DeGrate v. Monroe et al
MEMORANDUM RULING re 37 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Sam Tennessess, Lois Rogers, City of Monroe, Bruce Watson, Jamie Mayo, James Ross. Signed by Judge Robert G James on 1/30/17. (crt,Crawford, A)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
WILLIAM EARL DEGRATE
CIVIL ACTION NO. 15-2641
JUDGE ROBERT G. JAMES
CITY OF MONROE, ET AL.
MAG. JUDGE KAREN L. HAYES
Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 37] filed by
Defendants Jamie Mayo, John Ross, Bruce Watson, Sam Tennessee, Lois Rogers and the City of
Monroe (collectively, “Defendants”). For the following reasons, Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment is GRANTED, and DeGrate’s claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On October 9, 2013, Plaintiff William Earl DeGrate (“DeGrate”) began working for the City
of Monroe in the Department of Community Affairs. [Doc. No. 37-3, p. 15]. On October 21, 2013,
DeGrate signed an acknowledgment for receipt of the Employee Handbook, At Will Statement and
Addendums, Violence Free Workplace Policy, and Memorandum of Understanding. Id. 14.
According to DeGrate, his job responsibilities were to make sure the children at the City of Monroe’s
recreation center followed and obeyed the relevant rules and regulations. Id. at 4.
During his employment with the City of Monroe, DeGrate also coached a non-city sponsored
youth baseball team. Id. at 6-7. The Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of
Monroe, Defendant Bruce Watson (“Watson”), confronted DeGrate about the allegation that he had
been asking parents for baseball uniform money. Id. at 27. Watson explained that his requests were
in violation of the City of Monroe’s policy that “no City employee [is] ever to accept funds for any
service related to City activities.” Id.
In a letter dated October 15, 2014, the City of Monroe notified DeGrate of the charges against
him and that he would be given an opportunity to refute these charges at a pre-disciplinary hearing.
Id. at 12-13. On October 21, 2014, the pre-disciplinary hearing was held. Id. at 18. After considering
DeGrate’s responses during the hearing, DeGrate’s employment with the City of Monroe was
terminated in a four-page letter containing the stated reasons for his termination. Id.
On November 4, 2015, DeGrate filed a Complaint against Defendants asserting claims of
wrongful termination, discrimination, and defamation. On November 10, 2016, Defendants filed this
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 37]. Plaintiff filed an Opposition to Defendant’s Motion
[Doc. No. 46] on December 21, 2016. On December 28, 2016, DeGrate filed a supplemental
memorandum. [Doc. No. 47].
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment “should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure
materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(2). The moving
party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion by identifying portions
of the record which highlight the absence of genuine issues of material fact. Topalian v. Ehrmann,
954 F.2d 1125, 1132 (5th Cir. 1992). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence
would affect the outcome of the suit under applicable law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such
that a reasonable fact finder could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.
If the moving party can meet the initial burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party
to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Norman v. Apache Corp., 19
F.3d 1017, 1023 (5th Cir. 1994). The nonmoving party must show more than “some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S.
574, 586 (1986). In evaluating the evidence tendered by the parties, the Court must accept the
evidence of the nonmovant as credible and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Anderson, 477
U.S. at 255
Plaintiff’s first claim is for wrongful termination. When the employer and employee are silent
on the terms of the employment contract, the Civil Code provides the default rule of
employment-at-will. See LA. C.C. art. 2747; Quebedeaux v. Dow Chem. Co., 820 So.2d 542, 545 (La.
2002). Under Louisiana law, an at-will employee “could be terminated at any time, for any reason
or for no reason at all, provided the termination does not violate any statutory or constitutional
provision.” Wallace v. Shreve Mem’l Library, 79 F.3d 427, 429 (5th Cir. 1996). This right may be
altered by a contract between the employer and employee, or tempered by statute. Quebedeaux, 820
So.2d at 545.
