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Reddix v. Arkansas Department of Workforce Services

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

March 31, 2019

LEE REDDIX PLAINTIFF
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SERVICES DEFENDANT

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Kristine G. Baker, United States District Judge

         Before the Court is defendant Arkansas Department of Workforce Services' (“ADWS”) motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 10). In his complaint, plaintiff Lee Reddix alleges that ADWS subjected him to unlawful discrimination on the basis of race and gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., as amended by the omnibus Civil Rights Act of 1991 (“Title VII”);[1] 42 U.S.C. § 1981; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, Ark. Code Ann. § 16-123-101, et seq., (“ACRA”) (Dkt. No. 1, at 1). ADWS moves for summary judgment on each of these claims. Mr. Reddix has responded to the motion (Dkt. No. 17). Also before the Court is ADWS's motion to deem admitted and for dismissal (Dkt. No. 13) and Mr. Reddix's response in opposition. For the following reasons, the Court denies ADWS's motion to deem admitted and for dismissal and grants ADWS's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Factual And Procedural Background

         ADWS filed a statement of undisputed material facts (Dkt. No. 11). The Court notes that Mr. Reddix did not file a separate statement of material facts, which is required by Local Rule 56.1(b) of the Local Rules of the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas. Mr. Reddix's response to ADWS's motion to dismiss appears to be a response to ADWS's statement of undisputed material facts (Dkt. No. 19), but that response appears to deny all of ADWS's statements of undisputed material facts with little to no explanation for the denials and with no cites to record evidence in support of the denials (Id.). Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1, all material facts set forth in the statement filed by the moving party shall be deemed admitted unless controverted by the statement filed by the non-moving party. Further, failure to support or address properly the moving party's assertion of fact can result in the fact being considered as undisputed for purposes of the motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2). Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are taken from ADWS's statement of undisputed material facts.

         Mr. Reddix was at the time ADWS filed its motion employed at ADWS (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 1). He was initially hired in March 2012 as a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”) supervisor (Id., ¶ 2; Dkt. No. 10-5, at 1). According to the affidavit of Judy Duncan, a Caucasian female, she was the Area Operations Chief at that time (Dkt. No. 10, Ex. B, ¶ 3).

         At all relevant times, Ms. Duncan has been employed at ADWS (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 7). She has worked for ADWS for 38 years (Id.). Presently, she is employed as the Area Operations Chief for Area III (Id.). She has held that position for 10 years (Id., ¶ 8). Prior to that, Ms. Duncan worked as a Local Office Manager in the Walnut Ridge/Newport office for four years (Id.). She also served in a supervisory capacity for several years (Id.). Ms. Duncan served on Mr. Reddix's interview panel (Id., ¶ 3). She hired Mr. Reddix as a TANF supervisor and, on January 20, 2013, promoted Mr. Reddix to the position of Local Office Manager (Dkt. No. 10, Ex. B, ¶ 3; Dkt. No. 10, Ex. E, at 1). Artee Williams is the former Director of ADWS and an African-American male; Mr. Reddix's promotion to Local Office Manager was approved by Mr. Williams (Dkt. No. 11, ¶¶ 10, 11).

         Mr. Reddix was subject to probationary periods during his employment as both a TANF supervisor and Local Office Manager (Id., ¶ 14). During this time, Mr. Reddix had difficulty with work performance, and his six-month probationary period had to be extended by three additional months (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 15). During his probationary performance reviews, it was documented that Mr. Reddix needed improvement in the areas of: (1) job knowledge and skill and (2) decision making (Id.). His performance review also demonstrated that he struggled in the area of interpersonal relations (Id.). He was advised that he needed to improve his knowledge of ADWS's three major programs: TANF, Unemployment Insurance, and Job Services (Id.). Ms. Duncan encouraged Mr. Reddix to improve his skills in these areas (Id., ¶ 16). Mr. Reddix did improve his work performance somewhat (Id., ¶ 17).

         However, during his time at ADWS, Ms. Duncan received complaints from staff and clients about Mr. Reddix (Dkt. No. 10, Ex. B, ¶ 4). For example, TANF clients reported that Mr. Reddix threatened to terminate their benefits if they did not perform favors for him (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 18). Staff members also reported that they were uncomfortable being alone with Mr. Reddix (Id.). While employed with ADWS, Mr. Reddix worked part-time as a police officer (Id.). He was counseled several times about performing his part-time job duties during his ADWS work hours (Id.).

         Mr. Reddix only filed one complaint during his time as the Local Area Manager (Id., ¶ 24). He complained that Ms. Duncan was not permitting him to do his job because Ms. Duncan encouraged employees to report directly to her when things were not going well in the Helena ADWS office (Id.). Mr. Reddix characterized this conduct as “hostile work environment” harassment (Dkt. No. 10, Ex. A, at 118).

         In January 2014, Mr. Williams made the decision to terminate Mr. Reddix from his position as a Local Area Manager (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 19). Ms. Duncan did not make the decision to terminate Mr. Reddix (Id.). She merely communicated the decision to Mr. Reddix (Id., ¶ 21).

