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Baker v. State

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

February 17, 2017

JOSEPH DAVID BAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE, TENNESSEE REHABILITATIVE INITIATIVE IN CORRECTION TRICOR, an agency of the State of Tennessee, ROGER CLARK, JOHN DAVID HART, PARTICIA WEILAND, and THOMAS BURNS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

          ALETA A. TRAUGER United States District Judge

         On January 31, 2017, the plaintiff, Joseph David Baker, filed an Application for TRO Hearing, for Temporary Restraining Order, and to Set Preliminary Injunction Hearing or for Other Relief. (Docket No. 5) On February 7, 2017, following a TRO hearing, the court issued a Temporary Restraining Order, which remains currently in effect. (Docket No. 16.) On February 15, 2017, the court held a hearing on the preliminary injunction. Upon the pending Application and supporting materials, the defendants' Response thereto (Docket No. 18), and the testimony and documentary evidence before the court at the February 15, 2017 hearing, and for the reasons discussed herein, the court will grant a preliminary injunction in favor of Mr. Baker.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 20, 2017, Mr. Baker filed this constitutional action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against his employer, TRICOR, as well as the State of Tennessee and the individual defendants (Roger Clark, John David Hart, Patricia Weiland, [1] and Thomas Burns), who are TRICOR employees. (Docket No. 1.) TRICOR is a Tennessee agency that operates alongside the State of Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) to provide rehabilitative services to TDOC inmates. Mr. Baker is an Operations Manager at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, a TDOC medium security prison (“Bledsoe”). The basis of Mr. Baker's Complaint is that he was required, as a condition of his employment with TRICOR, to 1) read the book This Ain't No Practice Life by Michael Burt (the “Book”), 2) attend training sessions on a TRICOR coaching program for inmates that is based on the Book and other materials available on Mr. Burt's website (the “Coaching Program”), and 3) deliver the Coaching Program to inmates at Bledsoe, as a condition of the inmates' participation in other TRICOR programming. According to the Complaint, placing these requirements on Mr. Baker, as an employee of a state agency, violates his rights under the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution because the Coaching Program, along with the Book and other materials on which it is based, contains heavily religious content. In addition to compensatory and punitive damages, the Complaint seeks a TRO and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.

         On January 31, 2017, Mr. Baker filed the Application for TRO Hearing, for Temporary Restraining Order, and to Set Preliminary Injunction Hearing or for Other Relief. (Docket No. 5.) In his Application, Mr. Baker asserted that he was scheduled to return to work at TRICOR on February 7, 2017, following a leave of absence. Mr. Baker argued that, absent a court order, he would be forced to participate in training sessions for the Coaching Program and deliver the Coaching Program curriculum to inmates at Bledsoe, in violation of his constitutional rights, and/or would face the prospect of adversarial employment action in retaliation for his complaints, his refusal to comply with the Coaching Program requirements, and his filing of this legal action. On February 7, 2017, the court held a TRO hearing, at which a representative from the Tennessee Attorney General's Office appeared and stated that the office had a “conflict” and had not yet secured legal counsel to represent the defendants. Following the TRO hearing, the court issued a Temporary Restraining Order, prohibiting the defendants from 1) requiring Mr. Baker to attend training sessions related to the Coaching Program or any other religious training, 2) requiring Mr. Baker to teach the Coaching Program or any religious-based program to inmates, 3) requiring Mr. Baker to read or study any of Mr. Burt's materials, including the Book, or any other religious-based content, 4) retaliating against Mr. Baker in any way, including taking any negative employment action against him or singling him out in any fashion, and 5) discriminating against Mr. Baker in terms of his compensation, privileges, or benefits of employment with TRICOR. (Docket No. 16.)

         On February 15, 2017, the defendants filed a Response in opposition to Mr. Baker's pending Application, arguing that preliminary injunctive relief should be denied as to all defendants due to the unlikelihood of Mr. Baker's success on the merits and that, further, the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. (Docket No. 18.)

         On February 15, 2017, the court held an evidentiary hearing with respect to Mr. Baker's request for a preliminary injunction.

         FINDINGS OF FACT[2]

         Mr. Baker's employment duties as an Operations Manager for TRICOR require him to oversee a flooring plant on the grounds of Bledsoe, in which TDOC inmates housed at Bledsoe are given the opportunity to work for Shaw Industries (“Shaw”), a private flooring corporation that has contracted with TRICOR. Inmates who work for Shaw in the flooring plant earn $7.25 per hour for their labor, some of which income they can save for their use upon release. By comparison, inmates who are employed by TDOC earn only $0.17 to $0.52 per hour. As a condition of participating in TRICOR programming, including employment at the Shaw flooring plant, inmates are required to attend available lessons under the Coaching Program.

         In December of 2015, Mr. Baker was informed that, as a condition of his employment with TRICOR, he was required to read the Book, [3] participate in training sessions to learn how to teach the Coaching Program, and then deliver the Coaching Program to inmates working in the Shaw flooring plant at Bledsoe. The training sessions were run by individual defendants Mr.

         Hart and Mr. Clark, who were also Mr. Baker's superiors at TRICOR. The Book, which is a type of self-help guide, contains an abundance of references to religion and Christianity as the basis for the principles espoused throughout, including, by way of example the following:

. In the Book's Introduction, on page 27, it states: “In the Bible, the Word says that God is close to the brokenhearted. It could be that you're going through some adversity to humble your spirit and draw you closer to your Creator, and that ain't a bad thing in the grand scheme of things. In this book, we'll take a look at exactly how to use adversity to create intentional breakthroughs.”
. In the discussion of the Book's first principle, entitled “Experience an Awakening, ” the following language is found on pages 67-68: “The spirit's need is to connect to something larger, to be a part of something beautiful, to contribute. It also has a need to connect to conscience and act in thoughtful ways to human kind. This would be SQ (spiritual intelligence).”
. A discussion of the Book's second principle, “Design Your Own Dream, ” contains the following language on page 92: “Remember, this voice is when you are marrying our natural, God-given talent and passions with a need in the world . . . .”
. In the discussion of the fourth principle, “Make Learning a Way of Being, ” the reader is advised on page 128 to “[r]ead spiritual material ...

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