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Brown v. Housing Authority of Tompkinsville

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

May 15, 2019

WOODSON D. BROWN PLAINTIFF
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF TOMPKINSVILLE, et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Greg N. Stivers, Chief Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (DN 36). The motion is ripe for adjudication. For the reasons outlined below, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND CLAIMS

         Woodson Brown (“Plaintiff” or “Brown”) is a former employee of the Housing Authority of Tompkinsville (“Housing Authority”). (Compl. 3, DN 1). The Housing Authority operates the Tompkinsville Housing Project under a contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (Am. Compl. 1, DN 28). During the time relevant to this action, Defendant Mike Turner (“Turner”) was the executive director of the Housing Authority. (Turner Dep. 9:7-12, Mar. 21, 2018, DN 36-3). Brown began his employment with the Housing Authority as a maintenance director in September 2015, and he resigned in January 2016. (Compl. 3). The events giving rise to this action concern voluntary on-the-job prayer sessions conducted by Turner while Brown was an employee.

         In addition to his work for the Housing Authority, Turner is a minister. (Turner Dep. 22:5-7). Prior to Brown's tenure, the Housing Authority had only three total employees: Turner, Ernest Eldridge (“Eldridge”), and Cindi Burnett (“Burnett”). (Turner Dep. 22:24-25:1). Turner testified that the three had become close in the wake of difficult times in each employee's family. (Turner Dep. 23:1-4). It was common for Turner, Eldridge, and Burnett to discuss their belief systems and faith in God. (Turner Dep. 23:4-6). Eventually, Turner began offering an option to Burnett and Eldridge that, if they wished, they could pray together as a group. (Turner Dep. 23:6-10). Turner testified, however, that he never preached in the office. (Turner Dep. 23:11-12).

         Brown's daughter passed away unexpectedly on December 11, 2015. (Brown Dep. 90:8-9). Both Turner and Burnett came to the funeral home to express their sympathies. (Brown Dep. 91:7-11). Following his daughter's passing, Brown took some time off work. (Brown Dep. 90:7-16). Upon his return, Brown mentioned for the first time to Turner that he took issue with the office prayer sessions. (Brown Dep. 89:25-90:5). Brown told Turner he did not want to pray, and in fact he was mad at God at the moment. (Brown Dep. 134:2-10). Brown testified that when he raised the issue to Turner, Turner told Brown he needed to open his mind to the possibility of allowing God to heal him. (Brown Dep. 136:5-8). Brown thought Turner was well-intentioned and sincerely trying to help. (Brown Dep. 135:18-24). Turner did not tell Brown he was required to pray with him, and Brown stated Turner was not praying or preaching in that interaction. (Brown Dep. 136:1-3, 136:8-9).

         In the wake of his daughter's death, Brown's work suffered and he struggled with concentration and staying on task. (Brown Dep. 137:12-16). Brown testified that Turner knew of his struggles and performance issues but did not fire him. (Brown Dep. 137:17-21). On Brown's final day of employment with the Housing Authority, Turner came to the maintenance building where Brown worked, and the two began to talk about “a little bit of everything.” (Brown Dep. 135:21-23). They discussed what was bothering Brown and what might help him. (Brown Dep. 135:23-25). In the course of the conversation, Turner said he could tell Brown did not want to remain at the Housing Authority, and Brown agreed, stating he in fact no longer wanted to work there. (Brown Dep. 135:23-24, 136:3-5). Turner informed Brown that he did not need to give two weeks' notice, and if he wanted that day to be his last, he could quit immediately. (Brown Dep. 136:5-10). Brown responded that he did want that day to be his last and quit on the spot. (Brown Dep. 136:10-13).

         Plaintiff now brings claims of religious discrimination seeking damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17, and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Compl. 1-2). Following discovery, Defendants moved for summary judgment on Brown's claims. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., DN 36).

         II. JURISDICTION

         The Court has original jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must determine whether there is any genuine issue of material fact that would preclude entry of judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of stating the basis for the motion and identifying evidence in the record that demonstrates an absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If the moving party satisfies its burden, the non-moving party must then produce specific evidence proving the existence of a genuine dispute of fact for trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         While the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show the existence of some “metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citation omitted). Rather, the non-moving party must present specific facts proving that a genuine factual dispute exists by “citing to particular parts of the materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient” to overcome summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         IV. ...


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