172 F.3d 786 (11th Cir. 1999), 97-9307, Lathem v. Department of Children and Youth Services

Docket Nº:97-9307, 98-8223.
Citation:172 F.3d 786
Party Name:Rhonda Ann LATHEM, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH SERVICES, and its officers and agents, Defendant-Appellant. Rhonda Ann Lathem, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Department of Children and Youth Services, and its Officers and Agents, Donald Nix, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:April 14, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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172 F.3d 786 (11th Cir. 1999)

Rhonda Ann LATHEM, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH SERVICES, and its officers

and agents, Defendant-Appellant.

Rhonda Ann Lathem, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Department of Children and Youth Services, and its Officers

and Agents, Donald Nix, Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 97-9307, 98-8223.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 14, 1999

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Thurbert Baker, Atty. Gen., David C. Will, Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, GA, for Defendants-Appellants.

Karin L. Allen, William Q. Bird, William Q. Bird & Associates, P.C., Stephen Katz, Hewitt, Katz & Dumich, Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Before HATCHETT, Chief Judge, BIRCH, Circuit Judge, and KEITH [*], Senior Circuit Judge.

HATCHETT, Chief Judge:

Appellee Rhonda Lathem successfully sued appellant Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, f/k/a Department of Children & Youth Services (DCYS) for Title VII sex discrimination. DCYS appeals two of the district court's evidentiary rulings, the district court's denial of its motions for judgment as a matter of law and its grant of back pay and costs. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

DCYS hired Lathem as a secretary in August 1985. In July 1987, Lathem began working as a part-time intake officer for the juvenile court. In 1992, Lathem met Justin Cary, a juvenile client of DCYS's whom a court later emancipated. Lathem helped Cary secure housing, allowed him to stay at her house on Christmas Eve, provided him with meals and permitted him to use her car at least once. Cary and Hoyt Beavers, another juvenile DCYS client, stayed at Lathem's house on several occasions in January 1993. DCYS's policy prohibited its employees from becoming personally involved with DCYS clients. 1

In March 1993, Don Nix, the district director for DCYS, initiated an investigation of Lathem after Lathem's supervisor, Terry Waits, reported that Beavers's father had complained about his son and Cary spending too much time with Lathem. Nix arranged a meeting to discuss the complaint with Lathem and Waits. Lathem initially denied having a personal relationship with the boys and refused to answer some questions that Nix posed to her. Nix then referred the matter to Lew Brendle, a DCYS investigator. Lathem told Brendle that she had done nothing wrong and again refused to answer some of the questions asked of her. Brendle informed Lathem that, because of her failure to answer his questions, DCYS would require her to take a polygraph examination. The next day, during the preliminary interview with the polygraph examiner, Lathem admitted that she had lied to Nix when he questioned her about her relationship with Cary and Beavers. The examiner then called Brendle in to speak with Lathem. Lathem again admitted she

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let the boys stay at her house on several occasions. Brendle prepared an internal investigation report for Nix detailing his findings regarding Lathem's misconduct. In June 1993, apparently after Brendle issued his report, Nix nevertheless gave Lathem a favorable evaluation and recommended her for a merit increase. On October 29, 1993, however, Nix suspended Lathem with pay, citing Lathem's relationship with Cary and Beavers and her "failure to cooperate" with a DCYS investigation. DCYS terminated Lathem's employment on January 15, 1994.

Lathem filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Georgia's Commission on Equal Opportunity (CEO), alleging that DCYS discriminated against her based on sex because DCYS had not terminated Larry Smith, a male employee whom she contended was similarly-situated and had committed more egregious violations of DCYS's anti-fraternization rule. Smith was a DCYS unit director and was Lathem's direct supervisor. In 1987, Shirley McGarity reported to Nix that Smith was having an inappropriate relationship with her daughter, Rhonda Jones, a DCYS client who was then fifteen years old. 2 McGarity saw Smith and Jones sitting in a car together, which was a violation of DCYS policy. Nix confronted Smith about these charges, and Smith denied the charges. 3 According to DCYS's version of the events, Nix then requested that McGarity give him names of people with whom he could speak regarding her allegations of Smith's misconduct. DCYS claimed that McGarity never contacted Nix with any follow-up information to counter Smith's denial of the allegations, and this was the reason that Nix did not initiate an official investigation of Smith. Lathem claims that McGarity did speak with Nix again after the initial allegation, but that DCYS did not begin any investigation regarding the relationship.

Several months later, DCYS investigated Smith when several DCYS staff members accused him of additional serious misconduct, including having a sexual relationship with juvenile clients, possessing pornographic material, wiretapping, engaging in arson for hire, smuggling drugs and failure to perform his job duties. Brendle headed the investigation and ultimately uncovered evidence of Smith's misconduct. Although DCYS initially suspended Smith with pay while the investigation was underway, DCYS later reinstated him and transferred him to the Rome, Georgia DCYS office. A short time later, Smith voluntarily resigned. DCYS contends that Smith resigned while the investigation was still underway, and that if Smith had not resigned, DCYS would have taken disciplinary action against him, perhaps terminating his employment. Lathem, on the other hand, asserts that after DCYS transferred Smith to the Rome office, Nix informed her and other employees that the investigation of Smith was over.

The EEOC and the CEO both investigated Lathem's complaint. 4 The CEO report concluded...

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