Hall v. Missouri Highway and Transp. Com'n

Decision Date06 March 1998
Docket NumberNo. 4:96 CV 01042 SNL.,4:96 CV 01042 SNL.
Citation995 F.Supp. 1001
PartiesThelma HALL, Plaintiff, v. MISSOURI HIGHWAY AND TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION and Ron Hopkins, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri

Lois Spritzer, Van Amberg and Chackes, St. Louis, MO, for Plaintiff.

Paula R. Lambrecht, Melinda K. Grace-Beasley, Highway & Transp. Com'n, State of Mo., Jefferson City, MO, for Defendants.


LIMBAUGH, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the summary judgment motions filed by defendant Missouri Highway Transportation Commission ("MHTC") and defendant Ron Hopkins ("Hopkins") (collectively "Defendants") on December 1, 1997. The underlying employment discrimination action arises under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983"). Plaintiff argues that she was disparately treated in the terms and conditions of her employment, and ultimately discharged, because of her age and gender. Plaintiff also alleges that Hopkins retaliated against her for complaining of discrimination against older women in her district. Defendants deny these allegations.


MHTC is a subordinate body of the executive branch of the government of the State of Missouri. It consists of six appointed members and has the authority to construct, reconstruct, and maintain all roadways and bridges in the state highway system.

The Missouri Department of Transportation ("MoDOT") is an organization operating under the exclusive control of MHTC. To aid in its operations, MoDOT has divided the state into ten geographical areas designated as districts, each containing an office responsible for administration of work within that area. Plaintiff was employed in district # 6, consisting of the City of St. Louis, and St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties.

Plaintiff began her employment with MoDOT as a typist on July 1, 1969. She was promoted to secretary in August, 1970, and to senior secretary one year later. Plaintiff remained a senior secretary until her termination on March 17, 1995.

Plaintiff has been under Hopkins' direct supervision since October, 1987. Although Hopkins initially selected Plaintiff to remain on his staff, their relationship has since been less than ideal. The record is replete with evidence of the combative nature of their relationship.

Plaintiff was generally regarded as a competent employee. Her most recent performance appraisal comments:

Works extremely carefully. Attention to detail is particularly strong.


A hard worker who doesn't like leaving work undone. Output is above level that would be considered acceptable.

Plaintiff's other performance appraisals contain similar remarks.

Over the past several years, however, these same performance appraisals also reference Plaintiff's ill-tempered nature, insubordination, and general disregard for her coworkers and supervisors. Her most recent performance appraisal reports:

She is also quick to criticize and shows little tolerance of errors made by others. She has trouble controlling her emotions and frequently raises her voice when expressing her dissatisfaction.

Likewise, her 1993 performance appraisal notes:

Continues to have problem exercising self-control when frustrated or under pressure. However, she has clearly made an effort to improve in this area and the number of incidents have decreased during the past year.

Finally, Plaintiff's 1992 performance appraisal states:

Her disposition is generally pleasant and cooperative, but she continues to have problems controlling her emotions. She can suddenly become despondent and argumentative. There have been instances in which she has become loud and abusive attracting the attention of co-workers and visitors to the district office. She has been cautioned by the district management staff and myself and is aware that future outbursts will not be tolerated. She has received an oral reprimand and is aware that any future disruptive behavior will lead to progressively severe disciplinary action.

Plaintiff contends that she frequently complained of discrimination against older women in her department. She maintains that older secretaries with seniority were passed over for promotions while younger secretaries were promoted within six months of hire. She argues that Hopkins showed a preference for younger women in 1993, when he hired a young college graduate to fill the newly created human resources specialist position.1 She further argues that MHTC discriminatorily classified the senior secretaries, primarily women over the age of forty, at a lower grade than the younger human resources specialists. Plaintiff insists that both groups of employees shared many of the same job responsibilities. Plaintiff has also alleged many instances of personalized disparate treatment.

Defendants argue that Plaintiff was a disgruntled employee who complained incessantly, and only for her own benefit. They note the triviality of many of Plaintiff's suggested instances of disparate treatment. They further contend that there were legitimate job distinctions between the human resource specialists and senior secretaries. Finally, Defendants assert that Plaintiff was frequently disruptive and unprofessional in her manner. They insist that she would burst into Hopkins' office unannounced and demand an audience for her complaints. If Hopkins refused, Defendants claim that Plaintiff would become abusive and hostile.

On March 17, 1995, Plaintiff presented Hopkins with a coding mistake made by the human resources specialist, Melissa Hubbs. Hopkins asked Plaintiff to correct the error. Plaintiff allegedly suggested that Hubbs correct the error so that she would learn and not continue to make the same mistakes. Additionally, Plaintiff maintains that she told Hopkins that she had more pressing work and would correct the error when she had time. Although the exact nature of the ensuing confrontation is disputed, it is clear that Hopkins went to his supervisors who in turn asked Plaintiff to go home. Plaintiff was later discharged for her insubordination.