         Before working at ADWS, Mr. Reddix filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against a former employer (Id., ¶ 22; Dkt. No. 10, Ex. E). Mr. Reddix's prior lawsuit was not a factor in his termination from ADWS in 2014 (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 23). ADWS was aware of Mr. Reddix's prior lawsuit before he was hired at ADWS because someone sent a copy of paperwork regarding the lawsuit to the agency anonymously (Id.).

         Mr. Reddix believed that his termination from ADWS was improper and filed a grievance concerning his termination (Id., ¶ 26). ADWS has explained in regard to this grievance process that, subsequent to Mr. Reddix's termination on January 20, 2014, Mr. Reddix filed a grievance “alleging that he had been unjustly terminated based on lack of due process and false accusations against him.” (Dkt. No. 10, Ex. E, at 1-2). According to ADWS, “[a]t no point in the grievance process did [Mr. Reddix] file any complaint, formal or informal, within ADWS, nor to the knowledge of ADWS to the [EEOC] alleging any Title VII or Civil Rights violations.” (Id., at 2).

         On April 24, 2014, ADWS and Mr. Reddix entered into a settlement agreement regarding the grievance (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 27). ADWS denied that Mr. Reddix's termination was unlawful or improper (Id.). According to the settlement agreement, Mr. Reddix was rehired at a grade level equivalent to the position he held prior to his promotion as a Local Office Manager, among other stipulations (Id., ¶ 28). In exchange, Mr. Reddix agreed that he would not file a complaint or initiate any action in state or federal court in connection with his January 2014 termination (Id., ¶ 29).

         Upon reinstatement, Mr. Reddix was classified as a Program Field Audit Specialist (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 30; Dkt. No. 10, Ex. E, at 2). Mr. Reddix believes it was Mr. Williams's decision to reinstate him (Id., ¶ 31). ADWS's current director, Darryl Bassett, was not involved in Mr. Reddix's termination or reinstatement and was not employed at the agency at the time Mr. Reddix was terminated and reinstated (Id., ¶ 32). Following his reinstatement, Mr. Reddix did not have any contact with Ms. Duncan (Id., ¶ 34). Mr. Reddix started off with a clean slate with Ms. Duncan and Ronald Snead, Deputy Director of the ADWS (Id., ¶ 35). Mr. Reddix admits that he harbored no ill feelings about Ms. Duncan or Mr. Snead (Id.).

         In or around September 2015, the Helena office had a vacant Field Manager II position (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 36). Ms. Duncan was the hiring official and received three applications for the position (Id.). Only the most qualified applicants were interviewed (Id., ¶ 37). Based on Ms. Duncan's past experience with Mr. Reddix in a manager's position, she determined that he was not the best qualified for the position (Id.). Mr. Reddix's struggles with job performance and previous complaints from clients and staff were also factors (Id.).

         Ms. Duncan interviewed only Delois Hare, an African-American female, for the position (Id., ¶ 38). Ms. Hare was subsequently hired (Id.). Ms. Hare was the best qualified applicant (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 39). She had worked for ADWS for approximately 36 years and had worked her way up through the agency (Id.). Of that time, she had at least six years of experience as a Local Office Manager in the Helena office-the exact position for which Ms. Duncan was interviewing (Id.). Mr. Reddix only had one-year of experience as a Local Office Manager at ADWS, from January 20, 2013, until January 10, 2014 (Id., ¶ 40; Dkt. No. 10, Ex. E, at 1).

         According to the affidavit of Ms. Duncan, “[n]ot all applicants are selected for interviews.” (Dkt. No. 10, Ex. B, ¶ 6). The decision not to interview Mr. Reddix was not related to his gender, as a male, or race, as an Africa-American (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 42). A female candidate was also not selected for an interview, and the applicant who was hired for the position is an African-American (Id.).

         According to ADWS, during this period of employment, Mr. Reddix “raised concerns about being asked to perform home visits by himself.” (Dkt. No. 10, Ex. E, at 3). In response, Ms. Duncan “explained to [Mr. Reddix] that this was done to protect him from similar situations occurring that in the past led to harassment allegations against him.” (Id.). “[ADWS] [m]anagement felt that given his physical stature and capabilities and training as a certified law enforcement officer, he could accomplish visits alone.” (Id.). On November 12, 2015, “[ADWS] [m]anagement considered his concerns and rescinded the decision that he was to conduct home visits by himself in an email from [Ms.] Duncan.” (Id.).

         Throughout his employment with ADWS and prior to initiating this lawsuit, Mr. Reddix filed only one Charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against ADWS (Dkt. No. 10-4; Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 44). Mr. Reddix filed that Charge on February 13, 2016 (Dkt. No. 1, Ex. A). On the Charge, Mr. Reddix checked the boxes for discrimination based on sex and retaliation only (Id.).

         Mr. Reddix stated the following under the section on the Charge for the particulars of the discrimination:

I was rehired by the above named employer in May 2014 in the position of Program Field Audit Specialist. I was reinstated with my former pay after being discharged from the position of Local Office Manager in January 2014. On or about September 24, 2015 I was denied the opportunity to interview for the position of Field Manager II despite having previously worked in the job and being qualified for it. Since my reinstatement I have been and continue to be subjected to harassment and a difference in the terms of my employment.
I was not given a reason why I was denied an opportunity to interview for the Field Manger II position.
I believe I have been and continue to be harassed and treated differently because of my sex (male) and denied the opportunity to be properly classified in my job in retaliation for filing a previous complaint and opposing practices made unlawful in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.

