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Harris v. City of Little Rock

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

August 30, 2018




         Plaintiff Woodzell Harris, Jr., brings this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, alleging race, color, and religious discrimination and retaliation. Defendant City of Little Rock (“City”) has filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking judgment in its favor on Mr. Harris's claims (Dkt. No. 18). Mr. Harris has filed no response in opposition, and the time for filing a response has passed. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the City's motion for summary judgment and enters judgment in favor of the City on Mr. Harris's discrimination and retaliation claims.

         I. Factual Background

         The following facts are taken from the City's statement of uncontested facts (Dkt. No. 19). Mr. Harris did not file a response admitting or denying specifically the facts in the City's statement of uncontested facts as required by Local Rule 56.1 of the Local Rules of the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas. For this reason, the Court accepts as true the City's statement of uncontested facts, where supported by the record or not specifically contested by Mr. Harris, to resolve this motion. See Robinson v. American Red Cross, 753 F.3d 749, 754-55 (8th Cir. 2014).

         The City employed Mr. Harris as an Information Support Specialist (“ISS”) within the Network Services Division beginning on January 17, 2012 (Dkt. No. 19, ¶ 3). His salary at hire was $33, 000.00, commensurate with education and experience (Id.). During Mr. Harris's employment with the City, his supervisor received complaints about Mr. Harris's job performance from various sites assigned to him (Id., ¶ 4).

         From August 2013 through 2014, Mr. Harris and the other technicians were assigned to upgrade all machines to Office 2010 or Office 2013 to move users to a new server (Id.). The upgrade was necessary for users to access their email (Id.). During that time, the Information Technology (“IT”) Department received complaints regarding Mr. Harris about the updates not having been performed, resulting in the inability of users to receive email (Id.). The complaints concerned incomplete documentation or unresolved issues during this time (Id., ¶ 4).

         On June 12, 2014, Mr. Harris was reassigned from the landfill (“Scale House”) site after the site manager complained about Mr. Harris and requested another technician be assigned (Id., ¶ 5). Mr. Harris failed to communicate, document, and address problems at this site despite numerous opportunities to do so (Id.). On July 21, 2014, the Police Training Division requested that another technician be assigned to its area after receiving several user complaints that issues were not resolved, that promises to return were not honored, and that data was lost (Id., ¶ 6). In some cases, the issues were not documented, and in other instances, explanations did not match the documentation or complaints of the user (Id.).

         Mr. Harris disputes that “legitimate” complaints were filed about his job performance at his various job sites (Dkt. No. 18-7, at 53). He contends instead that any complaints received by vendors or job sites were the result of his supervisor Melissa Bridges soliciting negative information about his performance through email (Id., at 53-54, 56, 58).

         On November 3, 2014, Mr. Harris was issued a letter of counseling after complaints were received from the City of Little Rock Fleet Maintenance Manager (Dkt. No. 19, ¶ 7). This letter was subsequently removed from Mr. Harris's file after he appealed and prevailed on the internal appeal (Id.). As part of the internal appeal, Mr. Harris lodged a grievance against his supervisors Ms. Bridges and Bobbie Curry-Phillips alleging harassment (Id., ¶ 8).[1] On March 20, 2015, Director of Human Resources (“HR”) Stacy Witherell concluded that Mr. Harris was unable to substantiate his complaints of inappropriate comments made by his supervisors (Id.). Ms. Witherell concluded that Mr. Harris was unable to provide sufficient details of when the events allegedly occurred and to identify witnesses to the alleged events (Id.). Mr. Harris contends that the matter was closed without a proper investigation (Dkt. No. 2, ¶¶ 8, 9).

         Mr. Harris appealed the grievance determination to the City Manager Bruce T. Moore (Dkt. No. 19, ¶ 8). Mr. Moore addressed all complaints concerning Ms. Bridges and Ms. Phillips (Id.). Mr. Harris claimed that Ms. Bridges harassed him by reassigning him from the Scale House and Police Training sites (Id.). Mr. Moore found that Mr. Harris's reassignment was driven by written and verbal complaints from personnel and vendors at those locations (Id.). As to Mr. Harris's complaint of mental and verbal abuse from Ms. Bridges, Mr. Moore found that multiple employees were interviewed and that no one could substantiate Mr. Harris's allegations that he was singled out and verbally berated (Id.). Based on the information provided, Mr. Moore denied Mr. Harris's appeal and upheld the recommendation of the HR Department (Id.). Mr. Harris alleges that, three months after his appeal to Mr. Moore, his job area was changed, and two months later, his work load was cut in retaliation (Dkt. No. 2, ¶ 9). The City disputes that Mr. Harris's job area and workload were changed as the result of his complaints or his appeals filed with the City (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 9).

         On February 10, 2016, Ms. Phillips, Mr. Harris's immediate supervisor, began the process for a classification review and salary/pay increase for the position of ISS pursuant to a request by Director for IT Randy Foshee (Dkt. No. 19, ¶ 18). Jim Kimbrough, Lance Chambers, John Junkins, William Schmidt, and Mr. Harris were employed as ISS (Id.). Ms. Phillips requested and received classification review request forms from Mr. Kimbrough, Mr. Chambers, Mr. Junkins, and Mr. Harris (Id.). Mr. Schmidt, who had been employed less than one month at that time, opted to forego input but signed off on the request (Id.).

