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Tims v. City of Monroe

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

March 26, 2018

LEONARD TIMS
v.
CITY OF MONROE AND JAMES MAYO

          KAREN L. HAYES Judge.

          RULING

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is an employment civil rights action filed by Plaintiff Leonard Tims (“Tims”) against Defendants City of Monroe (“the City”) and James Mayo (“Mayo”). Tims contends that his employment was terminated in violation of his First Amendment and Due Process rights because of his union activity and support for Mayo's opponent for mayor. Defendants contend that Tims was lawfully terminated for insubordination.

         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 19] filed by Defendants. For the following reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Tims, who has a bachelor's degree in political science and master's degree in public administration, first worked for the City between 1992 and 1996 as an EEOC compliance officer. In October 2013, he was again hired by the City, at Mayo's request, as the City's Beautification Supervisor. In this capacity, he supervised five crews of three to seven persons who used equipment, such as bushhogs, large tractors, riding lawnmowers, weed-eaters and chain saws, to cut trees, grass, and bushes on City property and to maintain City rights of way and Interstate land within the City limits.

         Tims became a member of the Local 2388 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (“the Union”) on May 15, 2014. The Union and City have entered into a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”), which covers Tims' employment. Shortly after joining the Union, Tims became a member of the Executive Board. Neither Mayo nor any other City official ever told Tims not to join the Union, not to attend Union meetings, not to make statements in Union meetings, not to participate in Union activities, or to quit the Union.

         In 2016, Mayo was up for re-election. Tims and the Union supported Mayo's opponent, Dr. Ray Armstrong (“Armstrong”). During the campaign, Tims wore hats and shirts and held signs in support of Armstrong. Mayo and Janway saw Tims on the news and in the newspaper in support of Armstrong. Assistant City Attorney Angie Baldwin (“Baldwin”) was also aware of Tims' support of Armstrong and recalled seeing him on Armstrong's Facebook page.

         In the fall of 2015, a candidates' forum was held. Both Mayo and Armstrong participated. Tims and other Armstrong supporters were standing in the back of the room. At the podium, Mayo made a comment about the Armstrong supporters. According to his then-challenger, Armstrong, Mayo stated that “I am surprised to see you people here, ” and, again, according to Armstrong, said to Tims, “especially those that I give jobs to.”[1] [Doc. No. 26, Exh. 8, p. 12]. Tims recalls that he was the only employee there whom Mayo had given a job.[2]However, neither Mayo nor Janway ever directly threatened Tims, told him not to wear Armstrong shirts or hats, stopped him from donating funds to Armstrong's campaign, or mentioned anything about campaigning at all.

         Prior to January 2016, Tims had no disciplinary actions in his personnel file.

         On January 22, 2016, Tims failed to punch or clock out of work when he attended a criminal court proceeding against the Union vice-president, Mike Caster (“Caster”), who was charged with assaulting a non-Union member during a meeting. Tims had not been subpoenaed, and the Union was not involved in the proceeding, but Tims considered this Union business. Hopkins issued a written warning to him for his failure to clock out and get permission to attend the proceeding.

         On January 26, 2016, Tims donated $1, 000.00 to Armstrong's campaign. Tims was the only Union member to donate to the campaign. Hopkins and Janway had a conversation in which Janway stated that Tims had donated to the campaign.

         According to Caster, during a televised city council meeting prior to the election, Mayo was engaged in a “heated” discussion over people who received money from Armstrong's campaign and people who donated money to Armstrong's campaign. Again, according to Caster, Mayo mentioned Tims as a person who donated to Armstrong's campaign.

         Mayo was re-elected as Mayor in March 2016.

         That same month, Janway chastised Tims for failing to notify a landowner before removing an old, large oak from the City's right-of-way. Tims was not written up or otherwise disciplined for the incident. Around this same time, Janway advised Tims that his crews should complete cutting and removal of trees damaged by tornado activity by July of 2016, which Tims believed to be an unreasonable period of time for the completion.

