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Williams v. The City of Bellevue

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

October 3, 2017

EDWARD WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF BELLEVUE, a municipal corporation, Defendant.

          ORDER

          THE HONORABLE RICHARD A. JONES

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant City of Bellevue's (“City” or “Defendant”) Motion for Summary Judgment Dismissal of Plaintiff's Claims. Dkt. # 26.[1] Plaintiff opposes the Motion. Dkt. # 43. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Performance at Bellevue Police Department

         Plaintiff, an African American man, lateralled to the Bellevue Police Department (BPD) from the Georgia Sheriff's Department. Dkt. # 1 (Complaint) at ¶¶ 1.1, 4.1-4.4, 4.6. BPD required Plaintiff to complete a twelve-month probationary period, pass the field training program (“FTO program”), and graduate from the lateral police academy. Id. at ¶ 4.7; see also Dkt. # 27-1 at 7. In the FTO program, officers progress through several rotations and are evaluated on a scale of 1-7 for different performance categories. See generally Dkt. # 28-1 at 44-285. Categories include appearance, attitude, knowledge, performance, and relationships. Id. Officers are ready to be assigned to a patrol squad once they receive at least a 4 in each category. Dkt. # 44-1 at 64.

         Plaintiff began the first rotation of his FTO program in February 2015. Dkt. # 28-1 at 44. Officer Quayle supervised Plaintiff during this rotation. Id. Plaintiff consistently received sub-4 marks in the knowledge and performance categories. Id. at 44-87. In March 2015, Plaintiff began the second rotation of his FTO program. Dkt. # 28-1 at 88. Officers Bement and Jones supervised Plaintiff during this rotation. Id. Plaintiff was still receiving sub-4 marks in several categories. Id. at 88-159. On March 25, 2015, Officer Bement completed an end of rotation evaluation for Plaintiff, writing that he did “not recommend that Officer Williams move on to the next phase of his training.” Id. at 320.

         In light of Plaintiff's evaluations in the first two rotations of the FTO program, BPD “unplugged” or “disconnected” him from the program. Dkt. ## 26 at 2, 43 at 4. This allowed Plaintiff to receive six additional weeks of remedial training. Id. During this time, officers noted that Plaintiff was “doing very well” but still needed to improve in certain areas “if he wants to meet the minimum acceptable standard for a solo officer.” Dkt. ## 44-1 at 281, 28-1 at 329.

         In May 2015, Plaintiff returned to the FTO program for the third rotation. Dkt. # 28-1 at 160. Corporal Burgos oversaw this rotation. Id. Plaintiff was still receiving sub-4 marks until May 22, 2015, at which point Plaintiff received an evaluation with nearly all 4's and two 5's. Id. at 160-80. On May 31, 2015, Plaintiff began rotation three-and-a-half, supervised by Officer Barnwell. Id. at 202. Plaintiff did well at the start of this rotation, earning nearly all 4's in each category. Id. Plaintiff's evaluations were consistently strong, with only a few evaluations evidencing sub-4 marks. Id. at 202, 205, 210.

         On June 17, 2015, Plaintiff entered his final rotation in the FTO program. Id. at 225. Officer Perreira evaluated Plaintiff during this phase. Id. at 225-69. Plaintiff's scores dropped in both the knowledge and performance categories and continued to be low until the end of the program. Id. In early July 2015, Captain Mathieu noted Plaintiff's continuing deficiencies and asked Officer Peacey to work with Plaintiff for two additional weeks. Dkt. # 29-1 at 6, 8. Plaintiff confirmed with Captain Mathieu that he understood the concerns and what he needed to do over the next two weeks with Officer Peacey. Id. at 11. Officer Peacey began working with Plaintiff and soon thereafter Plaintiff received 4's in each category. Dkt. # 28-1 at 272-281. However, BPD wanted Plaintiff to show “a sustained consistent ability” to perform his duties adequately. Dkt. # 29 at ¶ 18.

