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Roberson v. Tacoma Community College

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

May 15, 2015



RONALD B. LEIGHTON, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Tacoma Community College's motion for summary judgment [Dkt. #34]. Plaintiff Tamara Roberson is suing TCC, her employer, for racial discrimination and violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. She alleges that TCC illegally took away some of her job responsibilities, improperly classified her position as exempt from civil-service laws, and denied her position classification review request. TCC denies Roberson's allegations and seeks summary judgment. It argues that Roberson has no evidence that she suffered any adverse employment action, but even if she did, that there is no evidence that TCC's actions were motivated by race. It also contends that state employees like Roberson cannot sue their employers for violations of the FLSA.


A. Roberson's Employment History with TCC

Roberson started working for TCC part-time in 2003 as a student. After she graduated, she accepted a full-time salaried position in 2006 as a Student Support Specialist. TCC identified the Student Support Specialist position as exempt from civil-service laws. That position is funded by an annual federal grant. When she was hired, TCC informed her that the position was temporary, at-will, and would expire in a year. Since her first appointment, however, she has been continually reappointed when the previous appointment expired.

As a Student Support Specialist, Roberson's essential job functions include administering new-student assessment tests, helping students identify available resources, and serving as a liaison between student services and the Office of Workforce and Basic Skills. Her duties include training and supervising student and part-time employees working in the assessment services office, providing testing services on and off campus, supporting front-desk staff, and maintaining appropriate records. Until October of 2012, she also helped administer GED tests. In October of 2012, however, TCC relocated where it conducted GED testing and reassigned Roberson's GED responsibilities to other staff.

B. Roberson's Position Review Request

In March of 2012, Roberson submitted a position review request form to her supervisor. TCC uses the position review process to evaluate requests by classified, non-union-represented employees to reclassify their positions to affect a change in their pay or benefits. Roberson's supervisor advised her that her exempt position was not eligible for review but told her that the Human Resources Department would have to make the ultimate determination.

In April, TCC's Human Resources Department confirmed that Roberson's position was not eligible for review. Later that month, Roberson requested a Director's Review from the Office of the State Human Resources Director. She asked the Director's Office to take remedial action and to make her a permanent employee. The Director's Review Program Supervisor confirmed that her position is exempt from civil service and denied her request.

In August of 2012, Roberson appealed the Director's Office's decision to the Washington State Personnel Resources Board. In her appeal, she continued to assert that her position should not be considered temporary, should be conferred permanent status, and is improperly identified as exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Later that month, after reviewing her appeal, the Personnel Board concluded that Roberson's position was not eligible for review and affirmed TCC's and the Director's Office's determinations.

Roberson did not ask the Personnel Board for reconsideration or appeal its decision to state court. Rather, after she got the Personnel Board decision, she filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. She alleged that TCC had discriminated and retaliated against her based on her race during the time that she was corresponding with TCC Human Resources staff about her position review request. She received a Notice of Right to Sue in March of 2013. She filed this lawsuit a month later. She asserts two claims: a racial discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and a claim for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In determining whether an issue of fact exists, the Court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986); Bagdadi v. Nazar, 84 F.3d 1194, 1197 (9th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact exists where there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable factfinder to find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. At 251-52. The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there is no evidence which supports an element essential to the non-movant's claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-movant must then produce concrete evidence, without merely relying on allegations in the ...

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