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Lundy v. City of Guyton

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

December 17, 2019

KELPHIE K. LUNDY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF GUYTON, GEORGIA, a Municipal Corporation; JEFFREY LARISCY, Individually and in his capacity as Mayor; LAUREE MORRIS, Individually and in her capacity as City Clerk and interim City Manager; STEPHEN COLLINS, Individually and in his capacity as City Council Member; Defendants.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendants the City of Guyton, Georgia (the "City"), Jeffrey Lariscy, individually and in his official capacity as Mayor, Lauree Morris, individually and in her capacity as City Clerk and Interim City Manager, and Stephen Collins', individually and in his capacity as City Council Member, Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 24.) For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 24) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         I. PLAINTIFF'S WORK HISTORY

         In his complaint, Plaintiff Kelphie K. Lundy claims that he was discriminated against and terminated due to his race. (See Doc. 1.) Plaintiff, an African American male, left the Statesboro Police Department and began working for the City as Director of Public Safety ("DPS") in March 2015. (Doc. 24, Attach. 1 at ¶ 9; Doc. 27 at 4.) As part of the hiring process, Plaintiff was interviewed by a board that included Robert Black, the then City Manager, Sheriff Jim McDuffie, and the then Fire Chief Phillip School. (Doc. 24, Attach. 1 at ¶ 10; Doc. 27 at 4.) As DPS, Plaintiff's duties included overseeing both the City's Police Department and the Fire Department, their finances, officers, and work hours. (Doc. 24, Attach. 1 at ¶ 13; Doc. 27 at 4.) Plaintiff attended some meetings with the Fire Department, but not all. (Id.) During Plaintiff's tenure as DPS, the then Fire Chief David Starling, a Caucasian male, was terminated and Plaintiff felt that he was not permitted to conduct the hiring process to fill the vacancy. (Doc. 24, Attach. 1 at ¶ 17-18; Doc. 2 7 at 5. } However, Plaintiff was not explicitly instructed not to hire a Fire Chief.[1] (Doc. 25 at 78.)

         On March 4, 2016, Plaintiff received a written reprimand from former City Manager, Robert Black. (Doc. 27, Attach. 4 at 1.) Plaintiff was reprimanded for "lack of professional tone in text messages and emails to other city employees (Oct 2015)," "violation of City of Guyton Personnel Policy in recruiting and hiring of employees," "failure to document (either verbal or in writing) inappropriate actions involving subordinates" surrounding excessive speed of personnel in a patrol car, and the "resignation of Larry Kirkland." (Id.) The written reprimand stated that the supervisor would "continue to monitor performance related to the issues above" and "provide training and/or redirection if needed." (Id.) Plaintiff was not provided any training or further evaluation on the issues listed in the March 2016 reprimand. (Doc. 27, Attach. 19 at 131.)

         Defendant Morris served as the Interim City Manager and then the City Manager from September 2016 until July 2018. (Doc. 24, Attach. 4 at ¶ 2 .) On October 3, 2016, Plaintiff issued a written reprimand to Stacy Strickland, a Caucasian male, regarding mishandling of evidence. (Doc. 27, Attach. 19 at 63-64.) The following day, Strickland sent a complaint to Defendant Morris complaining of a hostile work environment under Plaintiff. (Id. at 64.) Additional complaints of hostile work environment against Plaintiff were submitted by Strickland and Officer Marston on October 11, 2016. (Id.) Defendant Morris originally believed that the claims of hostile work environment could have been motivated in retaliation for legitimate disciplinary action, however, after viewing how others were treated for like circumstances and like violations, she felt that the hostile work environment complaints were not made in retaliation. (Id. at 65.) During the investigation of the hostile work environment complaints, Defendant Morris spoke with Strickland, Marson, Officer Hartwell, and a former employee, Faith Hogan. (Id. at 60.) Defendant Morris did not interview or speak with Plaintiff about the complaints. (Id. at 61.)

         On October 25, 2016, Defendant Morris issued a Letter of Documentation/Written Reprimand to Plaintiff. (Doc. 25 at 141-43.) The written reprimand stated that (1) Plaintiff s conduct continued to be inappropriate by violations of the Police Chief Position Classification Plan and/or the City's personnel policy; (2) Plaintiff failed to perform duties according to the Guyton Police Department Standard Operating Procedures regarding respect to fellow employees, nondisclosure, and being away without official leave; and (3) Plaintiff violated the Guyton Personnel Policy by violating the equal employment opportunity policy (illegal harassment and retaliation) and failure to follow the hiring process. (Id.) Additionally, the reprimand found that Chief of Police duties were being violated to wit: (1) failure to inform of substantial public safety activities in timely manner; (2) failure to ensure subordinates abide by city policies with tobacco use; (3) failure to maintain adequate Police/Fire Department workforce by failing to ensure adequate personnel coverage when the fire chief was placed on administrative leave and failing to ensure adequate "street" coverage when police staff were placed on light duty; (4) failure to support department and its members by not being supportive of subordinates and their responsibilities; (5) failure to fulfill duties requested by City Manager, Mayor/Council and failure to respond to inquiries; (6) discussed non-public city matters with citizens; (7) failure to manage subordinates properly by discussing employees with other employees; (8) failure to display an attitude of cooperation by being disrespectful to subordinates when they are off and/or not available, revising the work schedule, and issuing orders in an unprofessional or not civil tone; (9) harassment of subordinates; (10) failure to manage or grow Police/Fire Department; (11) failure to respond to mandatory call-outs in that subordinates and dispatch could not reach Plaintiff; and (12) failure in Plaintiff's fiduciary capacity by not managing the budget, failing to adhere to the budget, and altering employee time/work scheduled to avoid crediting employees with overtime or call-back hours. (Id. at 142-43.)

