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Dobbins v. Tennessee Valley Authority

August 30, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shirley


This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Rule 73(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the consent of the parties, for all further proceedings, including entry of judgment. [Doc. 52]. On February 12, 2007, the parties appeared before the Court for a motion hearing on Defendants'*fn1 Motion for Partial*fn2 Summary Judgment [Doc. 35].*fn3

Attorney John Slater appeared on behalf of Defendants. Attorney Linda G. Welch appeared representing Plaintiff Anthony Dobbins ("Dobbins"), who was also present.


This is an action based on alleged racial discrimination and reprisal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 United States Code Section 2000e-16, as well as state law claims under the Tennessee Human Rights Act, brought pursuant to 28 United States Code Section 1367. [Doc. 31]. Jurisdiction in this Court is proper under 28 United States Code Section 1331.

Dobbins is an African-American, who has worked at TVA since 1977. [See Docs. 7, 31]. Since 1995, he was employed as a General Building Mechanic ("GBM"), which is a position within Facilities Management. Dobbins never received a negative performance review. Dobbins has a history of filing Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaints against TVA. Some of the complaints have been adjudicated in his favor; some have not.

In 1997, Dobbins was placed on the night shift. In 1999, Dobbins informally expressed his desire to be transferred to a day shift position and cited some grievances, including not being considered for GBM Foreman. In December, 2001, Dobbins requested to be put on day shift. Other individuals were placed on the day shift instead of Dobbins for reasons which are under dispute. On April 6, 2002, Dobbins filed a formal Employment Opportunity ("EO") complaint alleging that, from January 2002 and onward, he was subjected to race discrimination and reprisal when he was not transferred to a day shift GBM position. On August 26, 2002, Dobbins was transferred to the Knoxville Outside Crew, the "Field Crew," on the day shift. He was placed under the supervision of James Miller ("Miller").

Dobbins claims that as of January 3, 2000, he was qualified to serve as a Dual Rate Foreman, a position akin to, though not synonymous with GBM Foreman, in TVA's Human Resource System.*fn4 Defendants contest this claim. Dobbins further claimed that at times he has served as a Dual Rate Foreman. This position pays more money than a GBM position. According to Dobbins, TVA's custom is to have a Dual Rate Foreman trained in a technical craft which varies from that of the foreman. In August of 2002, Dobbins learned that the Dual Rate Foreman position was vacant. In September, 2002, Dobbins informed Miller that he would like to be considered for the vacant position. Later in that same month, Miller informed Dobbins that Steve Turpin ("Turpin") had been assigned as the new Dual Rate Foreman. Turpin is skilled in the same trade Miller, the foreman, is -- electricity, whereas Dobbins is a steamfitter/boilermaker. On October 17, 2002, Dobbins filed an informal EO complaint alleging that he was subjected to race discrimination and reprisal when he was not selected for the Dual Rate Foreman position. He later filed a formal EEO Complaint, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") granted summary judgment to TVA, finding that Plaintiff had not been subject to racial discrimination.

Towards the end of 2002, TVA restructured and divided its trades and labor force into three classifications: Property Maintenance Worker, Level 1; General Maintenance Worker, Level II; and Facilities Maintenance Technician, Level III ("FMT-III"). These positions did the same work as the previous GBM classification but were paid slightly more. TVA required GBMs who wished to fill these positions to take a skills test. Dobbins claims that he did well on the skills test and asked to be a FMT-III. Although all FMT-III positions were filled with former GBMs, Dobbins did not receive a FMT-III position. He claims former GBMs with less seniority and poorer skills test scores were awarded the positions instead of him.*fn5

On June 29, 2004, Plaintiff filed a formal EEO Complaint alleging that in March of 2004 he was not selected for a FMT-III position because of race discrimination. Defendant TVA later denied that complaint, citing internal rules allowing a forty-five day window within which to file a complaint. In response, Plaintiff asserted that he had recently learned that the selectee failed a test that Plaintiff had passed. Defendant TVA accepted Plaintiff's rationale and waived the forty-five day time limit. The administrative proceeding involving this complaint was ultimately dismissed because of the current litigation.

In June of 2004, Plaintiff was subjected to a reduction in force ("RIF"). He challenged this action through the proper administrative processes, which included a hearing before the Merit Systems Protection Board ("MSPB"). Before the MSPB, Dobbins, represented by counsel, argued that the application of the RIF was inappropriate to GBMs based on a memorandum of understanding ("MOU") existing between Defendant TVA and a union in which Dobbins was a member. The MSPB Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") determined the RIF was appropriate, even when considering the MOU. Additionally, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's sole challenge had been the applicability of the RIF to GBMs and had not alleged racial discrimination. The ALJ's decision in favor of Defendant TVA was accompanied by a notice stating that the decision would be final as of December 21, 2004, unless appealed to the MSPB or directly to the United Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

On February 4, 2005, Plaintiff file a Complaint [Doc. 1] in this Court, asserting that Defendant TVA had committed race discrimination and retaliation against him on numerous occasions. The facts stated above are at the core of his complaint.