(Id.).

         In the Charge (493-2016-00377), Mr. Reddix only complains of gender discrimination and retaliation (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 45). He does not mention or complain of race discrimination (Id.). The alleged employment action that Mr. Reddix references is the September 24, 2015, failure to interview allegation (Id., ¶ 46). On November 30, 2016, the EEOC mailed to Mr. Reddix a dismissal and notice of rights letter, which gave him 90 days to file a lawsuit under Title VII (Dkt. No. 1-2, Ex. B).

         Mr. Reddix alleges in his complaint filed in this action “that on or around June 2016, [Ms.] Duncan retired from the agency as Area Operations Chief.” (Dkt. No. 1-2, ¶ 22). Once the position became open, Mr. Reddix contends that he “and three other African-American male agency employees applied for [Ms.] Duncan's position of Area Operations Chief.” (Id.). Mr. Reddix further alleges that he “was not selected for an interview and the other African-American males were not hired for the position.” (Id.). Mr. Reddix claims that “[Ms.] Duncan reapplied for the position and was rehired.” (Id.).

         Mr. Reddix also alleges that, at an unspecified time, he “was instructed to use his personal vehicle for agency business and subsequently written up for refusal to use his personal vehicle to conduct agency business.” (Dkt. No. 1-2, ¶ 23). Mr. Reddix claims that a “female employee used an agency vehicle for personal business and received no write-ups.” (Id.).

         Mr. Reddix filed his lawsuit on February 28, 2017 (Dkt. No. 1). On June 1, 2018, ADWS filed a motion for summary judgment, with a separate statement of facts and brief in support (Dkt. Nos. 10, 11, 12). On June 3, 2018, ADWS filed a motion to deem admitted and for dismissal (Dkt. No. 13). The Court communicated informally with counsel regarding the status of Mr. Reddix's response to ADWS's motion for summary judgment and motion to deem admitted and for dismissal. In response, counsel for Mr. Reddix filed a motion for extension of time, which this Court granted (Dkt. Nos. 14, 16). On July 31, 2018, Mr. Reddix responded to the motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 17). On August 1, 2018, Mr. Reddix responded to the motion to deem admitted and for dismissal (Dkt. No. 19). The Court has considered Mr. Reddix's response and filings when evaluating ADWS's pending motion for summary judgment.

         II. Standard Of Review

         Summary judgment is proper if the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the defendant is entitled to entry of judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Miner v. Local 373, 513 F.3d 854, 860 (8th Cir. 2008). “The mere existence of a factual dispute is insufficient alone to bar summary judgment; rather, the dispute must be outcome determinative under the prevailing law.” Holloway v. Pigman, 884 F.2d 365, 366 (8th Cir. 1989). However, parties opposing a summary judgment motion may not rest merely upon the allegations in their pleadings. Buford v. Tremayne, 747 F.2d 445, 447 (8th Cir. 1984). The initial burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish that there is a genuine issue to be determined at trial. Prudential Ins. Co. v. Hinkel, 121 F.3d 364, 366 (8th Cir. 2008). “The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         Mr. Reddix alleges claims under several state and federal statutes. ADWS moves for summary judgment on all of Mr. Reddix's claims. Mr. Reddix alleges that ADWS subjected him to unlawful discrimination on the basis of race and gender in violation of Title VII, § 1981, § 1983, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the ACRA. ADWS asserts that Mr. Reddix's claims under the Fourteenth Amendment and the ACRA pursuant to § 1983 and his § 1981 claims are barred by sovereign immunity. ADWS also asserts that several of Mr. Reddix's claims under Title VII should be dismissed based on a failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Finally, ADWS contends that there is no genuine issue of material fact with respect to Mr. Reddix's remaining claims under Title VII. For the following reasons, the Court grants ADWS's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 10).

         A. Sovereign Immunity

         The Court will first address ADWS's arguments concerning sovereign immunity. “Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional in nature.” F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994). ADWS moves for summary judgment against Mr. Reddix's claims under the Fourteenth Amendment and the ACRA filed pursuant to § 1981 and § 1983 based on sovereign immunity. For the following reasons, the Court concludes that Mr. Reddix's claims under the Fourteenth Amendment and the ACRA pursuant to § 1981 and § 1983 are barred by sovereign immunity.

         1. Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and § 1983

          ADWS contends that Mr. Reddix's claims under §1981 and § 1983 are barred by sovereign immunity pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. ADWS argues that, as an instrumentality of the State of Arkansas, it is immune from claims brought pursuant to § 1981 and § 1983. Based on his claims under the ACRA, § 1981, and § 1983, Mr. Reddix seeks monetary damages in the form of back pay and benefits that he would have attained absent unlawful discrimination (Dkt. No. 1-2, at 8). Mr. Reddix also seeks this Court to enjoin ...


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