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Jackson v. Board of County Commissioners Mayes County

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

March 10, 2017

ROBERT JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF MAYES COUNTY, SHERIFF MIKE REED, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          TERENCE KERN, United States District Judge

         Before the Court are the Motion for Summary Judgment of the Board of County Commissioners of Mayes County (“BOCC”) (Doc. 48) and the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendant Sheriff Mike Reed (Doc. 49).

         I. Factual Background

         A. Events Leading to Termination from Mayes County

         Plaintiff is an African-American male who first worked for the Mayes County Sheriff's Office from April of 2010 to June of 2012 under the employment of Sheriff Frank Cantey (“Cantey”). Cantey terminated Plaintiff because Plaintiff supported Mike Reed (“Reed”) in his campaign against Cantey for Sheriff. Reed prevailed over Cantey, and Reed hired Plaintiff for the position of Jail Administrator. Plaintiff began his employment as Jail Administrator on January 2, 2013.

         According to Plaintiff, the jailers he supervised were immediately insubordinate to Plaintiff because of his race. Some of the jail staff, including a supervisor named Kenneth Franklin (“Franklin”), became upset when they learned Plaintiff would be their supervisor. Plaintiff claims that Franklin and others repeatedly gave him the “silent treatment.”

         In early February of 2013, members of the jail staff complained about Plaintiff to Reed. At the end of February of 2013, Reed met with each jail employee to discuss Jackson's performance. According to Reed, jailers complained Plaintiff did not “back them up” when they disciplined inmates and that Plaintiff promised them promotions but failed to follow through. Plaintiff contends that these complaints were baseless, not made in the proper chain of command, and reflected their racial bias. Following these meetings, Reed counseled Plaintiff to improve his leadership. Reed encouraged Plaintiff to attend and paid for several training programs, including leadership training.

         In early March of 2013, Reed observed Plaintiff call out to his staff from across the street and correct their behavior. Reed believed this was unprofessional, and Reed scolded Plaintiff for this in front of others. Plaintiff describes this as another example of Reed undermining Plaintiff's authority. On March 12, 2013, Plaintiff received the following “Notice of Counseling”:

This letter is to show that counseling has been given to Robert Jackson for the following reasons. Accusations were brought about by jail employees that Jackson had lied to them on different occasions. After speaking with Jackson, it was determined that the statements made by Jackson were perceived differently than Jackson intended them to be taken. There were also issues of discipline and lack of communication. Counseling was given on appropriate disciplinary actions along with communication and trust building techniques. Sheriff Mike Reed, Undersheriff Gary Shrum, Lieutenant Jonathan Bailey and Jail Administrator Robert Jackson were present at this meeting held on the date stated above. By signing below, all parties agree to the statements made in this counseling form.

(BOCC's Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 9.) According to Plaintiff, these events in February and March of 2013 show that Reed encouraged or acquiesced to employees' racially motivated insubordination.

         On or around May of 2013, Plaintiff contends Reed criticized Plaintiff for hiring a lesbian. Plaintiff defended the hire, stating that, “Look, I'm black and, you know, we're treating them the same way.” (Jackson Dep. 138:17-25.) Reed allegedly stated: “Well, Jackson, you can't help it, you were born black.” (Id.) Plaintiff viewed this as reflecting Reed's view that being black or lesbian were both less than ideal, but one you could prevent and one you could not.

         In late May of 2013, Plaintiff told Franklin to inform Justin Conley (“Conley”), a jailer, that Conley would be switched to the day shift. When Conley received this news from Franklin, Conley called Plaintiff a “black nigger ass lying son of a bitch” and stormed out of the jail yelling “fuck that nigger.” This was not in the presence of Plaintiff. Franklin failed to discipline Conley or write an incident report until instructed to do so by Plaintiff, after Franklin and another employee told Plaintiff what happened. After returning to work, Conley made other comments about dressing up as the KKK for Halloween and carrying a noose.

         Plaintiff told Reed about Conley's behavior, and Reed told Plaintiff to investigate the incident further. Plaintiff investigated and discovered Conley had made other racially derogatory remarks such as “camel jockey.” Conley was terminated on May 22, 2013. Reed contends that he made the decision to fire Conley and that Plaintiff resisted this termination decision. Plaintiff disputes this and contends Conley was terminated based on the “camel jockey” remark rather than the “nigger” remarks. It is undisputed, however, that Reed fired Conley within two days of Conley's racist rant.

