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Mitchell v. Georgia Department of Corrections

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

May 3, 2017

GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, BETSY THOMAS, Director of Human Resources, and JAMES R. LAINE, Director of Human Resources Retired, Defendants.


         Plaintiff Eddie Mitchell ("Plaintiff"), a black male who is proceeding pro se, is suing his former employer, the Georgia Department of Corrections, asserting claims of discriminatory discharge and retaliation. The case is presently before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the record evidence, the relevant law, and the briefs of counsel, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background[1]

         Plaintiff worked for Defendant Georgia Department of Corrections (WGDC") as a teacher at Johnson State Prison and then at Telfair State Prison from August of 2014 until his termination on December 18, 2015. (Pl's Dep. at 22, 26, 32, 85-86.) When the GDC hired Plaintiff, his initial salary was $73, 477.07. (Id. at 51.) In the summer of 2 015, however, Plaintiff came to believe his salary was incorrect based upon his prior experience. Plaintiff inquired of the Johnson State Prison human resources department, who forwarded the issue to the GDC's central human resources department in Forsyth, Georgia. (Id. at 48-49.) Defendant Betsy Thomas, the Deputy Human Resources Director at GDC, caused the matter to be reviewed. Ultimately, on August 7, 2015, the GDC approved an increase in Plaintiff's salary to $79, 087.39 to reflect credit for Plaintiff's military service. (Id. at 50-52 & Ex. 4.) On August 19, 2015, Plaintiff inquired of the GDC whether he would be paid back pay for the salary difference. (Id. at 54- 55 & Ex. 6.) Plaintiff was told he needed to go through his chain of command. (Id., Ex. 6.)

         Meanwhile, Plaintiff also inquired as to why his salary-did not reflect more years of actual teaching experience than it did. (Id. at 52, 57-59 & Ex. 5 & 7.) On October 16, 2015, Defendant Thomas issued a memorandum to Plaintiff advising him that he needed to supply the names of his prior employers so the GDC could verify his employment history.[2] Plaintiff complied with this request. (Id. at 63-64 & Ex. 9.) The GDC human resources department verified his experience, and Plaintiff's salary was again increased to approximately $89, 000. (Id. at 61-62, 65-66.)

         During this time, Plaintiff continued to seek back pay to the date of his hire. He contacted L.C. Buster Evans, Plaintiff's supervisor and Assistant Commissioner for the Division of Inmate Services at the GDC, to request his assistance with the back pay issue. (Id., Ex. 7.) Plaintiff also met with the GDC's Education Director, Stevie Edwards, to discuss his salary concerns; Mr. Edwards is below Mr. Evans in the chain of command. (Id. at 70-73 & Ex. 8.)

         Defendant James R. Laine, the Human Resources Director at the GDC, reviewed Plaintiff's request and determined that the GDC could not pay Plaintiff back pay because his initial lower salary was not the result of administrative error. (Laine Aff. ¶¶ 4-5.) On November 30, 2015, Defendant Thomas conveyed this decision to Plaintiff. (Pl's Dep., Ex. 11; Thomas Aff. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff disagreed and asked for the chain of command so that he could pursue the issue. (Pl's Dep., Ex. 11.)

         On December 2, 2015, Plaintiff emailed Mr. Evans again requesting back pay. (Id., Ex. 12.) After receiving the email, Evans and Edwards agreed that Edwards would meet with Plaintiff with the intent of conveying the necessity to stop focusing on the back pay issue and to focus on teaching or risk losing his job. (Evans Aff. ¶ 7.) Edwards met with Plaintiff on December 7, 2015. (Pl's Dep. at 72-73.) Later that day, Plaintiff emailed Evans again requesting a meeting with Evans and the GDC Commissioner. (Id., Ex. 16.) The next morning, on December 8, 2015, Plaintiff emailed Evans again. (Id., Ex. 14.) Evans responded by email to Plaintiff:

As indicated to you by Mr. Edwards, the interpretation by HR stands as the decision.
As indicated to you, we have had several conversations with the leadership in our HR department. I cannot provide you with a decision other than that as has been determined by that department. I personally and professionally want your degree of satisfaction and commitment to be high to our work, and I'll do everything that I feel that I can to support that. In this matter, I have exhausted my avenues for resolving your request.

(Id., Ex. 16.) Plaintiff again corresponded with Defendant Laine about the matter on December 9, 2015, to which Defendant Laine responded:

Your continued insistence that you have been denied "rightful pay" or that you have not been communicated with concerning your pay levels are, at best, inaccurate. I believe it is time to put this matter to rest and that you spend your time working for the educational improvement of the inmates placed in your care.

(Id., Ex. 17.) Plaintiff responded, reiterating that while his current pay is correct, he will continue to pursue the back pay issue. (Id.) After receiving this last email on December 9, 2015, Defendant Laine consulted with Defendant Thomas and Mr. Evans and decided to terminate Plaintiff. (Laine Aff. ¶ 7.) Mr. Evans supported the decision, opining that Plaintiff was a weak employee and lacked an understanding of his role as a teacher not an administrator. (Evans Aff. ¶¶ 3, 10.) Defendant Thomas weighed in that Plaintiff's pay issues had taken much time and effort by her and her staff. (Thomas Aff. ¶ ...

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