         On Friday, April 22, 2016, a sanitation worker, McArther Hunter (“Hunter”) was operating a tractor when it fell over a four foot wall embankment. Hunter was not hurt, but was shaken up. Tims informed his direct supervisor, Sanitation Superintendent Don Hopkins (“Hopkins”), of the accident. Hopkins directed Tims to take Hunter to St. Francis Community Health Center/Occupational Medicine Clinic (“Occumed”), which is about 1 ½-2 miles from the accident site, for a drug test. The City's Substance Abuse Testing Policy requires a drug test when an employee has an on-the-job accident and the property damage is estimated at more than $5000. Similarly, for purposes of workers' compensation, if an employee suffers a work-related incident, accident, or injury, he is required under City policy to have a “post-accident drug screen immediately (even if no medical treatment is needed).” [Doc. No. 19, Exh. 7 Baldwin Aff., ¶ 9, Appendix A]. The drug screens are typically performed at Occumed.

         Tims admits that Hopkins gave him this direction. Tims also admits that he was aware at the time that employees who are involved in accidents must be taken for drug tests. However, while en route to Occumed, Hunter allegedly told Tims he could not be forced to go to Occumed because he quit. No. other City employee has refused to take a drug test following an accident, nor has any other employee allegedly quit on the way to the drug test. Without informing Hopkins of his intent, Tims took Hunter home. He returned to the accident scene and then informed Hopkins, who was present, that Hunter did not want to take the drug test, and he had taken Hunter home. Hopkins informed Tims that he should have called Hopkins and that Hunter should have been taken to clock out if he refused the drug test.

         On Monday, April 25, 2016, at Hopkins' direction, Tims called Hunter and asked him to take a drug test. Hunter then took a drug test at Occumed. The drug screen was positive for cocaine. Hunter either resigned on that date, or the City discharged him because of the positive drug screen.[3]

         On the same day, April 25, 2016, Hopkins discussed Tims' conduct with his supervisor, Public Works Director Tom Janway (“Janway”). Hopkins testified that he did not intend to take any action against Tims. [Doc. No. 26, Exh. 4, Hopkins Depo., pp. 11-12]. However, according to Hopkins, Janway disagreed and said that he believed Tims should be suspended or terminated. Hopkins called Tims to his office and instructed him to go home until a disciplinary hearing could be set.

         The City then applied the six-step procedure for discipline and termination decisions. At steps 1 and 2, there is an investigation and preparation of a pre-disciplinary hearing letter. At step 3 and prior to the issuance of the pre-disciplinary hearing letter, all supporting documents were reviewed by Human Resources and approved by the City Attorney's Office.

         On April 27, 2016, Tims was issued a pre-disciplinary hearing letter signed by Hopkins and outlining the events of the Hunter incident, although Hopkins testified that Janway prepared the contents of the letter, not him. Tims was further informed in the letter that a hearing to determine his discipline, up to and including termination, had been set for May 2, 2016, which is step 4 of the procedure.

         A disciplinary hearing was held on May 2, 2016. Tims' employment was terminated on May 4, 2016, for insubordination. Although insubordination is listed as a dischargeable offense in the employee handbook, Mayo, Hopkins, Janway, and Assistant City Attorney Angie Baldwin (“Baldwin”) all testified that there is discretion based on the facts of each case.

         The City contends that Hopkins prepared the determination letter for Tims, consistent with the requirements at step 5 of the procedure. However, Baldwin actually prepared the letter and emailed it to Hopkins for his review. Hopkins discussed the insubordination determination with Baldwin and signed it, but he did not prepare the letter. At step 6 of the procedure, a draft of the letter was to be provided to the City Attorney's Office and to Human Resources, but Baldwin had prepared the letter herself. The letter was then forwarded to Mayo for his review. At some point Mayo discussed Tim's termination with Janway. The May 4, 2016 determination letter issued from Hopkins, notifying Tims of the termination of his employment and listed the ...


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