         On February 16, 2016, during the IT bi-weekly ISS meeting and with all ISS present, Ms. Phillips emphasized the need to complete the classification review forms and answered questions regarding the process (Id.). The same day, Director Foshee and Ms. Phillips met with the Mr. Harris at his request to address concerns regarding his pay (Id.).

         On February 29, 2016, Ms. Phillips met with Director Foshee and reviewed and compared IT job descriptions and the responses provided by the ISS on the completed forms (Id., ¶ 18). The forms needed to be modified to reflect only the changes to ISS job functions (Id.). On March 1, 2016, during the IT bi-weekly meeting, Ms. Phillips requested that the ISS modify the forms and return to her by March 4, 2016 (Id.). On March 4, 2016, Ms. Phillips asked Director Foshee if the ISS could be given until March 7, 2016, so that they could have the weekend to complete the forms (Id.). Ms. Phillips was out on March 7, 2016, but Director Foshee collected all of the modified forms from the ISS that day (Id.). Director Foshee and Ms. Phillips met again on March 11, 2016, to go over the modified paperwork and to prepare to submit the requests (Id.).

         On March 15, 2016, during the IT bi-weekly meeting, the ISS raised concerns that the reclassification process would not result in a salary increase and inquired if there were other steps that could be taken (Id.). Ms. Phillips communicated that she had drafted a memorandum requesting a salary increase and would send it to the appropriate personnel (Id.). Ms. Phillips allowed the ISS to read the draft memorandum during the meeting (Id.).

         On March 23, 2016, Director Foshee submitted the FORM HR-2A (“Classification Review Request”) to Ms. Witherell (Id.). The Classification Review Request included a review of the ISS job description highlighted to identify additions, deletions, or modifications as a result of the review done with the ISS, Ms. Phillips, and Director Foshee (Id.). Ms. Phillips also forwarded to Director Foshee a copy of the memorandum entitled “Request for Salary - Pay Increase” dated March 16, 2016, to include with the Classification Review Request submission (Id.). Ms. Phillips then officially emailed the memorandum to Director Foshee and Ms. Witherell, carbon copied to Ms. Bridges, Mr. Kimbrough, Mr. Chambers, Mr. Junkins, Mr. Schmidt, and Mr. Harris (Dkt. No. 19, ¶ 18). During the process and up until submission, all ISS were involved in formulating the version of the Classification Review Request that was submitted to HR on March 23, 2016 (Id.). It is unclear from the record what resulted from Director Foshee's submission of the Classification Review Request and accompanying memorandum.

         Mr. Harris contends that the City failed to give him a classification review (Dkt. No. 2, ¶¶ 8, 9). He further contends that the City failed to investigate his complaint about department job title pay (Id.). The City disputes these allegations and denies that it failed to investigate any complaint regarding classification review and department job title pay (Dkt. No. 19, ¶ 18). Mr. Harris contends that he has “raised questions and asked several times for Classification Review” (Dkt. No. 2, ¶ 9). Mr. Harris asserts that he has requested several meetings with Mr. Moore and that he has made “several FOI requests” (Id.). The City does not dispute that Mr. Harris has made several Freedom of Information (“FOI”) requests but asserts that all requests have been responded to or are being responded to in accordance with Arkansas laws (Dkt. No. 11, ¶ 9).

         On June 7, 2016, Ms. Phillips, Mr. Harris's immediate supervisor, saw a “RecentPlaces” shortcut link at the top of the directory on the Little Rock Information Technology (“LRIT”) fileshare3 which was not something typically seen at the top of the directory (Dkt. No. 19, ¶ 9). She conferred with April Prewitt and Mr. Chambers, other LRIT personnel, to see if they could also see the link and to see if the functionality was the same when they accessed it (Id.). Ms. Phillips informed her supervisor and Network Security Manager Ms. Bridges of the shortcut (Id.). On June 8, 2016, Ms. Bridges forwarded an email to Director Foshee concerning the shortcut link which caused security concerns (Id., ¶ 10). Director Foshee instructed Ms. Bridges by phone to conduct an investigation of the link and to speak with HR about the issue (Id.). Ms. Bridges spoke with the Senior HR Analyst for Labor Relations Leslie Cloer (Id., ¶ 11). Ms. Bridges in turn updated Director Foshee on the ongoing investigation and the recommendation of HR to place Mr. Harris on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation (Id., ¶ 10).

         Ms. Bridges and Acting Director for LRIT Jeff Ralston then spoke with Mr. Harris about the shortcut link and informed him that audit logs confirmed that Mr. Harris's computer had created the link and that the link had been accessed by Mr. Harris while doing work for the Fleet Department (Id., ¶ 11). Mr. Harris initially denied creating the shortcut link and then suggested that someone else may have used his credentials to create the link (Id.). The City contends that Mr. Harris then admitted that he might have created the link so that he could easily access things he needed to do for work (Id.). Mr. Harris disputes creating the shortcut link on the fileshare3 server (Dkt. No. 18-7, at 36). He contends that either Ms. Bridges placed the link in the directory or had someone else do it (Id., at 45).

         On June 9, 2016, Ms. Bridges and Ms. Cloer met with Assistant City Manager James Jones and decided that Mr. Harris would be put on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation into the shortcut link (Dkt. No. 19, ¶ 11). In accordance with City policy, Mr. Harris would be required to turn over temporarily all City-issued property, and his account access would be locked until the investigation was completed (Id.). Ms. Bridges and Ms. Cloer then met with Mr. Harris at the IT conference room, informed him that he ...

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