Allen v. Miss. Dep't of Pub. Safety

Decision Date26 September 2022
Docket Number4:20-CV-172-DMB-DAS
PartiesSANDRA LYNN ALLEN PLAINTIFF v. MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, et al. DEFENDANTS
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi

SANDRA LYNN ALLEN PLAINTIFF
v.

MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, et al.
DEFENDANTS

No. 4:20-CV-172-DMB-DAS

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

September 26, 2022


OPINION AND ORDER

DEBRA M. BROWN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Sandra Allen sued the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and various individuals alleging numerous employment-related claims of discrimination and retaliation. The defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims. For the reasons explained below, summary judgment will be granted.

I

Relevant Procedural History

On September 29, 2020, Sandra Lynn Allen filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi against the Mississippi Department of Public Safety (“MDPS”); Sean Tindell, Chairman of MDPS; Marshall L. Fisher, individually and in his official capacity as former Chairman of MDPS; and Kenneth K. Brown,[1] individually and in his official capacity as Director of Driver Services Bureau. Doc. #1. Allen's complaint contained twelve counts: (1) “Title VII Claim-Sex and Gender Discrimination;” (2) “Title VII Claim-Retaliation;” (3) “Equal Protection Claim;” (4) “Claim under the Equal Pay Act;” (5) “Claims against Defendant Fisher;” (6) “Claims against Defendant Brown;” (7) “Employment Practices of the MDPS;” (8) “First Amendment Claim;” (9) “Section 1981 and Section 1983 Claims;” (10) “Declaratory

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Judgment and Injunctive Relief;” (11) “Hostile Work Environment Claim;” and (12) “Punitive Damages, Attorney's Fee and Equitable Relief.” Id. at 33-61. Based on these claims, Allen sought injunctive relief; back pay; actual and compensatory damages from MDPS, Fisher, and Brown; and punitive damages from Fisher and Brown. Id. at 62-64. The defendants answered the complaint on October 21, 2020.[2] Doc. #7.

On December 11, 2020, the defendants filed two separate motions to dismiss certain of Allen's claims. Docs. #13, #15. Approximately six weeks later, after the motions to dismiss were fully briefed[3] but before the Court ruled on them, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Doc. #28.

The Court addressed the motions to dismiss in two separate orders issued April 15, 2021. The Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the § 1983 claims against MDPS after finding such claims improper but denied the motion to the extent it sought dismissal of the § 1983 claims against the individual defendants. Doc. #35 at 6-7. The Court also granted the defendants' motion to dismiss Allen's First Amendment claims after finding that she “ha[d] not alleged sufficient facts to show that she spoke on a matter of public concern.” Doc. #36 at 7. However, the Court allowed Allen a period of time to seek leave to amend her complaint to properly allege the First Amendment claims. Id. at 8.

With leave of the Court,[4] Allen filed an amended complaint on June 1, 2021, naming the same defendants and asserting the same counts as in her original complaint. Doc. #42. Because the Court “conclude[d] that it judicially would be most efficient to address the relevant issues in

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an updated motion for summary judgment which addresses the amended complaint,” the Court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment without prejudice. Doc. #54 at 2.

On December 16, 2021, the defendants filed a “Second Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment.”[5] Doc. #86. The summary judgment motion is fully briefed. Docs. #87, #121,[6] #134. After Allen responded to the motion, the defendants moved to strike some of her summary judgment evidence and related arguments. Doc. #130. Following the defendants' reply in support of summary judgment, Allen moved to strike some of the defendants' summary judgment evidence. Doc. #138.[7] The motions to strike are also fully briefed. Docs. #131, #137, #140 (briefs regarding the defendants' motion to strike); Docs. #139, #141, #143 (briefs regarding Allen's motion to strike).

II

Evidentiary Matters

Through their respective motions to strike, the parties dispute whether certain summary judgment evidence is proper.

A. Defendants' Exhibits

In her memorandum opposing summary judgment, Allen characterizes “documents and charts” attached to Denise Blanton's affidavit as hearsay and as “created for this litigation.” Doc. #121 at 18. In response, the defendants submitted the affidavit of Hannah Harrison with their

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summary judgment reply. See Doc. #134 at 3; Doc. #133-1. Allen moves to strike Harrison's affidavit on grounds that “neither Ms. Harrison nor the documents attached to her Affidavit were produced by [the defendants and] Ms. Harrison has never been disclosed as having knowledge of the claims or defenses in this action or being designated as giving expert opinions in this action or her expertise in the ‘methodology' in obtaining the information provided.” Doc. #139 at 2.