MHTC argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's Title VII claims because she cannot establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment, discriminatory discharge, or retaliation, and because it has presented legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for all of the alleged adverse employment actions. MHTC further argues that Plaintiff's ADEA claims should be dismissed because it is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Hopkins argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's § 1983 claims because her speech was not a matter of public concern and his interest, and that of MHTC, in promoting the efficiency of public service outweighed any interest of Plaintiff. He further argues that there were legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for all of his actions. Finally, he argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity.


Courts have repeatedly recognized that summary judgment is a harsh remedy that should be granted only when the moving party has established its right to judgment with such clarity as not to give rise to controversy. New England Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Null, 554 F.2d 896, 901 (8th Cir.1977). Summary judgment motions, however, "can be a tool of great utility in removing factually insubstantial cases from crowded dockets, freeing courts' trial time for those that really do raise genuine issues of material fact." Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir.1988).

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), a district court may grant a motion for summary judgment if all of the information before the court demonstrates that "there is no genuine issue as to material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 467, 82 S.Ct. 486, 7 L.Ed.2d 458 (1962). The burden is on the moving party. Mt. Pleasant, 838 F.2d at 273. After the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party must do more than show that there is some doubt as to the facts. Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Instead, the nonmoving party bears the burden of setting forth specific facts showing that there is sufficient evidence to allow a jury to return a verdict in her favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

In passing on a motion for summary judgment, the court must review the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and give that party the benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from those facts. Buller v. Buechler, 706 F.2d 844, 846 (8th Cir.1983). The court is required to resolve all conflicts of evidence in favor of the nonmoving party. Robert Johnson Grain Co. v. Chemical Interchange Co., 541 F.2d 207, 210 (8th Cir.1976).

Title VII

As an initial matter, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has exhausted her administrative remedies with respect to her claims of disparate treatment and retaliation. The affidavit filed along with Plaintiff's charge of discrimination clearly alleges facts sufficient to put the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on notice to investigate these additional claims. See Gipson v. KAS Snacktime, Co., 83 F.3d 225, 229 (8th Cir. 1996); Tart v. Hill Behan Lumber Co., 31 F.3d 668, 671 (8th Cir.1994); cf. Williams v. Little Rock Municipal Water Works, 21 F.3d 218, 222-23 (8th Cir.1994). Moreover, these claims are timely and relate back to the date on which Plaintiff filed her original Complaint. F.R.C.P. 15(c); see also Berthiaume v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car...

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  • Scott Family Props., LP v. Mo. Highway & Transp. Comm'n
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
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    ...544, (8th Cir.2016). Eleventh Amendment immunity extends to arms of the state, including the Commission. Hall v. Missouri Highway & Transp. Comm'n, 995 F.Supp. 1001, 1006 (E.D.Mo.1998). However, a state remains free to waive its Eleventh Amendment protection from suit in federal court. Lapi......
  • Frappied v. Affinity Gaming Black Hawk, LLC
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    ...26, 2000) ; James v. Teleflex, Inc., No. CIV.A. 97-1206, 1998 WL 966009, at *9 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 23, 1998) ; Hall v. Mo. Highway & Transp. Comm'n, 995 F. Supp. 1001, 1005 (E.D. Mo. 1998), aff'd on other grounds, 235 F.3d 1065 (8th Cir. 2000). But see, e.g., Bauers-Toy v. Clarence Cent. Sch. Di......
  • Doucette v. Morrison Cnty.
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    ...Also, district courts within this circuit have recognized sex-plus-age claims in comparable contexts. See Hall v. Mo. Highway & Transp. Comm'n, 995 F. Supp. 1001, 1005 (E.D. Mo. 1998); McGrane v. Proffitt's Inc., No. C 97-221-MJM, 2000 WL 34030843, at *7 (N.D. Iowa Dec. 26, 2000). However, ......
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    ...Poettker Const. Co. v. Highway and Transp. Comm'n of Missouri, 817 F. Supp. 75, 76 (E.D. Mo. 1993); Hall v. Missouri Highway and Transp. Comm'n, 995 F. Supp. 1001, 1006-07 (E.D. Mo. 1998); and Complaint of Valley Towing Service, 581 F. Supp. 1287 (E.D. Mo. 1984). Accordingly, I find that fo......
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    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Lawyer No. 48-9, October 2019
    • Invalid date
    ...(5th Cir. 1980) (recognizing sex-plus race discrimination as a form of sex discrimination); Hall v. Missouri Highway and Transp. Comm'n, 995 F.Supp. 1001 (E.D. Mo. 1998) (recognizing sex-plus age discrimination as a form of sex discrimination), aff'd, 235 F.3d 1065 (8th Cir. 2000). [22] 42 ......

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