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White v. Champagne

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 11, 2018

SAMANTHA WHITE
v.
GREG CHAMPAGNE AS SHERIFF OF ST. CHARLES PARISH

          ORDER & REASONS

          BARRY W. ASHE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by defendant Greg Champagne, Sheriff of St. Charles Parish (“Champagne”), [1] to which plaintiff Samantha White (“White”) responds in opposition, [2] and in further support of which Champagne replies.[3] Having considered the parties' memoranda and the applicable law, the Court issues this Order & Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case involves employment discrimination claims. In her complaint, White, a black woman, alleges that Champagne, a Caucasian man and her former employer, discriminated against her on the basis of race, gender, and disability, and that he retaliated against her.[4]Specifically, White alleges that Champagne discriminated against her on the basis of race and gender in January 2015, when she was transferred to light duty in the corrections department due to her pregnancy, and at the same time another female deputy, who was white and also pregnant, was promoted to detective.[5]

         White alleges that Champagne discriminated against her on the basis of disability in February 2016, when she was terminated from her employment.[6] White claims that she experienced postpartum depression after the birth of her child in September 2015, and that she missed work on several occasions due to the symptoms of her depression.[7] White contends that she followed protocol each time she had to miss work due to her depression, but was written up several times, including for missing work on December 19, 2015.[8] On December 22, 2015, Captain Jessica Troxclair (“Troxclair”) contacted White and asked her to sign a write-up related to White's December 19, 2015 absence.[9] White told Troxclair that she could not do so because she had to pick her children up from school.[10] On January 29, 2016, Lieutenant Jared Peranio (“Peranio”) informed White that she was being suspended without pay for ten days: three days related to the December 19, 2015 absence, and seven days related to her failure to report on December 22, 2015, to sign the write-up.[11] White alleges that she was placed on “leave without pay” status and then terminated in February 2016.[12]

         White filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on November 15, 2016, alleging claims of discrimination based on race, gender, and disability in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12112, and Louisiana law.[13] On August 9, 2017, the EEOC sent White a right-to-sue letter.[14] White claims that she received the letter on August 12, 2017.[15] White filed this action against Champagne on November 10, 2017, seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages related to the alleged discrimination, along with attorney's fees.[16]

         II. PENDING MOTION

         Champagne filed the instant motion for summary judgment arguing that White cannot prevail on her claims against him. Specifically, he argues that White's race and gender discrimination claims must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because White did not timely file her charge of discrimination related to those claims with the EEOC.[17] Champagne also argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on White's ADA claim because White has not proved that she had a disability at the time of her discharge or that she was discharged for such alleged disability.[18] Rather, Champagne argues that White was terminated for the non-discriminatory reason of her failure to submit to a medical evaluation to determine her fitness to serve as a deputy.[19]

         White argues that this Court should deem her race and gender discrimination claims to be timely because the EEOC investigated those claims and issued a right-to-sue letter.[20] She also argues that there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment on the merits of those claims.[21] As to her ADA claim, White argues that she was a qualified individual with a disability, namely postpartum depression, and that there are genuine issues of material fact regarding whether she was terminated as a result of this disability.[22]

         III. LAW & ANALYSIS

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which the party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. A party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the basis for summary judgment and identifying those portions of the record, discovery, and any affidavits supporting the conclusion that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. If the moving party meets that burden, then the nonmoving party must use evidence cognizable under Rule 56 to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 324.

         A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1996). The substantive law identifies which facts are material. Id. Material facts are not genuinely disputed when a rational trier of fact could not find for the nonmoving party upon a review of the record taken as a whole. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. Simbaki, Ltd., 767 F.3d 475, 481 (5th Cir. 2014). “[U]nsubstantiated assertions, ” “conclusory allegations, ” and merely colorable factual bases are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50; Hopper v. Frank, 16 F.3d 92, 97 (5th Cir. 1994). In ruling on a summary judgment motion, a court may not resolve credibility issues or weigh evidence. See Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398-99 (5th Cir. 2008). Furthermore, a court must assess the evidence, review the facts, and draw any appropriate inferences based on the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. See Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656 (2014); Daniels v. City of Arlington, 246 F.3d 500, 502 (5th Cir. 2001). Yet, a court only draws reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant “when there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)).

         After the movant demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute, the nonmovant must articulate specific facts and point to supporting, competent evidence that may be presented in a form admissible at trial. See Lynch Props., Inc. v. Potomac Ins. Co. of Ill., 140 F.3d 622, 625 (5th Cir. 1998); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) & (c)(2). Such facts must create more than “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. When the nonmovant will bear the burden of proof at trial on the dispositive issue, the moving party may simply point to insufficient admissible evidence to establish an essential element of the nonmovant's claim in order to satisfy its summary judgment burden. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-25; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(B). Unless there is a genuine issue for trial that could support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant, summary judgment must be granted. See Little, 37 F.3d at 1075-76.

