Georgia Police Officer’s Race and Sex Discrimination Claims Dismissed on Summary Judgment

An Atlanta employment lawsuit can arise in many different contexts. The legal remedies that may be available to a person whose employer has acted in violation of the law can vary, depending upon the circumstances. It is important to note that the plaintiff in such a case has the burden of providing credible evidence of the employer’s alleged wrongdoing, or else his or her claim will likely fail.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal case, the plaintiff was an African-American female police officer who filed suit against the defendants, a city manager and a police chief, seeking relief under three federal statutes (42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 42 U.S.C. § 1985) due to her termination for actions during a traffic stop involving a personal acquaintance. At first, the plaintiff was only placed on administrative leave so that an investigation could be performed. An outside agency then investigated the matter and concluded that the plaintiff had violated the standard operating procedure of the police department for which she had worked for some 15 years. More specifically, the agency determined that the plaintiff may have violated a procedure governing professional image and may have committed an obstruction of the deputies involved in the traffic stop. At some point after the investigation, the plaintiff was terminated.

The defendants sought summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s claims against them.

Outcome on Appeal

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia granted the defendants’ motion. First noting that summary judgment is only appropriate when there is no genuine issue material fact between the parties, the court court found that the defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. As to the plaintiff’s § 1983 claim asserting that she was fired for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment, the court found that the plaintiff’s claims against the defendants in their individual capacities failed because neither defendant was a final policy maker. The court also opined that the plaintiff’s statements to the acquaintance were not protected under the First Amendment under the circumstances (the plaintiff was acting as a police officer when she made the statements, but they were intended only for the good of the acquaintance, not the general public).

As the defendant’s Title VII claims that she had been the victim of disparate treatment on account of her race, the court found that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment because the plaintiff had failed to present evidence of the defendants’ treatment of a similarly situated employee outside of her protected class. Although there was some evidence of another employee who “went through a wreck that was involving [a] cousin,” this was different from the plaintiff’s situation, in which she inserted herself in a traffic stop, instructing the acquaintance to refuse a search of her vehicle, and then drove to the scene after being instructed not to do so.

The plaintiff’s remaining claim also failed, the court finding the she had failed to present evidence of any agreement between the defendants to deprive her of her civil rights.

Talk to an Atlanta Employment Law Attorney

There are many different ways in which an employer can violate an employee’s rights under the law. If you believe that you have been treated unfairly at work, Atlanta employment law attorney John L. Mays at Parks, Chesin & Walbert can help you decide whether going forward with a legal claim against your employer is advisable. For an appointment to learn more, call us at 404-873-8048.

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