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Slaughter v. Atkins

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

January 22, 2018

RALPH SLAUGHTER
v.
DALE ATKINS ET AL

          HAYES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          ELIZABETH ERNY FOOTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Res Judicata filed by the Defendants, the Board of Supervisors of Southern University and Agricultural & Mechanical College (“Board”), Tony Clayton (“Clayton”), and Lea Polk Montgomery (“Montgomery”). [Record Document 248]. The Plaintiff, Dr. Ralph Slaughter (“Slaughter”), opposes the motion. [Record Document 253]. For the reasons stated herein, the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Res Judicata is GRANTED. Therefore, Slaughter's remaining claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         BACKGROUND FACTS

         This litigation arises out Plaintiff's previous employment as President of the Southern University System (“Southern”) and the Board's refusal to extend his employment contract. This case has an extensive procedural and factual history with relevant factual events dating back to 2006. The Court will attempt to succinctly set forth the history of the case leading up to this instant ruling.

         A. The 2007 Federal Lawsuit

         Slaughter was appointed President of Southern on April 1, 2006. On May 18, 2007, while President, Slaughter filed a lawsuit in the 19th Judicial District Court, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana against the Board, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, and Board members Dale Atkins (“Atkins”) and John Joseph. [USDC Docket No. 3:07-cv-00379, Middle District of Louisiana, Record Document 1]. In the lawsuit Slaughter alleged that he was illegally retaliated against by the defendants for reporting, protesting, and complaining about sexual harassment in the workplace, and providing testimony and evidence before a federal grand jury, all in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1985, Title IX, Louisiana Revised Statute 23:967, and Louisiana tort law. Id. On May 30, 2007, the defendants removed the case to federal court. Id.

         The original federal case was resolved with the execution of two documents relevant to the current matter: (1) a Settlement Agreement and Authentic Act of Release between the Plaintiff and the Board, and (2) an Employment Contract. [Record Document 248-3, Ex. B; 248-4, Ex. C]. In the Settlement Agreement, Plaintiff agreed to dismiss any and all claims which he had or may have had against the defendants. The Settlement Agreement expressly provided that the original federal lawsuit would be dismissed with prejudice in exchange for the execution of the Employment Contract. [Record Document 248-3, Ex. B ¶ 4]. The Employment Contract provided in relevant part, as follows:

The Board hereby employs Dr. Ralph Slaughter to serve as President of the Southern University System and Secretary to the Board of Supervisors of Southern University . . . This agreement is issued for the fiscal year (July 1 - June 30) commencing July 1, 2007 for a fixed term of two (2) years ending June 30, 2009. This agreement shall expire and terminate on June 30, 2009. Contingent upon a favorable performance review and affirmative act of the Board of Supervisors on or before April 1, 2009, this contract may be extended.

[Record Document 248-4, Ex. C ¶ 1].

         B. The 2009 State and Federal Lawsuits

         Slaughter served an additional two-year term as President of Southern as set forth in the Employment Agreement, and received satisfactory performance reviews. Nevertheless, the Board convened on March 27, 2009, and by a vote of eleven to five, declined to extend Slaughter's employment contract beyond its expiration date of June 30, 2009. Within a week of the Board's decision not to extend his employment contract, Slaughter filed three separate lawsuits against the Board and several of its members in both state and federal court.

         I. State Court Open Meetings Lawsuit

         On April 2, 2009, Slaughter filed suit number 577, 011 in the 19th Judicial District Court, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana (the “Open Meetings lawsuit”) against the Board seeking an injunction and a judgment nullifying the vote taken March 27, 2009 due to alleged violations of the Louisiana Open Meetings Law, La. R.S. 42:13. [Record Document 248-6, Ex. E]. Therein, Slaughter alleged that the Board, through its members, engaged in secret polling and balloting prior to the official vote in violation of La. R.S. 42:4.1 and 42:5. Id.