         B. Timeliness of White's EEOC Charge of Discrimination

         A plaintiff alleging discrimination claims must exhaust her administrative remedies prior to filing suit in the district court by filing a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Jones v. City of Houston, 2018 WL 6131132, at *5 (5th Cir. Nov. 20, 2018) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1); Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378-79 (5th Cir. 2002)). In a deferral state, such as Louisiana, [23] a plaintiff must file her charge with the EEOC within 300 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory act to preserve her right to sue in federal court. DeBlanc v. St. Tammany Parish Sch. Bd., 2015 WL 1245781, at *6 (E.D. La. Mar. 18, 2015) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1) (providing that a Title VII plaintiff must file a charge within 300 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice in deferral states); 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a) (incorporating Title VII remedies and procedures for ADA claims)).

         The filing of a timely EEOC charge is not jurisdictional. Taylor v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 554 F.3d 510, 521 (5th Cir. 2008). Rather, it is a statute of limitations that “‘is subject to waiver, estoppel, and equitable tolling.'” Id. (quoting Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U.S. 358, 393 (1982)). The Fifth Circuit has identified three grounds for equitable tolling: (1) “the pendency of a suit between the same parties in the wrong forum”; (2) that the plaintiff “was unaware of facts giving rise to this claim because of [the defendant's] intentional concealment”; or (3) “that the EEOC misled [the plaintiff] about the nature of her rights.” Garcia v. Penske Logistics, L.L.C., 631 Fed.Appx. 204, 209 (5th Cir. 2015) (citing Granger v. Aaron's, Inc., 636 F.3d 708, 712 (5th Cir. 2011); Hood v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 168 F.3d 231, 233-34 (5th Cir. 1999)). A plaintiff who fails to timely file an EEOC charge bears the burden of demonstrating a factual basis supporting equitable tolling of the limitations period. Blumberg v. HCA Mgmt. Co., 848 F.2d 642, 644 (5th Cir. 1988).

         White alleges that Champagne discriminated against her on the basis of race and gender in January 2015.[24] She did not file her charge of discrimination with the EEOC until almost two years later, in November 2016.[25] White has not argued nor demonstrated any basis for equitable tolling.[26] Instead, White argues that this Court should deem her EEOC charge to be timely filed because the EEOC allegedly investigated her race and gender discrimination claims.[27] The EEOC's alleged investigation of those claims is immaterial. The Fifth Circuit has held that “the EEOC's investigation of an untimely filed claim does not safeguard that claim from dismissal [because] federal courts are expected to make an independent determination as to a claimant's compliance with Title VII's filing requirements.” Kirkland v. Big Lots Store, Inc., 547 Fed.Appx. 570, 573 (5th Cir. 2013) (quotations omitted). Therefore, Champagne is entitled to summary judgment on White's race and gender discrimination claims brought under Title VII due to White's failure to timely exhaust her administrative remedies.

         Moreover, White's race and gender discrimination claims brought under Louisiana law are time barred. Louisiana law allows for a maximum prescriptive period of 18 months as to discrimination claims. La. R.S. 23:303(D) (providing that claims are subject to a prescriptive period of one year and a suspension of no more than six months while claims are pending with the EEOC or Louisiana Commission on Human Rights). White alleges that Champagne discriminated against her on the basis of race and gender in January 2015, but did not file this action until more than 18 months later in November 2016.[28] Therefore, Champagne is entitled to summary judgment on White's race and gender discrimination claims brought under Louisiana law because they were untimely filed.

         C. White's ADA Claim

         The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating “against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to … discharge ….” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). To establish a prima facie discrimination claim under the ADA, a plaintiff must prove: (1) that she has a disability, or was regarded as disabled; (2) that she was qualified for the job; and (3) that she was subject to an adverse employment decision on account of her disability. Cannon v. Jacobs Field Services N. Am., Inc., 813 F.3d 586, 590 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. LHC Grp., Inc., 773 F.3d 688, 697 (5th Cir. 2014). If a plaintiff can establish a prima facie case of discrimination, “a presumption of discrimination arises, ” and the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. Id. Thereafter, if the defendant meets its burden, the burden of production shifts back to the plaintiff to

offer sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact either (1) that the defendant's reason is not true, but is instead a pretext for discrimination (pretext alternative); or (2) that the defendant's reason, while true, is only one of the reasons for its conduct, and another motivating factor ...

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