United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
LATIYA T. SMITH
FLORIDA PARISHES JUVENILE JUSTICE COMMISSION ET AL.
ORDER ON MOTIONS
C. WILKINSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an employment discrimination action brought by Latiya T.
Smith, an African-American woman, against her former
employer, the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center (the
“Center”) and the Florida Parishes Juvenile
Justice Commission (the “Commission”)
(collectively “Florida Parishes”). Smith brings
claims for race and sex discrimination and constructive
discharge under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5, and the
Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law, La. Rev. Stat.
§ 23:332, and for interference with and retaliation for
exercising her medical leave rights under the Family Medical
Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2611.
Complaint, Record Doc. No. 1. This matter was referred to a
United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings and entry
of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) upon
written consent of all parties. Record Doc. No. 12.
Parishes filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that
Smith cannot make out a prima facie case of any of her
discrimination or constructive discharge claims or show any
interference with or retaliation for exercising her FMLA
rights. Alternatively, Florida Parishes argues that, if
plaintiff can make out a prima facie case of any of her
claims, she has no evidence to rebut Florida Parishes'
legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory reasons for
its actions. The motion is supported by two declarations
under penalty of perjury, verified documents from
plaintiff's personnel file, her answers to
interrogatories and a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts.
Record Doc. No. 16. Smith filed a timely memorandum in
opposition, supported by her own declaration under penalty of
perjury, her charge of discrimination filed with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and a
response to defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material
Facts. Record Doc. No. 24. Four other declarations under
penalty of perjury and other exhibits that she submitted are
largely or entirely irrelevant to the issues in this case.
considered the complaint, the record, the submissions of the
parties and the applicable law, IT IS ORDERED that the motion
is GRANTED for the following reasons.
THE UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS
competent evidence establishes the following material facts,
which are accepted as undisputed for purposes of
defendants' summary judgment motion. The Commission
operates the Center, which is a juvenile detention facility.
Smith began working at the Center in 2008 and was an
Assistant Shift Supervisor from 2011 until she resigned on
March 22, 2015.
October 21, 2014, Russell Sanders, the Center's Director
of Operations, received an anonymous letter alleging that
Smith had engaged in various misconduct, including sending
“emails and videos (sexual content)” by email or
over the internet “from Ms. Smith's charter
account.” Defendants' Exh. A-2, anonymous letter at
p. 2. When Sanders investigated the letter's allegations,
“a pornographic slideshow and video recordings were
discovered on the Center's server that Ms. Smith had
taken and sent to others on her work phone and through her
work e-mail, and at least one such instance was recorded and
sent while Ms. Smith was on duty at the Center.”
Defendants' Exh. A, declaration under penalty of perjury
of Russell Sanders at ¶ 8; Defendants' Exh. C,
declaration under penalty of perjury of Joseph Dominick, the
Center's Facility Manager and Director of Female
Services, at ¶ 12.
and Dominick consulted with the Center's management
group, Executive Director Tom Jarlock and Director of
Administration Steven Happel, about the images on the server.
All four directors agreed that “Smith's egregious
violations of the Center's rules of conduct and ethics
warranted her termination.” Defendants' Exh. A at
¶ 38; Defendants' Exh. C at ¶ 15.
and Dominick confronted Smith on October 23, 2014 about the
images. She admitted that she had used her work-issued cell
phone and/or personal e-mail to send the images and videos in
2011, including on one day when she was working. She did not
know that the images would appear or remain on the
Center's server. Defendants' Exh.
Employee Rule Violation Report dated October 23, 2014. Smith
confirmed these admissions in her declaration under penalty
of perjury submitted in opposition to defendants' summary
judgment motion. Plaintiff's Exh. 10, declaration under
penalty of perjury of Latiya Smith at ¶¶ 19, 21-22.
and Dominick urged Smith to resign on October 23, 2014 to
avoid being terminated, but she refused and opted to use the
Center's disciplinary program. Sanders issued an Employee
Rule Violation Report that day, charging Smith with
aggravated malfeasance and general misconduct, specifically
for using her Florida Parishes e-mail account to send the
“pornographic slideshow, pornographic videos, and
numerous pornographic images to her personal e-mail and to
two other recipients” on several occasions.
