Beaumont v. Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, Civil Action No. 1:05-CV-141.

Decision Date13 September 2006
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 1:05-CV-141.
Citation468 F.Supp.2d 907
PartiesGlen BEAUMONT and Jared Fielder, Plaintiffs, v. TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Texas

John Gerard Werner, Reaud Morgan & Quinn LLP, Beaumont, TX, for Plaintiffs.

Jacqueline Lee Haney, Attorney General's Office, Austin, TX, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CRONE, District Judge.

Pending before the court is Defendant Texas Department of Criminal Justice's ("TDCJ") Motion for Summary Judgment (# 22). TDCJ seeks summary judgment on Plaintiffs Glen Beaumont ("Beaumont") and Jared Fielder's ("Fielder") action alleging racial discrimination in employment and retaliation arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000h-6. Having reviewed the pending motion, the submissions of the parties, the pleadings, and the applicable law, the court is of the opinion that summary judgment is warranted.

I. Background

Plaintiffs are employed by TDCJ as correctional officers at the Gist Unit, located in Beaumont, Texas. Beaumont, a thirtynine-year-old white male, first worked for TDCJ from 1997 through May 2002, when he left his employment for medical reasons. He was subsequently rehired in February 2004 and is currently classified as a Correctional Officer III. In February 2006, he suffered an injury in a slip-andfall accident while showering at the Gist Unit and remains on leave. Fielder, a twenty-eight-year-old white male, joined TDCJ in August 2001, after serving a fouryear tour of duty with the United States Marine Corps, and, is presently ranked as a. Correctional Officer IV, after receiving a promotion on August 16, 2004.

On August 9, 2004, Beaumont and Fielder, who worked the second shift, voluntarily reported early to assist Sergeant Synetha Renfro ("Renfro"), a black female, with paperwork before their scheduled shift began. Some uncertainty exists as to precisely which TDCJ employees were present at the time. Beaumont alleges that, in addition to himself, Fielder, Lieutenant Terrell Smith ("Lt.Smith"), a black male, Sergeant Wilbert Johnson ("Johnson"), a black male, and Officer Terri Babineaux ("Babineaux"), a black female, were in the office. Fielder, Lt. Smith, and Johnson recollect that Officer Denise Prevost ("Prevost"), a black female, was also in the room. While in the office, Lt. Smith posed a hypothetical question, ostensibly directed toward Johnson, Prevost, and/or Babineaux, that posited a reverse historical scenario and inquired "what it would be like if African Americans took all the whites as their slaves . . . ." Johnson, after allegedly laughing, responded that "it wouldn't never have happened because black folks, they get jealous of each other too much and they would have done something stupid and ended up as slaves anyway." Johnson also purportedly stated that, had whites been enslaved, they would still "spit out little fairies." Moreover, Lt. Smith and/or Johnson allegedly commented that African Americans would have called white slaves "wieners." Beaumont and Fielder assert that these comments were intended to ridicule them even though the question and ensuing conversation were never specifically directed at either of them. Additionally, Plaintiffs testified at deposition that Johnson and Lt. Smith made other derogatory remarks concerning Beaumont and Fielder's supposed failure to conform with traditional gender stereotypes by referring to them as "faggots," "girl Fridays," "bitches," and "good, little secretaries."

Beaumont asserts that he felt "angry, upset, and disappointed"—to the extent that he shed tears—as a result of these remarks. He believes that Lt. Smith was behaving in a racist fashion, but he could not decide at deposition whether Johnson was engaging in racial harassment or mere rudeness. Beaumont speculated that Johnson may have displayed racial animus by reacting with amusement to Lt. Smith's purportedly racist remarks. Fielder claims not only to have felt upset and disappointed but also to have experienced a stomachache as a physical manifestation of his anxiety stemming from the offending conversation.