         Although Plaintiff testified in his deposition that subordinates could always reach him by his cell phone, Defendant Morris testified that Plaintiff's employees told her that they had trouble reaching him and Defendant Morris herself had difficulty reaching him and that, when he did respond to text messages, his responses would be rude and unprofessional. (Doc. 24, Attach. 4 at ¶¶ 3-5.) One neglect of duty issue occurred in relation to Plaintiff's conduct during Hurricane Matthew. Plaintiff stated that he and his officers met together and that, while he could not recall what they decided to do, the general plan was to stay in Savannah. (Doc. 25 at 46-47.) Plaintiff admits that he was in Metter, Georgia when Hurricane Matthew hit but that he was not on duty at the time and was in Metter to buy lanterns to have at the Police Department. (Id. at 47.) Additionally, Plaintiff did not attend the hurricane "prep day," a mandatory meeting for all essential personnel. (Doc. 24, Attach. 4 at ¶ 8-9.) In regards to the budget issue, Plaintiff was authorized to use the City-issued credit card to purchase uniform shirts in the amount of $40 but chose to also have the shirts tailored which cost an additional amount. (Id. at ¶ 16.) The additional amount, around $30, was not an approved expense. (Id.)

         Plaintiff disagreed with the written reprimand and sent a letter of appeal to Defendant Morris and the Mayor and Council on November 4, 2016. (Doc. 27, Attach. 10 at 1.) Plaintiff denied all alleged wrongdoing outlined in the written reprimand and requested an official investigation be conducted by outside law enforcement. (Id.) In response, Defendant Morris informed Plaintiff that the appeal had been received and requested Plaintiff "clearly state the specific relief you are seeking." (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff claims that the City failed to provide him with an unbiased, external investigation as it did for other employees. (Doc. 27 at 9.) Specifically, Plaintiff claims that the City provided other similarly situated Caucasian employees with the external investigation including former PDS Randy Alexander, who Plaintiff contends was accused of policy violations similar to Plaintiff, and former Fire Chief Gary Jarriel, who was alleged to have violated policy. (Id. at 9-10.)

         Plaintiff was issued a letter of reprimand on February 14, 2017 in which Defendant Lariscy, as Mayor, outlined numerous issues that Plaintiff had committed. (Doc. 25 at 144-145.) The letter stated that Plaintiff failed to provide support to the Fire Department in that Plaintiff did not communicate with the former Fire Chief or the interim Fire Chief and Plaintiff failed to respond to a letter of reinstatement for a former firefighter from the Interim Fire Chief and Assistant Fire Chief. (Id.) Defendant Lariscy identified an issue with Plaintiff's performance as DPS in that, to his knowledge, Plaintiff did not complete his fire certification training, would seldom attend fire department meetings, generally failed to support the fire department, and failed to respond to a request to reinstate a firefighter. (Doc. 27, Attach. 19 at 11-15.) The letter again mentioned the issues with employees, dispatch, and City employees being unable to reach Plaintiff and Plaintiff failing to return phone calls and the hostile work environment claims. (Doc. 25 at 144-45.)

         Additionally, the letter identified two other areas where Plaintiff failed in his duties. First, the letter stated that Plaintiff requested and received additional funds to pay for a new patrol car and Plaintiff was directed to order the car in August but that, at the time of the reprimand in mid- February, the car was still not in service. (Id. at 145.) Second, Plaintiff had allowed the computer program that was "vital for the performance of police department operations" to expire without putting measures into place to ensure the continuation of operations. (Id.) Defendant Lariscy became aware that the computer software program that the Police Department used for recordkeeping was not working and, after discussing the issue with the software's salesperson, learned that the software was current but not installed with the proper license and that the cost would be $800, not the estimated $9, 000 for an upgrade. (Doc. 27, Attach. 19 at 18-20.) Defendant Lariscy believed that Plaintiff should have caught the issue as he was the head of the department and managed the budget. (Id. at 20; Doc. 24, Attach. 3 at ¶ 29.) Another incident involved the scheduling of Stacy Strickland, who was at the time a captain in the Police Department. Plaintiff would leave Strickland, who was on light duty work restrictions, as the only officer on duty which would result in Strickland responding to calls in violation of his work restrictions. (Doc. 24, Attach. 4 at ¶ 18-19; Doc. 24, Attach. 3 at ¶¶ 31-34; Doc. 27, Attach. 19 at 15-16.)

         At the conclusion of the letter, Plaintiff was notified that the City intended to terminate his employment or he may resign in lieu of termination. (Doc. 25 at 145.) Plaintiff did not resign and was notified by letter from Defendant Lariscy dated February 16, 2017 that Defendant Lariscy was recommending to the Council that Plaintiff's employment be terminated. (Id. at 146.) A termination appeal hearing was conducted on March 9, 2017. (Doc. 24, Attach. 3 at ¶ 40.) A termination decision can be overturned if three councilmembers voted to overturn it, however, at the time of Plaintiff's appeal, there were only three filled councilmember seats and, therefore, all three would need to vote to overturn the decision. (Id. at ¶¶ 41-42; Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 63-64.) Plaintiff s termination was ultimately upheld by the Council as Defendant Collins voted to uphold the termination decision. (Doc. 24, Attach. 5 at ¶ 8.)

         II. COM ...


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