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Jackson v. The Board of Commissioners of Housing Authority of City of Prichard

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

August 21, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (doc. 26). The Motion has been briefed and is now ripe for disposition.

         I. Background.

         A. Well-Pleaded Factual Allegations.

         Plaintiff, Donald Jackson, is a former employee of defendant Housing Authority of the City of Prichard (the “Housing Authority”). In his Second Amended Complaint (doc. 25), filed by and through counsel, Jackson asserts various statutory claims alleging civil-rights violations by defendants, the Housing Authority, the Board of Commissioners of the Housing Authority (the “Board”), Reginald Crenshaw (a Board member), Felicia Snow (executive director of the Housing Authority), Charles Pharr (consultant for the Housing Authority), and Greg Harris (attorney for the Housing Authority).[1]

         The well-pleaded factual allegations of the Second Amended Complaint include the following: Jackson worked for the Housing Authority for nine years, predominantly as Director of Housing Management. (Doc. 25, ¶¶ 12-13.) Throughout this time, his job performance was excellent and he received various awards and recognition for his fine work. (Id., ¶¶ 14-17.) In June 2014, however, Jackson was involved in a minor accident while on personal business driving a company vehicle in Biloxi, Mississippi, and was charged with DUI. (Id., ¶¶ 18-19.) Jackson reported the matter to the Housing Authority's then-executive director, defendant Charles Pharr, the following day. (Id., ¶ 20.) Pharr assured Jackson that his employment would not be terminated over the incident; however, Jackson received a reprimand and other discipline, including temporary loss of travel privileges and a four-week unpaid suspension. (Id., ¶¶ 22-24.) Ultimately, Jackson's rights and privileges, including use of a company car, were reinstated, the criminal charges were dismissed by a court of law, and the matter was resolved. (Id., ¶¶ 25, 45.)

         Shortly thereafter, on or about February 4, 2015, [2] Jackson terminated the employment of a Housing Authority employee named Sherry Brookins. (Id., ¶ 29.) The new executive director, defendant Felicia Snow, had directed an internal reconciliation of the Housing Authority's financial accounts. (Id., ¶¶ 33, 36.) In performing that reconciliation, Jackson discovered that Brookins had stolen federal funds, and reported those findings to Snow and the Housing Authority's counsel, defendant Greg Harris. Both Snow and Harris approved and authorized the decision to terminate Brookins' employment on that basis. (Id., ¶ 38.) Several years earlier, Jackson had terminated the employment of another employee named Georgette Nicholson for a similar offense. (Id., ¶ 30.)

         According to the well-pleaded allegations of the Second Amended Complaint, Brookins had previously been involved in an automobile accident in October 2014, when she totaled a company car by rear-ending another vehicle. (Id., ¶ 32.) Jackson alleges that Brookins was “having a discreet relationship with one of the staff employers, ” as a result of which she was never disciplined for her car accident. (Id.) According to Jackson, “Brookins was in a car accident and because she was a female she was not reprimanded.” (Id., ¶ 41.)

         The Second Amended Complaint reflects that after Jackson fired Brookins, “he was harassed retaliated against.” (Id., ¶ 40.) In particular, Harris, Pharr and Board member defendant Reginald Crenshaw warned Jackson that unless he re-hired Brookins “his job would be in jeopardy” and his June 2014 accident “would be revisited.” (Id., ¶¶ 43-44, 46.) Jackson complained to Snow that the Housing Authority was giving Brookins preferential treatment because of her gender, to which Snow responded, “They want me to fire you for firing Sherry Brookins.” (Id., ¶ 48.) Jackson complained to the chairman of the Board that Harris, Pharr and Crenshaw were harassing him for terminating Brookins' employment. (Id., ¶¶ 49-50.) Jackson states this harassment “was in the form of long working hours” and “almost constant reminders of revisiting the accident of June 2014.” (Id., ¶ 51.) As to the former, Jackson's working hours were increased, he received more assignments and new deadlines, and his company car privileges were revoked. (Id., ¶ 61.) As to the latter, Jackson was questioned and contacted repeatedly for information and documentation about the previously-resolved June 2014 auto accident. (Id., ¶¶ 59, 60.) A short time later, Jackson was notified that the Board “intended to begin the process of removing Mr. Jackson by reopening the accident of June 2014.” (Id., ¶ 52.) Jackson then complained to Crenshaw, Harris and Pharr that he was being discriminated against for firing Brookins because she was female and he was male. (Id., ¶ 56.)