         ii. State Court Retaliation Lawsuit

         The following day, April 3, 2009, Slaughter filed suit number 577, 092 in the 19th Judicial District Court, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana (the “retaliation lawsuit”) against the Board, alleging that the Board, through its various members, conspired to force him from his position as President because of his prior participation as a whistleblower and witness in the 2007 federal lawsuit, in violation of Louisiana's protections against reprisal, La. R.S. 23:967. [Record Document 248-8, Ex. G]. Slaughter also made claims under Louisiana tort law for intentional infliction of emotional distress and abuse of rights. Id. Slaughter did not name individual members of the Board in this lawsuit. Id.

         In his petition Slaughter alleged that the Board, through the actions of its members, contacted other members and improperly polled and lobbied for sufficient votes to secure his termination. Id. at ¶ 34. During the March 27, 2009 meeting, despite Slaughter's favorable employment evaluations, the Board took several recesses to continue to poll its members and secure votes not to extend Slaughter's employment contract. Id. at ¶ 38. Slaughter alleged that members of the Board were told that the Governor wanted him terminated in an attempt to sway votes. Id. The motion not to extend Slaughter's contract was offered by Board member Pat Magee, allegedly upon the direction of Clayton and Montgomery. Id. at ¶ 39. The motion was carried by a vote of eleven to five. Id. at ¶ 42. Slaughter alleged that the Board had already determined that it would not extend his contract before the vote, as evidenced by a prepared Resolution stating the same. Id. at ¶¶ 40-41.

         Slaughter alleged the following acts by Clayton in support of his state court lawsuit against the Board, although he was not named as a defendant. Throughout 2007, Clayton continued to complain to others about Slaughter naming him in the original 2007 lawsuit and testifying against him. Id. at ¶ 18. In 2008, Clayton met with Johnny Anderson (“Anderson”), another Board member, and agreed to terminate Plaintiff's employment in exchange for Anderson's help in securing votes for Clayton to become Chairman of the Board. Id. at ¶ 19. On November 27, 2008, Board members Clayton, Atkins, and Anderson met at Atkins' residence and decided that they would do everything they could to terminate and remove Plaintiff as President. Id. at ¶ 21. In late 2008, Clayton, as Chairman of the Board, received a “purportedly anonymous” letter accusing Slaughter of illegally having a Southern University employee work for him at his personal residence, despite the employee actually being paid by the private Southern University Foundation. Id. at ¶ 23. When Slaughter requested a copy of the letter, Clayton refused. Id. at ¶ 24. Clayton then wrote to the Louisiana Legislature Auditor's Office requesting an inquiry into the legality of the employee working in Slaughter's home. Id. at ¶ 26. Thereafter, the Board, through Clayton, released Clayton's letter to the media in an effort to paint Slaughter in a false public light and malign his character on the eve of the meeting concerning the extension of his employment contract. Id. at ¶ 28. In connection with the media release, a news outlet filmed and televised one of Slaughter's children. Id. at ¶ 28. Slaughter alleges that the release of the letter to the media was in retaliation for his prior participation in the 2007 federal lawsuit. Id. at ¶ 30.

         Slaughter alleged that during a fundraiser for a local judicial candidate, Clayton and Board member Pat Magee openly discussed how to remove Slaughter from his post. Id. at ¶ 33. Prior to the Board meeting held on March 27, 2009, Clayton and Anderson met at the home of “DW” to discuss their plans to remove Plaintiff as President. Id. at ¶ 35.[1] At the meeting Clayton and Anderson also determined how the search process for a new President would be handled, and identified who would be named to the search committee. Id.

