful discrimination. That argument goes to the fourth
element of her prima facie case. Other than a bald,
one-sentence assertion, she makes no argument on the issue of
whether she was meeting the Department's legitimate
expectations. Williams-Raynor has not established a prima
facie case of racial discrimination against Holt, Lehing, or
foregoing reasons, the defendants' motion for summary
judgment is GRANTED. Document #30. Williams-Raynor's
retaliation claim against the Department and racial
discrimination claims against Holt, Lehing, and Wiley in