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Layton v. State

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

December 11, 2017

THELMA LAYTON
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. deGRAVELLES, JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court is Defendant the State of Louisiana's Motion for Summary Judgment. (“Motion, ” Doc. 71). Plaintiff Thelma Layton has filed an Opposition, (Doc. 75), and Defendant has filed a Reply in further support of the Motion. (Doc. 78).

         The Court has reviewed the briefing and is prepared to rule. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff started working at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana (“Angola”) in October 2009. (Doc. 71-4 at 9). As part of working at Angola, Plaintiff agreed to work any post or shift to which she was assigned. (Doc. 71-22 at 2).

         While she was working at Angola, Plaintiff was assigned to staff various dorms. (Doc. 71-4 at 13-14). She was frequently staffed to a dorm while Major Willie Thomas was doing rounds; if Thomas came to her dorm while doing rounds by himself, which he did at least three times a week, he would often comment that he was “doing without.” (Doc. 71-4 at 12-16). Although he never “c[a]me right out” and said so, Plaintiff ultimately came to believe that Thomas was referencing “doing without” sex because on one occasion Thomas also said that Plaintiff's husband “must not care for [her]” but Thomas “like[d] watching [her] ass.” (Doc. 71-4 at 13, 16-17).

         Additionally, on one occasion, Plaintiff asked to be relieved of some aspects of performing rounds because she was injured, and Thomas responded, “I'm still doing without, and if you don't like it, quit.” (Doc. 71-4 at 20-21). During her deposition, Plaintiff confirmed that these were Thomas's only allegedly harassing statements. (Doc. 71-4 at 22). In an affidavit, Thomas contends that “doing without” referred to “doing without a raise and doing without money” as a state employee; he makes this statement to “just about everyone” who asks how he is, including men and women; and he did not make any statements about Plaintiff's “ass.” (Doc. 71-8 at 2).

         At her deposition, Plaintiff stated that Thomas's comments began around January 2012, but she did not recall the date of the comment about her “ass.” (Doc. 71-4 at 16-18). Thomas made the comment about quitting in January 2013. (Doc. 71-4 at 21). According to Plaintiff, Thomas did not make these comments in the presence of other officers and may not have made them loudly enough that inmates could hear. (Doc. 71-4 at 18-19, 22). Plaintiff never told Thomas not to make the comments. (Doc. 71-4 at 22-23). She also initially did not say anything to anyone about the comments because she feared losing her job. (Doc. 71-4 at 23).

         Plaintiff filed a complaint about Thomas's comments with Angola's human resources department on June 13, 2013. (Doc. 71-4 at 23-24). She spoke with a human resources representative and an investigator and wrote a statement. (Doc. 71-4 at 24-25). On or about June 27, 2013, Plaintiff was reassigned to the “west yard” for about a day, then to Camp D, an “out camp.” (Doc. 71-4 at 26, 29-31; Doc. 71-15 at 2). When she called to ask about her reassignments, she was told that she was “fixing to be permanently moved to an out camp.” (Doc. 71-4 at 26). She also called her immediate supervisor, but, because he was unavailable, she spoke to Warden Kevin Benjamin, the next supervisor up the hierarchy, about the reassignments. (Doc. 71-4 at 26-27). Benjamin told her that the prison was “through with [the] mess” of having Thomas and Plaintiff work together. (Doc. 71-4 at 26-27). Plaintiff also believes that Benjamin wanted her to be reassigned, as he told Plaintiff that she “shouldn't have even gone to human resources to report anything without reporting it to him first, ” even though Plaintiff had tried to reach him earlier by leaving daily messages with his secretary. (Doc. 71-4 at 32-34). In an affidavit, Benjamin claims that he was not involved in the reassignment decision. (Doc. 71-7 at 1). A letter discussing the reassignment to Camp D says that it occurred “to better utilize existing personnel.” (Doc. 71-15 at 2).

         A human resources representative told Plaintiff that the assignment to Camp D should not matter if it was the “same kind of work, ” but Plaintiff claimed that working at Camp D was a “dangerous environment” where “murder has gone down, ” and that she was writing up “21's, ” which are assessed when a prisoner masturbates in front of a guard, “all day long.” (Doc. 71-4 at 27-29). Plaintiff did not receive reduced pay or rank as a result of her reassignment, and she testified that, aside from more frequent “wolf whistles” and writing up prisoners for masturbating, her job duties were the same. (Doc. 71-4 at 36-38).

         At some point, Plaintiff asked to be reassigned to the main prison, and she was reassigned there on a shift opposite Thomas's in August 2013. (Doc. 71-4 at 29, 31-32, 40-41). Benjamin's affidavit claims that he was not involved in this decision either. (Doc. 71-7 at 1). A letter discussing the reassignment says that it occurred “to better utilize existing personnel.” (Doc. 71-16 at 2).

         Plaintiff claims that, following the reassignment back to the main prison, Benjamin “treated [her] differently, ” calling her into his office for “this or that” without a good reason and trying to embarrass her “in front of everybody.” (Doc. 71-4 at 42-46). During her deposition, Plaintiff clarified that her claims regarding Benjamin's conduct involved three different incidents, the first of which was the previously-described exchange between Plaintiff and Benjamin concerning Plaintiff's reassignment to Camp D. (Doc. 71-4 at 51).