Defendants' Exh. A-6 at pp. 1, 3. Sanders recommended
termination. Id. at p. 3.
various allegations that the images were discovered during a
search of the server conducted for a different reason
unrelated to her claims in this case (which, ironically, if
true, negates any claim that race- or sex-based animus
motivated the search); that she was taking a break when she
recorded a video at her workplace; and that defendants'
policies in 2011 did not prohibit personal use of a
work-issued cell phone are not material fact
disputes. The relevant and undisputed facts are that the
images were discovered on the server, Smith admitted making
and sending them, and her disciplinary charge was based on
sending pornography, not personal use of a cell phone.
Smith refused to resign, the upper management group decided
that they had to protect the Center's network from her,
so they took away her work cell phone and suspended her
access to the Center's network. Without such access,
Smith was required to work alongside her supervisor, but
otherwise continued her regular duties. Defendants' Exh.
A at ¶¶ 39-41; Defendants' Exh. C at
that point forward, the upper management group “thought
it best that contact between us and Ms. Smith should be kept
to a minimum to avoid confrontation and minimize
unpleasantness at work. Ms. Smith continued to work as usual
with her supervisors, ” and she was not demoted or
given tasks below her position. Defendants state that
“[i]t was awkward when contact between [Sanders,
Dominick or other members of] the management group
occurred.” Defendants' Exh. A at ¶¶
42-44; Defendants' Exh. C at ¶¶ 31-33.
left work and applied for FMLA leave on October 31, 2014. She
submitted a certification form to defendants on November 19,
2014, certifying that she had a health condition warranting
medical leave. Defendants initially sought a second medical
opinion, but withdrew their request and granted
plaintiff's request for FMLA leave. The evidence does not
contain the dates of these events, but plaintiff's
complaint states that the Center requested a second opinion
on Friday, November 21 and withdrew its request and approved
her leave on December 1, 2014, the Monday after the
Thanksgiving holiday. The decision to seek a second opinion
did not delay Smith's leave in any way. She returned to
work on January 8, 2015 and continued to perform her regular
job duties without any demotion, loss of pay or reassignment
until she resigned.
hoc disciplinary review committee met with Smith and her
attorney to consider the Employee Rule Violation Report on
January 14, 2015. The committee decided that plaintiff's
conduct documented in the report did not conform to the
Center's mission, but that termination was not
appropriate because of the long passage of time since the
pornographic images entered the Center's server. The
committee instead issued a “Job at Risk letter, ”
stating that Smith would face termination if similar or
greater misconduct occurred within one year. Defendants'
Exh. A at ¶ 53; Defendants' Exh. A-9, letter dated
February 9, 2015. The committee ordered that plaintiff's
cell phone and network access be restored the next work day,
which was done.
to Sanders and Dominick, the management group members
“were disappointed by the ad hoc committee's
decision, because we thought Ms. Smith should have been
fired, but we continued to minimize unpleasantness by
avoiding direct contact with her in this admittedly awkward
situation.” Defendants' Exh. A at ¶ 55;
Defendants' Exh. C at ¶ 42. Smith argues that a
disputed issue of material fact exists whether her work
environment in which her upper level managers avoided her was
merely “awkward, ” as defendants assert, or was
actually “hostile or toxic, ” as she alleges. Her
only evidence in support of this argument is her declaration
under penalty of perjury in her EEOC charge that, after she
returned to work from FMLA leave on January 8, 2015:
“Upper management would not speak to me. If I would
enter a room, Mr. Sanders would leave. This treatment of
exclusion went on for weeks.” Plaintiff's Exh. 14,
EEOC charge filed on September 16, 2015 at p. 2. This
statement reiterates the facts that Sanders and Dominick have
March 12, 2015, Smith gave defendants two weeks notice of her
resignation. Her last day of work was March 22, 2015.
Legal Standards for Summary Judgment Motion
party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim
or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which
summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary
judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
56, as revised effective December 1, 2010, establishes new