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Williams v. Parish

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

September 26, 2018



          HANNA JUDGE

         As ordered by the Court, currently under consideration is the plaintiff's memorandum in support of maintaining claims (Rec. Doc. 69) and the sheriff's response thereto (Rec. Doc. 70). After discussion during the pretrial conference held on September 13, 2018, the Court issued an order placing the parties on notice of its intent to dismiss the plaintiff's alleged causes of action for gender discrimination and retaliation, prior to the October 1, 2018 trial setting, unless the plaintiff came forward with evidence that might establish a prima facie case of those two causes of action.[1] The Court's order outlined specific concerns regarding the plaintiff's right and/or ability to proceed on any alleged cause of action for either gender discrimination, which was not administratively exhausted, or retaliation, for which the plaintiff has not alleged any “protected activity, ” other than her EEOC charge, filed approximately eight months after her termination. In addition, neither cause of action appears in the pretrial order, in which the plaintiff describes her claims, in full, as follows:

Martin Williams, a black female, claims that she was terminated by Sheriff Michael Couvillion due to race and color discrimination. Martin Williams claims that several similarly situated individuals were not terminated after being involved in similar and/or worse investigations than the investigation that led to the termination of Martin Williams. The similarly situated individuals are either white males or white females.[2]

         The parties then list only two contested issues of fact and law:

1. Was Martin Williams terminated on the basis of her protected class?
2. Was Martin Williams terminated for a legitimate non-discriminatory reason?[3]

         During the pretrial conference, the Court inquired as to the viability of the plaintiff's cause of action. Following that discussion, the Court ordered the plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of both claims or risk dismissal thereof.

         At the outset, the Court emphasizes that the plaintiff failed to assert causes of action for gender discrimination, retaliation, failure to promote, or hostile work environment in the pretrial order. In the Fifth Circuit, “[i]t is a well-settled rule that a joint pretrial order signed by both parties supersedes all pleadings and governs the issues and evidence to be presented at trial.”[4] “Claims, issues, and evidence are narrowed by the pretrial order, thereby focusing and expediting the trial.”[5] “If a claim or issue is omitted from the final pretrial order, it may be waived, even if it appeared in the complaint.”[6] Here, the plaintiff waived her claims for gender discrimination, retaliation, failure to promote, and hostile work environment, based solely on their omission from the pretrial order. Nonetheless, the Court broached the issues of retaliation and gender discrimination during the pretrial conference, and in the order that followed, in an effort to allow the plaintiff to clarify her case prior to trial. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the plaintiff's claims for failure to promote and hostile work environment are not properly before the Court, and the claims for gender discrimination and retaliation are subject to dismissal.

         As to gender discrimination, the Court's order put the plaintiff on notice that the claim was at risk of dismissal, in part, due to the plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The sheriff's response further asserts that the plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies as to the failure to promote and the allegations surrounding her placement while on light duty. The sheriff also challenges the plaintiff's ability to assert a cause of action for hostile work environment, for the first time, in the instant memorandum.

         Title VII requires employees to exhaust their administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief.[7] Therefore, a Title VII complaint is limited “by the scope of the EEOC investigation which ‘can reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination.'”[8] The applicable standard “is not the scope of actual investigation but what we reasonably would expect the EEOC to investigate, ” based on the charge and supporting documentation.[9] In the Fifth Circuit, courts “engage in fact-intensive analysis of the statement given by the plaintiff in the administrative charge, and look slightly beyond its four corners, to its substance rather than its label.”[10] “In sum, a Title VII lawsuit may include allegations ‘like or related to allegation[s] contained in the [EEOC] charge and growing out of such allegations during the pendency of the case before the Commission.'”[11] Thus, the Court begins by reviewing the plaintiff's EEOC charge and questionnaire.

         In her EEOC charge, the plaintiff checked only the appropriate boxes for race and retaliation, as the alleged discriminatory bases, and indicated that the alleged discrimination took place on December 15, 2013, on or about the date of the plaintiff's termination.[12] In the area of the EEOC charge designated for insertion of “the particulars” of the plaintiff's claim, the charge indicates the following, in its entirety:

I was hired by Vermilion Parish Sheriff[']s Office on February 22, 2006. During my employment, I was suspended and subjected to terms and conditions of employment. On December 15, 2013, I was discharged as a Sergeant. The company employs more than 200 employees.
No reason was given for the action taken against me.
I believe I have been discriminated against because of my race, Black and retaliated against in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.[13]

         On her EEOC intake questionnaire, in response to an inquiry as to what happened that the plaintiff believed to be discriminatory, the plaintiff stated only that she was “placed under investigation” by the sheriff and “served termination (first) disciplinary write-up.”[14] She then ...

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