         Slaughter further alleged that on March 20, 2009, within 10 days of the March 27, 2009 meeting, Clayton improperly added Agenda Item 5C regarding Slaughter's continued employment beyond June 30, 2009, without proper notice to Slaughter. Id. at ¶ 36. Clayton requested that Slaughter be the one to call the vote on Agenda Item 5C. Id. at ¶ 42. After the vote, Clayton announced that the motion passed and then immediately announced the members of the search committee for a new President, which Plaintiff believes to be the same individuals decided upon at the meeting at the home of “DW.” Id. at ¶ 43. Following the vote, Clayton issued an email to the Board stating that he would advise Slaughter that he was no longer authorized to bind the university in a contract for the remainder of his term as President. Id. at ¶ 46. On March 30, 2009, Clayton sent an email to the Board urging them to stop “airing all of this on the SU WEB site” (Southern University's website). Id. at ¶ 49. Clayton sent the email because he had become aware from a news story that Slaughter intended to pursue litigation based on the Board's decision not to extend his contract. Id. Later that same day, Clayton sent an email to the Board stating that Slaughter would not be placed on paid administrative leave. Id. at ¶ 50. Instead, the Board would discuss the selection of an interim President on or before June 2009, with the understanding that the individual would not assume duties as interim President until July 1, 2009, the day after Slaughter's term would expire. Id.

         Plaintiff made the following factual allegations against Montgomery in support of his state court claims against the Board, although she was not named as a defendant. In early 2009, Montgomery stated in front of Board members Clayton and Taylor that the Board needed to “get rid of Petitioner” and that “we should've gotten rid of him last time.” Id. at ¶ 32. Montgomery also complained to other Board members that Slaughter refused to begin an investigation into “Ag Center” Chancellor Leodrey Williams, allegedly because Williams refused to hire a friend of Montgomery. Id. Montgomery also “angrily confronted” Slaughter and demanded to know what he knew about an alleged argument that occurred between Montgomery's husband and another female at the Country Club of Louisiana. Id. Montgomery also allegedly told another Board member that she wanted Slaughter terminated because he allegedly reported to state officials that she was improperly appointed to represent the New Orleans Congressional District on the Board, yet she lived full-time in Baton Rouge. Id. Immediately after the March 27, 2009 vote not to extend Slaughter's contract, Montgomery sent emails to the Board stating that all contractual arrangements on behalf of Southern would require at least two signatures, not just that of Slaughter. Id. at ¶ 45. On March 30, 2009, Montgomery sent an email to her fellow Board members stating that the announcement of the search committee was not in compliance with Board procedure, and urged the Board to clear up the situation as soon as possible. Id. at ¶ 48.

         Slaughter also filed two amendments to his original complaint in case 577, 092 (the retaliation lawsuit): a “Supplemental, Amending, and Restated Petition” and “Second Supplemental, Amending, and Restated Petition.” The amendments included additional information to bolster Slaughter's claim under La. R.S. 23:967, Louisiana's whistleblower protection statute. Therein, Slaughter provided additional details regarding his protected activity surrounding his 2007 lawsuit. [Record Document 248-14 at ¶ 52a]. Slaughter also alleged that after the 2007 lawsuit settled, the Board, through its members, harassed, terminated, and publicly ridiculed him because of his prior participation in the 2007 lawsuit. [Record Document 248-14 at ¶ 17a]. Slaughter claims that Clayton told Joseph Shelton and Cedric Upshaw that Slaughter would be fired because of his prior whistleblowing. Id. at ¶ 18a.

         Slaughter also provided additional examples of whistleblowing activity that occurred after his 2007 lawsuit in support his claim of reprisal in violation of La. R.S. 23:967. [Record Document 248-13 and 248-14]. These additional allegations are not contained in the 2009 federal lawsuit. Slaughter claimed that as President he received information that former Athletic Director Earl Hill (“Hill”) was fraudulently charging the school for hours he did not work. Id. at ¶ 18c. However, when Slaughter proceeded to terminate Hill, Board members Clayton and Anderson intervened, stating that Hill was “untouchable” and ordered Slaughter to take no action. Id. at ΒΆ 18d. Slaughter states that after he was terminated Hill boasted that Slaughter had been terminated by his friends on ...


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