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Wright v. Memphis Police Association, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

May 26, 2015

TRACY WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
MEMPHIS POLICE ASSOCIATION, INC.; MICHAEL WILLIAMS, individually and in his official capacity; and ESSICA CAGE-LITTLEJOHN, individually and in her capacity as supervisor; Defendants.


S. THOMAS ANDERSON, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants Memphis Police Association, Inc.; Michael Williams, and Essica Cage-Littlejohn's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 16) filed on January 23, 2015. On February 13, 2015, Plaintiff Tracy Wright filed a response in opposition to Defendants' Motion, and Defendants have filed a reply brief. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED IN PART, DENIED IN PART.


On January 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint raising claims against Defendants under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and Tennessee state law. According to the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff, a white female, is a former employee of Defendant Memphis Police Association (hereinafter "MPA"). Plaintiff began her employment with MPA in 1989 as a part-time employee. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12.) On January 1, 2001, Plaintiff became a full-time secretary/administrative assistant at MPA. ( Id. ¶ 13.) In February 2004, Ladoris Harris, a black female, was assigned to work at MPA through a temporary agency to assist with clerical tasks. ( Id. ¶ 14.) In December 2007, Harris became a full-time employee of MPA working as a receptionist. ( Id. ¶ 15.)

On June 11, 2009, the MPA Board of Directors established compensation rates and benefits for MPA office staff. ( Id. ¶ 16.) At that time the MPA office staff consisted of Plaintiff as secretary/administrative assistant (or sometimes referred to as office manager) and a receptionist, Ms. Harris. ( Id. ) On October 28, 2009, the compensation rates and benefits were incorporated into a written standard operating procedure. ( Id. ¶ 17.) The hourly compensation rate for the secretary/administrative assistant, Plaintiff, was based upon her hire date as a full-time employee. ( Id. ¶ 18.)

In April or May of 2011, Defendant Michael Williams ("Williams"), a black male, became president of the MPA. ( Id. ¶ 19.) In the spring of 2011, the Memphis Police Department assigned Defendant Essica Cage-Littlejohn ("Cage-Littlejohn"), a black female, to work at MPA. ( Id. ¶ 20.) Later in 2011, Cage-Littlejohn was elected vice-president of MPA and assumed responsibility for supervising MPA staff, including Plaintiff. ( Id. ¶ 21.) On March 1, 2012, Cage-Littlejohn recommended Ms. Harris for promotion to administrative assistant/secretary, and Harris received the promotion. ( Id. ¶ 22.) On Cage-Littlejohn's recommendation, the MPA Board also approved two raises for Harris in the span of a year. ( Id .) After Harris's second raise, Harris and Plaintiff were being paid at the same rate, though Harris's pay exceeded the pay scale previously adopted by the MPA Board of Directors. ( Id. )

In February 2013, Plaintiff learned that she was not receiving the pay she was due under the compensation structure approved by the MPA Board of Directors and incorporated into MPA's written standard operating procedure. ( Id. ¶ 23.) On May 16, 2013, Plaintiff asked Cage-Littlejohn for a raise to bring her compensation in line with the compensation structure set out in the MPA standard operating procedure. ( Id. ¶ 24.) Cage-Littlejohn denied Plaintiff's request. ( Id. ¶ 25.) On June 27, 2013, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging disparate treatment. ( Id. ¶ 8a.)

According to the Amended Complaint, Cage-Littlejohn treated Plaintiff less favorably than Harris, harassed Plaintiff, and was hostile to Plaintiff. ( Id. ¶ 26.) And after Plaintiff filed her charge with the EEOC, Cage-Littlejohn's harassment and hostility only grew worse. ( Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff alleges that Cage-Littlejohn took the following adverse actions against Plaintiff on account of her race: (a) denying her request for a raise; (b) forcing her to petition the Board for a raise; (c) altering her work schedule; (d) refusing to allow her to use sick leave when she missed work for a medical condition; (e) scrutinizing Plaintiff's time more than other employees; (f) shifting work responsibilities to Plaintiff because another employee did not want to perform the tasks; (g) making false allegations about Plaintiff's honesty and truthfulness; (h) suspending Plaintiff for two months without cause; and (i) terminating Plaintiff's employment. ( Id. ¶ 30.) On more than one occasion, Plaintiff brought her concerns to Williams, the president of MPA, but Williams failed to intervene or take any corrective action. ( Id. ¶ 28.)

