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Mims v. Georgia Department of Corrections

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

July 29, 2015

JOHNNA JOWANNA MIMS, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; GEORGIA PEACE OFFICER STANDARDS & TRAINING COUNCIL; CAREY BARNES, Commissioner's Designee for Adverse Actions; JULIE LEWANDOWSKI, GA P.O.S.T. Investigator; TOMEIKA T. JORDAN, GDC Internal Affairs Investigator; MICHAEL S. SHEPARD, Warden; T.J. CONLEY, Deputy Warden of Security; SERGEANT MICHAEL MCNEIL; JESSICA LEE, Corrections Officer, Defendants.

ORDER

BRIAN K. EPPS, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff commenced the above-captioned employment discrimination case pro se and is proceeding in forma pauperis ("IFP"). (Doc. no. 2.) On February 11, 2015, the Court, in a Report and Recommendation and accompanying Order, allowed Plaintiff's claims of retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") to proceed while recommending dismissal of her claims of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Doc. nos. 6, 8.) On March 18, 2015, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint attempting to add new defendants and new claims which did not comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15. (Doc. no. 9.) As a result, the Court ordered Plaintiff to file a new complaint with all defendants and all claims in one document. (Doc. no. 10.) On April 8, 2015, Plaintiff filed a new complaint in compliance with the Court's Order. (Doc. no. 20.) Because she is proceeding IFP, Plaintiff's amended complaint must now be screened to protect potential defendants. Phillips v. Mashburn, 746 F.2d 782, 785 (11th Cir. 1984).

I. SCREENING OF THE COMPLAINT

A. BACKGROUND

Taking all of Plaintiff's factual allegations as true, as the Court must for purposes of the present screening, the facts are as follows. Plaintiff was formerly employed by Augusta State Medical Prison as a correctional officer in the kitchen. (See doc. no. 20, p. 3.) On February 23, 2014, Plaintiff's mother became very ill and was transferred to the intensive care unit at Georgia Regents University. ( Id. at 3-4.) On February 24, 2014, Plaintiff saw Defendant Warden Michael Shepard making rounds at the hospital and told him that she would not be able to come into work that night due to her mother's condition. ( Id. at 4.) Warden Shepard instructed Plaintiff to call her supervisor, Lieutenant Harmon, and advise him that she would be unable to come to work. (Id.) Plaintiff subsequently submitted the required paperwork and was approved to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). (Id.)

Plaintiff returned to work on March 5, 2014. (Id.) After relieving Defendant Officer Jessica Lee, an inmate asked Plaintiff how her mother was doing, informing Plaintiff that Officer Lee told him that her mother had suffered a stroke, was in the ICU at Georgia Regents University Hospital, and that she was not doing well. (Id.) This information was apparently gleaned by the inmates from Officer Lee. (Id.) On March 29, 2015, Plaintiff was informed by inmates of a verbal complaint submitted by Officer Lee to Defendant Sergeant McNeil. (Id.) Officer Lee criticized Plaintiff's work ethic by alleging that she was a bad worker, was never on top of her job, and always made her wait at the gate for twenty minutes because Plaintiff was sleeping. (Id.) Officer Lee submitted a similar complaint in writing to Sgt. McNeil, which she showed to inmates. (Id.)

Early on March 30, 2014 while working in the kitchen, Plaintiff was informed by another inmate of Officer Lee's complaint to Sgt. McNeil and its disclosure to prisoners. (Id.) Food service manager Mildred Gilliam also informed Plaintiff of the same conduct. (Id.) At 6:10 a.m., upon opening the gate to let in Officer Lee, Plaintiff attempted to talk to Officer Lee about her concerns with the information shared with inmates and the complaints about her work ethic. (Id.) After Officer Lee cursed at Plaintiff twice, their conversation turned into a verbal altercation and, shortly thereafter, into a physical altercation. (Id.) After the altercation stopped, Officer Lee followed Plaintiff, told her she had embarrassed herself and lost her job, and repeatedly pushed Plaintiff. (Id.) Sergeant Lewis escorted Plaintiff to the visitation area after the altercation where she told Plaintiff that she could not get witness statements. ( Id. at 5.) After Plaintiff wrote a statement describing the altercation, she was allowed to leave the prison. (Id.)

