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Wilson v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

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

August 30, 2018




         Lakeysia Wilson filed this action against the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) alleging disparate treatment on account of her race, African-American, and retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.SC. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. DHS moved to dismiss Wilson's claims for failure to state a claim. By Opinion and Order entered December 15, 2015, the Court granted DHS's motion. See Wilson v. Ark. Dept. of Human Servs., No. 4:15cv00466, 2015 WL 9244650 (E.D. Ark. Dec. 15, 2015). Wilson appealed and, on March 1, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. See Wilson v. Ark. Dept. of Human Servs., 850 F.3d 368 (8th Cir. 2017). The Eighth Circuit affirmed the Court's dismissal of Wilson's disparate treatment claim but reversed the dismissal of her retaliation claim and remanded for proceedings consistent with its opinion.

         Now before the Court is a motion [doc.#26] of DHS for summary judgment on Wilson's Title VII retaliation claim--the sole remaining claim in this action.[1]Wilson has responded in opposition to DHS's motion and DHS has replied to Wilson's response. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants DHS's motion for summary judgment.


         Wilson went to work for DHS in June 2011 as a field investigator in the Division of Aging and Adult Services in the Adult Protective Services section. Patricia Robins, a white female, was Wilson's supervisor. Douglas Walker, a white male, serves as head of the Division of Aging and Adult Services. Sharon Meeks, an African-American female, was also employed as a field investigator in the same section.

         In April 2013, Meeks and Robins, among others, applied for a DHS Administrator's position. According to Wilson, Meeks's supervisor met with Meeks in August 2013 to advise her that she was under investigation for making calls of a sexual nature. Walker directed Robins to investigate the allegations. In September 2013, Meeks was terminated for allegedly violating DHS's policy against sexual harassment. Robins received the administrator position that she and Meeks had been seeking.

         Meeks filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and also filed an internal grievance with DHS over her firing. In January 2014, the State Appeal Panel reversed her termination and ordered DHS to reinstate Meeks. According to the complaint, DHS resisted the ruling, telling Meeks there were no available positions. Meeks, however, apparently discovered there was a program supervisor position available in the Division of Aging and Adult Protective Services, where Meeks had previously worked.

         During the early part of 2014, Robins encouraged Wilson to apply for a program supervisor position that previously was held by a white male. Wilson alleges Robins told her the position was open for only one week and she needed to apply as soon as possible.

         Unbeknownst to Wilson, Meeks was interested in the position and either had applied or was planning to apply. Wilson says Robins also encouraged Tony Malone, an African-American male, to apply for the position, but Malone decided against applying.

         Wilson alleges Robins knew that Meeks was qualified and was interested in applying for the program supervisor position. She claims Robins was determined to thwart Meeks's goal to return to the Division of Adult and Protective Services.

         Wilson applied for the position and was told by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that she did not meet the minimum qualifications for the job. She said Robins and Walker encouraged her to file for reconsideration with the OPM, which she did. The OPM made the same determination. Wilson alleges Walker then contacted an assistant director and Wilson was placed on the list of qualified candidates and granted an interview. According to Wilson, she and Meeks were the only candidates for the position, and on March 31, 2014, Wilson got the job as a program supervisor. DHS re-hired Meeks in Wilson's old position, but fired her three months later.

         Wilson states that shortly before and after her promotion, she received positive performance evaluations. She alleges that after Meeks was fired, Robins began to criticize her performance. Wilson claims the criticism was unfair and racially motivated.

         On June 30, 2014, Robins gave Wilson the option of being demoted to the field investigator position for Saline and Grant counties, or be terminated. Wilson did not agree to a demotion to her old position and stayed in the position of program supervisor. Wilson states there was no explanation given to her of why she wasn't terminated when she did not agree to a demotion. She states that she sent Walker an email informing him that she did not want to take a demotion and that after that, Walker “basically told [Robins] that it was going to remain the same for the time being, that I would stay in the position.”

         On July 2, 2014, Wilson was stripped of her supervisory duties, with Robins stating in an email to Wilson (among others) that “due to some internal changes, supervisory responsibilities will divert back to me until further notice.” That same day, however, Wilson's supervisory duties were reinstated. Robins noted in an email to Wilson that in her earlier email, she “stated until further notice….well here is the notice! Doug and I have spoken again and he would like to revert back for the time being.” Walker, in turn, stated in an email that same night that Wilson's being stripped of her supervisory duties was a result of a miscommunication between him ...

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