Based on these fact pleadings, the Amended Complaint alleges that the MPA discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of her race in violation of Title VII and section 1981. Plaintiff alleges that the disparate treatment she suffered took a number of forms. Specifically, Cage-Littlejohn and the MPA (a) based Plaintiff's pay on the date she began full-time employment with MPA but not Harris's; (b) paid Plaintiff less than she was due under the official MPA pay scale but Harris more than she was entitled to; and (c) refused to permit Plaintiff to take two weeks sick leave for a medical condition but allowed Harris to take two weeks after the death of her husband. ( Id. ¶ 33.) The Amended Complaint further alleges that all Defendants retaliated against Plaintiff for filing a charge with the EEOC. Defendants Williams and Cage-Littlejohn presented false information to the MPA Board of Directors and thereby caused the Board to terminate Plaintiff's employment with MPA. Plaintiff also claims breach of contract, promissory estoppel, intentional interference with a contractual relationship, and statutory breach of contract under Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-50-109, all under Tennessee law.

In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants argue that the Amended Complaint fails to state any claim on which relief may be granted under federal law. First, Defendants contend that the MPA does not meet Title VII's definition as an "employer" because it does not have 15 employees. According to Defendants, the MPA had only two employees at all times relevant to Plaintiff's claims. The Directors and Officers of the MPA, a labor organization, do not constitute employees of the MPA. As a result, Plaintiff has failed to state her Title VII claims for disparate treatment and retaliation. Second, Defendants argue that even if Plaintiff has properly alleged that the MPA meets Title VII's definition of an "employer, " Plaintiff has not stated a cognizable claim against Williams or Cage-Littlejohn in their individual capacities. Title VII does not create a cause of action for employment discrimination against a supervisor. Furthermore, Plaintiff did not name Williams or Cage-Littlejohn as respondents in her EEOC charge. Third, the Amended Complaint does not state a claim for reverse discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Plaintiff has not alleged any direct evidence of reverse discrimination and has not alleged any facts to show that the MPA is "the unusual employer who discriminates against the majority." Finally, Defendants argue that once the Court dismisses all of Plaintiff's federal claims for failure to state a claim, the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims.

In her response in opposition, Plaintiff argues that she has stated plausible federal claims for relief. Relying on the Supreme Court's decision in Walters v. Metropolitan Educational Enterprises, Inc., Plaintiff maintains that the MPA is an "employer" for purposes of Title VII. The correct test from Walters is whether the MPA "has employment relationships with 15 or more individuals for each working day in 20 or more weeks during the year in question." The MPA pays all Directors and Officers "wages, " which is enough to constitute an employment relationship. According to Plaintiff, MPA Directors also perform traditional employee functions, serving as representatives for Memphis police officers at disciplinary hearings and as managers over MPA's office staff. MPA Directors and Officers also receive a W-2 wage statement from the MPA. For additional support Plaintiff cites the MPA's wage report filed with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which Plaintiff has attached as an exhibit to her brief.

As for Plaintiff's claims against Williams and Cage-Littlejohn, Plaintiff concedes that she has no plausible claim under Title VII against her supervisors in their individual capacities. Plaintiff does, however, argue that she has stated a plausible claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against Williams and Cage-Littlejohn. As for the merits of her pleadings, Plaintiff asserts that she has alleged a plausible reverse discrimination claim against Defendants. The fact that Williams and Cage-Littlejohn are African-American and treated Plaintiff less favorably than they did another African-American employee of the MPA states the reverse discrimination claim. Plaintiff concludes by arguing that her federal claims and pendent state law claims arise out of a common nucleus of facts, and so the Court has supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. For these reasons, Plaintiff asks the Court to deny Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion.

In their reply, Defendants again argue that the MPA is not an "employer" as Title VII defines the term. Defendants cite a number of decisions from other circuits holding that board members of a labor organization are not "employees" of the union. Defendants have attached an affidavit from Shannon Bowen, the Sergeant-at-Arms for the MPA and a member of the MPA Executive Board. According to the Bowen affidavit, three MPA executive officers (the president, the vice-president, and the secretary/treasurer) work full-time for the MPA but are actually considered full-time employees of the Memphis Police Department. These executive officers receive their full salary from the police department and only a stipend from the MPA. The MPA Executive Board is composed of 15 members who are full-time employees of the City of Memphis and not the MPA. Each of the 15 members of the Executive Board attends a monthly board meeting and receives only a stipend from the MPA. Based on this proof, Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot show the MPA has 15 employees. Therefore, the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's Title VII.

As for Plaintiff's section 1981 claims, Defendants argue that in order to show that the MPA is the "unusual employer who discriminates against the majority, " Plaintiff must allege that the MPA has a history of unlawfully considering race in its hiring decisions. The Amended Complaint makes no such claim. Moreover, Plaintiff has not alleged that Williams or Cage-Littlejohn is the unusual supervisor who discriminates against a majority-race employee or that Williams or Cage-Littlejohn intentionally discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of her race, showings Plaintiff must make to hold her supervisors individually liable under section 1981. As such, the Court should hold that the Amended Complaint fails to state a section 1981 claim against any Defendant. ...

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