         In October 2015, a body identified only as “the OIG” investigated misappropriation of funds and discreet relationships between Brookins and a male staff member. (Id., ¶ 62.) In light of this development, Crenshaw instructed Snow to discontinue adverse actions against Jackson. (Id., ¶ 63.) Jackson testified in the OIG's investigation, revealing that Brookins had admitted to the theft and that he (Jackson) had been subjected to discrimination and retaliation after firing Brookins. (Id., ¶ 64.) At the conclusion of its investigation, the OIG stated that no further action should be taken against Jackson for Brookins' firing or the June 2014 accident. (Id., ¶ 67.) Nonetheless, defendants promptly resumed their actions against Jackson, with Jackson complaining on numerous occasions to Harris, Pharr, Snow and Crenshaw that their treatment of him was unfair, discriminatory (based on Jackson's gender) and retaliatory (based on Jackson's participation in the OIG investigation). (Id.)

         Ultimately, Jackson was given a “letter of termination” or a “notice of termination” by the Housing Authority. (Id., ¶¶ 69-70.) Plaintiff has deliberately scrubbed all reference to the date of that “notice of termination” from his Second Amended Complaint; however, the letter is dated February 12, 2016, with delivery by hand. (Doc. 26, Exh. 1.) The two-page letter, signed by defendant Felicia Snow as Executive Director, states in relevant part as follows:

“This letter is to inform you that your employment with the Housing Authority of the City of Prichard, Alabama has been terminated, effective as of 9:00 a.m., Friday, February 12, 2016. Your employment was terminated in accordance with Section 4.1.1 of the approved Personnel Policy of the Housing Authority ….
“In accordance with the Personnel Policy, you may request a hearing before the Board of Commissioners if you request such a hearing, in writing, within five (5) working days after you receive this notice of termination. Such a hearing will be held within 30 days after receipt of your request.
“Upon your receipt of this notice of termination, you must immediately surrender all property of the Authority, including but not limited to keys, locks and cell phones.”

(Doc. 26, Exh. 1.)[3] The February 12 letter also reflected that the termination decision had been made by reference to Personnel Policy sections relating to misuse of Authority property or vehicles, violation of departmental rules, drinking alcoholic beverages in a manner to adversely affect work performance, acts incompatible with public service, acts endangering the safety of others, and use of Authority property off the job site without proper authority. (Id.) Plaintiff's pleading characterizes the February 12 letter as “an immediate act of discharge with a right to appeal to the board of commissioners.” (Doc. 25, ¶ 70.)

         Jackson availed himself of said right to appeal, and testified at the ensuing hearing “that he was a victim of sex discrimination and retaliation.” (Id., ¶ 71.) After so testifying, Jackson “has interviewed at a number of jobs and have [sic] been denied by all.” (Id.) On September 12, 2016, the Housing Authority sent Jackson a letter, signed by defendant Crenshaw as chairman of the Board, stating as follows:

“This letter is to inform you of the decision of the Board of Commissioners concerning the appeal of your termination of employment with the Housing Authority of the City of Prichard.
“After consideration of all the evidence, it is the decision of the board that the termination of your employment is due to be, and is upheld.”

(Doc. 25, Exh. 1.) Jackson completed a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Intake Questionnaire on February 23, 2017. (Doc. 25, Exh. 2.)[4] In that Questionnaire, Jackson alleged that the Housing Authority had discriminated against him on the basis of sex (because he was disciplined for having an accident in a company car, whereas Sherry Brookins was not) and retaliation (because he was fired for recommending termination of Brookins for stealing federal funds in 2014).

         B. Jackson's ...

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