United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
LADON E. HILL, Plaintiff,
MEMORIAL DRIVE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
V. EAGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendant Memorial Drive United Methodist
Church's Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support
(Dkt. # 37). Defendant Memorial Drive United Methodist Church
(MDUMC) argues that plaintiff's employment as a youth
minister was terminated after plaintiff engaged in numerous
incidents of hostile and insubordinate behavior, and MDUMC
seeks summary judgment on plaintiff's claims of racial
discrimination and retaliation. Dkt. # 37. Plaintiff responds
that MDUMC's stated reason for terminating his employment
was pretextual, and he claims that MDUMC retaliated against
him for filing a charge of discrimination even after his
employment was terminated. Dkt. # 40.
2004, MDUMC hired Ladon Hill as a part-time youth minister.
Hill is an African-American male. Dkt. # 37-1, at 2. Shawna
Genshaw, MDUMC's director of children and youth services,
was taking a leave of absence in 2012, and Hill was
specifically instructed to state that Genshaw “is
taking time off to deal with personal issues” if asked
about Genshaw's absence. Dkt. # 37-2, at 1. However, Hill
told members of MDUMC that Genshaw was on “study
leave” and he admits that he departed from MDUMC's
instructions. Dkt. # 37-1, at 20-21. On October 9, 2012,
MDUMC terminated Genshaw's employment and Hill became
upset. Dkt. # 37-3, at 2. Hill threw a five-pound ankle
weight against the wall and “almost tore a door off the
hinge, ” and he said that he felt “like I want to
rip somebody's head off.” Dkt. # 37-1, at 12-14. On
October 28, 2012, Hill grabbed a microphone during a church
service, and he told the congregation that Genshaw “was
fired from [MDUMC] for no reason.” Id. at 18.
Hill submitted an article in the church bulletin, proposing a
meeting in which parents and youth could voice their
concerns, and the article stated that it “is time to
RISE!” Dkt. # 37-4, at 1. MDUMC's pastor, Sharon
Fletcher-Taylor, reviewed Hill's submission and found
that it could not appear in the church bulletin as submitted,
because the article did not promote reconciliation, healing,
and forgiveness. Id. In a separate e-mail, Hill
explained that he was upset at the treatment of Genshaw, and
he stated that was speaking to MDUMC members about the
perceived mistreatment of Genshaw. Id. at 2. On
November 11, 2012, Hill failed to properly supervise
approximately eight to ten youths in violation of MDUMC's
safe sanctuary policy, and the youths interrupted a church
service. Dkt. # 37-5.
November 12, 2012, the Staff Parish Relations Committee
learned that Hill had sent a text message to a large group of
church members in which he advised people that he was meeting
with the pastor the next day, and he believed that his
employment with MDUMC would be terminated. Dkt. # 37-11. Hill
claimed that he had been bullied by Fletcher-Taylor and he
referred to her as “Bane, ” a villain from the
Batman comic books. Id. The notes from the committee
meeting show that they did not want to terminate Hill's
employment, but there was concern that Hill's conduct was
harming MDUMC. Id. Members of the committee
expressed a desire to retain Hill as an employee if he could
move on from his feelings over Genshaw's termination.
Id. In his deposition, Hill testified that
Fletcher-Taylor bullied all MDUMC employees, and that many
other employees had resigned because of Fletcher-Taylor's
conduct. Dkt. # 37-1, at 7-8. Hill did not testify that
Fletcher-Taylor singled out African-American employees for
alleged bullying, and he testified that “everyone had
been fed up with the bullying . . . .” Id. at
8. On November 13, 2012, Hill met with Fletcher-Taylor and
was handed five employee warning notifications, which
concerned the events that occurred in October and November of
2012. Dkt. # 37-5; Dkt. # 37-6; Dkt. # 37-7; Dkt. # 37-8;
Dkt. # 37-9. Hill did make written remarks on some of the
notifications, but he did not deny that the conduct occurred.
Hill's employment was not terminated on November 13,
2012, even though he claims that he was not willing to move
on until “justice is done.” Dkt. # 37-1, at 32.
December 9, 2012, Hill had an argument with a parent whose
son was in Hill's youth group at the church. The argument
concerned MDUMC's treatment of Genshaw. Id. at
37-38. Hill admits that he used “some language”
and the parent attempted to obtain a restraining order
against Hill. Id. at 38. MDUMC placed Hill on 30
days of unpaid administrative leave after the incident, and
Hill was instructed that he could not communicate with any
church member about his employment or participate in youth
activities during the suspension. Dkt. # 37-12. Hill was
warned that violating this condition of his suspension could
result in the termination of his employment. Id.