II. Procedural History

Defendants moved for partial summary judgment [Doc. 35] against Plaintiff on October 27, 2006. On November 22, 2006, Dobbins responded [Doc. 40] in opposition to Defendants' motion. On December 8, 2006, Defendants filed their reply [Doc. 48]. The parties argued their pleadings on February 12, 2007. On February 14 and 15, 2007, both parties filed post-hearing documents [Docs. 54-56], which will be considered in this Court's ruling on Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment [Doc. 58]. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for adjudication.

A. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

Defendants move for summary judgment as to the following claims: (1) Plaintiff's non-selection as a Dual Rate Foreman; (2) Plaintiff's non-selection as a FMT-III in March of 2004; (3) Plaintiff's subjection to a RIF in June of 2004; (4) Plaintiff's request for compensatory damages and a jury trial; and (5) Plaintiff's state law causes of action under the Tennessee Human Rights Act. [Doc. 35]. Additionally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to name and sue the proper parties in his original Complaint. As to the Dual Rate Foreman issue, Defendants argue that Plaintiff did not appeal to an United States District Court within ninety days of the issuance of TVA EEO's final agency decision, therefore this claim has not been timely brought.

As to Plaintiff's March 2004 non-selection to a FMT-III position, Defendants argue the claim was not brought timely because it was filed ninety-one days after the action, well-outside the forty-five day time period allowed. Defendants further argue that, though TVA granted Plaintiff additional time to file his complaint, the extension was granted due to Plaintiff's false assertion that he had recently learned that the selectee did poorly on a skills test required for the job. Additionally, Defendants claim that Plaintiff never exhausted the administrative process, barring this claim.

As to the Plaintiff's June 2004 RIF, Defendants argue that actions based on a RIF are directly appealable to the MSPB. Plaintiff brought a claim involving the RIF to the MSPB, and the MSPB ruled in favor of TVA, finding that Plaintiff was correctly reduced in force. To appeal a decision of the MSPB, Defendants argue that Plaintiff must go to the United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, and not a local United States District Court. Therefore, Defendants argue this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Additionally, Defendants claims that Plaintiff never filed a formal administrative complaint alleging discrimination by the RIF. Thus, Plaintiff never exhausted the administrative process, which would bar his claims.

As to whether Plaintiff is entitled to compensatory damages, Defendants ague that he is not because he failed to allege compensatory damages in any of the administrative proceedings. Because he did not exhaust the administrative process, the claim is barred. Moreover, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not alleged that he suffered an injury which would support a claim for compensatory damages, and Plaintiff has failed to offer any exhibits on this issue. As to Plaintiff's right to a jury trial, Defendants claim his right to a jury trial is contingent upon his compensatory damages claim. If Dobbins does not have a compensatory damages claim, then he has no right to a jury trial. [See Doc. 14 ].

B. Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

Plaintiff replied by filing a memorandum in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 40]. Plaintiff correctly notes that Defendants' motion is actually a motion for partial summary judgment because the motion does not address Plaintiff's FMT-III non-selection in 2003. Plaintiff also withdrew his claims arising out of his non-selection to a dual rate foreman position and his claims under the Tennessee Human Rights Act.

As to the his non-selection in March 2004 to a FMT-III position, Plaintiff claims he passed the written test, whereas the selectee did not. Plaintiff agrees that he was given an extension of time in which to file his initial EEO complaint on this matter. Unlike Defendants, however, Plaintiff claims that he did not fabricate the occurrence of a test to garner an extension. Instead, he asserts that he was referring to the written tests performed in 2003. As to the RIF in June 2004, Plaintiff relies on the MOU, asserting that he was inappropriately subjected to a RIF.

As to compensatory damages, Plaintiff claims that TVA's Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") form does not solicit information regarding compensatory damages and that nobody questioned him about whether he had those damages. Additionally, Plaintiff notes that in his initial complaint [Doc. 1], he specifically requested compensatory damages. Plaintiff claims the EEO form and TVA should have investigated whether he had a compensatory damages claim. Regarding the right to a jury trial, Plaintiff appears to tacitly agree that the right to a jury trial is intertwined with compensatory damages; either a Plaintiff has claimed compensatory damages and has a right to a jury trial, or he has not claimed compensatory damages and he has no right to a jury trial.

As to whether Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies regarding the June 2004 RIF and his March 2004 FMT-III non-selection, Plaintiff asserts that the MOU is a contract, and Plaintiff is a third party beneficiary of that contract. Plaintiff then argues that the RIF constituted a breach of that contract. Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that the RIF was the "fruit of the ...

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