On March 31, 2014, Plaintiff and Officer Lee meet with Defendant T.J. Conley, Deputy Warden of Security, who allowed Officer Lee to present a defense and witness statements but did not allow Plaintiff to do so. (Id.) When Plaintiff was allowed to give her side of the story, Mr. Conley repeatedly interrupted her, refused to listen to her side of the story, told her she was lying, and that she did not have any proof. (Id.) Mr. Conley also told Plaintiff that even if she was allowed to get witness statements, he would not allow Plaintiff to use them because Plaintiff would be lying. (Id.) On April 1, 2014, Plaintiff met with Warden Shepard and explained her version of events and that she was not allowed to submit a defense at the meeting with Mr. Conley. (Id.) Nonetheless, Warden Shepard suspended her pending an investigation by internal affairs. (Id.)

On April 4, 2014, Plaintiff met with Defendant Investigator Tomeika Jordan, who informed Plaintiff that it was not looking good for her and that if she caught Plaintiff lying, she would add another charge to her two pending charges. (Id.) Investigator Jordan explained that the two pending charges were simple assault and violation of oath. (Id.) In response, Plaintiff explained to Investigator Jordan that she was being treated unfavorably in comparison to Officer Lee, she was not allowed to take witness statements, Officer Lee had also broken prison policies, and Mr. Conley refused to listen to her side of the story. (Id.) Investigator Jordan responded that the minute she admitted to pushing Officer Lee, the investigation became criminal and Mr. Conley was not required to respond. (Id.)

On April 7, 2014, Warden Shepard terminated Plaintiff's employment at Augusta State Medical Prison. ( Id. at 6.) At the meeting, Warden Shepard informed Plaintiff that they had attempted to press charges, but the District Attorney did not want to prosecute the case. (Id.) He also stated that they were giving the evidence to Officer Lee and telling her to press charges. (Id.) Warden Shepard also submitted an email to the personnel department stating that Plaintiff had assaulted Officer Lee and requested a no re-hire code be placed on Plaintiff's correctional officer certifications. (Id.)

On April 11, 2014, Defendant Carey Barnes, the commissioner's designee for adverse actions, instructed Plaintiff to put the events in writing and fax it to him, which Plaintiff did. (Id.) On May 15, Plaintiff received a letter from Carey Barnes upholding her termination due to Plaintiff admitting the allegations forming the basis of the termination. (Id.) In response to this letter, Plaintiff submitted another letter explaining the unequal treatment she received. Defendant Barnes did not respond. (Id.) On May 22, 2014, Plaintiff submitted an open records request to the Georgia Department of Corrections Legal Office regarding the files and evidence leading to her termination. (Id.) On May 23, 2014, Plaintiff issued a subpoena for the same files as well. (Id.) On May 27, 2014, Plaintiff received a letter denying her request. (Id.)

On April 16, 2014, Defendant Julie Lewandowski sent Plaintiff a letter regarding a hearing to determine the status of her certifications as a correctional officer, and on September 10, 2014, Plaintiff's case was presented to Defendant Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council ("POST"). (Id.) In regards to this hearing, Defendant Lewandowski created a false report that matched Officer Lee's description of events that was submitted to the Council. (Id.) On December 30, 2014, Plaintiff submitted a letter to the Council informing them that Defendant Lewandowski had submitted a false case summary. ( Id. at 7) On January 10, 2015, Plaintiff received a letter from Defendant Lewandowski's supervisor stating that she had handled the case properly. ( Id. at 7)

Plaintiff asserts that Sgt. McNeil destroyed statements written on her behalf and Captain Gibbons stated he would get rid of every person taking family leave if he had his way. ( Id. at 6.) In addition, Plaintiff alleges that she has been retaliated against for utilizing FMLA leave because Officer Lee was not given the same treatment as her despite engaging in the same conduct. (Id.)

Plaintiff wishes to proceed with an FMLA retaliation claim against all Defendants in their official capacities and with Due Process and Equal Protection claims against all Defendants in their individual and official capacities. ( Id. at 7-8.) Plaintiff also wishes to proceed against Officer Jessica Lee with a defamation claim. ( Id. at 7.) In regard to these claims, ...


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