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Tartt v. Wilson County

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

November 13, 2013

KARL TARTT and CEDRIC JENNINGS, Plaintiffs,
v.
WILSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Defendant

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For Karl Tartt, Cedric Jennings, Plaintiffs: Jerry Gonzalez, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jerry Gonzalez, PLC, Murfreesboro, TN; Jonathan E. Richardson, Law Office of Jonathan E. Richardson, Nashville, TN.

For Wilson County, Tennessee, Defendant: Jeffrey M. Beemer, Martin D. Holmes, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Dickinson Wright PLLC, Nashville, TN.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM

KEVIN H. SHARP, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Plaintiffs Karl Tartt and Cedric Jennings, two African-American men, bring individual race-discrimination claims against Defendant Wilson County, Tennessee for failing to hire them for positions in county government. Tartt submitted an employment application for one position that Wilson County filled at least two months before he applied for it. Jennings never applied for any position. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Wilson County's summary-judgment motion seeking the dismissal of Plaintiffs' remaining claims. (Docket No. 87).

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Karl Tartt lives in Rutherford County, Tennessee. According to a sworn Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge Tartt filed in August 2009, Tartt went in December 2008 " to the office of the Department of Solid Waste at the Wilson County landfill to apply for the job of animal control officer." (Docket No. 110-2 at 4; see also id. at 6; Docket No. 1 at 11 (original complaint); Docket No. 13 at 11 (first amended complaint)). Tartt secretly recorded his conversation with Heather Christian, the employee at the landfill with whom Tartt spoke that day. (Docket 49-1 at 4). When Tartt requested a job application, Christian asked if he wanted one for Animal Control or another position, ( id. at 5), because, as she later explained, there were separate applications for two different departments that employed people at the landfill--the Animal Control Department application, which had " Wilson County Animal Control" written at the top, and the Solid Waste Department application, which had " Wilson County Solid Waste" written on it, (Docket No. 110-6 at 324, 339). Tartt then asked if his application would be kept on file if he did not get a job, and Christian answered that it would. (Docket 53-1 at 2). Tartt filled out the application in his car, writing at the top of it: " Animal Control/open position." [1] (Docket 49-1 at 5). He returned it to the office and left. (Docket No. 1 at 12; Docket No. 13 at 12).

Tartt placed three follow-up calls to the landfill to find out about the status of his

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application, recording each one. When asked what position he applied for, Tartt twice " responded that he had applied for Animal Control." (Docket No. 1 at 13; Docket No. 13 at 13; Docket No. 18 at 19; Docket No. 53-1 at 4 & 7). During the final call, Tartt spoke to Cindy Lynch, who told him that while the Animal Control Department " accept[s] applications at all times," it did not have any open positions at that point. (Docket No. 53-1 at 7). Tartt told Lynch that " [a]t the time I submitted [an application], there was one open." ( Id. ). Lynch replied that the last open position the Department has was " about six, seven months ago." ( Id. at 8).

The most recent vacancy in the Animal Control Department before Tartt submitted his application in December 2008 was in July 2008. (Docket No. 26 at 1). The Department advertised that vacancy in a local newspaper. ( Id. ). After receiving one application for it, the Department hired Nick Forbes on a part-time basis on September 8, 2008, and promoted him to full-time status six weeks later. ( Id. at 2). As late as May 2012, the Department continued to employ Forbes in this job. (Docket No. 85 at 1). It has not hired another Animal Control Officer since Forbes came on. ( Id. ).

Plaintiff Cedric Jennings also lives in Rutherford County. Jennings has never applied for a position with Wilson County; the closest he came was when he received an email from his lawyer on July 21, 2009, about an opening in the Finance Department. (Docket No. 18 at 8-9; Docket No. 49-5 at 3). He told his lawyer the next day that he would " love to apply." (Docket No. 102-1 at 1). He did not do so, however. On August 31, 2009, the lawyer emailed Jennings again to say that the position was no longer available because the Finance Department " hired the sister of the former county clerk within days of firing the other person." ( Id. at 2). The lawyer additionally wrote: " But if you want to be the representative plaintiff for African Americans that would have applied for jobs had they known about it (remember, Wilson County mainly hires from word of mouth), then let me know." ( Id. ). At his deposition, Jennings did not know the position that had been open in the Finance Department, where or when he heard about it, and whether he actually wanted to apply for it. (Docket No. 49-5 at 2).

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Karl Tartt filed a Charge of Discrimination Karl Tartt filed with the EEOC on August 14, 2009, (Docket No. 110-2 at 4), and both he and Cedric Jennings filed this lawsuit on December 11, 2009, (Docket No. 1). In it, they alleged claims of race discrimination under both disparate-treatment and disparate-impact theories in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Tennessee Human Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docket No. 18 at 22-25). Plaintiffs also sought class certification on their disparate-impact claims under Rules 23(a), 23(b)(2), and 23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, ( id. at 25-29), which the Court denied on January 24, 2012, (Docket No. 79). Only Plaintiffs' individual claims remain.

LEGAL STANDARD

A party may obtain summary judgment if the evidence establishes that there are no genuine issues of material fact for trial and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Covington v. Knox Cnty. Sch. Sys., 205 F.3d 912, 914 (6th Cir. 2000). The moving party bears the initial burden of satisfying the Court that the standards of Rule 56 have been met. See Martin v. Kelley,

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803 F.2d 236, 239 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986). The ultimate question is whether any genuine issue of material fact is in dispute. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Covington, 205 F.3d at 914 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). If so, summary judgment is inappropriate.

To defeat a properly supported summary-judgment motion, the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts that show a genuine issue of material fact for trial. If the party does not do so, summary judgment may be entered. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The nonmoving party's burden to point to evidence demonstrating a genuine issue of material fact for trial is triggered once the moving party shows an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. A genuine issue exists " if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

ANALYSIS

Wilson County seeks summary judgment on Plaintiffs' individual disparate-treatment discrimination claims (Count 2 of the second amended complaint) and disparate-impact claims (Count 3), both brought under Title VII. Wilson County further contends that if the Court grants summary judgment on Plaintiffs' Title VII claims, the parallel claims brought under the Tennessee Human Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (Counts 1, 4, and 5), will also be resolved because they are analyzed under the same standards as Title VII claims. See Bailey v. USF Holland, Inc., 526 F.3d 880, 885 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Campbell v. Fla. Steel Corp., 919 S.W.2d 26, 31 (Tenn. 1996)) (THRA claims); Jackson v. Quanex Corp., 191 F.3d ...


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