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Fuqua v. City of Altus

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 6, 2018

THE CITY OF ALTUS, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff David Alan Fuqua asserts claims against the City of Altus (“Altus”), Jack Smiley (“Smiley”), Debbie Davis (“Davis”), and Jan Neufeld (“Neufeld”) based on his termination from the position of Altus City Manager. He asserts claims against Altus for religious discrimination and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He asserts § 1983 claims against Altus and the individual defendants for violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He also asserts state law claims for intentional interference with a contractual relationship against the individual defendants.

         Multiple summary judgment motions are pending. Plaintiff has moved for partial summary judgment as to the defense of failure to mitigate damages asserted by each defendant. Altus and the individual defendants have each filed motions seeking judgment as to the claims against them. Plaintiff has conceded the motions as to the hostile work environment claim and the state law claim for intentional interference with contract.

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). “A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists when the evidence, construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Carter v. Pathfinder Energy Servs., Inc., 662 F.3d 1134, 1141 (10th Cir. 2011) (quotations and citation omitted).


         The bulk of the background facts and circumstances are undisputed. In May of 2015, plaintiff was hired as the City Manager for Altus. Defendant Smiley was the Mayor of Altus and a member of the city council. Defendant Neufeld was the Chief Financial officer of Altus. Davis was the elected City Clerk.

         In August of 2015, plaintiff hired two individuals to serve as the city's Public Works Director and as the Assistant City Manager. Both of the persons hired, like plaintiff, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, informally called the Mormon Church. During this same time frame, plaintiff and defendant Neufeld had a fairly contentious relationship, with plaintiff issuing oral and written reprimands to Neufeld and ordering the installation of a key stroke monitor on her office computer.

         While there are various factual disputes as to the circumstances, plaintiff's evidence is that both Neufeld and Davis were actively involved in city hall discussions of plaintiff's membership in the Mormon Church, concerned with a “Mormon Mafia”, and that Davis believed plaintiff was, or may have been, trying to fire all the city employees and hire Mormons. There is evidence that they shared those concerns with defendant Smiley, the mayor, and possibly with other council members.

         In December of 2015, plaintiff was placed on a Plan of Improvement by the Altus City Council.[1] The plan identified as one of the grounds for concern “actions taken in the area of recruitment and hiring of new managerial employees” which “could be viewed by others as expressing favoritism towards specific individuals to the detriment of other candidates.” Doc. # 78-23, p. 1.

         On January 14, 2016, plaintiff's employment was terminated by a 6-3 vote of the City Council. Plaintiff contends that Neufeld and Davis sowed discord in city hall and with members of the City Council regarding his being a member of the Mormon Church. He contends Smiley was a driving force behind his termination and that his termination by the City Council was due to his status as a Mormon.

         Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment

         Plaintiff seeks summary judgment as to defendants' asserted defense of failure to mitigate damages, relying on evidence that he made 133 job applications over a period of several months since his termination. Defendants argue there is no proof of job-seeking activity in certain months and that plaintiff has not sought the full range of jobs that were potentially available to him. There is reason to doubt whether defendants are, or should be, serious about this defense, but, given its nature (essentially the absence of appropriate job searching by plaintiff), the court concludes the issue is not subject to resolution on summary judgment. Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

         Altus Motion for Summary Judgment

         Altus contends there is no direct evidence that plaintiff's termination was based on his religion and that plaintiff has not produced evidence sufficient to survive summary judgment when tested against the burden-shifting framework ...

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