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Primm v. Tennessee Department of Correction

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

March 31, 2017




         Pending before the Court is Defendant Tennessee Department of Correction's (“TDOC”) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 25), to which Plaintiff Carolyn Primm has responded in opposition (Doc. No. 28). For the following reasons, TDOC's Motion to Dismiss will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Carolyn Primm, who is female and African-American, filed the instant action bringing claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against TDOC and employees of TDOC, the Tennessee Department of Human Resources (“TDHR”), and the Tennessee Department of State (collectively, the “Individual Defendants”) in their individual and official capacities. Primm alleges that TDOC and the Individual Defendants discriminated against her by terminating her employment based on an arrest for aggravated assault. In support of her claim, Primm cites the comparative example of two white male employees arrested for similar offenses who were not similarly sanctioned. Primm also alleges that the Administrative Law Judges (“ALJ”) and Board of Appeals members who heard her administrative action violated her due process rights during her pre-termination hearing and the subsequent appeal process.

         Primm filed this action pro se on March 10, 2015. (Doc. No. 1.) At the time of the actions underlying Primm's claims, Defendant Schofield was TDOC Commissioner, Defendant Woodall was TDOC Deputy Commissioner, and Defendant Parker was TDOC Assistant Commissioner. (Doc. No. 9.) Defendants Raymer and Johnson were TDOC “commissioner designees, ” and Defendant Miller was TDOC correctional administrator. (Id.) Defendants Hunter and Patton were TDOC human resources administrators. (Id.) Defendant Inglis was TDOC general counsel. (Id.) Defendant Lewis was the Tennessee Prison for Women (“TPW”) Warden, and Defendant Cladwell worked in human resources at TPW. (Id.) Defendants Darnell, Wall, and Summers were ALJs. (Id.) Defendants Clark, Justis, and Hamilton were Board of Appeal members. (Id.) Defendant Drummond was counsel for TDOC in Primm's administrative appeal. (Id.) All Individual Defendants are sued in their individual and official capacities. (Id.) Primm seeks compensatory and punitive damages against all defendants. (Id.)

         A. Factual Background

         The following allegations relevant to TDOC's Motion to Dismiss are taken from the Amended Complaint and accepted as true for purposes of this motion:

         Primm worked for TDOC for 29 years, most recently as a correctional sergeant at TPW, until her employment was terminated on July 16, 2013. (Doc. No. 9, PageID# 64, ¶ 21.)

         On June 24, 2013, Primm was arrested and charged with aggravated assault for an alleged incident that occurred on June 21, 2013, while Primm was playing cards at the home of Betty Gore. (Id. at ¶ 22.) During the card game, Gore's daughter Kim Prince and granddaughter Natasha Prince accused Primm of cheating and attacked her. (Doc. No. 1-9, PageID# 24, ¶¶ 1-3.) When Primm tried to leave, Kim, Natasha, and grandson Reggie Prince followed Primm to her car, threatening “to do her bodily harm.” (Id. at ¶ 5; Doc. No. 9, PageID# 65, ¶¶ 29-30.) Primm pulled a gun out of her purse, waved it in the air, and told them to stay back until she got into her car to leave. (Doc. No. 9, PageID# 65, ¶¶ 29-30.) Primm states that she drew her gun because she feared for her life. (Id. at ¶ 30.)

         Natasha Prince reported to police that Primm, unprovoked, threatened her with a gun. (Doc. No. 1-4.) Primm alleges that Prince made this false report in retaliation because Primm helped Gore stop Prince, her mother, and brother from stealing from Gore's bank account. (Doc. No. 1-9, PageID# 24, ¶ 4; Doc. No. 9, PageID# 65, ¶¶ 28, 31.)

         Primm was released on bond and reported her arrest to Defendant Lewis, who placed her on administrative leave. (Doc. No. 9, PageID# 64, ¶ 23.) Lewis scheduled a disciplinary meeting for July 16, 2013. (Doc. No. 1-2.) Primm was not permitted to present witnesses at this meeting, as she had requested to do. (Doc. No. 9, PageID# 65, ¶ 27.) Primm did tell Lewis and Defendant Cladwell about the alleged bank fraud and that she acted in self-defense. (Id. at PageID# 64-65, ¶¶ 24-32.) Lewis and Cladwell recommended that Primm be terminated for violating Tennessee Department of Human Resources (“DOHR”) Rule 11-20-10-103(11) (conduct unbecoming of an employee in state service) and TDOC Policy 302.06 (suspension/termination of staff for alleged criminal acts). (Doc. No. 1-10; Doc. No. 9, PageID# 65, ¶¶ 33-34.) Defendants Woodall, Parker, and Miller agreed with this recommendation. (Doc. No. 9, PageID# 65, ¶ 34.) Primm's employment was terminated. (Id.)

         Primm timely filed her Step I appeal with TDOC, which was heard on August 6, 2013 by Defendant Schofield's designees Defendants Raymer and Johnson. (Id. at PageID# 62, 66, ¶¶ 3, 6, 35-36.) Before the hearing began, Raymer told Primm that he did not want to hear anything about any other employee's case. (Id. at PageID# 66, ¶ 37.) Raymer and Johnson affirmed the decision to terminate Primm because her arrest violated TDOC Policy 302.06 and DOHR Rule 11-20-10-103(11). (Id. at ¶ 39.) Primm then appealed to Schofield, who upheld her termination on the same basis. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-41.) Schofield based his decision on “a pending criminal charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon which put you in a compromising and potentially unsafe position considering the nature of your work and job responsibilities, and the fact that your position requires you to qualify annually for firearms[.]” (Id. at ¶ 41.)

         On approximately September 27, 2013, Primm filed a Step II Appeal challenging the decisions affirming her termination. (Id. at PageID# 67, ¶ 42.) Defendant ALJ Hunter upheld Primm's dismissal. (Id. at ¶¶ 42-43.) Primm filed her Step III Appeal on October 8, 2013, with the Board of Appeals. (Id. at PageID# 68, ¶ 45.) On November 12, 2013, Primm moved for leave to file an amended administrative complaint to add claims of race and gender discrimination based on the comparators of two white male TDOC correctional officers who were arrested for alleged criminal acts in violation of TDOC Policy 302.06 and DOHR Rule 11-20-10-103(11) but remained employed. (Id. at PageID# 68-70, ¶¶ 48-62.) Defendant ALJ Wall granted the motion to file an amended complaint. (Id. at PageID# 70, ¶ 63.)

         Primm filed a motion for summary judgment on her discrimination claims in the administrative action. (Id. at PageID# 71, ¶¶ 67-68.) On January 24, 2014, Defendant ALJ Darnell denied Primm's motion for summary judgment. (Id. at ¶ 73.) Primm filed the motion for summary judgment again, requesting the motion be heard on January 31, 2014. (Id. at PageID# 72, ¶¶ 77- 80.) Darnell denied Primm's refiled motion for summary judgment in an order dated February 12, 2014, reasoning that “the fact two Caucasian male employees were charged and perhaps convicted of similar or comparable conduct is not in and [of] itself, sufficient to show the department discriminated against complainant based on her race.” (Id. at PageID# 73, ¶ 85.)

         The Board of Appeals ultimately affirmed TDOC's decision to terminate Primm's employment for violations of TDOC Policy 302.06 and DOHR Rule 11-20-10-103(11). (Id. at PageID# 74, ¶ 94.)

         B. ...

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