Here, it is undisputed that DeGrate was an at-will employee. DeGrate points to no contract
or statute that would alter this status. On October 9, 2013, DeGrate signed a document titled
“Personnel Status Change,” which classified his employment status as temporary and part-time. Id.
at 15. Additionally, on October 21, 2013, DeGrate signed an acknowledgment of receipt for an “At
Will Statement and Addendums.” Id. 16. The signed acknowledgment also stated, “AT WILL
STATEMENT: It is agreed that my employment with the City is at the will of the City of Monroe.”
However, DeGrate states in his Complaint that he was “denied due process,” therefore, it
appears he argues that his termination violates the constitutional protections of due process under
the Fourteenth Amendment. [Doc. No. 1, p.1]. The Court will analyze DeGrate’s claims under both
substantive and procedural due process.
Substantive due process bars arbitrary, wrongful government action regardless of the fairness
of the procedures used to implement them. Lewis v. University of Texas, 665 F.3d 625, 630–631 (5th
Cir. 2011). “To succeed with a claim based on substantive due process in the public employment
context, the plaintiff must show two things: (1) that he had a property interest/right in his
employment, and (2) that the public employer’s termination of that interest was arbitrary or
capricious.” Moulton v. Cty. of Beaumont, 991 F.2d 227, 230 (5th Cir. 1993). In order to validly
assert a substantive due process claim premised on the loss of government employment, a
government employee must assert a property interest in continued employment. See, e.g., Bolton v.
City of Dallas, Tex., 472 F.3d 261, 263 (5th Cir. 2006); Lollar v. Baker, 196 F.3d 603, 607 (5th Cir.
1999); Cabrol v. Town of Youngsville, 106 F.3d 101, 105 (5th Cir. 1997). In other words, only
government employees who can show that they have a property interest in continued employment
are entitled to the substantive due process protections of the Fourteenth Amendment.
As stated above, Degrate is an at-will employee and, therefore, he does not have a property
right in his continued employment with the City of Monroe. Rodriguez v. Escalon, 90 Fed. Appx.
776, 779 (5th Cir. 2004) (At-will employees do not have a property interest in continued employment
under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause); see also Marceaux v. Lafayette City-Par.
Consol. Gov’t, 921 F. Supp. 2d 605, 632 (W.D. La. 2013). Accordingly, the Court finds that DeGrate
has failed to assert a valid substantive due process claim, and Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment is granted with regard to Degrate’s substantive due process claims.
To establish a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of procedural due process,
a plaintiff must prove that (1) he was deprived of a life, liberty, or property interest (2) without the
process that was due. Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 538 & n. 3 (1985).
“[D]ue process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation
demands.” Texas Faculty Ass’n v. University of Texas at Dallas, 946 F.2d 379, 384 (5th Cir. 1991),
(quoting Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972)). In any case, however, whenever (1) a state
actor (2) deprives (3) a person (4) of a protected interest, some sort of procedural protection must
be provided. Texas Faculty Ass’n, 946 F.2d at 383. The fundamental requirement of due process is
the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner. See, e.g., Mathews v.
Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 333 (1976); Crowe v. Smith, 151 F.3d 217, 230–31 (5th Cir. 1998).
Although DeGrate broadly alleges in a conclusory fashion that he has been denied due
process [Doc. No. 1, p. 1], there are no allegations that he actually had a property interest, that he
was deprived of a property interest, that he was deprived of some other protected interest, or that he
was denied the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.
To the contrary, DeGrate admits that he was provided a letter on October 17, 2014, informing
him that a pre-disciplinary hearing had been set. [Doc. No. 37-3, p. 28]. DeGrate was informed of
the reason he was being investigated, was informed that he would have an opportunity to be heard,
and was informed he could bring an attorney and/or witnesses. Id. at 13. DeGrate attended a predisciplinary hearing on October 21, 2014, concerning the allegations. Id. at 32-36. On November 3,
2014, the City of Monroe informed DeGrate that he was being terminated for accepting money from
citizens relating to his employment activities with the City of Monroe, which violated provisions of
the City of Monroe Employee Handbook. Id. at 32-36; 41-42.
