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Blair v. City of Mercer Island

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

May 22, 2018

JAMES M. BLAIR, Plaintiff,



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 52). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint with this Court against his former employer, the City of Mercer Island (Dkt. No. 1). Plaintiff worked for the City's Right of Way (“ROW”) Department. (Id. at 4.) He alleges that he was wrongfully terminated without due process after complaining of a “discriminatory culture, racial slurs, and hostile working conditions.” (Id. at 5.) Liberally construed, [1] the complaint states the following causes of action: race-based Title VII violations and a Fourteenth Amendment Due Process violation.[2] (Id. at 1-2, 7-9.) The complaint also asserts a First Amendment claim. (Dkt. No. 1 at 1-2, 7-9.) But the complaint fails to allege supporting facts separate and apart from those supporting the Title VII claim. (Id. at 6.) Therefore, the First Amendment claim is preempted by Plaintiff's Title VII claim. See Ethnic Employees of Lib. of Cong. v. Boorstin, 751 F.2d 1405, 1415 (D.C. Cir. 1985); see also Casselle v. Foxx, 195 F.Supp.3d 270, 275 (D.D.C. 2016) (preempting a First Amendment claim against an employer where the same facts supported a Title VII claim).

         Defendant moves for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. (Dkt. No. 52 at 23.) Defendant noted its motion for consideration on May 18, 2018. (Id. at 1). Plaintiff's response in opposition was due by May 14, 2018. W.D. Wash. Local Civ. R. 7(d)(3). Plaintiff failed to respond.


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In doing so, the Court must view the facts and justifiable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party “must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (emphasis in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         B. Plaintiff's Failure to Respond

         Because Plaintiff did not respond to Defendant's motion for summary judgment, so long as Defendant presents sufficient evidence to “negate[] an essential element” of Plaintiff's claims, summary judgment for Defendant is warranted. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 331 (1986).[3] While Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and the Court must “liberally construe his pleadings, ” it need not undertake special endeavors to inform Plaintiff of his obligations under Rule 56. Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1235 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted); see Jacobsen v. Filler, 790 F.2d 1362, 1366 (9th Cir. 1986) (“[P]ro se litigants in the ordinary civil case should not be treated more favorably than parties with attorneys of record . . . the present federal rules . . . apprise litigants of their summary judgment obligations.”).

         C. Title VII Claims

         Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the basis of several protected classes, including race. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Liberally construed, Plaintiff's complaint alleges the following forms of actionable Title VII racial discrimination: disparate treatment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation.

         1. Disparate Treatment

         For a disparate treatment claim, Plaintiff must first make a prima facie showing that: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he performed his or her job satisfactorily; (3) he experienced an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated individuals outside of his protected class were treated more favorably. Cornwell v. Electra Cent. Credit Union, 439 F.3d 1018, 1028 (9th Cir. 2006). Defendant provides uncontroverted evidence that (1) Plaintiff was first employed by the City in 2012 as a seasonal employee; (2) he became a full-time at-will employee on November 24, 2014, subject to a one-year probationary period; (3) he did not perform his job satisfactorily;[4] and (4) the City terminated him on this basis on November 19, 2015 ...

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