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Adams v. Pierce County

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

March 20, 2014

SEAN PIERRE ADAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
PIERCE COUNTY, WASHINGTON, PIERCE COUNTY JUVENILE COURT, Defendants.

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ROBERT J. BRYAN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. 16) and Defendants' Motion to Strike (Dkt. 32). The Court has considered the pleadings filed regarding the motions and the remaining file.

Plaintiff, an African-American, brings this employment discrimination case asserting claims under federal and state law. Dkt. 1. Defendants' motion for an order summarily dismissing Plaintiff's state law claims for failing to comply with Washington's claim filing statute, RCW 4.96.020 was granted, and those claims were dismissed. Dkt. 15. Defendants now bring a motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's remaining federal claims. Dkt. 16. For the reasons set forth below, the motion should be granted and the case dismissed.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. BACKGROUND FACTS

In 1999, Pierce County, Washington hired Plaintiff to work in the detention division of the Pierce County Juvenile Court. Dkt. 1. He is presently a Juvenile Detention Officer 2 ("JDO2"). Dkt. 18.

1. JDO2 Duties

A JDO2 provides "custodial supervision and care for juvenile offenders" detained at the Pierce County Juvenile Detention Center. Dkt. 18, at 3-4. They are responsible for the "welfare, safety and security of the residents and for assuring that the juveniles are clean, fed, healthy, and safe." Dkt. 18, at 4. A JDO2 is "responsible for defusing, correcting and controlling acting out behavior, and for identifying potentially self-destructive behavior and intervening once it is identified." Dkt. 18, at 4. According to the job description, essential functions of the JDO2 position include "providing continuous monitoring of an assigned area, " identifying residents who indicate self-destructive behavior, " and "providing appropriate intervention." Dkt. 18, at 4. They must be able to "maintain mental alertness and powers of observation during the entire work shift." Dkt. 18, at 4.

One of a JDO2's job duties is to conduct "probe" checks every 15 minutes on each child locked inside a cell. Dkt. 20, at 3. The JDO2 looks into the cell window and visually checks on the youth, and then touches a hand held electronic rod or probe to a sensor on the door, which records the date and time of the check. Dkt. 20, at 3.

2. Plaintiff's Failure to do Probe Checks on July 17, 2009

Plaintiff testified that although he did not know it at the time, he had a Transient Ischemic Attack ("TIA") while on duty the night of July 17, 2009 and did not do probe checks. Dkt. 22, at 8. Plaintiff acknowledged that the county did not know he had a TIA either. Dkt. 22, at 8.

The Pierce County Juvenile Court Administrator, Shelly Malou, states that she became concerned because Plaintiff first reported that he had fallen asleep during the July 17, 2009 incident, and then later reported that he had "passed out." Dkt. 20, at 4. She asked Pierce County Human Resources ("HR") Department's EEO/ADA Specialist to follow up. Dkt. 20, at 4. The Court Administrator stated that she also decided to view the video of the incident. Dkt. 20, at 4. She stated she saw Plaintiff facing an overhead television monitor. Dkt. 20, at 4-5. At the end of the two hour period, another employee walked into the pod and appeared to say something and Plaintiff woke up. Dkt. 20, at 5. Plaintiff then got up and did probe checks. Dkt. 20, at 5. The Court Administrator stated that she did not see any evidence of Plaintiff being in any distress, and it appeared, in her view, that he fell asleep watching t.v. and did not pass out. Dkt. 20, at 5.

In light of the fact Plaintiff stated that he "passed out, " HR requested that Plaintiff provide a letter, job description, and form regarding his ability to do his job to his physician. Dkt. 18, at 4. Plaintiff gave the materials to Cesar Lirio, M.D. Dkt. 18, at 4. In a letter dated September 23, 2009, Dr. Lirio wrote the county's HR department stating that he had reviewed the JDO2 job description. Dkt. 18, at 14. Dr. Lirio stated that Mr. Adams had: 1) "elevated blood pressure" and 2) "chronic renal disease" controlled with medication. Dkt. 18, at 14. Dr. Lirio "saw no reason" that Plaintiff's medical conditions "would be a hindrance in doing his work as a juvenile detention officer." Dkt. 18, at 14. In addition to the letter, Dr. Lirio also filled out a form at the county's and Mr. Adam's request. Dkt. 18, at 15. After reviewing the JDO2 job description, Dr. Lirio opined that Plaintiff was medically able to perform all of the essential functions of his position, including being able to "stay awake and alert and perform the required probe checks to check on the welfare, safety, and security of the detained youth." Dkt. 18, at 15. Dr. Lirio indicated that Plaintiff did not need any accommodation to perform his job. Dkt. 18, at 15. Based on Dr. Lirio's opinion, the county found that Plaintiff did not need any accommodations to perform his job. Dkt. 18, at 5.