Under these circumstances, the Court finds DeGrate has failed to assert a valid procedural
due process claim, and Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is granted with regard to
DeGrate’s due process and wrongful termination claims.
DeGrate makes a general claim that he was subjected to discrimination of some type. [Doc.
No. 1, p. 5]. He does not identify his protected class or whether the discrimination is related solely
to his participation as a coach for a non-city sponsored baseball team or also related to his
termination. To the extent DeGrate is attempting to assert discrimination claims under Title VII and
§ 1981 through § 1983, those claims are without merit.
Title VII prohibits an employer from “discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect
to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s
race.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).
Section 1981 provides that “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall
have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by
white citizens.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). Section 1981’s protections against race discrimination
“include the making, performance, modification, and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment
of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship.” 42 U.S.C. §
1981(b); see Felton v. Polles, 315 F.3d 470, 483 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1981) (other
citations omitted), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548
U.S. 57 (2006). The Supreme Court has stressed that any claim brought under Section 1981 “must
initially identify an impaired ‘contractual relationship,’ . . . under which the plaintiff has rights.”
Domino’s Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 126 S. Ct. 1249 (2006).
Because Title VII, § 1981, and § 1983 are “parallel causes of action,” courts apply the same
analysis. Lauderdale v. Tex. Dep't of Crim. Justice, Inst’al Div., 512 F.3d 157, 166 (5th Cir. 2007)
(“[T]he inquiry into intentional discrimination is essentially the same for individual actions brought
under sections 1981 and 1983[ ] and Title VII .”). Thus, to survive summary judgment under each
of these statutes, a plaintiff must present direct or indirect evidence of racial discrimination.
Direct Evidence of Discrimination
“Direct evidence is evidence, which if believed, proves the fact in question without
inference or presumption.” Jones v. Robinson Prop. Group, 427 F.3d 987, 992 (5th Cir. 2005). For
a statement or remark to constitute direct evidence of racial discrimination, it must meet the
four-factor test in Auguster v. Vermilion Parish School Board, 249 F.3d 400, 405 (5th Cir. 2001):
the statement must be (1) related to the protected class of persons of which the plaintiff is a member,
(2) proximate in time to the employment decision, (3) made by an individual with authority over the
employment decision at issue, and (4) related to the employment decision at issue.
In this case, DeGrate only alleges that “Plaintiff was discriminated against when plaintiff had
to go to Ruston Louisiana [and] Farmerville Louisiana to find games just for the kids to have
somebody to play.” [Doc. No. 1, p. 5]. Additionally, DeGrate complains that the lack of a
comparable field at “Johnson” to Saul Adler Field is evidence of discrimination. Id.
DeGrate has presented no direct evidence of discrimination. Accordingly, the Court will
analyze his claims under the traditional burden-shifting framework applicable to circumstantial
evidence of discrimination.
Circumstantial Evidence of Discrimination
When a plaintiff relies on circumstantial evidence of discrimination, courts employ the
traditional burden-shifting framework. First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case by
showing that (1) he is a member of a protected class, (2) he is qualified for the position at issue, (3)
he was subject to an adverse employment action, and (4) he was replaced by someone outside the
protected class or that similarly situated individuals outside the protected class were treated more
favorably. See Okoye v. Univ. of Tex. Houston Health Sci. Ctr., 245 F.3d 507, 512-13 (5th Cir. 2001)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the defendant
to provide a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for the adverse action. Id. at 512. The employer’s
burden is only one of production, not persuasion, and involves no credibility assessment. Black v.
Pan Am. Labs., L.L.C., 646 F.3d 254, 259 (5th Cir. 2011). If the employer meets its burden of
production, the plaintiff then bears the ultimate burden of proving that the employer’s proffered
reason is not true but instead is a pretext for the real discriminatory or retaliatory purpose. Id. To
carry this burden, the plaintiff must rebut each nondiscriminatory reason articulated by the employer.
