Irby v. Sullivan, No. 82-1566

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore GEE and GARWOOD; GARWOOD
Citation737 F.2d 1418
Docket NumberNo. 82-1566
Decision Date06 August 1984
Parties35 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 697, 35 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 34,582 Henry IRBY, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, Cross-Appellees, v. Mike SULLIVAN, Jr., et al., Defendants-Appellees, Cross-Appellants.

Page 1418

737 F.2d 1418
35 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 697,
35 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 34,582
Henry IRBY, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, Cross-Appellees,
v.
Mike SULLIVAN, Jr., et al., Defendants-Appellees, Cross-Appellants.
No. 82-1566.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.
Aug. 6, 1984.

Page 1420

Robert E. Hedicke, Dan. L. Armstrong, El Paso, Tex., for plaintiffs-appellants, cross-appellees.

Luther Jones, County Atty., Todd D. Chenoweth, Asst. County Atty., El Paso, Tex., for defendants-appellees, cross-appellants.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Before GEE and GARWOOD, Circuit Judges, and EAST *, District Judge.

GARWOOD, Circuit Judge:

This is an appeal in an action alleging employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e, et seq., and of 42 U.S.C. Secs. 1981, 1983, and 1985(c) [42 U.S.C.A. Sec. 1985(3) ]. Plaintiffs are four black former employees of the El Paso County Sheriff's Department and an unsuccessful black applicant for employment with the Department. Defendants are the County of El Paso, Texas, the County Sheriff's Department, the County Sheriff and former County Sheriff, and three Sheriff's Deputies. No class action is involved. Plaintiffs sought back pay and emotional damages. They did not seek employment, reinstatement, or other equitable relief. Following a three-day bench trial, the district court entered Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in favor of plaintiff Henry Irby's Title VII claim and denying all other claims. Irby was awarded $1,460 in back pay, and attorneys' fees.

Plaintiffs have appealed on various grounds. Plaintiffs Irby, Robert L. Wilson, and Wallace W. Brown assert that the Sheriff's Department violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to provide them hearings before they were fired from the Department, and they appeal the district court's denial of relief under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 on that ground. Plaintiff James A. Trabue challenges the court's finding that defendants did not deny him an employment application because of his

Page 1421

race in violation of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, and plaintiff Brown contests the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the district court's finding that he was not fired in retaliation for filing a Title VII complaint before the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Finally, plaintiffs Irby and Alvin M. Johnson assert that the district court applied an improper standard and rendered irreconcilable findings of fact and conclusions of law in denying their claims under section 1983. Plaintiffs do not contest the denial of their claims under 42 U.S.C. Secs. 1981 and 1985(3). 1 Defendants also appeal the district court's judgment in favor of Irby, which was based on a finding of retaliatory firing in violation of Title VII. Defendants allege they were not given adequate notice of that claim.

Because the district court erred in failing to find that Irby's retaliatory firing violated section 1983, we reverse the denial of Irby's claim under that statute. We also hold that the district court did not adequately articulate the basis for its denial of the section 1983 claim of plaintiff Johnson. Therefore, we vacate that portion of the district court's judgment denying Johnson's claim and remand for further findings of fact and conclusions of law. We affirm the remainder of the district court's judgment.

I.

ABSENCE OF HEARING

Plaintiffs Irby, Wilson, and Brown claim that they were denied equal protection and due process of law by the failure of the Sheriff's Department to grant them hearings before they were dismissed. 2 We disagree. Public employees are entitled to pretermination hearings under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment only if they have a cognizable property or liberty interest in continued employment. Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569-70, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 2705, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972); Price v. City of Junction, Texas, 711 F.2d 582, 589 (5th Cir.1983); Broadway v. Block, 694 F.2d 979, 985 (5th Cir.1982); White v. South Park Independent School District, 693 F.2d 1163, 1166 (5th Cir.1982). A protected property interest in employment exists only if the employee has "a legitimate claim of entitlement to" continued employment. Roth 408 U.S. at 577, 92 S.Ct. at 2709; Conley v. Board of Trustees of Grenada County Hospital, 707 F.2d 175, 179 (5th Cir.1983). The property interest can emanate from a statute, local ordinance, or rule, or from a mutually explicit understanding. Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 601-02, 92 S.Ct. 2694, 2699-2700, 33 L.Ed.2d 570 (1972); Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 344, 96 S.Ct. 2074, 2077, 48 L.Ed.2d 684 (1976); White v. Mississippi State Oil and Gas Board, 650 F.2d 540, 541 (5th Cir.1981); Conley at 179. "In either case, however, the sufficiency of the claim of entitlement must be decided by reference to state law." Bishop, 426 U.S. at 344, 96 S.Ct. at 2077.

Texas law gives sheriffs, and other elected county officials, virtually unbridled authority in hiring and firing their employees. Murray v. Harris, 112 S.W.2d 1091 (Tex.Civ.App.--Amarillo 1938, writ dism'd); Barrett v. Thomas, 649 F.2d 1193, 1199 (5th Cir.1981), cert. denied sub nom.,

Page 1422

456 U.S. 925, 936, 102 S.Ct. 1969, 1992, 72 L.Ed.2d 440, 455 (1982); White v. Thomas, 660 F.2d 680, 684 (5th Cir.1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 1027, 102 S.Ct. 1731, 72 L.Ed.2d 148 (1982); Familias Unidas v. Briscoe, 619 F.2d 391, 404 (5th Cir.1980). Under Tex.Rev.Civ.Stat.Ann. art. 6869 (Vernon 1960), sheriff's deputies serve "during the pleasure" of the sheriff. "It follows that deputy sheriffs have no legal entitlement to their jobs as public employees; the sheriff may fire them for many reasons or for no articulable reason at all." 3 Barrett at 1199. Accord, McBee v. Jim Hogg County, Texas, 730 F.2d 1009, 1010 n. 2 (5th Cir.1984) (en banc); Murray at 1093-94. Plaintiffs, therefore, lacked any property interest in their continued employment. 4 Plaintiffs do not assert that their dismissal deprived them of a constitutionally protected liberty interest, nor is there any evidence in the record which would support such an assertion.

Plaintiffs Irby, Brown and Wilson also allege that they were denied equal protection of the laws by the absence of pretermination hearings. They assert that a Texas statute guarantees to city employees the right to such a hearing, 5 and that "as a matter of equal protection of the laws, the right should be extended to individuals employed by county governments." Assuming, arguendo, that a county or its officials or employees can be liable for an equal protection violation based on allegedly improper classifications made by state statutes, we find no such improper classification here.

The test for scrutinizing state policies like the one at issue here is well-settled:

" 'Unless a classification trammels fundamental personal rights or is drawn upon inherently suspect distinctions such as race, religion, or alienage, our decisions presume the constitutionality of the statutory discriminations and require only that the classification challenged be rationally related to a legitimate state interest.' " City of New Orleans v. Dukes, 427 U.S. 297, 303, 96 S.Ct. 2513, 2516, 49 L.Ed.2d 511 (1976), quoted in Laird v. Board of Trustees of the Institutions of Higher Learning, 721 F.2d 529, 532 (5th Cir.1983).

Employees of county governments do not comprise a suspect class, and

Page 1423

the holding of public employment "is not a recognized fundamental right." Arceneaux v. Treen, 671 F.2d 128, 133 (5th Cir.1982), citing Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307, 313, 96 S.Ct. 2562, 2566, 49 L.Ed.2d 520 (1976). Therefore, we review the classification here under the "rational basis" test. "In such a situation, 'the burden is not upon the state to establish the rationality of its restriction, but is upon the challenger to show that the restriction is wholly arbitrary.' " Kite v. Marshall, 661 F.2d 1027, 1030 (5th Cir.1981), cert. denied, 457 U.S. 1120, 102 S.Ct. 2934, 73 L.Ed.2d 1333 (1982), quoting Karr v. Schmidt, 460 F.2d 609, 617 (5th Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 989, 93 S.Ct. 307, 34 L.Ed.2d 256 (1972). We must ask whether " 'any state of facts reasonably may be conceived to justify' " the challenged distinction. McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 426, 81 S.Ct. 1101, 1105, 6 L.Ed.2d 393 (1961), quoted in Pappanastos v. Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama, 615 F.2d 219, 221 (5th Cir.1980). We do not consider here whether article 1006 or any other Texas statute guarantees city employees under all circumstances the right to a pretermination hearing, or the extent of that guarantee. See Bell v. Gayle, 384 F.Supp. 1022, 1025 (N.D.Tex.1974). Assuming such a guarantee exists, the failure to extend it to county employees was not irrational.

