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Rice v. James

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

May 10, 2018

ANGELA RICE, Plaintiff,
HARRY B. JAMES III, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Judge of Richmond County Probate Court, and AUGUSTA, GEORGIA, Defendants.



         Before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint. (Docs. 30, 35.) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to both motions. (Docs. 33, 37.) Accordingly, Defendants' motions are fully briefed and ripe for review.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This suit involves Plaintiff's termination from her employment with the Richmond County Probate Court. Plaintiff claims that her firing was due to her race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Fourteenth Amendment, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Plaintiff began her tenure at the Richmond County Probate Court as an administrative assistant and eventually became Director of Probate Court. (Am. Compl., Doc. 23, ¶ 20.) On January 1, 2013, Defendant Judge Harry B. James III ("Judge James") was elected Chief Judge of the Richmond County Probate Court. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff claims that upon taking office, Judge James began a pattern of discrimination against his Caucasian employees. (Id. ¶ 33.)

         Plaintiff asserts that Judge James restructured his office to "implement his strongly held racist beliefs, " and Defendant Augusta, Georgia (the "City"), facilitated this process by approving Judge James' "Budget Transfer Request." (Id. ¶ 38, 40, 42.) Within five months of taking office, Judge James allegedly fired or forced two Caucasian employees to quit and subsequently filled both vacancies with African-American employees. (Id. ¶ 33-34.) On July 31, 2013, Judge James announced that the Director of Probate Court position would be eliminated and replaced by a "Chief Clerk." (Id. ¶ 46.) Judge James then selected Felecia Bray, an African-American employee who was allegedly less qualified than Plaintiff, to serve as Chief Clerk. (Id. ¶¶ 46, 51.) Consequently, Plaintiff was demoted to the level of administrative assistant. (Id. ¶ 47.) Judge James assured Plaintiff that her demotion was not due to her work performance and that she had "nothing to fear." (Id. ¶ 55.)

         Judge James also created the position of "Deputy Chief Clerk." (Id. ¶ 44.) On August 3, 2013, Plaintiff submitted an application to serve as Deputy Chief Clerk. (Id. f 58.) However, Joy Daniels, an African-American employee with fewer years of experience than Plaintiff, was selected for the position. (Id. ¶ 62.) On August 22, after learning that she had been passed over for the Deputy Chief Clerk position, Plaintiff met with the director of the City's Equal Employment Office ("EEO") to complain about Judge James' discriminatory conduct.[1] (Id. ¶ 76.)

         Plaintiff claims that Judge James learned about Plaintiff's EEO complaint on or before September 9, 2013, and subsequently began to engage in retaliatory conduct. (Id. ¶ 92.) Despite Judge James' initial insistence that Plaintiff's demotion was not due to her work performance, on September 23, Judge James told the City's Director of Human Resources that Plaintiff was demoted due to her "inability to supervise other staff." (Id. ¶ 101.) On another occasion, Judge James chastised Plaintiff for calling the I.T. Department, which presumably prevented Judge James from accessing the court's calendar. (Id. ¶ 96.) He told Plaintiff "'not to call the Information Technology Department, Human Resources, or anyone else again.7" (Id. ¶ 96.) When Plaintiff defended her actions, Judge James sarcastically responded “[y]eah, nothing makes me madder than to be accused of something not true." (Id. ¶ 100.)

         Judge James also retaliated against Plaintiff by reducing her salary. Despite her demotion, Plaintiff did not see an immediate reduction in salary. (Id. ¶ 88.) After learning about Plaintiff's discrimination charge, however, Judge James asked the City to reduce Plaintiff's pay. (Id. ¶ 93.) On September 30, 2013, the City informed Plaintiff that her pay would be lowered by $15, 000 per year. (Id. ¶ 105.) Furthermore, allegedly at the behest of Judge James, Plaintiff's salary reduction was retroactively applied to begin on September 12, 2013. (Id. ¶ 106.) Accordingly, the City deducted $1, 153 from Plaintiff's next paycheck to offset the difference in salary. (Id. ¶ 105.)

         On November 15, 2013, Plaintiff was called into Judge James' Office, where Ms. Bray and another African-American employee were present. (Id. ¶108.) Judge James scolded Plaintiff for not changing her voicemail to indicate that she was no longer Director of Probate Court. (Id.) In that vein, Judge James told Plaintiff “[o]h, you're going to be a Director alright . . . the Director of Traffic!" (Id. ¶ 109.)

         On January 14, 2014, Judge James issued Plaintiff a written reprimand for not "being a team player, " making improper gender references in court pleadings, and not having a "pleasant demeanor" in the workplace. (Id. ¶ 117.) The next day, during Plaintiff's annual review, Judge James allegedly told Plaintiff she should quit because no one liked her. (Id. ¶ 122.)

         Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination regarding Judge James' conduct with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on November 13, 2013. (Id. ¶ 83.) On March 4, 2014, during a staff meeting with Plaintiff in attendance, Judge James read aloud from Plaintiff's EEOC Charge in front of her colleagues. (Id. ¶ 124.) Judge James then pointed his finger at Plaintiff and said "I don't trust you!" and that "change was going to come real soon." (Id. ¶ 131, 133.) Judge James also announced that staff meetings would be suspended until his office became "more cohesive and trustworthy." (Id. ¶ 134.) After the meeting, Judge James called Lacey Grantham, the only other Caucasian employee at the Richmond County Probate Court, into his office. (Id. ¶ 135.) After speaking with Judge James, Ms. Gratham refused to have' further communication' with Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 136.)

         Plaintiff was terminated on March 17, 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 137, 138.) Plaintiff alleges that she had not engaged in or been punished for any misconduct beyond the written reprimand she received in January. (Id. ¶ 140.) The City conducted Plaintiff's exit interview where she received her termination notice. (Id. ¶ 144.) Plaintiff's termination notice indicated that she was ineligible for rehire at any City department.[2](Id.)

         Plaintiff initiated this action on April 6, 2017. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants engaged in intentional discrimination and retaliation, in violation of Title VII and § 1983. On October 5, 2017, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to amend her complaint over Judge James' ...

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