The defendants respond that “then-HR Director Natalie Holmes prepared a position statement [in response to Allen's EEOC charge] and attached to it charts reflecting salaries of all DLE's as of February 2019 and July 2019, after a realignment;” “[t]his document was ... produced to [Allen] in initial disclosures;” in her initial disclosures, Allen identified Holmes “or her successor or Agency designee;” at the time they filed their motion for summary judgment, “Holmes was no longer at MDPS, so Blanton was asked to sign an Affidavit authenticating . two charts - one showing DLE salaries in February 2019, and one showing DLE salaries in October 2020;” “the information contained in these two charts was consistent with what Holmes had produced and prepared for the EEOC in July 2019;” and “Harrison is Holmes' successor.” Doc. #141 at 2-3. Additionally, the defendants argue that because Allen identified Easterling as a comparator for the first time in her March 2, 2022, deposition the day before the discovery deadline and argued for the first time in her summary judgment response that “Herrington's salary history would reflect that he was given multiple raises and reclassifications so that he would earn as much as [her],” they “are entitled to rebut [Allen's] unsubstantiated arguments.” Id. at 4. Allen replies that she identified both Herrington and Easterling in her initial disclosures. Doc. #143 at 2.

B. Allen's Exhibits

The defendants move to strike multiple of Allen's exhibits (or portions of exhibits) on grounds that they are unauthenticated, irrelevant, lack foundation, and/or contain hearsay and thus

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“are not competent summary judgment evidence.” Doc. #130 at 1. Specifically, the defendants seek to strike a “23-page listing of what purports to be the salaries of all DPS personnel;” a “2-page document entitled ‘Preparing for a Desk Audit;'” a “3-page website printout of article dated January 14, 2019 entitled ‘Analysis: Public safety chief seeks exit from civil service;'” the declarations of Patricia Jolley, Treva Brumfield, and Ola Kirk; and portions of Allen's declaration. Doc. #131 at 1-11.

Allen responds that each document is admissible because the listing of personnel was identified by Fisher and her, the “MDPS is governed by the Mississippi State Personnel Board (‘MSPB')” and “[d]esk audits are part of the policies and procedures of the MSPB,” and Fisher “reviewed the article and admitted these were his words reported in the article.” Doc. #137 at 510. With respect to the declarations, Allen argues that the defendants misconstrue their contents, and the declarations contain relevant information. Id. at 11-16.

C. Discussion

Although prior to the December 1, 2010, revision to Rule 56 the proper method to challenge summary judgement evidence was a motion to strike, “it is no longer necessary for a party to file such a motion; instead, the party may simply object to the material.” Cutting Underwater Techs. USA, Inc. v. Eni U.S. Operating Co., 671 F.3d 512, 515 (5th Cir. 2012). As this Court previously explained:

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not provide for a motion to strike documents or portions of documents other than pleadings. However, the federal courts are vested with inherent power to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases, including the power of the court to control its docket. A court, exercising this inherent power, may strike an improperly filed document. This authority should be invoked only in extreme cases, however, and it must be used with great restraint.

McNeal v. Tate Cnty. Sch. Dist., No. 2:70-cv-29, 2016 WL 6651328, at *3 (N.D. Miss. Nov. 10,

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2016) (internal citations omitted). When considering objections to summary judgment evidence, a district court “has broad discretion in its decisions to admit evidence.” Bennett v. GEO Grp., Inc., No. 12-60017, 2013 WL 5916765, at *5 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Torres, 114 F.3d 520, 525-26 (5th Cir. 1997)).

Based on the parties' arguments on the motions to strike, the Court concludes this is not an “extreme case” that would warrant striking evidence. The relevant information in Blanton's and Harrison's affidavits-the salaries of various MDPS employees-is consistent with Allen's 23-page salary listing.[8] With respect to whether Allen's exhibits are authenticated, a plaintiff “need not authenticate evidence at the summary judgment stage if it can be authenticated at trial”[9] and Allen has presented argument as to how each document would be authenticated should the case proceed to trial. And “the bar is low” to establish relevancy because “evidence is relevant if it has any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence”[10] and each declaration deals with MDPS' employment practices-which are the subject of Allen's claims. Because the Court does not consider any of...

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