         On June 7, 2013, Plaintiff received a second “Notice of Counseling:” This letter is to show that counseling was given to Robert Jackson for the following reasons:

It was determined that Robert Jackson authorized Reserve Deputy time to William Carey without going through proper chain of command (I.e. Jackson should have gone through the Reserve Coordinator to request that time to be used for another Reserve Deputy). It was determined that Robert Jackson did not follow recommendation from Undersheriff Shrum on taking an inmate to Lexington Prison and taking a transport van to Conner Correctional Facility for prisoner transport cage refill (Ie. Following the recommendation from Shrum would have saved time and lessened fuel expense). It was determined that Robert Jackson, as an administrator, put himself before his subordinate (I.e. Undersheriff's patrol unit was offered to Deputy Carey for special assignment and Jackson attempted to override that action by giving Carey his older unit and Jackson would take the newer one). Sheriff Mike Reed and Undersheriff Gary Shrum, and Jail Administrator Robert Jackson were present at this meeting held on the date stated above.

(BOCC's Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 13.)

         In July of 2013, Plaintiff recommended Franklin's termination for a number of reasons unrelated to racist remarks or behavior. (Ex. 16 to Pl.'s Resp. to Def. Reed's Mot. For Summ. J.) Reed's undersheriff would not issue any discipline. At another point, Plaintiff felt he was called in to speak with an angry black mother of an inmate solely because he was black.

         On September 5, 2013, Reed received five EEOC complaints made by female employees. Two complaints were against Jackson and Reed, and three complaints were only against Reed. On September 16, 2013, Reed scheduled a meeting with Plaintiff to discuss a jailer's complaint about being discriminated against by Plaintiff for health reasons, the EEOC charges, and Plaintiff's alleged refusal to interview an individual named Cody Henson (“Henson”). During this meeting, Reed concluded Plaintiff was lying to him about interviewing Henson. Plaintiff disputes the reasons for the September 16, 2013 meeting and disputes that he lied to Reed. Although he now admits he never interviewed Henson, he believed he had conducted an informal phone interview when he spoke with Reed. This alleged lie, according to Reed, was the “straw that broke the camel's back, ” and Reed terminated Plaintiff during this meeting. According to Reed, he terminated Plaintiff based on the performance issues set forth in the counseling letters and his overall lack of trust and confidence in Plaintiff's ability to run the jail. According to Plaintiff, Reed also stated as a reason for termination that Plaintiff's employees “didn't like him.”

         After his termination, Plaintiff called his wife because he was in a state of shock. Plaintiff's wife and sister-in-law came to the jail, packed what they believed were all of his personal belongings, and took the items to a storage unit.

         B. Events Leading to Termination from Delaware County[1]

         On November 1, 2013, Plaintiff secured employment with the Delaware County Sheriff's Office under Sheriff Harlan Moore (“Moore”). At some point either before or after Plaintiff commenced this new employment, it was discovered that a taser gun, a pepper gun, a cell phone detector, an office chair, and some other miscellaneous items were missing from Mayes County.

         On November 4 or 5, 2013, Reed contacted Moore, and Reed informed Moore that “he [Reed] was doing an investigation on one of [Moore's] employees.” (Moore Dep. 32:23-24.) Moore asked to meet with Reed to get more information about the investigation. The two sheriffs met in Spavinaw Park, which is halfway between the two counties. Reed informed Moore that “he [Reed] was seeking to get an arrest warrant and that he was going to call [Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (“OSBI”)] to conduct an investigation.” (Id. 34:17-19.)

         On November 6, 2013, Moore informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff was being investigated for embezzling property from Mayes County. Moore suspended Plaintiff without pay. This was the first time Plaintiff learned he was being accused of embezzlement. Plaintiff immediately began looking for any items in his possession that possibly belonged to Mayes County. That same day, he located at least some of the items in his storage unit and contacted Mitchell Goodman (“Goodman”), a jail employee, about returning the items. Two days later, by November 8, 2013, Plaintiff had located and returned all missing items. Plaintiff submitted “property receipts” dated November 8, 2013, showing what items he returned to Mayes County and to whom. (See Pl.'s Resp. to Reed's Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 9.) Plaintiff claims he had not used the items and that he did not purposefully take them. On November 15, 2013, almost one week after Plaintiff had returned all missing items, ...


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