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Ramzy v. Columbus Consolidated Government

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Columbus Division

February 1, 2017

JUSTIN P. RAMZY and ALICIA Y. SPEARMAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
COLUMBUS CONSOLIDATED GOVERNMENT, MUSCOGEE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, and JOHN DARR, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants.

          ORDER

          CLAY D. LAND, CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs worked at the Muscogee County jail and prison medical clinics. They claim that they were discriminated against because they are black and that they were retaliated against because they complained about racial discrimination and inmate conditions in the clinics. They brought the present action against their alleged employers, the Columbus Consolidated Government (“CCG”) and Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr.[1] They assert their race-based discrimination and retaliation claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 (Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection) and Title VII, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. They assert their speech-based retaliation claims pursuant to § 1983 (First Amendment). The Court previously dismissed Plaintiffs' Title VII claims because they were untimely. Ramzy v. Columbus Consol. Gov't, No. 4:15-CV-2 (CDL), 2015 WL 5838484, at *2 (M.D. Ga. Oct. 5, 2015). Defendants now seek summary judgment on Plaintiffs' remaining claims. As discussed in this Order, Defendants' motions (ECF Nos. 37 & 47) are granted.

         I. Plaintiffs' Claims

         It is not entirely clear who employed Plaintiffs for purposes of the pending motions-Sheriff Darr, CCG, or both. The Muscogee County Sheriff's office operated the medical clinics at the Muscogee County jail and the Muscogee County prison until both clinics were privatized in 2013. During the timeframe relevant to this action, Defendant John Darr was the Muscogee County Sheriff; he was the top of the chain of command for the jail, and he had the final say over hiring, promotion, and termination decisions regarding jail employees. The Muscogee County prison is separate from the jail and is under the CCG mayor's chain of command, although Darr testified that the medical clinic staff at the prison was still the Sheriff's responsibility. Darr Dep. 140:22-141:5, ECF No. 44.

         Defendants preliminarily contend that to the extent Plaintiffs were employees of Sheriff Darr, their official capacity claims against Darr must be dismissed under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution because Darr was acting as an arm of the state when he made the decisions complained of in this action and is thus entitled to immunity. CCG argues that Darr was not a final policymaker for CCG, and therefore, CCG cannot be held legally responsible for any of his decisions or conduct. As explained in the remainder of this Order, Plaintiffs' claims fail for more fundamental, easier to decide, issues-issues that the Court must examine to decide the claims against Darr in his individual capacity. Thus, the Court does not need to decide the Eleventh Amendment and municipal liability issues.

         Plaintiff Justin P. Ramzy is a black man who worked as a medical technician in the Muscogee County jail clinic. Ramzy claims that B.T., a white female who became health service administrator on February 29, 2012, gave him more difficult work assignments than she gave white employees.[2] Ramzy also claims that his suspension and termination, which Defendants maintain were justified due to his practice of prefilling and photocopying inmate intake forms, were discriminatory and retaliatory.

         Plaintiff Alicia Y. Spearman is a black woman who worked as a licensed practical nurse in the Muscogee County jail and prison medical clinics. When she was hired in the jail clinic on January 3, 2008, her mother was the jail clinic's director of nursing, and her sister also worked at the jail clinic. These family connections prompted other jail clinic employees to complain of nepotism. C.B. June 2, 2016 Dep 65:4-66:15, 73:14-18, ECF No. 46. Before the events giving rise to this action, Spearman was transferred from the jail clinic to the prison clinic. During the timeframe relevant to this action, Spearman worked primarily at the prison clinic, although she sometimes worked overtime at the jail clinic.

         Spearman claims that (1) she was denied an opportunity to apply for three open positions because of her race and in retaliation for her protected activity, (2) she was denied proper compensation because of her race, (3) she was subjected to internal investigations and counseling in retaliation for her protected activity, and (4) she was terminated because of her race and in retaliation for her protected activity.

         Both Ramzy and Spearman claim that they were subjected to a racially hostile work environment based on the following:

♦ Their supervisor, B.T., was friendlier to white employees than to black employees; took breaks and socialized with white employees but not black employees; and discussed clinic operations with white employees but not black employees.
♦ B.T. commented, on one occasion, that G.R., a black employee could learn to pass medications because B.T. could teach a monkey how to do it.
♦ When the clinic was short staffed, B.T. required employees to work double shifts. On one occasion, she “asked” a white employee to stay over but “told” several black employees to stay over.
♦ On one occasion, B.T. treated a black employee differently than she treated a white employee with regard to funeral leave requests.
♦ B.T. once bought white employees pizza when they stayed late to help cover another shift, but she did not buy pizza for black employees who did the same thing.
♦ Under B.T.'s leadership, black employees started arguing with white employees about changes to the clinic.
♦ A white nurse commented once that a monkey could do a vital signs check.
♦ A white nurse stated that she did not like the celebration of Black History Month.
♦ Clinic manager R.B. told three medical records technicians that he wished they could go “back to the days when we shackled you to get the work done.” Spearman Aug. 25, 2016 Dep at 126:5-14. R.B. was promptly suspended.

         As explained in the remainder of this Order, some of Plaintiffs' claims were brought too late and are barred by the statute of limitations; some fail because Plaintiffs cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation; and others fail because Defendants articulated a legitimate, non-discriminatory/non-retaliatory reason for their decisions and Plaintiffs did not produce sufficient evidence to create a genuine factual dispute as to whether Defendants' reasons were a pretext for discrimination or retaliation. Finally, Plaintiffs' hostile work environment claims fail because Plaintiffs did not present enough evidence to create a genuine factual dispute as to whether the alleged harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of their employment.

         II. Claims Brought Too Late

         The Court previously dismissed Plaintiffs' Title VII claims as untimely. Ramzy, 2015 WL 5838484, at *2. The Court also dismissed as untimely Plaintiffs' § 1983 Equal Protection and First Amendment claims based on adverse employment actions that occurred before January 5, 2013. Id. at *3. See McNair v. Allen, 515 F.3d 1168, 1173 (11th Cir. 2008) (“All constitutional claims brought under § 1983 are tort actions, subject to the statute of limitations governing personal injury actions in the state where the § 1983 action has been brought.”); O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33 (establishing a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims in Georgia). These claims include (1) Justin Ramzy's Equal Protection claim that he was, because of his race, given difficult work assignments in 2012; (2) Alicia Spearman's Equal Protection and First Amendment claims that she was, because of her race and protected activity, not given a promotion to health service administrator in 2012; and (3) Spearman's Equal Protection and First Amendment claims that she was, because of her race and protected activity, not given a promotion to clinic manager in 2012.

         Spearman's § 1981 discrimination claim based on her allegation that she was denied an opportunity to apply for the health service administrator position in 2012 is also subject to a two-year statute of limitations and is time-barred. The health service administrator was employed by Corizon, Inc., an independent agency, not the Sheriff or CCG. Therefore, Spearman's claim is that she was prevented from making an employment contract with Corizon because of her race. This type of claim was actionable under the pre-1991 version of § 1981. Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164, 185 (1989) (superseded by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Pub. L. No. 102-166 § 101, 105 Stat 1071). Thus, it is subject to a two-year statute of limitations, not the four-year statute of limitations that applies to § 1981 claims made possible by the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 541 U.S. 369, 382 (2004) (noting that the Supreme Court's construction of 28 U.S.C. § 1658 “leaves in place the ‘borrowed' limitations periods for pre-existing causes of action”). The claim accrued in February 2012 when Spearman learned that a white woman had been selected for the position. She waited more than two years to file this action. Accordingly, that claim is barred by the statute of limitations.

         III. Claims Lacking Evidence to Establish a Prima Facie Case

         Plaintiffs rely on circumstantial evidence to support claims of discrimination and retaliation; thus, they must create an inference that the employer's conduct was motivated by an improper discriminatory or retaliatory motive. This is done by presenting evidence to establish a prima facie case. To establish a prima facie case for a discrimination claim, an employee must point to evidence that creates a genuine factual dispute on the following elements to avoid summary judgment: (1) she is a member of a protected class, (2) she was qualified to do the job, (3) her employer subjected her to an adverse employment action, and (4) her employer treated similarly situated individuals outside of her protected class more favorably. Trask v. Sec'y, Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 822 F.3d 1179, 1192 (11th Cir. 2016) (explaining the standards in the context of a Title VII case); accord Bryant v. Jones, 575 F.3d 1281, 1296 n.20 (11th Cir. 2009) (Discrimination claims “brought under the Equal Protection Clause, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, or Title VII . . . are subject to the same standards of proof and employ the same analytical framework”). To create a prima facie case of race-based retaliation, an employee must show that “(1) he engaged in a statutorily protected activity; (2) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) he established a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse action.” Id. at 1307-08. To state a claim for First Amendment retaliation, the employee must demonstrate that “(1) he engaged in protected speech; (2) the defendant's conduct adversely affected the protected speech; and (3) a causal connection exists between the speech and the defendant's retaliatory actions.” Bailey v. Wheeler, 843 F.3d 473, 480 (11th Cir. 2016).

         The Court finds that several of Plaintiffs' claims fail because Plaintiffs did not point to sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case. The Court describes each of Plaintiffs' deficient claims in turn.

         A. Ramzy

         Work Assignments.

Ramzy contends that his supervisor, B.T., discriminated and retaliated against him by assigning him more work than she assigned to white employees. The only evidence Ramzy pointed to on his work assignment claims is evidence that he was assigned the most difficult medicine cart on his shift three times and was assigned to distribute medicine to female inmates twice during 2012.[3] As discussed supra § II, any Equal Protection and First Amendment claims based on 2012 conduct are time-barred. Only Ramzy's § 1981 claims remain.

         Ramzy did not point to any evidence that Darr knew about or was involved in these assignments. His work assignment claims fail for this reason. See Bryant, 575 F.3d at 1299 (“It is well established that liability in § 1983 cases cannot be premised solely upon a theory of respondeat superior.”). Ramzy also did not point to any evidence that these assignments constituted a serious and material change in the terms, conditions, or privileges of his employment or that they would have dissuaded a reasonable employee from engaging in activities protected under § 1981. Moreover, as to his retaliation claim, he did not produce evidence that he engaged in protected activity that a decisionmaker knew about before he received the assignments, and thus he produced no evidence to ...


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