Here, DeGrate has failed to present a prima facie case for discrimination related to his
employment. DeGrate has failed to identify what protected class he is a member of, such as AfricanAmerican. While DeGrate might be in a protected class,1 he has presented no evidence that he was
The Court notes that the record fails to identify DeGrate’s race or what other protected
class of which he could be a member.
treated less favorably than other similarly-situated employees or that he was replaced by someone
outside his protected class.
Further, Defendants have articulated legitimate and nondiscriminatory reasons for DeGrate’s
termination: DeGrate’s “employment activities combined with the allegations of parents of his
soliciting funds for the purchase of uniforms and having been told not to do so by the Director of
Parks and Recreation.” [Doc. No. 37-1, p. 5]. Several parents averred that DeGrate collected money
for baseball uniforms, but never provided any uniforms. [Doc. No. 37-3, p. 23-26]. DeGrate violated
the City of Monroe’s employee policy prohibiting employees from receiving cash funds from any
activity related to his employment with the City of Monroe. In response, DeGrate has made no effort
to demonstrate that Defendants’ proffered reasons are pretextual. In his deposition, DeGrate refused
to answer questions related to whether he accepted funds and, stated “that is not any of your
business.” Id. at 9-10.
Additionally, to the extent DeGrate asserts a discrimination claim based on his participation
as a coach with a non-city sponsored baseball team, his allegations are insufficient as a matter of law.
DeGrate has failed to present evidence that he is a member of a protected class, or that comparative
actors received more favorable treatment. DeGrate relies on conclusory allegations supported by his
own unsworn statements in his pleadings, which are not competent summary judgment evidence. See
Johnston v. City of Houston, 14 F .3d 1056, 1060 (5th Cir. 1994). Further, Defendants have supplied
the Court with an un-rebutted affidavit from Watson that the facilities at Johnson and Saul Adler
Field look essentially the same and both are mowed regularly. [Doc. No. 37-3, p. 27-28].
DeGrate has failed to raise a genuine issue for trial as to any viable discrimination claims.
Therefore, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment on DeGrate’s discrimination claims is
Finally, DeGrate asserts a claim for defamation of character. [Doc. No. 1, p. 5]. Under
Louisiana law, defamation is a tort involving the invasion of a person’s interest in his reputation and
good name. Kennedy v. Sheriff of East Baton Rouge, 935 So.2d 669, 674 (La. 2006). The four
elements of a defamation claim are: (1) a false and defamatory statement concerning another; (2) an
unprivileged publication to a third party; (3) fault; and (4) injury. Id. A statement is defamatory if
it “tends to harm the reputation of another so as to lower the person in the estimation of the
community, deter others from associating or dealing with the person, or otherwise expose the person
to contempt or ridicule.” Id.
DeGrate appears to assert a claim of defamation stemming from an alleged interaction
between Defendant Sam Tennessee and an unidentified girl on an undisclosed date. [Doc. No. 1, p.
5]. DeGrate asserts in his Complaint that “Mr. Sam Tennessee went on Bonner Dr. asking a little girl
to sign a paper that Mr. Sam written about William Earl DeGrate . . . .” Id. However, DeGrate fails
to identify the statement allegedly prepared by Defendant Sam Tennessee, that any such statement
was false or defamatory, that the statement was unprivileged, or that he received an injury from any
statement. Additionally, any statements made by Defendants concerning the investigation of
DeGrate’s wrongdoing is subject to a qualified privilege and does not constitute defamation. See,
e.g., Sears, Roebuck, and Co., v. Danny Williams Plumbing Co., 1999 WL 280439, * 4 (E.D. La.
1999); see also Filson v. Tulane Univ., 2010 WL 5477189, * 7 (E.D. La. 2010); see also Espree v.
Tobacco Plus, Inc., 772 So.2d 389, 391-92 (La. App. 3 Cir. 2000). DeGrate’s bare accusation of
defamation is insufficient to establish any claim for defamation. Therefore, the Court finds DeGrate
has failed to assert a valid claim for defamation, and Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
is granted with regard to DeGrate’s defamation claim.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 37] is
GRANTED, and Plaintiff’s claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
MONROE, LOUISIANA, this 30th day of January, 2017.
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