         In Plaintiff's second run-in with Benjamin, she and another officer accidentally took each other's jackets and Benjamin called Plaintiff into his office to discuss various papers that had been discovered in Plaintiff's jacket. (Doc. 71-4 at 44-49). Plaintiff believes that Benjamin asked about the papers because he thought that Plaintiff might be corresponding with an inmate. (Doc. 71-4 at 50). Benjamin's affidavit confirms that “standard procedure is to investigate [paper with phone numbers], ” but if an officer can show that the numbers do not belong to an inmate and justify why the officer has them, the officer will not be disciplined. (Doc. 71-7 at 2). During that incident, Plaintiff asked Benjamin why he was always particularly “hard on [Plaintiff], ” and he was unable to answer. (Doc. 71-4 at 49-50).

         During the third incident, which occurred in October 2014, Plaintiff was smoking outside the kitchen and, according to Plaintiff, she handed a cigarette butt to an inmate, intending that the inmate would throw it away. (Doc. 71-4 at 52-53). Shortly afterward, Plaintiff heard a “big commotion” about how she had given an inmate contraband. (Doc. 71-4 at 54). Plaintiff went to Sergeant Danielle Daigle's office and said that Plaintiff “do[es]n't do” contraband. (Doc. 71-4 at 54-55). Daigle “started hooting and hollering and screaming about, you're out of here, you're out of here.” (Doc. 71-4 at 55). Plaintiff asked what Daigle meant, and Daigle walked over to Plaintiff and “pushed on” Plaintiff. (Doc. 71-4 at 55). Plaintiff pushed Daigle's hand off her shoulder, and Daigle said that she would tell a supervisor, Major Hooker, that Plaintiff pushed her. (Doc. 71-4 at 55). According to an employee statement and later affidavit by Daigle, she saw Plaintiff “smile[]” at an inmate and “slip[]” what appeared to be a cigarette into his hand, and, after Daigle reported to a lieutenant that Plaintiff gave “something” to an inmate, Plaintiff confronted Daigle, “pointed [her] finger in [Daigle's] face” and “yell[ed]” that Daigle had reported that Plaintiff was giving inmates contraband. (Doc. 71-9 at 2; Doc. 71-19 at 2-3). Daigle further reported that Plaintiff pushed her, and Daigle “brushed” or “pushed” her hand off. (Doc. 71-9 at 2; Doc. 71-19 at 3).

         Hooker and a colonel walked in shortly afterward, and the colonel said “get out, get out, get out, just get your stuff and go.” (Doc. 71-4 at 55-56). Plaintiff went to Hooker's office and wrote a statement, which Hooker sent to Benjamin. (Doc. 71-4 at 56). Benjamin sent for Plaintiff and said that he did not have a problem with her giving an inmate a cigarette, because “we give them cigarettes anyway, ” but Plaintiff should not try to get anyone in the kitchen to be a witness for her. (Doc. 71-4 at 56, 73-74).

         Later on the same day, Plaintiff went to human resources, where Benjamin was present; Benjamin told her that he was sending her home because she had caused such a “big commotion, ” and that she should come back with her “lawyer and a witness.” (Doc. 71-4 at 57). According to Plaintiff, while she was out shopping that day, she encountered Sergeant Bernice Cavalier, a witness to the incident, and Cavalier said that “they tried everything in their power to turn [Cavalier] against [Plaintiff] today.” (Doc. 71-4 at 57). According to Plaintiff's account, Cavalier agreed to act as Plaintiff's witness. (Doc. 71-4 at 58). An employee statement and later affidavit by Cavalier, however, stated that Plaintiff told Cavalier that she had given a cigarette to an inmate to hold and Daigle had reported it. (Doc. 71-10 at 1; Doc. 71-17 at 2). According to Cavalier's account, Daigle and Plaintiff were pointing at each other during the confrontation; Cavalier turned away and, when she turned back, she saw Daigle “fall back.” (Doc. 71-10 at 1-2; Doc. 71-17 at 2). It appeared to Cavalier that Plaintiff had pushed Daigle, although she did not witness the push. (Doc. 71-10 at 1-2; Doc. 71-17 at 2).

         Plaintiff was written up and fired for giving an inmate a cigarette and pushing Daigle. (Doc. 71-4 at 61). According to an affidavit by Major Michele Piazza, then Plaintiff's direct supervisor, Piazza received reports that Plaintiff had given an inmate “something” and had pushed Daigle “after getting in Daigle's face, ” and Piazza issued the Rule Violation Report associated with the incident. (Doc. 71-12 at 1-2; see also Doc. 71-13 at 2 (Rule Violation Report bearing Piazza's signature and alleging violations of rules concerning “Malfeasance Aggravated” and “Unauthorized Activities with Offenders”)). Benjamin signed the Rule Violation Report as the “Review Officer” and recommended termination. (Doc. 71-4 at 61; see also Doc. 71-13 at 2). Benjamin's affidavit states that giving a cigarette to an inmate and pushing another officer are both very serious offenses, and that Benjamin believed that termination was the proper course of action “[w]ith the violations all occurring practically at once.” (Doc. 71-7 at 2).

         Plaintiff appealed and obtained a “second level hearing” with another warden, who upheld the termination and said that he would “get on” Daigle for “entertaining” Plaintiff. (Doc. 71-4 at 61-62). Plaintiff appealed the termination further, but she was unsuccessful. (Doc. 71-4 at 62-63).

         Plaintiff believes that she was terminated because she filed a sexual harassment complaint against Thomas, and Thomas and Benjamin were “real good friends.” (Doc. 71-4 at 63). Plaintiff also claimed at her deposition that she was fired for a single violation while others with ...


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