Plaintiff was found to have "failed to perform probe checks for a period of 44 minutes and failed again to do probe checks for a time span of 2 hours and 18 minutes" on July 17, 2009. Dkt. 20, at 4. He was given a three day suspension as a result. Id.

3. Plaintiff's January 2010 Altercation with a Co-Worker

Plaintiff asserts that co-worker JDO2 Kevin Johnson, also an African-American, had a history of aggressive behavior toward Plaintiff. Dkt. 26, at 7. Plaintiff states that many times JDO2 Johnson would "clinch his fist to fight [Plaintiff] and stared [Plaintiff] down in the hallway." Dkt. 26, at 7. Plaintiff states that he complained, but no one would help him. Id., at 7.

In January of 2010, JDO2 Johnson filed a report with the HR department that Plaintiff had threatened him at work. Dkt. 18, at 6. During this incident, Plaintiff and JDO2 Johnson had a disagreement. Dkt. 22, at 11. They exchanged words. Dkt. 26, at 7. Plaintiff asserts Johnson called him a "n****r." Dkt. 26, at 7. Plaintiff felt Johnson wanted to fight, and Plaintiff said to Johnson, "You better get out of my face talking your shit before you get knocked out." Dkt. 22, at 11. Plaintiff stated that he reported the incident to a supervisor, Monty Clayton. Dkt. 26, at 7. Although it is unclear from the record exactly what happened next, Plaintiff stated that he was standing in the doorway of the supervisor's office and JDO2 Johnson was yelling, cursing at Plaintiff and "wanting to fight, " and the supervisor told Plaintiff to go and "just let me talk" to JDO2 Johnson. Dkt. 26, at 8. Plaintiff states that Plaintiff "kept saying Let's just keep it on our level! Tell him to keep his attitude at the door!'" Dkt. 26, at 8. Plaintiff stated that the supervisor said more than once in a 3-5 second span "let me talk to Kevin." Id.

Plaintiff was suspended for 15 days for threatening JDO2 Johnson and failing to follow a directive. Dkt. 20, at 5. JDO2 Johnson received a reprimand for conduct unbecoming a County employee. Dkt. 20, at 5.

4. Plaintiff is Taken to the Hospital in May of 2011

On May 9, 2011, Plaintiff was taken to the hospital from work. Dkt. 19, at 2. Steve Lawrence, his supervisor, stated that Plaintiff was conscious during the incident, but would not respond to questions. Dkt. 19, at 2. JDO3 Lawrence stated that Plaintiff "just kept pointing to his stomach and grimacing in pain." Dkt. 19, at 2.

5. Audit & HR Ranking Employees for Layoff

In 2011, the Pierce County Juvenile Court underwent a performance audit at the request of the Pierce County Council. Dkt. 20. The audit indicated that the population in the juvenile detention facility had declined. Dkt. 20, at 2. At that time, the county also had a budget shortfall. Id. As a result of both the decline in the detained youth population and the county budget shortfall, the Pierce County Council reduced the Juvenile Court budget, and mandated that seven JDO positions be eliminated. Id. The JDO positions were selected for elimination because their duties involved direct custodial supervision for the detained youth. Id.

The Court Administrator directed her staff to send HR a performance summary and seniority list of the JDO2s, in order to get help in selecting employees for the layoff. Dkt. 20, at 2. HR was asked to rank the employees considering the collective bargaining agreement and documents that the Juvenile Court provided. Dkt. 20, at 2. In the meantime, four JDO2s either voluntarily resigned or volunteered to be laid off, reducing the number of prospective JDO2 layoffs to three. Dkt. 20, at 2.

There were 44 JDO2 employees who were considered for the 2011 layoff: 21 Caucasian employees (48%); 16 African-American employees (36%); 4 Asian employees (9%), 2 Hispanic employees (5%) and 1 Native American (2%). Dkt. 18, at 7-8.

HR reviewed the CBA in place at the time. Dkt. 17. With respect to layoffs, the CBA contained the following provision in Section "19.2 - Layoffs:"

When the Employer determines it is necessary to reduce the work force in classifications within a bargaining unit, regular full-time and/or regular part-time employees will be laid off based upon experience, skill, ability, and qualifications to do the work, provided employees with the least seniority, which shall be based on hours compensated ...

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