Hill admits that he violated the MDUMC's instructions and
that he communicated with church members about his
suspension. Dkt. # 37-1, at 42; Dkt. # 37-3. Hill returned
from his suspension and, on January 27, 2013, he informed the
new director of children and youth services that he would be
taking over youth lessons for several weeks. Parents
expressed concern that Hill was trying to push the new
director out of the way, and plaintiff told the new director
that “if anybody thought that, they could take those
thoughts and stick it.” Dkt. # 37-1, at 46; Dkt. #
37-3, at 5.
implemented a new van policy on February 1, 2013. MDUMC
personnel were no longer permitted to transport children for
activities outside of a two mile radius of the church. Dkt. #
37-13. Hill strongly disagreed with the new policy, and sent
several e-mails expressing his disagreement. Dkt. # 37-14.
Hill stated that “90 percent of our youth live more
than 2 miles from this church, ” and he believed that
many children would no longer be able to attend the church.
Id. at 2-3. Hill did not advise anyone at MDUMC that
the van policy would disproportionately or unfairly harm
minority children. Fletcher-Taylor responded to Hill and
encouraged him to help the children locate churches closer to
home if they could no longer attend the church. Id.
at 2. MDUMC terminated Hill's employment on February 10,
2013, and he was advised to return his keys and collect his
final check on February 12, 2013. Dkt. # 40-1, at 28.
though Hill's employment was terminated, he remained a
member of MDUMC and he continued to attend church services
and activities. Hill received an e-mail from the district
youth leader to attend a meeting on March 3, 2013, and he
attended the meeting without advising anyone that he had been
fired by MDUMC. Dkt. # 40-2, at 7. Hill retained an attorney
and, on March 27, 2013, his attorney sent a letter to
representatives of the Methodist Church in Oklahoma
threatening to file suit alleging racial discrimination if
Hill was not reinstated by April 10, 2013. Dkt. # 40-6.
Hill's attorney did not send the letter directly to
MDUMC, but the letter was sent to the regional office for the
United Methodist Church. Dkt. # 40-7. Counsel for MDUMC did
not receive a copy of the letter until April 8, 2013, and he
investigated Hill's allegations of racial discrimination.
Dkt. # 40-8. MDUMC's attorney sent a letter to Hill's
attorney stating that Hill was terminated for
“insubordination, wanton destruction of church
property, willful disturbance and interruption of worship
services, dereliction of duty and violations of the
denomination's safe sanctuary policies.”
Id. MDUMC had also learned that Hill attended a
district youth council meeting on March 3, 2013 and held
himself out as a representative of MDUMC. Id.
April 24, 2013, MDUMC sent a letter to its members after
learning that Hill was holding himself out as an MDUMC
employee stating that:
Donny Hill is no longer an employee nor is he a sponsor of
[MDUMC]'s youth ministry. Parents or guardians who allow
their child to go with him are hereby notified it is not a
church sanctioned event and MDUMC will not be responsible for
any circumstance that happens.
Dkt. # 40-9, at 1. The April 26, 2013 church bulletin further
advised MDUMC members that Hill had formed a new youth group
known as the “Dark Knights, ” and had attended a
district youth council meeting where he led people to believe
that he represented MDUMC. Dkt. # 40-13, at 2. The bulletin
also repeated the same notice from the April 24, 2013 letter
that Hill was no longer an MDUMC employee. Id. Hill
was not permitted to attend a district youth council meeting
in April 2013 “due to lawsuits” and, in response,
Hill acknowledged that he had been fired by MDUMC. Dkt. #
40-11. Plaintiff was informed by Audra Ogle of the district
youth counsel that he could not attend the April 2013
meeting, and the decision to prohibit Hill from attending the
meeting was not made by anyone at MDUMC. Id. On June
27, 2013, MDUMC received notice that Hill had filed a charge
of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC), which alleged that Hill's employment
was terminated “for standing up for a coworker and
because of [his] race.” Dkt. # 40-1, at 21, 23. On July
12, 2013, Fletcher-Taylor notified the staff parish relations
committee that Hill had filed a charge of discrimination with
the EEOC. Dkt. # 40-1, at 26. Hill and his sister had
volunteered to be ushers for services on July 7, 2013, but an
amended bulletin was published removing their names from the
list of ushers. Dkt. # 40-14. There is no evidence as to who
made the decision to remove Hill and his sister from the list
of ushers for the July 7, 2013 service or that the person or
persons making the decision knew of Hill's EEOC charge.
October 23, 2013, Hill filed a civil action against MDUMC in
Tulsa County District Court, alleging claims under Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
(Title VII) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The case was removed
to federal court. Ladon E. Hill v. Memorial Drive United
Methodist Church, 13-CV-745-JHP-TLW (N.D. Okla.). The
parties filed a joint stipulation of dismissal and Hill's
claims were dismissed without prejudice to refiling. On
February 9, 2017, Hill refiled the case in Tulsa County
District Court, and MDUMC removed the case to this Court.
Hill alleges claims of racial discrimination and retaliation
under § 1981. Dkt. # 2-2.
judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is appropriate where
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23
(1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 250 (1986); Kendall v. Watkins, 998 F.2d 848,
850 (10th Cir. 1993). The plain language of Rule 56(c)
mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time
for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to
make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an
element essential to that party's case, and on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 317. “Summary judgment
procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored ...