Lofton v. City of West Point
|04 April 2012
|CIVIL ACTION NO.1:10CV282-SA-DAS,CIVIL ACTION NO.1:10CV316-SA-DAS
|JONI LOFTON PLAINTIFF v. CITY OF WEST POINT, MISSISSIPPI DEFENDANT SHASTA HEATH PLUNKETT PLAINTIFF v. CITY OF WEST POINT, MISSISSIPPI and JASPER PITTMAN, in his individual capacity DEFENDANTS
|U.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi
LEAD CASE CONSOLIDATED WITH
Presently before the Court are two Motions for Summary Judgment [42, 33]. The first Motion  filed by Defendants, the City of West Point and Jasper Pittman, addresses claims asserted by Plaintiff Shasta Plunkett. The second Motion  filed by Defendant, the City of West Point, is directed at claims asserted by Plaintiff Joni Lofton. After reviewing the motions, responses, rules, and authorities, the Court finds as follows:
Shasta Plunkett ("Plunkett" or "Plaintiff Plunkett") is a Caucasian male formerly employed by the City of West Point, Mississippi's Water and Light Department. In either 1998or 1999,1 Plaintiff Plunkett was hired by the City of West Point as a meter reader. According to Plunkett, he was promoted to lineman a year later and, in 2008, he became the lead serviceman. At this time, Plunkett reported to then- Superintendent of the City of West Point's Water and Light Department, Paul Young (Caucasian). Plunkett asserts that he was never written up or disciplined while working for the City and, according to Paul Young, In 2008, Plunkett, along with Plaintiff Joni Lofton, was apparently placed in charge of "billings and collections." Plunkett contends that this job was previously done by Paris Calvert (African American) and Rhonda "Collins" Hibler (African American). According to Plunkett, Calvert and Hibler were not disconnecting the electricity of customers who did not pay in accordance with the City's TVA contract. Plunkett maintains that once he and Lofton were put in charge of collections, "there would be four to [five hundred] people in a day to be disconnected on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of every month[,]" and around eighty percent of the disconnects were allegedly African-American households.
In October 2009, Paul Young retired from his position as Superintendent due to alleged "conflicts" with the Board. These conflicts appear to have been tinged with racial overtures, as Paul Young testified about African-American members of the Board, as well as African-American customers, complaining about their electricity being disconnected due to delinquent payment. Young further testified that the newly-elected Board and the mayor made it moredifficult for the electric department to fulfill its job duties. According to Plaintiff Plunkett, the African-American Board members claimed they were "having a lot of complaints from black people for being cut off on disconnects." Plunkett maintains that some of the complaints were from the African-American Board members themselves, as they—along with the mayor— allegedly had their electricity shut off for not paying their bills.
After Paul Young retired, Plunkett contends that Young recommended to Randy Jones that he be promoted to Superintendent. It appears that Randy Jones (Caucasian), the City's Chief Administrative Officer, initially acted as Superintendent for the Department but, in 2010, Plunkett was appointed to the position of Interim Electric Superintendent. Nevertheless, Plunkett's work situation also apparently worsened in 2010, as Plunkett filed a charge with the EEOC on February 4, 2010, alleging discrimination based on his race. This charge of discrimination alleges, in pertinent part, as follows:
I have been employed by the West Point Electric Department for eleven years . . . I had no work related problems until a black person, Mr. Jasper Pittman, came to serve on the Board of Aldermen in the Fall of 2008. Mr. Pittman would not pay his own electrical bill on time and would also try to keep me from taking actions against black constituents who do not pay their electric bill. My problems were exacerbated when a black majority came to the Board of Alderman and essentially supported Mr. Pittman's position that aldermen were privileged persons and should not have to pay their bills, and should also be able to demand that their friends (who are invariably black) not have to pay their bills . . . Finally, at a Board meeting on January 20, 2010, the City Administrator was told by the majority black aldermen that if he did not demote me from my position, they would fire him. Thereafter, I was moved from my position as being a lead serviceman to a job on the line . . . The animosity against me is because I am white and because the majority black aldermen believe that they, and any of their black friends, should not be required to pay their electric bills. I believe the actions of the aldermen is also designed to try to disqualify me from the vacant position of Superintendent of the Utilities Department.
Shortly thereafter, on March 10, 2010, Plunkett was terminated by a 3-2 Board vote. According to Plunkett, no reason was given for this termination. The mayor subsequently vetoed the Board's vote. At a board meeting held on April 13, 2010, Bill Porter appeared before the Board and voiced complaints from six individuals in the city concerning the electric department. Plunkett asserts that the six individuals voicing the concerns were all African American. According to Plunkett, at this same Board meeting, Plaintiff "Joni Lofton was moved to the warehouse, Shasta was demoted, stripped his interim superintendent title, and moved to the warehouse also." On April 22, 2010, Plunkett was terminated for the second time, by a 4-1 Board vote. The 4-1 vote was along racial lines, and the mayor does not have authority to veto a 4-1 vote.
On April 22, 2010, Dwight Prisock (Caucasian) replaced Plunkett as interim superintendent. The Board apparently also attempted to terminate Prisock on July 15, 2010, but the termination vote was vetoed by the mayor. Paris Calvert (African American) replaced Plunkett as meter reader supervisor. Plunkett asserts that he had served the position of meter reader supervisor for two years prior to his termination. Plunkett further maintains that, even after his termination, Board members continued to harass him.
On September 16, 2010, Plunkett received his right to sue letter from the EEOC. He thereafter filed this suit against the City of West Point, Mississippi, as well as Jasper Pittman, in his individual capacity, on December 6, 2010, alleging as follows: (1) racial discrimination in violation of Title VII; (2) retaliation in violation of Title VII; (3) racial discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (4) a violation of the Equal Protection Clause; (5) a violation of the Due Process Clause; (6) wrongful discharge in violation of Mississippi law; (7) malicious interferencewith contract against Defendant Pittman; and (8) intentional infliction of emotion distress against Defendant Pittman. Defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment , arguing they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on all of Plaintiff Plunkett's claims.
Plaintiff Joni Lofton ("Lofton" or "Plaintiff Lofton") is a Caucasian female formerly employed by the City of West Point, Mississippi's Water and Light Department. Lofton's employment with the City of West Point commenced in 2006, when she was hired as a cashier in the water and light department. Lofton appears to have been trained in various areas of this department and, in August 2008, she was promoted to the position of customer service representative, which was apparently "a combination of accounts payable and customer service, specifically dealing with disconnections."2 According to Lofton, when she was hired she reported directly to Jan Wray, who performed both the accountant and the office manager positions for the City. Yet, in 2009, Wray was suspended twice. After Wray was suspended the first time, Lofton and another employee, Debra Young, authored a letter to Randy Jones, the Chief Administrative Officer ("CAO") for the City of West Point, expressing concerns over Wray's suspension. After Wray was suspended a second time in 2009, she resigned.3 According to Lofton, Wray had never been written up, nor had any other problems with her employment, until the racial composition of the Board of Selectmen for the City of West Point changed to majority African American.
Apparently, after Wray resigned, Lofton, Debra Young, and Shasta Plunkett "picked up the duties of the officer manager because there was no one in that position for several months." On January 20, 2010, Lofton, Young, and Plunkett wrote another letter to CAO Jones, criticizing "the insufficiency of staffing at the department, and the interference by the mayor and certain board members." Shortly thereafter, it appears that Lofton applied for the position as office manager. Lofton asserts that she submitted her application to CAO Jones and informed him that she was interested in the office manager position. Lofton was not hired for the position; instead, the position was filled by Teresa Moore (African American).4
In April 2010, changes were made within the water and light department. As discussed supra, Shasta Plunkett was removed from his interim post and assigned to the warehouse. Along the same lines, Lofton was also moved to the warehouse; however, her primary duties remained the same. The day after Lofton was reassigned, she was apparently advised by the mayor to leave the warehouse and resume her regular duties at the water and light department.
Lofton maintains that Moore began harassing her after she was hired as the...
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