United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division
O. Hickey Chief United States District Judge
the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.
(ECF No. 27). Plaintiff has responded. (ECF No. 38).
Defendants have replied. (ECF No. 41). The Court finds this
matter ripe for consideration.
case is an employment discrimination and civil rights action
brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.;
the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
(“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12112; and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Plaintiff Kim Holston is an epileptic, African
American female who alleges that Defendants discriminated
against her during the course of her employment on the basis
of her race, sex, and disability.
City of Hope, Arkansas (“the City”) maintains
wastewater treatment facilities for the purpose of treating
and disposing of the City's raw sewage. Plaintiff was
hired by the City in January 1987, as a laboratory technician
in the City's Wastewater Department. In 1992, the City
promoted Plaintiff to Assistant Superintendent of the
Wastewater Department, and in 1999, Plaintiff was again
promoted to the position of Wastewater Superintendent. As
Wastewater Superintendent, Plaintiff oversaw the City's
two wastewater treatment plants, wastewater collection lines,
Cook-a Caucasian female-has been employed by the City since
1990, serving as City Manager since 1996. As City Manager,
Defendant Cook oversees all City operations and reports to
the City's Board of Directors. Defendant York-a Caucasian
male-has served as the City's Public Works Director since
2009. As Public Works Director, Defendant York oversees
several of the City's departments, including the
started having seizures in April 2014. On October 4, 2014,
Plaintiff suffered a severe grand mal seizure, requiring her
to be hospitalized for three days. Due to complications from
this seizure, Plaintiff took sick leave from October 28,
2014, through July 3, 2015. While Plaintiff was out on sick
leave, Defendant York became more involved in the day-to-day
operation of the Wastewater Department.
contend that after Defendant York became more hands-on in the
Wastewater Department, he discovered that the wastewater
facilities were in a state of disrepair, operating poorly,
and struggling to comply with environmental laws. Defendants
attribute the substandard state of their wastewater
facilities to Plaintiff mismanaging her department and not
performing her job duties as Wastewater Superintendent.
Defendants further state that the deterioration of their
wastewater facilities had obviously been going on for years,
not just in the time that Plaintiff had been out on sick
leave. However, Plaintiff alleges that the City had an
antiquated sewer system slated for major overhauls and that
Defendants were well aware that the facilities were in
disrepair. Plaintiff also alleges that she was adequately
performing her job duties, with Defendants urging her to keep
the ailing wastewater system running at maximum capacity
despite any potential consequences.
Plaintiff was on sick leave, Defendant York brought in
Michael Arney-a Caucasian male-and Scott Ross-an African
American male-to help run the Wastewater Department. Arney
was serving as the Superintendent of the Street Wastewater
Department and took over the running of the Wastewater
Department, essentially combining the two departments. Ross,
who had been previously employed by the Wastewater Department
under Plaintiff, was brought in as a plant operator.
13, 2015, Plaintiff was released to return to work with the
following restrictions: no driving, climbing, or heavy work,
office work only, and no starting and stopping pumps,
engines, or generators to control flow of raw sewage.
Plaintiff alleges that when she returned to work, she was
relegated to sitting in an office and told to do nothing
because she had been replaced by Arney and Ross.
Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Arney had assumed all of
her administrative duties and that Ross was performing all of
her physical duties. Plaintiff also alleges that she was
willing and able to perform her job duties, but that
Defendant York was upset that she was allowed to return to
work and told her to stay out of Ross's way because he
was now in charge of the wastewater facilities.
fall of 2015, Plaintiff thought she would have to have
surgery and knew she would be terminated if she was absent
from work past February 2016 because she had used all of her
available sick leave. Plaintiff expressed her concerns to
Defendant Cook and told her that she was thinking about
October 2015, Plaintiff communicated to Defendant Cook that
she was going to retire at the end of the calendar year.
Defendant Cook allowed Plaintiff to use her remaining sick
leave and vacation time to extend her employment through her
January anniversary date in order to obtain another year of
service in the state retirement system. Plaintiff's
retirement date was set for February 1, 2016.
December 3, 2015, Plaintiff turned in an unsigned return to
work note, from Dr. Victor Biton, stating that she had no
work restrictions at that time, and that if any seizures with
altered awareness occur, restrictions may apply. Plaintiff
then informed Defendant Cook that she was no longer going to
retire. Defendant Cook responded to Plaintiff via letter.
letter, Defendant Cook detailed how Plaintiff had recently
informed Defendant Cook that she had been diagnosed with
epilepsy, was continuing to experience seizures, had a tumor
on her brain, was experiencing memory loss, had been referred
to a brain surgeon, and had indicated that she would be
retiring in February 2016. Defendant Cook further explained
that she could not accept Dr. Biton's return to work note
because Dr. Biton was not the physician who signed
Plaintiff's previous return to work note, and she had no
knowledge that Dr. Biton was aware of the essential functions
of Plaintiff's job or the location at which she worked.