         On July 17, 2015, the FTO review board agreed that Plaintiff was “ready for assignment to a patrol squad for the remainder of his probation.” Dkt. # 29-1 at 13. The new assignment did not mean that Plaintiff had graduated to full status as a police officer; he was “still supposed to be very closely monitored by the Corporals and Sergeants on their squad.” Dkt. # 29 at ¶ 14. Per the assignment, Plaintiff joined Lt. Buck's squad. Id. at ¶ 15. Lt. Buck's first monthly evaluation regarding Plaintiff was due at the end of August. Id. at ¶ 16. The evaluation reiterated concerns that Plaintiff was performing inadequately in several categories. Dkt. # 29-1 at 24-36. On September 9, 2015, Lt. Popochock sent a memo to Captain Mathieu outlining Plaintiff's continued deficiencies and recommending that Plaintiff “be removed from the probation program and terminated.” Id. at 84. Captain Mathieu met with Chief Mylett and several other lieutenants, corporals, and officers who had supervised Plaintiff and discussed Lt. Popochock's memo and the best course of action in light of Plaintiff's continued performance issues. Dkt. ## 29 at ¶ 29, 37 at ¶ 19. After the meeting, Captain Mathieu recommended that Plaintiff be terminated. Id. at ¶ 30. Chief Mylett terminated Plaintiff's employment effective September 15, 2015. Dkt. # 37-1 at 414-15.

         B. Officer Kevin Quayle's Racist Text Message

         In May 2015, Officer Quayle was on medical leave for a broken leg when his ex-girlfriend came to the BPD with allegations of misconduct. Dkt. # 26 at 7. Based on the allegations, BPD began a Formal Standards Investigation into Quayle's conduct. See generally Dkt. # 44-1 at 167-239. During the investigation, Quayle's ex-girlfriend produced several offensive text message exchanges, including one in which Quayle wrote that if he “didn't have the chocolate face I would bang in sick[.]” Id. at 189. Quayle was referring to Plaintiff.

         On August 18, 2015, Lt. Ingram brought the racist message to Plaintiff's attention. Dkt. # 44-1 at 163. Lt. Ingram asked Plaintiff if the text was racist or discriminatory, to which Plaintiff responded “Yes.” Id. Lt. Ingram asked Plaintiff how he felt about the text, and Plaintiff explained that the text was “a little disturbing, ” especially in light of the working relationship Plaintiff thought he had with Quayle. Id. The next day, Chief Mylett called Plaintiff “because he was concerned about him.” Dkt. # 37 at 13. Chief Mylett asked Plaintiff what he thought about the situation, and Plaintiff responded that “it's going to be bad for Bellevue if Quayle went on some type of call and actually shot-did something to a minority, that would look bad for the department.” Dkt. # 44-1 at 49. He explained that if “[a]nybody found out about this thing it would make him look worse on the department.” Id. at 50. Plaintiff “specifically gave [Chief Mylett] the example of the Michael Brown incident that happened in Ferguson, and [Plaintiff] told [Chief Mylett] that with all the shootings that's going on of white officers and minorities, that was troublesome.” Id. at 52. Chief Mylett agreed with Plaintiff. Id. at 50, 52. Less than a month later, Chief Mylett terminated Plaintiff's employment.

         Plaintiff claims that Lt. Buck and Quayle were good friends, and therefore Lt. Buck retaliated against Plaintiff by drafting a scathing evaluation that led to his termination. Dkt. ## 43 at 7, 44-1 at 149. The BPD asserts that it fired Quayle for misconduct, and that Plaintiff's comments in response to the investigation were not the basis for Plaintiff's termination. Dkt. # 37-1 at 457 (stating that Quayle's termination was effective January 29, 2016); see also Dkt. # 26. The BPD emphasizes that Plaintiff's consistent inconsistencies in performance is what led to his termination.

         On September 12, 2017, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed all claims against Chief Mylett and dismissed his Title VII and harassment claims against the City of Bellevue. Dkt. # 55. Plaintiff also dismissed his claims for punitive damages. Id. At issue in this motion are Plaintiff's remaining race discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination claims.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the moving party will have the burden of proof at trial, it must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party. Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986). On an issue where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party can prevail merely by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. If the moving party meets the initial burden, the opposing party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial in order to defeat the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000). Credibility determinations and the weighing of the evidence are jury functions, not those of a judge. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         However, the court need not, and will not, “scour the record in search of a genuine issue of triable fact.” Keenan v. Allan, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also, White v. McDonnel-Douglas Corp., 904 F.2d 456, 458 (8th Cir. 1990) (the court need not “speculate on which portion of the record the nonmoving party relies, nor is it obliged to wade through and search the entire record for some specific facts that might support the nonmoving party's claim”). The opposing party must present significant and probative evidence to support its claim or defense. Intel Corp. v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 952 F.2d 1551, 1558 (9th Cir. 1991). Uncorroborated allegations and “self-serving testimony” will not ...


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