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Travis-Neal v. State ex rel. Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 27, 2019

MELISSA D. TRAVIS-NEAL, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF OKLAHOMA, ex rel. OKLAHOMA STATE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, Defendant.

          ORDER

          STEPHEN P. FRIOT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant State of Oklahoma, ex rel. Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation moves for summary judgment. Doc. no. 23. Plaintiff Melissa D. Travis-Neal has responded, objecting to the motion. Doc. no. 29. Defendant filed a reply brief. Doc. no. 30.

         Two claims are alleged in this action: a Title VII discrimination claim based on plaintiff's race (the complaint alleges plaintiff is a mixed-race African American) and a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Doc. no. 1. Plaintiff alleges, in support of both of these claims, that she was excluded from an opportunity to obtain a position at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI). The complaint alleges that plaintiff was the best qualified applicant for the position based on her education, training and experience but that the OSBI did not select her for an interview and hired a white applicant.

         For the reasons stated below, this order grants the motion to the extent that it seeks judgment on the §1981 claim and denies the motion to the extent that it seeks judgment on the Title VII claim.

         Standards

         Under Rule 56, Fed. R. Civ. P., summary judgment shall be granted if the movant shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists when “there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of a material fact exists, the evidence is to be taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). All reasonable inferences to be drawn from the undisputed facts are to be determined in a light most favorable to the non-movant. United States v. Agri Services, Inc., 81 F.3d 1002, 1005 (10th Cir. 1996). Once the moving party has met its burden, the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence, not mere allegations or denials, demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Posey v. Skyline Corp., 702 F.2d 102, 105 (7th Cir. 1983).

         Undisputed Facts

         At the time plaintiff applied for the position in question, she was an employee of the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office although she worked at the OSBI under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Attorney General's Office and the OSBI. In that capacity, plaintiff, as an OSBI affiliate, was assigned to investigate cases in the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) unit of the OSBI. When a grant-funded position came open at the OSBI for a state employee to work as an agent in the ICAC unit, plaintiff applied. She met eligibility requirements. The OSBI did not interview plaintiff and hired a white female to fill the position.

         The 1981 Claim

         Defendant moves for judgment on the § 1981 claim based on eleventh amendment immunity. Plaintiff concedes this argument.[1] Summary judgment will be entered in favor of the defendant on the §1981 claim.

         The Title VII Claim

         Defendant argues that the Title VII claim fails under the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).[2]

         Under that framework, plaintiff, to avoid summary judgment, must begin by presenting evidence of a prima facie case of race discrimination. Defendant does not challenge plaintiff's evidence at this first step, and the court finds plaintiff has carried her burden using any arguably applicable statement of the prima facie elements.[3]

         The second step is to determine whether defendant has articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its employment action. Defendant argues that it did not interview plaintiff for the position based on legitimate business concerns which are not reviewable under Title VII. Specifically, defendant presents evidence intended to show that plaintiff was not interviewed due to workplace issues such as defendant's belief that plaintiff had been surreptitiously involved in creating an addendum to the agreement which governed the relationship between the OSBI and the Office of the Attorney General, resulting in plaintiff receiving overtime pay; and plaintiff's attempt to secretly record an OSBI employee. Defendant argues that based on these events, Charlie Mackey[4] had misgivings about plaintiff's integrity and that integrity was a principal requirement for the position. In addition, ...


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