Defendant Cook affirmed Plaintiff's retirement date of
February 1, 2016.
state that the decision to accept Plaintiff's decision to
retire was entirely Defendant Cook's and that Defendant
Cook was not influenced by anyone else in that decision.
Defendants further state that Defendant Cook encouraged
Plaintiff to go ahead and retire because Defendant Cook
believed that Plaintiff was unable to perform her required
job duties and because it had become apparent that Plaintiff
had not been satisfactorily performing her job duties in the
past. Conversely, Plaintiff argues that she never had poor
job performance reviews, that she was given no opportunity to
resume her job duties when she returned, and that Defendant
York influenced Defendant Cook's decision to not allow
her to return to work.
retired on February 1, 2016. On February 2, 2016, Plaintiff
filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), contending that
the City discriminated against her on the basis of her sex,
race, and disability. On August 31, 2016, the EEOC sent
Plaintiff a notice-of-right to sue letter. On January 31,
2017, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, alleging claims of
employment discrimination and civil rights violations.
Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment and
supporting documents (ECF Nos. 27-29) on October 11, 2019,
arguing that they are entitled to summary judgment on all of
Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff opposes the motion.
judgment is appropriate if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Hess v.
Union Pac. R.R. Co., 898 F.3d 852, 856 (8th Cir. 2018)
(citation omitted). Summary judgment is a “threshold
inquiry of . . . whether there is a need for trial-whether,
in other words, there are genuine factual issues that
properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because
they reasonably may be resolved in favor of either
party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A fact is material only when its
resolution affects the outcome of the case. Id. at
248. A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it
could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either
party. Id. at 252.
deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must
consider all the evidence and all reasonable inferences that
arise from the evidence in a light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. Nitsche v. CEO of Osage Valley Elec.
Co-Op, 446 F.3d 841, 845 (8th Cir. 2006). The moving
party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine
issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law. See Enter. Bank v. Magna Bank, 92
F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The nonmoving party must then
demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record
that create a genuine issue for trial. Krenik v. Cnty. of
LeSueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). However, a
party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion
“may not rest upon mere allegations or denials . . .
but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S.
is no ‘discrimination case exception' to the
application of summary judgment, which is a useful pretrial
tool to determine whether any case, including one alleging
discrimination, merits a trial.” Torgerson v. City
of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1043 (8th Cir. 2011).
Accordingly, the Court applies the same summary judgment
standard to discrimination cases as it does to all others.
claims that Defendants violated Title VII, the ADA, and her
civil rights pursuant to section 1983 by not allowing her to
return to full duty and forcing her to retire from her
employment with the City because of her race, sex, and
disability. The Court addresses each of Plaintiff's
Title VII Claims
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “provides remedies
to employees for injuries related to discriminatory conduct
and associated wrongs by employers.” Univ. of Tex.
Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 570 U.S. 338, 342 (2013). Under
Title VII, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate
against an individual with respect to “compensation,
terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” because
of that person's “race, color, religion, sex, or
national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). To
survive a motion for summary judgment on a Title VII claim, a
plaintiff must either offer direct evidence of discrimination
or create an inference of discrimination under the
McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework.
Lors v. Dean, 746 F.3d 857, 865 (8th Cir. 2014);
Griffith v. City of Des Moines, 387 F.3d 733, 736
(8th Cir. 2004).
has provided no direct evidence of discrimination on any of
her claims, and thus, she must create an inference of
discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas
create an inference of discrimination under McDonnell
Douglas, the plaintiff must first make a prima
facie case of discrimination. Rothmeier v. Inv.
Advisers, Inc., 85 F.3d 1328, 1332 (8th Cir. 1996). If
the plaintiff makes this showing, the burden shifts to the
defendant to present evidence of a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for the action it took.
Id. If the defendant makes this showing, the
plaintiff must then show that the defendant's proffered
reason is merely a pretext for illegal discrimination.
Court now addresses Plaintiff's race discrimination
claim. As discussed above, Plaintiff's race
discrimination claim is subject to McDonnell Douglas