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Humphrey v. State, Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

United States District Court, D. Kansas

April 2, 2014



J. THOMAS MARTEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Priscilla Andring Humphrey filed suit against her former employer, the State of Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, alleging that her termination was discriminatory and retaliatory under federal law. On the defendant's motion to dismiss, the court dismissed Humphrey's FMLA discrimination claim and her Title VII retaliation claim, leaving only her Title VII race/color discrimination claim. The court now has before it the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 32). After reviewing the briefs on the motion, the court is prepared to rule.

I. Uncontroverted Facts

Humphrey is an African-American female who was formerly employed as an administrative specialist by the State of Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism ("the KDWPT"), which was the Division of Tourism when she began there. Humphrey was the only black employee in the seven-person tourism office; the others were white. Humphrey's job responsibilities included preparing a tourism magazine and financial transaction documents as well as handling the travel arrangements for the division's employees. While Humphrey worked at the KDWPT, Becky Blake-a white female-was her immediate supervisor.

Humphrey and fiscal manager Regina Nicol shared the finance-related responsibilities for the division until Nicol retired. They had complained to supervisors multiple times, seeking additional help with those duties and suggesting that the division's administrative assistants shoulder some of the responsibility. In 2006, Humphrey complained that she was having difficulty handling her workload, so the department reassigned the preparation of financial transaction documents to another employee. According to Humphrey, the reassignment was "a disaster, " so the responsibilities came back to her. After this, requests by Humphrey or Nicol for help with their work were denied. Humphrey knows of no evidence that would suggest these denials by management were racially motivated and admits she was treated the same as Nicol when she complained about the need for help with the workload.

After the 2010 Kansas gubernatorial election, Assistant Secretary Linda Craghead assigned additional public tasks to Humphrey because she thought Humphrey presented a more professional appearance than the other employees. In November 2011, Humphrey cut back her weekly hours at a second job at the YWCA from thirty to thirteen as a result of her heavy workload at KDWPT. When Nicol retired in April of 2012, her share of the financial work fell on Humphrey, who received instructions to "clear her desk" of non-financial work to handle the increased workload.

Humphrey suffers from degenerative disc disease and diabetes. Starting in 2009, her impairments caused her to miss substantial amounts of work time. She used all of her vacation and sick leave credits as they accrued and sometimes had to apply for unpaid FMLA leave. When Humphrey was absent her work would accrue, as it was not reassigned to other workers. In April of 2012, Humphrey suffered an injury to her L5 disc, which eventually required hospitalization for three days. This injury continued to affect Humphrey's ability to work until her termination in June of 2012.

At the beginning of June, Ms. Humphrey had severe sinusitis, which-in combination with her diabetes and disc disease-caused her to miss some work days during the week of June 4. Humphrey's work piled up in her absence. After coming to work for less than an hour on the morning of Friday, June 8, Humphrey left just after 7 a.m. and provided no written explanation. She left her key to the front door on the desk of KDWPT Secretary Robin Jennison. Humphrey left a voicemail for Blake that morning after leaving: "Becky, this is Pris. Listen, I left my building key on Robin's desk, umm, if you need me to come in Monday and write something formally as far as a resignation goes I will do that Monday morning. Thanks bye." Humphrey explained in her deposition that she left the key on Jennison's desk because she was upset and ill. Humphrey had been ill before-she had even taken FMLA leave earlier that week-but she did not testify that she turned in her door key during any other spell of illness.

Later that day, Blake spoke with Humphrey on the phone. The content of the conversation is in dispute, but the parties agree that Blake said she would take possession of the door key until Humphrey had a chance to think over her decision. On Saturday, June 9, Humphrey emailed Blake and Craghead indicating she wanted to go on unpaid FMLA leave.

On Monday, June 11, Blake explained the situation to Secretary Jennison and Assistant Secretary Craghead. Blake told them that Humphrey had clearly expressed her intention to quit on Friday without giving written notice two weeks in advance, as required by Kansas Administrative Regulation 1-11-1. Due to Humphrey's failure to provide the requisite notice, Blake understood that Secretary Jennison had the sole authority to decide whether Humphrey could return to work.[1]

Believing Humphrey had resigned and then changed her mind without giving her two-week notice, Jennison made the decision not to reemploy her. Jennison testified at his deposition that he had faced a similar decision when Sheila Wells had resigned in writing just a month before, then asked to retract the resignation before the date it was to take effect.[2] Jennison made a policy decision that, in order to maintain discipline within the agency, he would not permit Wells to continue working at KDWPT. Jennison considered Humphrey's situation to be similar, although he noted that Wells had given proper written notice and Humphrey had not. Jennison added that Wells had been a "tireless worker with emotional ups and downs, " while Humphrey "had a substantial problem with absenteeism." As a result of his meeting with Humphrey on June 11, 2012, Jennison was unconvinced that she should be allowed back to work. Humphrey claims Jennison told her he was inclined to use her termination to "set precedent." Ultimately, Jennison decided not to allow Humphrey to work at KDWPT, reasoning that if he made an exception for her, Sheila Wells would have justifiably felt she had been treated differently a month earlier.

On October 10, 2012, Humphrey filed a charge of discrimination with EEOC, complaining she had been terminated involuntarily because of her race and color. The EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights on January 8, 2013. Humphrey did not pursue administrative relief through a state civil service appeal. She received ongoing unemployment compensation in part because she was physically unable to return to work.

Humphrey filed her complaint in federal court on March 20, 2013, claiming a violation of Title VII for disparate treatment by the KWDPT because of her race. Humphrey alleges that Blake assigned her "much more work and responsibility than she could reasonably complete, while her white coworkers were allowed to be less productive." Humphrey also alleges she was treated ...

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