Following the incident in the supervisors' office, Beaumont and Fielder claimed to be unable to work that day due to their mental turmoil. Renfro gave them permission to go home after Beaumont related to her the events that had unfolded. Plaintiffs departed the Gist Unit but, shortly after leaving the correctional facility, decided to call another supervisor at the unit to confirm that they had permission to leave for the day. Captain Kenneth Dempsey ("Dempsey"), a white male, "intercepted" the call and instructed the men to return to the facility. Plaintiffs refused to enter the unit, but they agreed to discuss the situation with Dempsey and Major Howard Winkler ("Winkler"), a white male, in a gazebo adjacent to the parking lot.

At deposition, Dempsey admitted being frustrated with Beaumont and Fielder for abandoning their posts, which he believed jeopardized the safety of other correctional officers, over remarks that he regarded as relatively trivial. Dempsey chastised Beaumont and Fielder for their actions, though the parties dispute the precise contents of his statements. Winkler expressed his opinion that Lt. Smith's remarks, while perhaps inappropriate, were not offensive. He reacted with "shock and disbelief' when he learned that Beaumont and Fielder were sufficiently offended to leave their posts. During the meeting at the gazebo, Winkler attempted to impress upon Plaintiffs the importance of loyalty and mutual obligations among correctional officers in an attempt to persuade them to return to work for the day. Beaumont and Fielder refused to return to work, but they agreed to write statements concerning their alleged mistreatment by Lt. Smith and Johnson. Plaintiffs allege that Dempsey pressured them to complete the statements too quickly by requiring them to be finished by the time he left work at 5:00 p.m., fifteen minutes later.

Winkler first informed Warden Joseph Smith ("Warden Smith"), a white male, of the incident during a routine, morning briefing the next day. Warden Smith considered Lt. Smith's posing of the hypothetical, racial question to be "unprofessional" and "not appropriate." Like Dempsey and Winkler, Warden Smith was surprised that Plaintiffs found the question offensive, but declined to take any action regarding their decision to leave the Gist Unit. He decided to defer any decision on the matter until Dempsey conducted an investigation.

Beaumont and Fielder were upset by what they perceived to be a lack of support and fairness from their superiors. Fielder contends that Dempsey and Winkler ignored him during the meeting at the gazebo, were not open-minded about the incident, and had already determined that Beaumont and Fielder "were in the wrong." On August 17, 2004, Plaintiffs each filed discrimination charges against TDCJ with the EEOC, alleging discrimination on the basis of race and sex.1 A formal letter of instruction was eventually placed in Lt. Smith's personnel file in response to Plaintiffs' complaints.

Plaintiffs further claim that TDCJ, through its officials, retaliated against them for engaging in protected activity. Beaumont asserts that TDCJ retaliated against him by not promoting him to sergeant, through Dempsey's statements concerning the attributes needed by supervisors, by the insertion of negative disciplinary remarks in his file, and by assigning him unfavorable jobs. Fielder argues that TDCJ retaliated against him by denying and/or misplacing his requests for job training, by failing to select him for preferred job assignments, and by transferring him from an assignment in administrative segregation to one in the general population. Both Plaintiffs allege that TDCJ retaliated against them by requiring them to return to the Gist Unit after the purported harassment and also through Dempsey's criticism. Beaumont and Fielder filed separate charges of retaliation on February 10, 2005, and February 17, 2005, respectively. Plaintiffs jointly filed this lawsuit on February 22, 2005, alleging hostile work environment racial harassment and retaliation under Title VII. Neither Beaumont nor Fielder asserted a claim for sexual harassment, despite having, included such allegations in their EEOC charges.

II. Analysis
A. Summary Judgment Standard

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. Crv. P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Warfield v. Byron, 436 F.3d 551, 557 (5th Cir.2006); Lincoln Gen. Ins. Co. v. Reyna, 401 F.3d 347, 349 (5th Cir.2005); Martinez v. Schlumberger, Ltd., 338 F.3d 407, 411 (5th Cir.2003); Terrebonne Parish Sch. Bd. v. Mobil Oil Corp., 310 F.3d 870, 877 (5th Cir.2002).

"A fact is `material' if it 'might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law.'" Bazan ex rel. Bazan v. Hidalgo County, 246 F.3d 481, 489 (5th Cir.2001) (emphasis in original) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505); see Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v....

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