We have recognized that the elected county official occupies a singular place in Texas government. "Because of the unique structure of county government in Texas," the sheriff, like other elected county officials, "holds virtually absolute sway over the particular tasks or areas of responsibility entrusted to him by state statute and is accountable to no one other than the voters for his conduct therein." Familias Unidas v. Briscoe, 619 F.2d at 404. The legislature might well have rationally concluded that the effect of requiring a pretermination hearing for county employees, even if such a right is afforded city employees, would be to undermine the uniquely broad discretion granted elected county officials. The equal protection clause does not require that all public employees be treated alike. Clements v. Fashing, 457 U.S. 957, 102 S.Ct. 2836, 73 L.Ed.2d 508 (1982); Vance v. Bradley, 440 U.S. 93, 99 S.Ct. 939, 59 L.Ed.2d 171 (1979); Arceneaux v. Treen, supra. Our...

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  • Berry v. Tex. Woman's Univ., CASE NO. 4:19-CV-00409-RWS-CAN
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • March 25, 2021
    ...rights created by section 704(a) [of Title VII] may not be asserted within the remedial framework of section 1983." Irby v. Sullivan , 737 F.2d 1418, 1428 (5th Cir. 1984). "Section 704(a) of Title VII prohibits an employer from acting against an employee in retaliation for the filing of a d......
  • Rutherford v. State of California
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 9, 1987
    ...rights, but rather provides a remedy for violations of rights secured by federal and constitutional law. (Irby v. Sullivan (5th Cir.1984) 737 F.2d 1418, 1427; Wise v. Bravo (10th Cir.1981) 666 F.2d 1328, 1331; Hayssen v. Board of Zoning Adjustments, supra, 171 Cal.App.3d at p. 409, 217 Cal.......
  • Lightner v. TOWN OF ARITON, AL, Civ. A. No. 94-D-1198-S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • August 17, 1995
    ...(1) statutorily protected participation; (2) adverse employment action; and (3) a causal relationship between the two. Irby v. Sullivan, 737 F.2d 1418, 1425 (5th Cir.1984); Greenwood v. Ross, 778 F.2d 448 (8th Cir.1985). Once a plaintiff constructs a prima facie case of retaliatory discharg......
  • Greenwood v. Ross, No. 84-1498
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • November 22, 1985
    ...substantive rights but is merely the vehicle for seeking a federal remedy for violations of federally protected rights. Irby v. Sullivan, 737 F.2d 1418, 1427-28 (5th Cir.1984) (Irby ); see Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1, 4, 100 S.Ct. 2502, 2504, 65 L.Ed.2d 555 (1980). The Constitution and f......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
126 cases
  • Berry v. Tex. Woman's Univ., CASE NO. 4:19-CV-00409-RWS-CAN
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • March 25, 2021
    ...rights created by section 704(a) [of Title VII] may not be asserted within the remedial framework of section 1983." Irby v. Sullivan , 737 F.2d 1418, 1428 (5th Cir. 1984). "Section 704(a) of Title VII prohibits an employer from acting against an employee in retaliation for the filing of a d......
  • Rutherford v. State of California
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 9, 1987
    ...rights, but rather provides a remedy for violations of rights secured by federal and constitutional law. (Irby v. Sullivan (5th Cir.1984) 737 F.2d 1418, 1427; Wise v. Bravo (10th Cir.1981) 666 F.2d 1328, 1331; Hayssen v. Board of Zoning Adjustments, supra, 171 Cal.App.3d at p. 409, 217 Cal.......
  • Lightner v. TOWN OF ARITON, AL, Civ. A. No. 94-D-1198-S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • August 17, 1995
    ...(1) statutorily protected participation; (2) adverse employment action; and (3) a causal relationship between the two. Irby v. Sullivan, 737 F.2d 1418, 1425 (5th Cir.1984); Greenwood v. Ross, 778 F.2d 448 (8th Cir.1985). Once a plaintiff constructs a prima facie case of retaliatory discharg......
  • Greenwood v. Ross, No. 84-1498
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • November 22, 1985
    ...substantive rights but is merely the vehicle for seeking a federal remedy for violations of federally protected rights. Irby v. Sullivan, 737 F.2d 1418, 1427-28 (5th Cir.1984) (Irby ); see Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1, 4, 100 S.Ct. 2502, 2504, 65 L.Ed.2d 555 (1980). The Constitution and f......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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